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Chris Jericho returns to WWE: Reasons to be Excited and Afraid

In case you decided to go on a media free start of the week, turn off your television, put down your phone and computer and just realign your chakras, you probably missed last night's big return to WWE Raw.

Actually, there were several, and one is arguably as big as the one we're going to be looking at here in a second.  But with all due respect to AJ Lee, and a tip of the cap to Mike Mizanin, no one returns quite like the Ayatalloh of Rock n' Rolla.

The 2014 version last night on the June 30th episode of Raw was no exception.  Even though he had sent out some messages via social media indicating that he was elsewhere with family, word leaked that Chris Jericho was the returning former WWE champion.  After briefly teasing that The Miz was the returning star, "Break the Walls Down" blared over the XL Center loud speakers as the camera panned to a figure in a jacket made of blinking lights in a familiar pose.

Five minutes later, before we even had a chance to catch our breath, we learned who Y2J was back to work with, and most got even more excited for his upcoming feud with Bray Wyatt than they were for his return.

Count me among those.  But as anyone who's read this column before knows - I love pro wrestling, but I'm also neurotic.  Here's what I'm excited and afraid about Y2J14.

On the one hand:

1) It's Chris FREAKING Jericho.

Few guys in the history of the business possess the skills and appeal of Y2J.  He's not a mega-main eventer like Hulk Hogan, The Rock or Stone Cold Steve Austin.  But he's in the rung of names below that that includes Triple H, Mick Foley and Shawn Michaels.

He's confident and charismatic on the microphone as a heel or a face.  He's capable of good-to-great match with just about anyone.  He's believable in a feud against a mid-carder or a World champ.  The man has a very good understanding of what is entertaining, how to connect to an audience and why pro wrestlers succeed at doing those things.

He's the Bryan Mills of WWE:  "I don't have a thousand colored shirts to sell you, nor am I the highest grossing actor in Hollywood.  What I do have is a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career.  Skills that make me a wet dream for fans like you."

It's never bad to have Chris Jericho back on WWE television.

2) You know what Bray Wyatt needs?  A program with Chris Jericho.

I had an idea in (SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT) my Raw preview the other day for how WWE could re-group with the Bray Wyatt character after losing a program with John Cena and not seeming like a someone they seriously considered for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship with the way he was booked in the ladder match for those belts at Money in the Bank.

I threw the name Sheamus out as a former champ that could give Bray a fight and that a victory over would serve as a nice résumé builder.  Jericho checks those boxes and then some.

Unlike The Celtic Warrior, Y2J can go toe-to-toe with Wyatt in the ring and on the microphone.  And, they have some history.  I couldn't find a clean link to it, but seek out the April 24 and May 1, 2013 episodes of WWE NXT.  You'll find some stuff that looks like this:


It was only one match, but it did receive a decent build via a couple of backstage segments and was a heck of a bout.  Even better, the basis of the feud addresses a potential negative of Jericho's return.  And it left Wyatt with a broken nose that required him to wear a protective mask for a month or so afterwards, so there's more fodder to draw on, if they so choose.

Bottom line is, as I pointed out in (SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT) today's Raw Reactions, when he leaves in a few months, The Eater of Worlds will at least be able to saw he defeated the first Unified champ, and knowing Jericho, he'll probably be able to saw that he beat him so bad he left the company.

3) Jericho returns feel special, and right now WWE needs something special.

Not that they aren't doing a bunch of things well - they are.

But in the last six months they've lost the services of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, two guys who can do a lot of things, but most importantly appeal to the adult male fan.  With the financial reporting on the company being less than favorable coming off of disappointing subscriber numbers for WWE Network and a disappointing television contract due in part to unfavorable demographics for advertisers, the company can't afford to lose any 18-35 year old men from their audience right now.

Enter bestselling author, star of web-based comedy programs, host of a successful podcast, rock n' roll front man and all around cool dude Chris Jericho.  Thousands of guys who were thinking about taking a break from wrestling until after football season is over just decided to at least keep an eye on the product until Night of Champions.

That's best for business-ah.

On the other hand:

1) He looked kind of...old.

Full disclaimer.  Mr. Jericho is almost exactly two years older than me, and I will not look as good as he does when I hit 43.  Heck, I did not look as good at 35 as he does at 43 (I was kind of cut when I was 30, though).

Last night, I thought I saw a little hint of a bald spot being covered up by his moussed up bangs.  His gut stuck out a little farther than his chest, as it does on all human beings as we age.  And that's all well and good.  I don't expect him to come out looking as good as he did when he returned to feud with Punk in 2012, fresh off of his first course of DDP Yoga.

But part of the Chris Jericho legend is that he won't be wrestling past his expiration date.  He won't stick around until we're tired of seeing him and we won't get a prolonged farewell tour for him.  With that, I always assumed that I'd remember him at his peak - a golden god - not an aging mortal.

He's going to bring the goods, and it'll be alright.  But for dudes who are either facing middle age or who are already in it (a key part of his fan base), it's a reality check to see the epitome of 90s cool start to look his age.

2) "All he does is put people over, so it doesn't help the guys he's working with when they beat him"

This became an argument last Spring after Fandango beat him at WrestleMania 29.  And there might be something to it.  I'd argue that the fact that 'Dango flopped after working with Y2J had little to nothing to do with Y2J, but his victory over Jericho didn't "make him", that's for sure.

As his feud with Punk the year before went on, both men received a fair amount of criticism for not living up to expectations.  We all hoped that their program would be Jericho/HBK II, and when it wasn't, it became hard to enjoy it on its own merits.

After the buzz of another successful surprise return wears off, those same criticisms will start up again.  I'll probably even let myself get dragged in to arguing with folks over them from time to time.  So I'll just put forth my thesis for all of those arguments here: the pop he gets when he comes back, combined with the fact that announcers can always say that "so and so has a victory over five time World champion Chris Jericho" means something.  It is never going to be THE thing that gets someone over, but if the performer and Creative do their jobs, it can be a part of the puzzle in taking a guy to the next level.

Even if Rybaxel put him on the shelf last time.

3) Relying on the past.

Of the "bunch of things they're doing well" I mentioned earlier, three of those things are building The Shield into future main eventers.  But when the build to SummerSlam depends on Brock Lesnar's pending return and is bolstered by the surprise return of Chris Jericho, WWE is not doing enough to solidify their full-time ranks.

Yes, plans took a hit when Bryan went down.  The recent injury to Bad News Barrett as he was gaining steam as an upper mid-carder is a blow, too.  But injuries happen in pro wrestling.  And the answer nearly every time shouldn't have to be "offer Jericho or Rob Van Dam a bunch of money for a few months".

Giving screen time to these guys does take time away from someone else.  Sure, NXT is supposed to address this, but there are still communication issues between Developmental and the powers backstage at the main shows.  Yes, a chance to work with the Sexy Beast, or The Whole F'n Show is beneficial to a young hand, but RVD and Jericho aren't back to give lessons to the undercard, they're here to work with specific people.

It's great that WWE has folks like Y2J they can call to plug in for a few months at a time, once or twice a year.  But it would be better if they didn't have the holes at all, or at least had guys backstage they were willing to trust to fill them.

Final Analysis:  Given that one of my 'afraids' was just an excuse to launch a preemptive argument, you can probably see where this is gonna end up.  But I do have some concerns, so I'd say I'm 85% excited and 15% afraid for Y2J14.

What about you, Cagesiders?  Will he save us, or is Jericho's return a sign of problems in WWE?

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