This column is the second part of a three part series titled The Barbershop Trilogy. To read the first and final parts, you can visit the anthology menu here.
In 2008, Chris Jericho – a beloved figure in professional wrestling – successfully achieved what few in the 21st century have managed to do: become respected, but also truly hated.
To do it, Jericho took a leaf from the playbook of the man with whom his career is inextricably linked.
The famous Barber Shop Window incident, where Marty Jannetty was defenestrated, was the point at which Shawn Michaels’ career took off.
The potential was always there, but when his tag partner was jettisoned through the glass, from there The Heartbreak Kid was born.
It worked out very well for Michaels; who knows what would have happened without the incident. Marty would check in and out of the WWF for various reasons over the ensuing years, but by then Shawn was a solo act, and became the focal point for the company as the 90s wore on.
Shawn took a hiatus with a back injury between 1998 and 2002, but after returning, once again took up a position as one of the most respected wrestlers in the industry.
After a stunning match with Triple H and a World title win, Shawn moved into 2003 and began a feud with Chris Jericho, which culminated in a very good match at Wrestlemania 19.
In 2005, a fit-yet-jaded Jericho departed wrestling, taking a two-year hiatus from the ring to explore other opportunities. He returned with his usual gusto, a brilliant set of videos leading to his reappearance, but there was something missing.
This was Y2J, but perhaps the time for that character had gone. Jericho had constantly, subtly altered his persona throughout his career, but this felt like a limp attempt to recreate the catchphrase-spewing original of 1999. Eight years on Chris, now pushing 37, seemed not to have the spark he once did.
Feuds with Randy Orton and JBL were no better than adequate; the only real development was Jericho’s new Codebreaker finishing move. It was not time for the Error 404 message, but this was starting to feel like </Jericho>. ‘Save Us Y2J’ was in danger of morphing into “save it, Y2J”.
Chris Irvine, though, is far too intelligent to have fallen by the wayside. He, no doubt, weighed everything up, thought about how to adapt his character, and hatched a plan.
Exactly 12 years, ago, on the Monday Night Raw of June 9, 2008, sixteen-and-a-half years on from an earth-shattering edition of the Barber Shop, Shawn Michaels was the guest on the Highlight Reel.
If you recall, signs of fracture between the Rockers were escalated in a match between Shawn and Ric Flair. However, nine minutes on Prime Time Wrestling in late 1991 was not quite the emotional kick-in-the-mouth of “I’m sorry, I love you” of Wrestlemania 26.
The first attempt to play off of Flair’s finale was a Shawn v Batista programme, but Big Dave’s bitterness at Michaels retiring Ric did not really ring true. Jericho was added to the mix, as referee, as The Animal met The Showstopper at Backlash. HBK feigned injury, forcing Jericho to give Shawn the time he needed to nail Batista and claim the win.
An annoyed Jericho wrestled Shawn at the following PPV, Judgment Day, with Shawn grabbing a quick pin for the win. The pair shook hands, the hatchet seemingly buried.
At One Night Stand, Michaels took a pummelling from Batista in a stretcher match, with Jericho appearing as the match drew near its denouement, urging Shawn on. It was to no use, as Batista emerged victorious.
Eight days later, and the multi-coloured carpet was laid out for Jericho’s talk show. It is worth noting that Jericho’s music was greeted with a strong positive reaction. The Orton/JBL feuds had not been scintillating, and his character had waivered with his interaction with Michaels, but the fans were still with him. That would soon change.
Jericho’s guest was Shawn, with the duo now firmly established as being on the same side. The pair had become friends after their bickering – we should have seen the inevitable coming.
That great faction The Spice Girls – Is Spiceworld near Dudleyville? – once said that friendship never ends. They would never believe that if they were wrestling fans (mind you, it is said that the girls desired a Dolph v Justice dream match; they really, really, really, really wanted to see Ziggler/Sid…ah).
[Ed’s note: we at HOW are really sorry for the above Spice Girls joke. Rob has been reprimanded accordingly and his ringtone has been changed to Spice Up Your Life for 30 days.]
Michaels, hurting from the Batista beating, needed some love like he had never need love before [oh, FFS – Ed]. And he got it from Jericho, who after introducing his guest, dished out the compliments.
“You put on such a gutsy performance, Shawn,” said Chris. “You showed so much heart and so much courage, you should be proud of yourself. I was proud of you. All our fans around the world, even though you lost that match, they still love ya!”
Cue cheers, and some ‘ah shucks’ gestures from HBK, but was he buying it? “I appreciate the kind words, but you got a question in any of this?”
