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WWE Network Deep Cuts (July 2, 2014): Chris Jericho's 'Lionheart' days in WCW

Chris Jericho returned to WWE on Monday Night RAW this week, but from 1996-99, he was a star player in the WCW midcard, establishing himself as one of the best wrestlers in the world without having much chance to become more than a mid-level player.

WWE Network

I have a confession: when I ran the poll last week and the "Chris Jericho in WCW" option won, I wasn't surprised that it won, but I also did not know that Jericho was returning to WWE on RAW this week. I really, honestly, Scout's Honor, had no clue. I don't follow The News much anymore because for me, personally, as a person, just me, it sort of messes with my enjoyment. I'm not saying that it should be that way for you, but I'm watching wrestling more as a TV show than I used to, and that's working for me these days, so I'm not trying to mess with success.

So despite appearances, this week's feature topic for Deep Cuts is actually a happy coincidence of sorts. Yay!

Chris Jericho was never one of my very favorite guys at any point during his active career, before he was coming back for stints here and there, but I always liked him. Over time, he built up one of the finest wrestling careers we've ever seen, well-rounded, running from great stuff in the midcard and great stuff as a main event guy, wrestling in WCW's cruiserweight division and eventually becoming the WWF's first undisputed champion, unifying the WWF and (sorta) WCW world titles.

His WCW run was really amazing, overall. He had lots of good and great matches, and sort of created his own niche in a company where reaching the upper card was an uphill climb for someone who wasn't a pre-established star. Let's look back on five matches from his WCW run -- not a greatest hits, but we'll start early and end, you know, at the end.

Chris Benoit vs Chris Jericho (WCW Fall Brawl '96)

"Chris Jericho, making his first appearance on a major pay-per-view event here in World Championship Wrestling..."

Jericho had made his TV debut with WCW on August 26, 1996, and this was his pay-per-view debut on September 15. Tony Schiavone talks about how these two know each other well, wrestling one another in Canada and Japan in the past. Benoit is super over in Horsemen country. Mostly they're talking about the night's War Games main event, which has MYSTERY PARTNERS! Meanwhile, these two are having a hell of a wrestling match. The crowd dies down as this goes on and Jericho takes over, but they bring it back by chopping and slapping, but when Jericho gets the advantage again, they die down once more. It's what it is - Jericho was brand new and nobody had any particularly good reason to care about him. They pick up whenever Benoit takes over on offense.

Another way to look at this, other than the audience not caring about what Jericho's doing, is that these knowledgable fans are scouting the new guy. What's he do? What's he got going on? What's his deal? Should we care about this dude?

This picks up again in the home stretch, as Jericho tombstones Benoit, then misses the Lionsault, but lands a screeching lariat. This is a match that nicely showcases what Chris Jericho can do for a new audience, as he's going 50-50 with the established Chris Benoit, who wasn't consistently pushed at this point, but was way over and was respected as a top wrestler by the audience. Benoit finishes with a back superplex. Really, really good match. "Win, lose, or draw, Jericho's a star here in WCW," says Heenan.

Chris Jericho vs Ultimo Dragon (WCW Bash at the Beach 1997)

This was the third pay-per-view I ever ordered, followed by Starrcade '96 and WrestleMania 13. I just had to see Dennis Rodman wrestle. Jericho had won the cruiserweight title as a babyface in late June from Syxx, in a really bizarre thing where the babyface beat a heel who was already really tired from a prior match that night. Jericho and Dragon are both in light blue for this one, which makes for a really beach-y match at Bash at the Beach. Jericho got a foot in at ECW due to a match in Japan with Dragon, so this is a renewed rivalry.

Since this is 1997, some nerd is shining a laser pointer at Jericho at one point. This is a good match, but there comes a point where Jericho goes to dropkick Dragon off the top rope, but Dragon moves too quickly and just drops to the floor. Either that was legitimately a sacrifice move, or the dropkick just missed. It doesn't really matter, because the idea that Dragon just ducked out to drop down is reasonable enough.

This is a really good match, better than the Eddie match at SuperBrawl VII that I considered throwing in, then didn't, because it's not very good, but it also doesn't click and reach a special level. Dragon is short when he tries to dropkick Jericho on a Lionsault attempt, then they go into a nice finishing sequence that ends with Jericho retaining.

