Edge and Chris Jericho were traveling together between shows back around 2000 when they stumbled upon a video game arcade. Looking for something to do, they wandered inside looking for an old-school "Pac-Man" or "Street Fighter" distraction when they saw a couple of kids knocking the virtual slobber off one another in the classic "WWF Royal Rumble" arcade machine. As Jericho approached, he noticed that one of the gamers was actually playing as the virtual Y2J, so he calmly walked up behind the young boy and asked, "Who's winning?" Of course, the kid nearly stroked out when he turned around and saw who just asked him the question, and before he could even realize what was happening, Jericho pulled out some quarters to challenge the winner.
"I like to do that sometimes, like if I'm driving around an arena and fans are walking in and if someone has a Chris Jericho sign, I'll roll down the window and shout, "Nice sign!" Then I'll drive away and see their reactions in the rearview mirror," Jericho says with a laugh as I get him on the phone to talk wrestling and video games.
What's funny, though, is back when Edge first told me that arcade story a few years ago, it sounded more like a stunt from some hidden camera show or commercial, but when I look back on it now, it's crazy to think about just how far Jericho and Edge have come. Think about it. Edge wasn't even in the game back then, and now he is facing his old friend Jericho for the world heavyweight championship at Sunday's biggest wrestling event of the year, Wrestlemania XXVI.
And while neither Edge nor Jericho have to worry anymore about whether or not THQ will feature them in the upcoming "WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011," what's interesting is just how popular Jericho is with the video game community (maybe it has something to do with him challenging random kids at arcades).
According to THQ, the total number of content created in "WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2010" featuring Jericho, Edge, and the rest of the WWE roster (we're talking everything from created storylines to created finishers to even ditching THQ's version of Jericho in favor of their own created version of the superstar) is more than 307,000, with Jericho being one of the most popular when it comes to adding new finishers. Talk about a community hard at work.
In fact, "WWE Smackdown vs. Raw" has one of the most dedicated and passionate online communities of any game franchise around as fans have downloaded the various user-created content nearly 7 million times since "SvR 10's" debut back in October, with 5.8 million of these downloads being created characters alone.
"Being in video games is one of the benefits you don't think about when you're starting out, but it's definitely cool," says Jericho. "When you first start in the business, you just want to have one match. Then you just want to do one match in Japan, then just one match in the States. The fact that there's a video game where millions of people are using you as a way to enjoy themselves is cool. It just shows how far things have gotten for me as a performer."
Jon Robinson: Whenever I talk to Edge, he always mentions how his goal is to steal the show. Whether it's Wrestlemania or just an episode of "Smackdown" or "Raw," his goal is to go out and do something that leaves people talking. What will it take for you guys to steal the show at Wrestlemania this year?
Chris Jericho: If you don't have that attitude, then you shouldn't even show up, and that goes for whether you're in the main event or the opening match. What does it take? You just have to be smart about how you work the match, but a lot of it hinges on the crowd reaction. That's the X factor. Obviously, any match you have at Wrestlemania is magnified instantly just for the fact that you're at Wrestlemania, but sometimes the crowd goes nuts and other times they're a bit more subdued. So it really depends on what type of crowd we have and how they respond to our match. I think that's the biggest X factor on whether or not you have a classic, the reactions from the people that are there.
Jon Robinson: My favorite thing that you do in the ring is when you grab someone in a hold and immediately look at the referee and yell at the top of your lungs, "Ask him!" It always cracks me up when you're looking for someone to submit off of a headlock. How important are moments like that to help get the crowd into the match while at the same time helping shape your character?
Chris Jericho: That's something that I never sat down and said, "I'm going to say, 'Ask him!' and people will react." That's just something I started doing in Japan. Somebody there was always saying it, so I just started saying it and 15 years later, everyone is always coming up to me and saying, "Ask him! I love it when you say that." At first, I was like, "What are you talking about?" I never even thought about it. I didn't start saying it so it would end up on a T-shirt or anything like that.
But to play the part of the bad guy is quite an art form. It's a lot easier to make people hate you than it is to make them like you, but having said that, once they hate you, it's very hard to make them continue to hate you because most bad guys, even somebody like Darth Vader in the movies, they end up becoming good guys because they're so entertaining and so interesting in their character. That's one thing that in the WWE is so hard, to stay hated while at the same time delivering an interesting character. It's a fine line. So I take a lot of effort and a lot of steps in order to stay hated. Maybe I'll need to stop saying, "Ask him," just because people are starting to like that a little too much.
Jon Robinson: When the average sports fan turns on a WWE program, what do you think is the one thing that is most overlooked in terms of what you guys do inside the ring?
Chris Jericho: The debate on whether wrestling is real or not has long subsided and it's definitely show business, but it's still very much a contact sport. It's as much of a sport as figure skating or gymnastics in that you're doing athletic demonstration that is being judged. Any judge in the world can make the best person lose or the worst person win, and wrestling is like that as well. It's very much a contact sport, there's a lot of athleticism, but it's also decided by what's going on in the show. It's as physical a sport as football or hockey, and I think people underestimate just how physical it is. Even if you say, "Well, it's all predetermined," we're still doing things in the ring that other athletes couldn't do or wouldn't do.
Jon Robinson: Your dad played in the NHL. When you used to watch, were you a fan of the skilled players, or the goons who went in and mixed it up?
Chris Jericho: As a hockey fan, the goons fire things up and you have some fun with that, but there's no doubt the skilled hockey players, those are the guys who really capture your attention. Watching [Wayne] Gretzky play in the '80s was the most amazing thing ever because he was so much better than everyone else. He was just this naturally talented, gifted guy. It was the same as watching Jordan play or Shaun White in snowboarding. The goons are the dessert, but the skilled players are the meat and potatoes that really wow you.
