Chris Jericho is proud of AEW ’s progress both across the pond and in the UK, saying the company revitalised him following his exit from WWE.
The Canadian legend has been a mainstay of Tony Khan’s wrestling enterprise since its inception and was its maiden world champion.
His drive – and that of Khan and many other notable personalities including Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks – helped the fledgling organisation thrive not just in the States but here in the UK where it has been a hit on terrestrial TV.
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Speaking to Daily Star, the 52-year-old former WWE star discussed the company’s early days, explaining: “I don’t think anyone really knew for sure what it would become.
“I knew the potential of what we had, but there are so many factors going into the massive success of AEW that we didn’t really know when we first started.
“The initial idea and talent we had was excellent and the passion of Tony Khan and the commitment from guys like myself, The Bucks, Kenny and those guys. But you never know for sure when you first put it on.
“What are people going to think? Are they going to enjoy this and want to see it? And there’s the rigors of live, weekly television – can we handle this? Are guys going to be able to figure out how to do it?
“So many plates were spinning, and all the fruit had to line up on the slot machine, but when it did, it hit the ground running.
“Did I expect it to be this big? No. Does it surprise me that we’re this big? Not at all. Are we only getting bigger? Yes.
“I don’t know if any wrestling company has gotten as far as we have in such a short period of time and that’s what makes me laugh when people bag on AEW. It has only been three or four years!
“There’s still so much to learn but I think we have done a hell of a job of advancing that quickly.”
Jericho has achieved a lot in his career, but notably since AEW was formed. He takes his share of credit for, among other things, helping Rhodes – now back in WWE – build a huge presence in the company and recruiting Jon Moxley who reinvented himself after life as Dean Ambrose.
Most of all, though, he’s proud of backing himself against uncertainty – taking the leap of faith to leave the comfort of WWE – via New Japan – in favour of making something big happen alongside Khan and co.
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He adds: “From a personal standpoint, [I’m most proud] that I took a chance on myself.
“It would have been easy for me to stay in WWE, but I don’t know if I’d even be in WWE anymore as I thought I had more to offer as a top, main event presence.
“But I could’ve stayed there and collected a paycheque and all that sort of stuff.
“When I left to go to AEW, we didn’t know what was going to happen. If it’s a success, it’s a feather in Chris Jericho’s cap. If it fails, goes out of business or doesn’t even get off the ground… When I signed, we didn’t even have a television deal. We just had an idea.
“So I am most proud of the fact that, on a personal level, I took a shot and we made it work when the first three or four months of the company was completely on my back.”
AEW’s appeal isn’t confined to North America. The company’s weekly programming and pay per view offerings are now shown all over the world, including a major weekly slot on ITV in the UK.
Tony Khan revealed to Daily Star earlier this year that ITV’s scheduling chief, John Williams, is a big wrestling fan – even lining up a screening of cinema classic Jaws next to an episode of Dynamite as a nod to the grappling group’s effort to promote Discovery’s annual Shark Week in the States.
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A feel for wrestling is clearly reciprocated by UK viewers. Dynamite’s best performing show on ITV4 peaked at an average of 324,000 viewers on November 11th (the November 9th edition of Dynamite in the US) – while viewership of the show’s initial weekly airing was up 10% year-on-year against 2021.
Combining the weekly replay with the ‘first run’, AEW touts a 16% increase in overall UK viewership year on year, and Jericho was quick to praise Khan’s influence.
He said: “Working with Tony Khan and the Khan family, they have a lot of inroads. Owning Fulham in London probably helped us get on ITV in a very good spot.
“I think Chris Jericho being involved definitely helps, and probably helps in Canada, too, where we do huge numbers.
“Had there not been a worldwide pandemic, we probably would’ve come to London. I know at one point there was a plan to go in the summer of 2020.
“In the meantime, the ratings have done so well, and I think it’s because we put on a very exciting show.
“I can’t wait to go to England for the first time and if we go to Craven Cottage [Khan is Sporting Director at the Premier League side] I bet you we’ll sell it out in an hour. We just have that buzz going to places for the first time.”
That Jericho still wrestles weekly at the age of 52 – as well as touring the world with his wrestling cruise and rock band Fozzy – is no surprise to any of his fans.
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It hasn’t been a career without tough times, though – the multi-time world champ credits AEW with ‘revitalising’ his passion for the business.
“The challenge of AEW and the excitement of it is what extended my career,” he added.
“It gave me a whole new passion for the business. At the end of my WWE stint, I was mentally burnt out and I went to New Japan and loved it there.
“Then, AEW came along, and it revitalised me. 2022 was one of the best years I’ve ever had in the ring.
“I don’t know if, mentally, I’d be at that position if I wasn’t in AEW. Did I still think I’d be going at a high level at 52? Probably not. But now that I’m here, it’s just another day at work.
“It’s the old adage ‘if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.’ At times when I felt wrestling wasn’t working, I left. I don’t feel that way now.”
Catch Chris Jericho and the stars of AEW each week on ITV with episodes of Dynamite and Rampage. Visit allelitewrestling.com for more.
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