When it was revealed that Chris Jericho would fight Kenny Omega for the IWPG United States Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 12 in January, it shocked wrestling fans across the world. For Jericho, a chance to main event the Tokyo Dome was another feather he could put in his already colorful cap.
Jericho’s return to New Japan Pro Wrestling for the first time in nearly 20 years is just one of a handful of items on the pro wrestling legend’s to-do list in 2018. After his WWE contract expired in mid-2017, Jericho turned his focus on continuing his weekly podcast Talk Is Jericho, touring with his hard rock band Fozzy, promoting the new season of his CBC Comedy, But I’m Chris Jericho!, and acting as cruise director with the “Chris Jericho Rock N’ Wrestling Rager” cruise that sets sail in late October.
The cruise – a five-day trip filled with live wrestling, music, comedy, and podcast recordings – is the hallmark event of Jericho’s coming year, and is an idea he originally brought to the WWE before they turned it down. The vacation cruise features a headlining Ring of Honor tournament (aptly named, the “Sea of Honor Tournament”) that sees other stars who’ve made a name for themselves outside of the WWE, like Cody (Rhodes) and The Young Bucks, performing in the ring. Jericho, already an established name across the professional wrestling world, said his future with the WWE is unclear. “Will I go back? I’m sure I will, but if I don’t it wouldn’t bother me either,” the 47-year-old entertainer tells Rolling Stone. “I’ve had a lot of great times there, but I’ve got a lot of stuff on the horizon that’s building as well.”
Jericho spoke with Rolling Stone by phone to discuss the latest details of his cruise, how his upcoming match with Kenny Omega came about and why he thinks it’s only a matter of time before every successful indie wrestling star winds up in the WWE.
Where did this idea for the “Chris Jericho Rock N’ Wrestling Rager” cruise come from?
Fozzy played the “Kiss Kruise” back in 2015, and I was just blown away by how much fun it was and also by just how many activities were going on. I started thinking, “I’m known for two things: wrestling and music.” I’m probably the only guy on the planet – with a few exceptions – that has succeeded at a high level in both, and I just thought, “Man, I can do this.” The original idea was for it to be called “The Chris Cruise” and it would be everything that I’m into – which is obviously music and wrestling – but you know, podcasting and paranormal and comedy and all that stuff.
I thought the connection with fans would be the wrestling cruise and we’d have actual matches on board the ship while we’re at sea. When we got off the boat, I called my manager and said, “This is what I want to do. How can we make it happen?” That’s kind of where it started. It was two years from that phone call, almost to the day, to us announcing the cruise. Now that it’s gone on sale, it’s really cool. But the work is just beginning because now I’ve got to sell this thing out. Once we sell out the first one and we go for a loop around, it will become an annual thing.
What did you all have to prepare for in terms of the logistics of hosting a wrestling tournament at sea?
That was the hardest sticking point, to decide whether this was safe and if this was engineer-ically sound. I had to have a team of engineers go onboard the Norwegian Pearl to see if a wrestling ring could be secured to the deck with no issues. To me, I was like, the fucking Kiss stage is anchored to the deck. Kiss’ stage is a lot bigger and weighs a lot more than a wrestling ring, but still you have to do the due diligence because it’s never been done before. The other issue was that I wanted to do a wrestling cruise, but how do I book the talent? I can’t put together my own card independently because I don’t know where everyone will be a year from now – heaven forbid somebody gets hurt or signs with WWE – and that’s why I decided to actually go with a company [Ring of Honor], so I could put the name value of the company on there and not have to worry about individual names because the company is the company. When the Super Bowl comes to down, you buy a ticket. You don’t care who’s in the game. You just want to be a part of the event. That’s what I’m selling, the event of Ring of Honor aboard the “Rock N’ Wrestling Rager.”
Do you have plans to pop up in ROH and promote the cruise during this next year?
No, that’s up to Ring of Honor. When I signed Ring of Honor, I let them decide who’s in the tournament and what to do. I get emails every day from people saying, “Can I be in it?” I don’t know, ask Ring of Honor. It’s their responsibility. I’m not going to be hanging around Ring of Honor. My association with them is that they’re putting on an amazing tournament on my cruise and that’s kind of the extent of it.
You’ve got this cruise, your podcast, a Fozzy tour in the spring and a match with Kenny Omega at Wrestle Kingdom for NJPW in January. Is this next year all about focusing on your personal projects outside the WWE?I haven’t been full-time with the WWE since 2010. That’s something a lot of people don’t realize, because when I come back there’s always a good angle. And 2016 was one of the best years of my career, so people are always asking when I’m going back but there were no plans to go back. There still isn’t. I knew that I was leaving in May 2017 because the new Fozzy record would be coming out around that time, the cruise was culminating, the new book came out in August; I’ve have another season of But I’m Chris Jericho! that debuts December 7th; I have the special on the Travel Channel that was possibly a series, so I have a lot of stuff going on.
