While Chris Jericho's new book, "Undisputed: How to Become the World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps" is not "officially" released until the 16th, Amazon has the hardcover in stock and shipping, and review copies went out over the last week. I got mine on Friday and read it cover to cover in a few hours. Given the quality of his previous book, "A Lion's Tale: Around The World Spandex," the early part of his WWE run that has become the stuff of legend due to his reputation backstage (tied in with the book, like his first, not being published by WWE), and a variety of other reasons, this has to be one of the most anticipated wrestling books since they first became an actual sub-genre a decade ago. It's definitely excellent, in the upper echelon of wrestling books and a must-buy, especially if you loved "A Lion's Tale, but parts of it are disappointing, especially when expectations were set so high.
We pick up exactly where "A Lion's Tale" left off, with Jericho making his WWE (the name he uses throughout the book even though the first half of his run was "WWF," so for the sake of consistency I'll do the same) debut by interrupting The Rock on the August 9, 1999 edition of Raw. With that begins the theme of Jericho not properly learning the WWE style of working and talking. While the segment is generally considered one of the best debuts any wrestler has ever had, Jericho looks back on his promo as a mistake, seeing it as painting him as too much of a comedy heel for the environment and the type of push he should have gotten off of that quality debut appearance. In short order, he starts to bury himself. He accidentally buries wrestlers on promos. Sometimes he gets heat for hitting the other wrestlers too hard, while other times he gets in trouble for not hitting them hard enough. He doesn't have the right timing. He develops a reputation as a prima donna always mentioning how he did things in WCW when working out matches. Everything's a mess, and it eventually leads to Vince McMahon chewing him out in a speech that's excerpted on the back cover. Since nowadays most of you will be ordering this online, I'll reprint that part here:
"You don't have a clue what you're doing out there. You're as green as grass and it's embarrassing. I was sold a bill of goods bringing you in here and you're not worth the paper your contract is printed on. Everybody is complaining about you."
In hindsight, Jericho figured out what he was doing wrong, and that leads to one of the complaints I have about the book: He doesn't open up about why he did what he did that led to his reputation. Once it became clear there was a very specifically defined WWE style when the heel has to take bumps on punches and all sorts of little things, why didn't he ask for advice about adjusting to the style sooner, much less ask why nobody told him that the company had a house style of working? Why did he constantly mention how he did things in WCW when it was clear that there was a different way of doing things in WWE? There's a lot of "In hindsight, they were right," but no, "In hindsight, that's why I did this."
Anyway, the up and down relationship with McMahon is one of the highlights of the book. Jericho comes off as someone who never really figured him out in the way that some people who worked for him have, and there's no attempt at analyzing their weird interactions. As a whole, everything about his WWE run is a great read, but it doesn't really cover enough of the book and feels too compressed. The stuff about his band Fozzy, the focus of a few chapters, didn't really engage me and felt like a chore to get through. After his first year or two in WWE (which itself is badly jumbled around when covering 2000-2001 in what I'd guess was an editing issue since Jericho is a guy who kept meticulous records), the book moves too quickly, whereas each part of "A Lion's Tale" felt like it had room to breathe. Then his first run in the company ends with over 100 pages left.
Allow me to reiterate this before I keep going: The WWE stuff is fantastic. It's a great rid through the recent history of the company, with a lot of bases covered. Among other topics discussed are the working style, the formula for figuring out payoffs, how awesome The Rock was, Vince's temper and fascination with Bobo Brazil, Vince and others not really understanding how people behave in the real world, the cliquishness of DX, Shawn Michaels' drug problems, recovery, and return to the ring, how it can be a curse to be a respected worker, and much more. That makes it a big disappointment when the timeline is compressed so much and that part of the book ends so early. There's still wrestling content later (Eddy Guerrero's death and funeral and full chapters about Chris Benoit and Jericho setting up his return to the company), but the end of the meat of the book came too soon and there were some really odd omissions, like completely ignoring Triple H and Stephanie McMahon's real-life relationship throughout the book. He doesn't even mention it during the buildup to Wrestlemania 18 when he was alligned on-screen with Stephanie against the man that's now here husband, an angle that changed a lot from its conception. Jericho's idea for the feud and why parts were vetoed show some unsurprising insights into Triple H..
Speaking of the Benoit chapter (which did prove the quotes that came out online last year to be legit), that's the other highlight of the book. It's a really fascinating look at Benoit himself, their relationship, and Jericho's distraught reaction to the murder-suicide. Everything from Benoit's dark sense of humor to how he was emotionally destroyed by the deaths of his friends and colleagues (especially Eddy Guerrero) is covered. Jericho admits that associating Fragile X symptoms with Daniel Benoit was premature and part of his desperate search for anything that could've led to something that caused his best friend in the wrestling business to snap. He was desperate for anything, even doing research on caffeine addiction. The chapter also includes a photo of Daniel with Jericho and Funaki's sons backstage at Wrestlemania 21 that's so adorable that it's really depressing.
While I was disappointed by when the end of his first WWE run came in the book, the non-Fozzy, non-wrestling stuff was really interesting. Nothing really worked out for him they way he hoped, and his trip to the first minor acting role he got is the funniest story in the book, something that fans of the sense of humor in "A Lions Tale" will love. He discusses his drunk driving arrest in great detail, though I was mildly disappointed by the lack of discussion of the aftermath, like how he felt about having to attend mandatory Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Overall, I highly recommend "Undisputed," and it's definitely one of the top-flight, must-read wrestling books. If you loved "A Lion's Tale" or were fascinated by the backstage stories of his WWE run you've read over the years, then it's an even stronger recommendation. Don't let the negative stuff in this review get you down: It's great, but given the high expectations, it's not quite what it could have been.