This column is the final part of the three part Barbershop Trilogy. To read the previous episodes, visit the anthology page here.
First, there was the window of the Barber Shop, its broken shards parting not only for the head of Marty Jannetty but for Shawn Michaels to burst into the limelight.
Then, 16 years on, there was the infamous episode of the Highlight Reel. This time it was Michaels’ turn to break the glass down, with Chris Jericho the man to turn on his alleged compadre.
It was, therefore, only a matter of time before Jericho became the recipient of a third attack in the series.
The circumstances in which it came, though, could never be foreseen. They might not ever be emulated, either.
After Jericho had mangled Michaels, the pair went on to shine throughout the summer of 2008. It was the best feud of the year, possibly the decade, maybe even of all time.
So many great things followed for Jericho, post-Michaels. There was the legends feud into Wrestlemania 25; Jeri-Show, as Chris and his huge partner claimed tag gold; during the oft-criticised ‘Guest Host era’ Jericho managed to still shine and created some of the best moments of the period; there was a team and a feud with Edge; an underrated run through Wrestlemania with CM Punk; and, just so you do not think this article is shameless pandering, yes, there was the Fandango thing as well.
In 2014/15 Jericho, always one for bucking trends, would frequently appear at WWE live events, but not on TV, as opposed to the other way around. After sporadic appearances on TV, he would briefly team with AJ Styles before turning on him, leading to a Wrestlemania encounter.
The attitude adjustment was due. Nothing Jericho does, or did, is ever poor, but for a few years he had been used as a facilitator, working with those individuals WWE expected to shine in the future. Jericho was not a bad candidate for this role – he would surely be of benefit to anyone he came up against – but it did feel a little like a waste. If Jericho, by then into his mid-40s, still had something in him, then why not use it while you still could.
His character development had now stalled a little, too. Initially, The Honest Man had been replaced by another brilliant personality twist, as the era of the Obliviously Hubristic Rock Star Jericho was ushered in. Come on, baby!
This did not really stick, though, and for a couple of years the Jericho gimmick was essentially ‘man with colourful jacket’. We all know that he can do better than that.
The break-up with Styles was another catalyst, as the Madonna of professional wrestling tweaked the presentation yet another time.
In came a ridiculous scarf with no shirt, along with a new general put-down, calling everyone and anyone a ‘stupid idiot’. Jericho, master of the small things, even changed the way he stood, arm behind the back and chin in the air.
Over 25 years in, this respected figure, continuously entertaining, still managed to make you hate him just by standing there. That is a skill, my friends.
Midway though 2016, Stupid Idiot Jericho in full force, he added two more things to the repertoire. One began life as a 30cm prop in a mid-Raw promo, but became as integral to Chris as a guitar was to Hendrix.
To begin with, it was a clipboard holding a piece of paper that contained Jericho’s grievances with General Manager Mick Foley. It became…The List!
Jericho’s exasperations with various other WWE personnel, and his subsequent addition of them to his List of Jericho, was a weekly highlight of Raw. In a similar manner to Bobby Heenan, Jericho had again nailed the art of being hilarious yet hated.
His other acquisition of mid-2016 was a new best friend.
With Jericho feuding with Enzo and Big Cass, Kevin Owens arrived as an unlikely ally for Chris. When the partnership was made leading to Summerslam, I’d guess it was probably not intended to be a long-term thing. However, the chemistry with Jericho and Owens was there from the first verbal interaction.
Owens, to his lasting credit, possesses a rare trait, but one shared by Jericho and a select few others. It is an ability to show levity and make a crowd laugh, but also to maintain credibility.
Credibility which was added to when Owens won the Universal Title – qualifying for a title match with a little help from his new pal, then getting further assistance from Triple H – on an episode of Raw in late August 2016.
And so the pair of new friends embarked on an unlikely journey.
Owens would spend the rest of the year clinging on to his belt, with Jericho typically aiding Kev’s big wins. In the New Year, Jericho won the United States Championship from Roman Reigns, adding a new dimension to the duo’s dynamic, and adding a level of preening pomposity. It was quality stuff.
With Jericho in a shark cage, Owens wrestled Roman but held on to the belt at Royal Rumble – Braun lending a hand this time – then the night after, the opposite happened, with Reigns causing a no contest in Owens’ defence with Braun.
Owens and Jericho were seemingly invincible. On February 6, however, Owens was faced with a new contender: Goldberg.
The former WCW champion, in the midst of a feud with Brock Lesnar, showed up to interrupt the musings of Owens and Jericho, with Goldberg even signing his own name to The List of Jericho. Chris, irked, challenged Bill to a match with Owens at Fastlane, much to his French-Canadian mate’s chagrin.
The following week, live from Las Vegas, Jericho would present one of his his biggest creative accomplishments, drawing on various influences to create one of the most compelling, ludicrous, funny, intriguing, over-the-top and brutal moments on Raw in years.
Jericho was the epitome of ‘all-in’ here – and I don’t mean a show that was the pre-cursor to his current company’s existence.
Clad in spangly silver, with trilby to match, Jericho was absurd as he introduced the extravaganza. And I mean that as a huge compliment. Owens, of course, reacted to the Las Vegas-style graphics and half-dozen showgirls with a reluctance befitting his character.
On reaching the ring, the Canadian duo were met with appropriate red carpet, and set dressing with red velvet covering over what sat on two stands, either side of a flat-screen TV.
The conclusion of all this would mark our third point as we plot the progress of the Barber Shop Trilogy. It has to be said, though, this skit borrowed heavily from the famous ‘This is Your Life’ segment starring The Rock and Mick Foley. Again, not a criticism. If you are going to lean on something for a bit of a narrative steer, best to do it on something that drew one of the highest ratings in history.
