The old adage about Ric Flair held that the Nature Boy was such a skilled in-ring performer in his prime that he could have a four-star match with a broomstick.
What I always liked about that aphorism was that it incorporated the notion that someone can be so disproportionately-gifted at a particular endeavor that he must actually find ways to up the degree of difficulty for himself. Otherwise, his immense talent would obscure just how difficult the exercise would be for a person of normal ability.
Tonight’s Monday Night RAW featured the payoff to a long-running series of vignettes in the form of the return of Chris Jericho. The vignettes were vague enough that they likely could have been attached to any number of people (e.g. Undertaker) had the WWE not been able to consummate a new deal with Jericho in the interim. The spooky content of the teasers turned out to be immaterial to what we saw tonight — at least so far.
No, what we got this evening was a Jericho emblazoned with a gaudy jacket complete with flashing lights, myriad high fives and crowd interactions, and lap after lap around the ring to celebrate gleefully with fans.
Yet, from these unlikely elements, Chris Jericho somehow constructed the best heel promo we’ve seen in many months.
And he did it without saying a word.
All we heard were a few off-PA shouts of jubilation as he incited the crowd, but he never used the house mic — other than to drop it in the middle of the ring when it appeared briefly that he might actually address the audience.
Chris Jericho is a performance artist. Chris Jericho is a creative entertainer. Chris Jericho is a craftsman.
Like Flair’s broomstick, Jericho was able to take a group of elements that were a cliched collection of stock “face” techniques and melded them together in such a relentless, over-the-top manner as to create — improbably — a heel promo that required no verbal explanation.
I’m not even sure how to analogize this. I suppose it would be akin to a gifted mechanic managing to assemble a seaworthy boat from parts intended to build a tank, or a master chef taking the ingredients for gazpacho and somehow turning them into a chocolate birthday cake.
My own reaction to the performance gradually shifted as the segment unfolded. I was initially happy to see that it was indeed Chris Jericho who had returned to the WWE, but the bittersweet realization that he was returning as a full-on face tempered my joy.
A seed of doubt began to grow after three or four minutes. Probably like most Jericho fans watching the promo, I was thinking something along the lines of, “This is either the most ordinary promo he’s done in years . . . or the most extraordinary.”
The latter became the likely choice as he began to twirl an imaginary laso(!) and chants of “Y-2-J” slowly but surely gave way to a smattering of boos. Things got worse (better) from there.
The appearance at times touched self-parody. It was specifically reminiscent (albeit wordlessly) of his last return after a long absence, in which he came back to the WWE as an oddly-unremarkable face and never quite got over with the fans before he turned on them and went on one of the better heel runs in memory in 2009 and 2010.
As the segment entered its final throes, I found myself laughing out loud. Hard.
Half because I simply thought the promo was so humorous, but half too because all I could do was marvel at the creativity that had just been injected into a form of entertainment that often feels stale as a byproduct of its uncompromising business cycle and relentless schedule.
Chris Jericho is that rarest of performer: In an industry in which even the most entertaining talent often falls back on a laundry list of catchphrases and familiar beats, Jericho seems genuinely interested not only in holding a crowd’s interest, but challenging himself to come up with new ways to be as entertaining as ever — even when he could get away with doing anything but that without anyone ever questioning that choice.
Somehow, some way, Chris Jericho was able to assemble a whole that was not only greater than the sum of its parts, but also opposite relative to its constituents.
Accomplishing that is only possible when you’re the best in the world at what you do.