Story-telling is one of the unique characteristics that makes an athletic spectacle like professional wrestling special. However, in recent times it seems like good story telling in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) only comes when a championship belt is the impetus for a rivalry. A.J. Styles and Chris Jericho are showing fans, and their contemporaries in the company, a feud between two performers can be very successful without “the gold” being on the line.
It has been an all too familiar scenario in the WWE within the last decade. The biggest and best feuds in the company often seem to have the championship involved. This doesn’t mean that there haven’t been exceptions to the rule during this time. Brock Lesnar vs. HHH, Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker, The Rock vs. John Cena, Bray Wyatt vs. Roman Reigns and Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho are a few of those exceptions. But they are frequently few and far between.
As Chris Jericho has evolved into a part-time performer he has developed a reputation as a go-to, or “plug and play” (a phrase much used on one time WWE star Taz’s radio show), wrestler on the roster. If the WWE needs to elevate the status of one of their “Superstars” they put them in a short-term program with “Y2J”.
His position in the business puts immediate interest in whatever feud he is involved in. But because of his part-time work load, he is not above “putting over” other wrestlers so that they can evolve further with audiences and become larger revenue sources for the company.
With the debut of A.J. Styles; the man who took the title of “best guy not to have had joined the WWE”, from Sting; the company had an interesting predicament. They secured the talents of one of the best in-ring performers on the planet. A man die-hard fans respect and will root on while purchasing his merchandise. Yet he is not a physically imposing presence like Braun Strowman or Roman Reigns. Nor is he universally known to all members of the “WWE Universe”.
How do you make an early impact with a major free agent investment, without sacrificing momentum built up by another superstar, while also not having a championship involved? Well you pair him up with Chris Jericho, but of course.
The tale being crafted by these two men in the last several weeks has become a must-see part of WWE programming. The story they are telling isn’t necessarily innovative and never-before seen stuff. Proving you deserve your spot has long been a source for pro-wrestling stories in front of, and behind, the camera for as long as the business has existed. However, it is the execution by these two well-traveled veterans that’s has made it entertaining.
Even in a later stage of his career Chris Jericho is still a high-level entertainer. While it goes without saying, that “The Phenomenal” one is one of the best performers in the industry. It was a given that they would put on exciting and momentum filled bouts. What has made it all the more intriguing is their usage of the microphone time given to them on WWE shows.
Clearly Jericho has been given the lead in progressing the story verbally, while Styles is playing the role of disregarded former “big fish in a small pond.” The strategy has been a success while done in a slow-burn style that makes use of both superstars strengths—Jericho’s talking and Styles’ wrestling. But as the weeks go by the well-roundedness of both is coming to the surface. As we see Jericho can still hang with the likes of A.J. Styles in the ring. And A.J. is showing he can use his reactions, expressions and talking skills to further a story and add to his credibility.
Additional proof of the stories success is how it has shoehorned other superstars into the feud—the Miz and the Social Outcasts—which adds more layers, along with giving television time to other performers.
Its ability to convey multiple layers—A.J. Styles is more than a great wrestler, Jericho can still go with the best, smaller stars bring main-event interest, is “Y2J” on the verge of a heel turn—has made this short feud distinct on WWE TV of late.
The art of non-title story-telling sometimes seems lost on WWE programming. But two of the very best at what they do are showing that the art is not gone. It is a style that can be endlessly mined for great content. Furthermore, it can help continue to develop talent and show that not having a title involved doesn’t lessen the importance of a rivalry between two talented professionals.