Then came the gifts. First, a Ralph Guggenheim sculpture – The Art of Jericho – the symbol of friendship. Next, ‘The Creation of Kevin’, a take-off of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel ceiling, starring a beaming Jericho and God-like Owens.
(If we are being technical, it should be the Creation of Jericho, as Chris is in the Adam position, but I’m not Sister Wendy so let’s carry on)
Owens refused to acknowledge that this would go above his fireplace, citing Jericho’s bare legs as something he did not want his kids seeing. “It’s art,” responded Jericho, in one of the all-time great Raw lines. “You don’t need pants!”
This was the start of the escalation of Owens’ exasperation in this scene, a microcosm of his general frustration with his omnipresent pal. Though we would soon find out that Owens had something in store for Jericho all along, Kevin’s growing annoyance would be necessary for where we were headed.
Next came our latest version of Yurple, in the shape of Friendship the Magician, the Illuminati of Illusion…really just a thin lad in a brown and green suit, pulling stuff from his mouth and creating bad scarves and roses from a puff of smoke. Owens blew the conjurer off, so Jericho added Friendship to the The List.
Jericho then called out Goldberg, with a commercial break to build tension and to do a cute version of Jericho’s “get <pause> it” joke, which was actually too cute for the audience. Instead of Big Bill, we got Diddy Duane, as Duane Gill – Gillberg – came to the ring, only to be beaten up by Owens.
Owens was mad by this point, and now came the key to getting the ultimate heat to finish this segment off. It was important – no, vital – that Jericho got contrite. The jokiness evaporated, and he spoke seriously, like he truthfully meant his words sincerely.
“I did all this for you,” said Jericho to Kevin. “I apologise that it wasn’t what you were expecting it to be, but I really wanted to do something to show everybody what you mean to me as a friend. For the last year, I have had such a great time working with you, being your partner. It has made this last year in the WWE one of my favourite years of my entire career. A lot of that is because of you. It really is.
“I have had a lot of friends in this business, a lot of partners. But I haven’t had the chemistry with any of them like I have with you. It’s been a joy. You’ve made my job here, my time in the WWE, a better place. I wanted to thank you for that.”
The crowd actually started to cheer. Jericho was on great, believable form here. Possibly because one feels that this Chris-to-Kevin conversation could have been Irvine to Steen and it would have still stood up. One senses Jericho’s words and feelings were the actual truth.
If you distil wrestling down, there are really two archetypes of The Heel. One is an evil, credible threat; the other is a twerp. The first you hate because he is nasty and despicable; the other you boo because he does not deserve to be where he is, and is a laughable figure.
This incarnation of Jericho was a twerp, and a bloody good one. However, because his misdemeanours were not heinous, when he got serious here, you actually felt for the guy. He was obviously in the thrall of his new mate, and wanted to impress him. I think we can mostly empathise with that.
It was absolutely crucial we felt that way, even for just a couple of minutes. It was the difference between setting Owens as the nasty rotter, as opposed to being understandably fed-up of the wally that was bugging him.
If we travel back to when Marty went out of the window, at that point wrestling was black and white. Heroes were honourable, villains utter cads. In a post-Austin, post-NWO world, things became different. It was cool to disrupt. Austin stunned Santa, for goodness sake – and was still the most over babyface in history. Years later, a Wrestlemania crowd would boo a gospel choir, of all things, because they had the temerity to be associated with John Cena.
So it was absolutely crucial that Jericho got this speech right. If he came across as a whiner, a loser, a jester, a fool, Owens would have been lauded for beating him up.
That was not Jericho’s delivery. He actually got people to sympathise. And then he became vulnerable.
Chris told Kevin to forget the artwork and the magician and Gillberg, and explained that his biggest present would be helping Owens to victory over Goldberg at Fastlane.
Sincere Jericho appeared to win Owens over. He too, seemed to soften, and while clearly not enamoured with this Festival, he thanked Chris and hugged his buddy. He then said he had something for Jericho, too.
Owens handed Chris a small box. Jericho, now essentially playing a 13-year-old boy, was excited at what he saw: “It’s perfect. A new list!” The crowd cheered.
Out came the new list, and Jericho’s face dropped. “How come my name is on this?” he said. There was enough of a pause, as he lifted the list to reveal, written on the back, the words: The List of KO.
The camera cut to a close-up of Owens’ face, as the crowd got it, and gasped. The sound of the mic dropping preceded a cut back to Jericho’s face as the penny dropped… then so did he, as Owens attacked.
Owens battered Chris on the outside, smashed up some of the artwork, and breathed in the boos. A powerbomb into the apron, then Owens glanced into the ring, in our final bit of foreshadowing. He hoisted up Jericho, spoke softly to him, and drove him into the TV screen, which shattered.
The whole thing was a masterpiece. There is a huge difference between homage and rip-off. This was the former, beautifully playing on what came before to entertain everybody, but also to try to achieve the ultimate short- and medium-term goals; namely to sell tickets to the upcoming Fastlane PPV, get Owens over as a villain, and to build to Jericho v Owens at Wrestlemania.
That The Festival of Friendship was an instant classic, and one for the ages, was icing atop a wonderful cake.
And so our trilogy ends. But, like Star Wars, or Indiana Jones, eventually someone has to come along and add another instalment.
I’ll meet you back here in eight years’ time, when it is time for the next up-and-coming star to fling the 44-year-old Kevin Owens through a conservatory or something.
If you enjoyed this column and you have not yet read the first two parts of The Barbershop Trilogy, you can do so here.