In a year where the Royal Rumble field is wide open, Chris Jericho stands out from the rest as the most deserving of the win.
When Chris Jericho returned to WWE in January 2016 for what has since become a year-plus run, he started off with a babyface shtick that induced eye-rolling. Remember the “tooty, fruity, booty” catchphrase he tried throwing at the New Day?
One year later, Jericho is in the midst of maybe the best run of his long career in the WWE. He transformed himself into a snotty and conniving heel with his turn on AJ Styles during WrestleMania 32 season, parlaying this into a win at the Show of Shows. Afterward, Y2J lurked around the roster for the next few months, until WWE paired him with Kevin Owens and saw his stock skyrocket with “The List of Jericho,” doing some great character work and having solid in-ring performances.
Now we’re set to see Jericho aim for his first world championship since 2010 as part of the Royal Rumble match. It would take potentially the two biggest wins of his career for this to happen. However, if anything, this may be the year that points to him winning and getting a spot in the Universal Championship match at WrestleMania 33.
The path to this bout has been in store for Jericho since the day he and Owens became a team on Raw. They worked together without any issues as KO held the Universal Championship through the fall months and into the winter. Then came the destruction of Jericho’s list, which triggered the tension building between the two, something that has been on and off for the past 1-2 months.
Throughout this time, Jericho and Owens have mostly had a war of words with each other, with the latter man recently going against the idea of the Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla getting a title shot at WrestleMania. It seemed like an obvious hint at what will potentially unfold in just a few weeks.
Even small words like that from Owens are crucial toward the slow-build of the impending feud with Jericho. It’s something that seems ready to combust soon, with the culmination at WrestleMania 33, a well-deserving spot for something that has been in development for months.
It goes without saying that Raw has struggled throughout the brand split. There had been a hot start with Finn Balor getting a monster push and Owens winning the belt with Triple H’s help in August. After that, the show mostly dragged with storyline loopholes and some of the worst babyface bookings. Possibly the lone bright spot of these months has been Chris Jericho for the previously noted work he’s done. It’s getting him the most vocal reaction of any full-time WWE Superstar, despite being a heel. You’ll hear him getting more cheers than “babyfaces” like Reigns and Rollins, who have little to no momentum on Monday nights.
It’s not often that WWE will reward a Superstar in their mid-40’s, unless we’re talking about the Undertaker. With the work he’s done to become an entertaining figure on Raw, at a time where most talent his age (46) are done as full-time wrestlers, maybe it’s time WWE shows appreciation for someone who continues to get over organically. This would be by giving Jericho a career-making highlight, something he’s never accomplished in his long line of accolades.
How about rewarding a feud that has gone through a natural progression? Jericho has done a fantastic job at working in his subtle teases of tension with Owens to lead to a break-up. It started with something as small as the list being damaged, which is foolish to get mad at. But like the Fozzy lead singer said, it’s his life’s work. WWE talents are supposed to make things seem larger than life, which Jericho did with his piece of paper that has a bunch of names written down. He made something as silly as that into the most interesting thing on Raw and used it to trigger a likely match with the former NXT Champion.
By WrestleMania 33, fans may want to see what would go down between Owens and Jericho after eight months of build. To put the cherry on top, the Universal Championship would be on the line, so these two are fighting over something important. Of course, to get to that, Owens needs to defeat Reigns at the Royal Rumble as well.
What goes in Jericho’s favor too is the rest of the Royal Rumble match field, which is the most uncertain group of Superstars in years. You have two stars like Goldberg and Brock Lesnar on a path to a WrestleMania match. They’re two of the three biggest names in this, but there’s little chance of them getting a title shot this spring. The other top name is the Undertaker, who probably is not going to challenge for a title at this point in his career.
On the other hand, Rollins has his eyes on Triple H, so he’s out of the mix. Braun Strowman may need another year or two before getting a big-name match. Reigns may be involved, but would WWE have him win just a short time after losing in a title attempt? There are also Superstars like Dean Ambrose, the Miz, Baron Corbin, Dolph Ziggler, Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton from SmackDown that stand little chance of receiving a world title shot at the Grandest Stage of Them All. This is due to not being ready, having recently been in the main event scene, or being set for a match on April 2 already.
By taking away all of these names, Jericho stands there with the three New Day members, all of whom stand a minimal chance of winning. So, by factoring all of these names out, it pretty much leaves the former Undisputed Champion as the man that makes the most sense to win it all.
With the Royal Rumble win, Jericho would head to WrestleMania 33, face Owens, and potentially get one last World title reign under his belt. Maybe this even becomes a retirement match if Jericho doesn’t think he can do another long run like this ever again.
The Royal Rumble match is Chris Jericho’s to get one last major career accolade under his belt. With a wide open field and ready-made feud for WrestleMania set up, 2017 may be the year of Jericho. Drink it in, man.