Jon Robinson: Do you see a parallel with wrestling? There are skilled guys like yourself, then there are guys who just try to wow you with their size and brutality?
Chris Jericho: It's show business, so you have all different levels of performers. You have guys who have more finesse, guys who are more brawlers, you have guys who have that great connection to the crowd and great charisma, and others who have none of that who come in and out. Being in WWE is very much like being on a sports team. You have your roster with your franchise players, you have your supporting role players, then you have your minor league guys who drift in and out of the system.
Jon Robinson: Every time you go out to the ring with a microphone, it's almost like you were looking up words in your thesaurus backstage just to find new ways to insult the crowd. Where do you come up with these words and phrases?
Chris Jericho: It's just a thought process. You always see people who are holier than thou and who talk above your head. It's like when the plumber comes over and he tells you, "The problem is that the ventricular pipe is not feeding into the forceps." You're like, "Just fix the pipe, man, I don't care which comes which." It's the same thing when I go to the ring and use words like sycophants and mucilaginous. I just stumbled onto this about a year and a half ago, that if you use words to talk over their heads, it really makes them mad. A lot of people don't even know what these words mean, so they're like, "Who is this guy using these big, fancy words? He thinks he's better than everyone else." But once again, using these big words has become something that people look forward to and they're starting to cheer for, so I almost need to scale that back. Anything people start liking, I need to stop doing.
Jon Robinson: Do you have a favorite phrase to insult the crowd?
Chris Jericho: I like the way "gelatinous tape worm" sounds. It's not just that it's a tape worm, but it's made of jello. That's a double whammy right there. Mucilaginous is a good one too, but I'm not even quite sure exactly what that means.
Jon Robinson: Growing up watching wrestling, did you have a favorite Wrestlemania moment or match?
Chris Jericho: There were a couple of defining moments for me. Steamboat/Savage from Wrestlemania III was one that captured my attention as well as everyone else's. After that, Owen Hart versus Bret Hart at Wrestlemania X and Shawn Michaels versus Razor Ramon at Wrestlemania X were the ones I liked best.
Jon Robinson: Speaking of Bret Hart, did you ever think that you'd see him back inside a WWE ring? Not only did he come back, but he's wrestling Vince McMahon at Mania this year.
Chris Jericho: I never knew if we'd see him again, but I always hoped he'd come back. I think he deserves it, I think the fans deserve it, and it's great to have him back. It has been such a long time coming. Bret is like the "Chinese Democracy" of wrestling. You heard about it for so long, but you always wondered if it would ever come out. Now Bret is back and it's pretty exciting.
Jon Robinson: Besides being the champ on "Smackdown," you're also featured heavily on WWE's new development show "NXT." What made you want to participate in that show and help out some of these younger wresters? Who do you see as the breakout performers?
Chris Jericho: I wasn't really given a choice in performing. I was basically just told I was going to be on the show and that was it. But I think it's a good concept. There are still some bugs that need to be worked out in the system, but I like my protégé, Wade Barrett. I think he's got great presence and a great character. I also think Daniel Bryan, obviously, is an extraordinary performer as well. Those two guys stand out to me right off the bat.
Jon Robinson: I think your match with Daniel Bryan went a long way in helping make him a star with the WWE crowd. There was a spot in that match, though, where he flew toward you, but you threw him into the announcers' table and you could see his rib area instantly bruise. What was supposed to happen on that move?
Chris Jericho: Things happen, man. [laughs] You can't really say what was supposed to happen, but things happen and that's just the way it is. Going back to your previous question about what sports fans don't realize about the business, but you never know what is going to happen, you just have a certain plan that you try to go for. It's like if I'm playing hockey and I take a slap shot, but it ends up bouncing off of somebody's head and then goes into the net. You never know what could happen. In that situation with Bryan, that's not exactly what we had planned, but it ended up better than what we planned because it became such a memorable moment.
Jon Robinson: The "WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2010" video game lets you create your own storylines. Is there an ultimate storyline that you have in mind that you'd like to create?
Chris Jericho: I think it already happened. The storyline I had with Shawn Michaels a couple of years ago was an amazing example of storytelling. I think the Rey Mysterio one we did this summer was a great story, and the one we're doing right now with Edge at Wrestlemania is a great story. So I can't say that there's an ultimate storyline because some of the stuff I've already done, I've already been there in terms of telling great stories. And that's the most important thing about this business, telling a great story and getting a good personal issue to get people involved in what you're doing. If not, you're just two half-naked guys rolling around in your underwear, and there's nothing cool about that.
Jon Robinson: Since you're not just a wrestler but a musician [Jericho's band Fozzy just released a new CD], how would you rate the different entrance music of your fellow WWE competitors?
Chris Jericho: I think that "Stone Cold" Steve Austin still has a great one, and I've always loved Shawn Michaels' entrance music. I think Hunter's is cool, mine is cool, Edge's is great, and Undertaker also has a cool one. The worst one by far is Drew McIntyre's. Terrible, terrible. In Drew McIntyre's case, the idea is to not lull people into complete and utter boredom when your music gets played.
Jon Robinson: A few years ago you took a long hiatus from wrestling. How much longer do you see yourself keeping up your current pace and continuing to wrestle?
Chris Jericho: At this stage of the game, I'm doing the best work of my career and I feel physically great and mentally great, so there's no reason to think about stopping now. We'll see what happens, but for right now, I see no end in sight. But who knows, tomorrow I can wake up and give you a whole different story. But when I left, I said I wasn't going to come back until I felt like I could be better than ever, and I think the work I'm doing is the best of my career and I want to continue to do just that for as long as I can.