Back in March on his podcast, WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle called current AEW star Chris Jericho the new GOAT above WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels saying, “Chris, I want to tell you this,” Angle told Jericho. “I’ve always thought Shawn Michaels was the greatest of all time. And I’m not saying this to blow smoke up your ass, but what you’ve been able to accomplish in AEW, and how long you’ve been able to have this career, I think that you have taken over Shawn as the greatest of all time”. Angle received mixed reviews for his comments and recently doubled down on his position saying to Lucha Libre Online, “What he’s been able to do with his characters, changing and innovating himself and being able to be as effective as he is in the business this late in his career, at 51, 52 years of age, and being in the business for over 30 years…He’s put in a lot of time, a lot of effort, and he’s very talented, so, I put him up there with Shawn Michaels, but now, after being in AEW and doing the things he’s doing now, he has to be the greatest of all time, especially (for) the amount of years he put in.”
Now, being Kurt Angle, his words and endorsement do carry significant weight to them. But do they hold up in this case? I think that depends.
This topic came up on the Open Mic Night on NoDQ’s affiliate and contributor Jeff Mecham’s channel right after the WrestleMania Backlash watchalong. While Jeff, JJ, James, and Noah all were in agreement that Angle was spot on or at least close to it, I disagreed. I said that, in my opinion, Jericho is still not on the level of other future potential GOATS such as A.J. Styles, Edge, Randy Orton, and GOAT-prodigies Seth Rollins and Cody Rhodes and the draw that they are in wrestling. While some may say his promos and overall impact on the business may merit the title on their own, I thought his in-ring work left something to be desired, personally, and kept him from being in “the greatest of all time” category. Again, that was my personal opinion, just like Kurt Angle has his opinion, and he is very much entitled to it having been in the ring with Y2J as much as he was.
At the end of the discussion, being on the opposing end against those four, I conceded that I would do some research for myself and told them I will go through Jericho’s career again and go through watching some of his highest acclaimed matches throughout his 30 year career to see if my mind could be changed into saying Jericho is “the” GOAT.
First off, let’s talk about “GOAT” and the, arguably, four different levels that get to that:
One of the Greats
One of the greatest of all time (GOATs)
The greatest of all time (“the” GOAT)
All of these terms are used with varying degrees for multiple wrestlers. While Undertaker, Stone Cold, The Rock, Flair, Bret, and Cena are always going to be called “one of the greatest of all time”, the term “the” GOAT has always been universally accepted to describe and belong to Shawn Michaels, both by the locker room and fans alike. But again, when someone like Kurt Angle comes out and says, “this person has surpassed Shawn Michaels”, it makes a lot of people’s heads turn, like it did mine.
Secondly, let’s be honest and say that Chris Jericho has absolutely had one heck of a career in wrestling, just by statistics alone. From WCW, WWE, to NJPW & his current home in AEW, the Man of 1,004 Holds has been a prized commodity. From Eric Bischoff inviting him to WCW at a big event while in Japan, to Jericho sitting in on a production meeting at Vince McMahon’s home before officially jumping ship to WWE, to being the first wrestler signed by AEW outside the 4 Executive Vice Presidents, Jericho’s value has always been high and shown he can draw in an audience. But that doesn’t necessarily make him “the” GOAT. Nor does his in-ring work.
Third, to be considered a GOAT or “the” GOAT, takes not only the consensus of the fans, but of your peers as well. Now, in terms of his peers (and management), let’s take a look at some examples
* Named 25th overall in WWE’s Greatest 50 Superstars of All Time DVD as judged by the WWE locker room at the time in 2010 (this is no longer available on WWE Network or Peacock, thank you Bret Hart for that).
* The only major star to appear on WWE officially sanctioned programing by Vince McMahon on Peacock while under contract to AEW
* The Festival of Friendship was almost completely changed on him and he was almost overruled by Triple H in 2017 when Vince was not there.