I never expected the Kenny Omega-Jericho thing, that just kind of came up. It was something that I thought was really cool that fans never expected would happen and once it happens it just blows their minds. It’s definitely the most talked about match in the wrestling world today. I just saw a big sign for it on the marquee at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. It’s a worldwide phenomenon match and one of the few true dream matches that exist in this day and age. Once again, it puts me right back in the thick of things headlining the Tokyo Dome. It’s kind of the way that I’ve built my life and professional career. It’s all a lot of fun to do, so the WWE takes a back burner. That’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s been for the last little while. Will I go back? I’m sure I will, but if I don’t it wouldn’t bother me either because I’ve had a lot of great times there, but I’ve got a lot of stuff on the horizon that’s building as well.
So you’re not locked in any sort of part-time contract with the WWE?
Nope. My contract ended with them on April 30th, 2017.
Did you pitch the idea for the Omega match?
It was an idea that was pitched to me that I agree upon and we worked backwards from there. It was kind of a thing like, “What would you think about this? Ha-ha.” But I didn’t laugh. I actually thought it’d be pretty cool. So, once I kind of signed off on it, the guy, Don Callis (New Japan Pro Wrestling commentator), who pitched it to me took it to Kenny and then Kenny took it to New Japan and negotiations began. It wasn’t something that was easily put together. It took from June to sometime in September before we finalized the deal and were able to agree.
New Japan has grown in popularity in the last year, while more independent wrestlers are finding success outside of the WWE. Do you see more opportunities popping up for wrestlers other than the ones in WWE?
The best thing that can happen is there’s more places where guys can make a legitimate living. I always say to guys that are not having fun in the WWE or are having fun outside the WWE: The WWE isn’t going anywhere. It will be here for the rest of our lives and our children’s lives. Go experience the world. Go see what’s out there. Go make a name for yourself, which just makes you even more valuable when you come into the WWE. That’s what I did.
It took me nine years to get to the WWE. I worked Japan and Mexico for years, so when it was time for me to come to the WWE, I had more name value and I was worth more money. It’s like anything else: You can make millions of dollars in the WWE, but you’ve got to be on top. You can make big money outside of the WWE, but you’ve got to be on top. Not everybody who leaves to go do the New Japan/Ring of Honor thing is going to make tons of cash like the Young Bucks do or like Kenny Omega does, but that’s just how it goes, and you take your chance. For me, of course I know what’s going on in the outside world.
The WWE is the ultimate money machine, but if you can get to the point where you can make some big money on your own outside of that machine, do it because guess what? It just makes you more valuable to the WWE. That’s another reason why I wanted to do the Omega match. If I go back to the WWE tomorrow, I know what’s going to happen. I know where I’ll be slotted, and I’ll know who I’m wrestling. But now, I’m headlining the Tokyo Dome. That’s like being in the main event of WrestleMania. I don’t know if I’d be in the main event of WrestleMania in 2018, but if I went back tomorrow, I say the plans are probably already etched in stone.
This is the only time I’ll be ever be the headliner of the Tokyo Dome. That’s a pretty big deal and that’s where I said, “This makes me even more of a draw and makes me more of an even bigger name.” And it also shows that I don’t give a fuck. I’m going to do what I feel is best for Chris Jericho and do what’s best for my creative stimulation and for the building of my brand.
You brought up the creative intrigue of having a match outside the WWE. Is that something wrestlers today are finding as valuable as money?
That’s kind of always been the way of the wrestling business. You work in a territory until you get stale, then you go somewhere else. I think the worst thing that happened in a lot of ways was when the WWE bought WCW in 2001 because then there was no more alternative for people. There’s nothing better than having variety. Then, with the rise of Ring of Honor and some of those bonafide stars – the Young Bucks, the Bullet Club and Cody Rhodes, who has built himself up way bigger than he ever would’ve been in the WWE; Kenny Omega is just smartly staying in Japan – these guys now, they call their own shots, they work where they want to work, they book their own finishes, they do what they want to do.
I mean, listen, we all want to work for the WWE, but when you go there you’re working under a different system. Until you’re ready to do that, stay where you get all the freedom in the world and do what you want to do. That’s my advice to all the guys, because there’s nothing better than having that freedom and knowing that, “Oh man, I can do whatever I want and there’s no one to answer to.” But once again, enjoy it while you can because sooner or later you’re going to end up in the WWE because everybody does. It’s where you want to go.