The chances of Chris Jericho being back on WWE television in time for WrestleMania 29 now look a lot slimmer than 50-50, if you believe the latest reports that his contract negotiations with the company have broken down, due to Vince McMahon balking at requests for a part time deal where his band Fozzy would take priority over wrestling for WWE. I wouldn't blame you, Cagesiders, for getting a strange sense of déjà vu, but for once Jericho could very well be the boy who cried wolf.
The last we heard about Chris Jericho's WWE status after leaving the promotion on August 20th to complete a six week tour with his band Fozzy was that there was a 50-50 chance he'd be back in time for WrestleMania 29. Jericho seemed well up for an appearance at that show, unsurprising given that it is likely to be the biggest grossing event in wrestling history. However, it was also clear that he was angling for a unique limited dates deal with WWE where he could come and go as he pleased depending on his other commitments, which was why he was so uncertain about his WWE future.
Indeed, Vince McMahon isn't known for giving a performer such latitude, unless he's a mainstream star of the magnitude of The Rock. In fact, quite the opposite, as WWE is very controlling of their talent and has a reputation for being such a nightmare to deal with that many television shows refuse to do business with them for that reason.
Even with an eight month long commitment this year, one could see from the booking of Jericho that McMahon wasn't best pleased with such a short term, loose arrangement. Though he was involved in high profile feuds with CM Punk, Sheamus and Dolph Ziggler, Jericho's role was to put them over at almost every turn, which he was happy to do, partly to give back to the company that made him a multi-millionaire and partly because he's so supremely confident in his ability to remain over despite losing all the time. Even part time, this could still be a win win arrangement, but given McMahon's autocratic streak, would he want to deal with someone who wanted to call the shots about which exact months of the year he would work for his company?
According to Dave Meltzer in this week's Wrestling Observer Newsletter, the answer is apparently not:
Not sure what happened, but there were talks with WWE and Jericho about a new contract while he was away touring with Fozzy about a new deal. The talks just fell through. This time it was WWE that made the decision to pass on negotiations. The deal was for him to do limited dates, during down time from touring or other entertainment things. I think he wanted control of his outside activities as well.... In the end, it appears it was the control issue, in the sense he would let them know a few months in advance what period he's available and do his own thing at other times. They wanted a deal where wrestling would be his priority and there was the control issue regarding outside projects, although they've worked through that in the past. Come Mania season, who knows what will happen but he was open for a return this month and they passed.
Probably the main reason Vince McMahon turned down Jericho's demands is the fear that it would create a precedent and then every WWE star of a similar calibre would want the same freedom to pursue outside opportunities. Earlier in the issue, Meltzer mentioned this fear as part of the reason WWE released Kelly Kelly last week, who might have been willing to stick around for the same, sweet, less restrictive, part time deal Jericho was trying to land, but without it, she wanted to quit the company.
Regarding the possibility of a future change of heart by McMahon and bringing Jericho back into the WWE fold on a part time basis, more important than WrestleMania season, which is guaranteed to do well at the box office with Brock Lesnar, The Rock, The Undertaker and Triple H all expected to wrestle on the pay-per-view extravaganza of the year, is Monday Night Raw's recent dire ratings. Though stiff NFL competition hurts, the bigger problem is that WWE currently does not have enough star power to sustain their audience for three hours. As a special attraction then, Jericho's value goes up the longer Raw's ratings stagnate. Due to the increased rights fees from the USA Network for the extra hour of programming every week, WWE is likely going to do everything in its power to try and make the new three hour format a success, so Jericho may not have to wait long for the contract talks to reopen.
Of course, I would be a fool if I forgot to say that you should always be sceptical of any news regarding Chris Jericho that places doubt on a possible return date to WWE, as he is so fond of keeping the smart marks guessing about when he'll show up next on our television screens. Just look at what happened last year! It only took one week to pass by after Meltzer reported that Chris Jericho's November 2011 contract negotiations to return to WWE had broken down, before a cryptic WWE viral marketing campaign started to advertise the return of a mystery man on the Jan. 2nd edition of Raw, which, of course, turned out to be one Y2J. Could Jericho be working the dirt sheets once again with another fictitious WWE falling out? Perhaps, though as the sources for this news story seem to be from WWE's end, this is more likely to be legitimate. Which is tempting fate I know for videos on Raw next week to hype the latest coming of the WWE superstar with more mysterious resurrections than Jesus Christ. Are you getting a strange sense of déjà vu here, Cagesiders, or is Chris Jericho the boy who cried wolf once too many times?