* Being on second at WrestleMania 33 in 2017 with Kevin Owens, being demoted by Vince from the main event for the Universal Championship, which would have seen Jericho win, to losing the United States Championship instead, and being the second match on the main card for the second year in a row
* Vince also almost had the WWE Championship Match from WrestleMania XXVIII against CM Punk be just 2 minutes and end in DQ before Jericho and Punk convinced him to change it
* Considered among the 10 best ever by Stone Cold Steve Austin
* Received praise from Kenny Omega and Jon Moxley as having a legitimate argument as a GOAT
* Looked up to by Kevin Owens and The Miz among others
* High praise from multiple WWE website articles
Fourth, to be “the” GOAT, you first and foremost have to back it up where it counts the most: in the ring. Having wrestled in WWE, WCW, NJPW, and AEW, there are MANY matches to go through. I mentioned how I wasn’t the biggest fan of his in-ring work earlier, so for objectivity’s sake, I decided to go back and watch 17 of Jericho’s “greatest matches” to see if my thoughts changed. I intentionally kept out tag team and other multi-man matches because I wanted to focus solely on Jericho and his opponent. Those matches were:
vs. Triple H in a Last Man Standing Match, Fully Loaded 2000
vs. The Rock for the WCW Championship, No Mercy 2001
vs. Shawn Michaels, WrestleMania XIX 2003
vs. Rey Mysterio for the Intercontinental Championship, The Bash 2009
vs. Edge for the World Heavyweight Championship, WrestleMania XXVI 2010
vs. CM Punk, Payback 2013
vs. Eddie Guerrero for the Cruiserweight Championship, Fall Brawl 1997
vs. Juventud Guerrera Mask vs. the Cruiserweight Championship, SuperBrawl VIII, 1998
vs. Dean Malenko, for the Cruiserweight Championship, Uncensored 1998
vs. Kenny Omega for the IWPG United States Championship, Wrestle Kingdom 12, 2018
vs. Tatsuya Naito for the IWPG Intercontinental Championship, Dominion 2018
vs. Kazuchika Okada for the IWPG Heavyweight Championship, Dominion 2019
vs. Hangman Adam Page for the AEW World Championship. All Out 2019
vs. Cody Rhodes for the AEW World Championship, Full Gear 2019
vs. Jon Moxley for the AEW World Championship, Revolution 2020
vs. Orange Cassidy, Fyter Fest 2020
vs. MJF in a Career Threatening Match, All Out 2021
Most of these I had never seen before except three of the WWE ones, and even those ones I had not watched in years. So after watching them for this study, here are my thoughts: I VERY MUCH enjoyed these matches. Jericho is absolutely great in the ring, in part because of who he’s in the ring with but also because of his own skill. A match is not great just because of one person, so I don’t think it’s fair to say the matches are great only because of the other competitor in the match, like I probably would have before this watchthrough. It takes two to tango and Jericho has shown he can hang with the greats, which in turn elevates his own skill level. I think it’s clear when looking at some of these matches how Jericho goes from being the young gun in his match with veterans (Guerrero, Malenko), to being trusted by legends to have matches with them (Rock, Triple H, HBK), to being on that same level with them (Edge 2010, Punk 2013), to eventually being the ring general himself in AEW. His skill level grew and evolved with each landscape he was in. Both of those factors together make these matches so much fun to watch and why Jericho is labeled as one of the greats, and why I see and understand how Kurt Angle, in his opinion, lists him as “the” new GOAT over HBK.
So, with all of Jericho’s accomplishments and all his great matches, do I think that Chris Jericho is “the” GOAT of pro-wrestling over everyone else, including Shawn Michaels? My answer is a bit more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no”. My answer is: Chris Jericho, for me, has gone from being “one of the greats” to “one of the greatest of all time” in wrestling, but he is not “THE” GOAT in wrestling just yet.
Jericho has, objectively, had a very consequential impact on the pro-wrestling landscape: he was the first Undisputed Champion in WWE, still holds the record of Intercontinental Title reigns, and was the inaugural AEW Champion. He is fundamentally foundational to AEW, just as much as The Elite were, and how they approach the wrestling world and the alternative choices they are presenting. BUT, at the end of the day, like it or not, WWE still writes the history in the Book of Pro-Wrestling and Sports Entertainment. If (when is probably the better term here) he returns to WWE one final time and gets that last run and his Hall of Fame induction, that, I believe, could potentially solidify him as *the* GOAT. Objectively, Jericho is one of the greatest in wrestling history, but subjectively, for me, Jericho is not my personal top GOAT. We all have our own personal GOATS. That’s wrestling. And when you can bring wrestling fans of all different walks of life together who enjoy different styles and ways of wrestling, and you have them all singing your praises (like Shawn Michaels), then you are well on your way to you claiming that coveted “the” GOAT title. Jericho does have a very legitimate argument as “the” future GOAT, and I think these conversations and discussions are good and need to happen. Wrestling has so many great performers today and everyone is going to like some over others or like ones that others won’t. But when the wrestling fandom and wrestling world can come together and collectively say, “This person is ‘the’ GOAT”, then that is the magic and beauty of pro-wrestling and what continues to make wrestling fun for all of us.