Jericho started to wobble. He talked about Shawn’s faking of a knee injury, saying that Michaels lied to everybody. Shawn denied it, saying he would do anything to win, and that the only person he lied to was Jericho.
Chris continued the litany of his gripes about Shawn, albeit all in a relatively jovial way. All the time, though, his syntax was setting up the next phase of his career.
This was classic storytelling, but never straying into in-your-face exposition. Jericho complained that Michaels would get cheered whatever fast ones he pulled, including superkicking Chris, while Y2J, “although I am adored by the fans as well”, was getting booed for not doing the right thing and not smashing up people with chairs.
Too often a heel turn – or a babyface switch, for that matter – happens because it is booked that way. We do the turn for shock value, then find a reason, no matter how lily-livered, later on.
Not this time. Layers had been slapped on for weeks, and now Jericho was essentially narrating Michaels’ charge sheet.
Jericho’s major gripe was for getting booed for being “an honest man.” Those three words would essentially shape Chris’s character for the next phase of his career. Just 11 little characters when typed out, but to Jericho, it was an ethos to build his entire presentation around.
“It seems our fans, even the ones here, would rather boo an honest man, and cheer for you,” said Jericho, albeit still in the tone of a frustrated hero, as opposed to a calculated villain.
The character shift took place mid-sentence, with Jericho’s exceptional verbal skills, and his perhaps-underrated acting chops, setting up this whole angle.
He began: “My question is this: How does Shawn Michaels, HBK, one of the greatest performers of all time and one of the most highly-decorated superstars in the history of this business, turn into such a lying, cheating…”
Jericho’s tone changed. His voice dropped an octave, his cadence and metre slowed to reflect a charged intention. He continued, not a beat missed…
“…pathetic, little worm of a human being.”
A pause, then a clothesline to the jaw, coupled with an “Oh!” from the headset of commentator Jim Ross, pitching his amazement as perfectly as you would expect from the great man.
“Jericho assaulting Michaels!” called JR, with a combination of surprise and consternation. In truth, although Jericho was the instigator, HBK was getting on top in the skirmish, until – BOOM.
There was a time, dear fans, when low blows were used sparingly enough, and exclusively by heels, so that they had impact. You knew it hurt, and you knew the perpetrator was a villain. Now – crochety old man hat on – you genuinely see more low blows than armbars.
Who knows where on Jericho’s list of 1004 holds the low blow came, but this one, thankfully, was perfect. Michaels sold it like it actually feels; like someone is trying to drag your very soul through your urethra, like an elephant trying to pass daintily through a turnstile.
Jericho was now fully in heel mode. He pie-faced Shawn to the ground; another villain tactic, humiliating his fallen foe. Jericho’s preening, standing above Michaels as he crawled to his knees, echoed the former Rocker taking in the moment, having kicked Marty Jannetty to the ground, all those years prior.
Just like Shawn on Marty, Jericho now dragged Michaels by his hair, and spoke close to his face. “The worst is yet to come,” came the ominous words, before Jericho rammed Shawn, face first, through the television screen adorning the set.
There were no cheers by rebellious ‘fans’. There was no ‘this is awesome’ or similar fatuous chants. The reaction was overwhelmingly one of shock, as WWE’s first-class production screened replays, and the commentary team spoke in hushed tones about what had occurred.
The whole thing, from first music beat to end of final replay, was barely ten minutes. Virtually every second counted. It was a masterpiece.
Had it been a one-off, it would have been great. The fact that it was clearly an homage to the Barber Shop Window simply, in my eyes, served to elevate it even more.
From this point, Jericho was a changed man. In came suits, different wrestling gear, even a different way of talking. His verbiage sought to belittle the ‘oleaginous tapeworms’ he was addressing, his rhetoric pierced with bitterness.
But it was bitterness that was believable. It was entirely plausible that Jericho snapped at frustration with ‘lying, cheating’ Shawn being more popular than he.
Throughout the summer, the pair would regularly be the best thing on WWE TV. Verbal battles, twists in the storyline, and amazing matches would punctuate one of the most believable, captivating and brilliantly executed programmes of all time.
It is well known that Jericho and Michaels collaborated on the angle behind the scenes, and did a tremendous job. Their respect for each other is clearly very deep, and their chemistry on-screen unparalleled.
The incident with the breaking of the Jeritron was the launching pad for this epic tussle.
Is it Jericho’s greatest ever feud? It certainly just made the list…
This column is the middle part of a three part series. If you enjoyed this episode and you have not yet read the first or final parts of The Barbershop Trilogy, you can do so here.