Chris Jericho vs Juventud Guerrera (WCW SuperBrawl VIII)

Juventud, when his head was on right, was as good as anyone in the WCW cruiserweight division. Really, he was about as good as anyone, anywhere. He was an awesome wrestler. Too often, he was just weird ass Juventud, though. And that's OK, too. I like crazy MFers. I also really dug Juventud's theme. (Speaking of themes, WWE Network has inserted Jericho's WWE theme into matches from '98 on, instead of using Jericho's WCW heel theme, the "Evenflow" ripoff.)

This was right after Jericho's official heel turn at Souled Out '98, where he beat a hobbled Rey Mysterio Jr to regain the cruiserweight championship, then smashed up his already-injured knee but good. This led to a tremendous few months of Jericho as the cruiserweight division's all-time greatest heel, even better than smarmy, shitty, slimy Eddie Guerrero in '97. And this one, a month after the win over Rey, was a title vs mask match.

Jericho, the insecure weirdo that he's become, refuses to take the belt off to start the match. Referee Mickey Jay just elects to allow this to start. This is a really fun match - I particularly love Jericho pretending to be unconscious on the floor to get counted out, which would not cost him his title, and would, I guess, cost Juventud his mask. Juvi catches on and drills him with an elbow to the chest. Jericho unleashes this little squeal before delivering a back elbow off the ropes, too, then hits the one-foot pin pose. Jericho was cooking with oil in '98.

Everyone gets excited when Juventud hits the 450 and gets the three-count, but as Mickey Jay is hitting the three, he notices Jericho's hand grasping the bottom rope, and it's a PSYCHE OUT, which gives Jericho the chance to attack his knee and gain the upper hand. After that, this match goes from really good to pretty damn great with a series of near-falls and such, as both men are exhausted and going for everything they can, before Jericho stretches him dead center in the middle of the ring in the Liontamer, and Juventud can't do anything but give up.

Chris Jericho vs Dean Malenko (WCW Great American Bash 1998)

This was the final PPV match of the Jericho-Malenko feud of '98, which was the best work either of them ever did in WCW, for my money, and they did a lot of good work in WCW, both of them. The feud stretched from March through this June match, starting with Jericho beating Malenko at Uncensored, which led to Malenko leaving, distraught with a run of poor results. Jericho insulted Malenko for a while, and Dean turned up at Slamboree in May, winning a No. 1 contender's battle royal while dressed as Ciclope, then lifting the cruiserweight title from Jericho right after unmasking. Dean then gave up the belt as Jericho spent weeks complaining about the trickery, doing his "conspiracy theory" run of promos, and WCW ordered the title to be decided between the two at the Great American Bash.

So this is the kiss-off match between them, though the feud would continue a bit, with Malenko involved in Jericho's match with Rey Mysterio Jr at Bash at the Beach, interfering on Rey's behalf, and Road Wild against Juvi, with Dean serving as referee.

They turn up the heat a bit in this match, with Malenko wrestling angry, which sort of betrays his normal "Iceman" demeanor, where he's cool, calculated, and emotionless. This gives Jericho some advantage, and he capitalizes. This is a good match, but certainly not on the level of the Slamboree match, which had the greater atmosphere. I chose this one instead simply because (1) everyone knows the Slamboree match rules, and (2) I hadn't watched this one in forever, and I kind of forgot if it was good or not. Or, well, I mean, I assumed it was at least decent, but that's about all it is. It's just a pretty good match.

Then Jericho snaps Malenko by shouting at him, "You're nothing, just like your dead father!" That gets Malenko into a rage, and he goes after him with a chair, and Deano Machino is disqualified, which gives Jericho the belt. Malenko beats him up into the backstage area and then out onto the street.

Chris Jericho vs Perry Saturn (WCW Uncensored 1999)

This was Jericho's final WCW pay-per-view appearance, finishing a weird little three-month feud he had with Perry Saturn. The height of this feud might have been Saturn willingly losing a match where the loser had to wear a dress, because he wanted to do something different. This is a dog collar match. Jericho tries to get Ralphus to put the collar on, but Ralphus finally stands his ground, refusing to take Jericho's orders any longer.

Jesus, I hadn't watched this match in forever, maybe even the full 15 years (probably, actually), and it is ... not good. In fact, it stinks. It stinks horrible. It reeks. It's an awful match. They never get into any sort of rhythm, the crowd doesn't care, the chain is jingling and jangling all over and just being a general audible annoyance, and it's a sloppy, crummy match. Maybe Jericho didn't really care much. Maybe Saturn was overrated. (He was.)


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