Breaking down the walls of Jericho

By Ryan Pike

Youngsters often dream of having seemingly unattainable careers, such as being an astronaut or a dinosaur. Some of these dreams persist as the dreamers mature, to the point where newfound knowledge and maturity force one to either abandon the goal or to come up with a really great plan for reaching it.

In his new book, A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex, Calgary-trained professional wrestler Chris Jericho recounts his journey from the beginning of his dream of becoming a WWE wrestler to his debut with the company in the summer of 1999. Jericho notes that his love of wrestling began at a young age.

“I was eight years old when I started watching wrestling with my grandma in her basement,” recalls Jericho. “I really had no choice because it was sandwiched in between Hockey Night in Canada and the Bugs Bunny-Roadrunner Hour. So, if I wanted to watch Bugs Bunny and I wanted to watch hockey, I had to watch wrestling. That was my grandma’s rule and there was only one TV. Back in the ’70s, every house had only one TV, so everyone would sit around and watch it. She got so into it and as a result, so did I.”

Throughout his youth, Jericho was a die-hard fan of wrestling. But it wasn’t until he saw a match featuring the late Owen Hart that he set out on his career path.

“From the moment that I saw Owen Hart in 1987 when I was 16 years old, that’s when I finally decided I wanted to be a wrestler,” says Jericho. “I always watched the AWA from Minnesota and the WWF basically from New York, but when I started watching Stampede Wrestling I realized that Calgary was actually a place that I could go to. It was a place I knew, I’d seen, I’d been there. They always had an ad for the Hart Brothers wrestling camp and I thought, ‘Maybe I should go,’ and then I saw Owen Hart. It was so exciting for me and really captured my imagination, that’s when I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”

While others chasing the dream of becoming a professional wrestler faltered, many giving up entirely, Jericho doggedly pursued his dream. His training with the Hart Brothers paid off in the form of a 15-year career circling the globe.

“By the time I showed up in Calgary to go to wrestling school, I had made up my mind and that was it,” remembers Jericho. “I was going to be a wrestler and I was going to make it to the WWE, which was my overall goal and my biggest dream. That’s really what my book is all about: how I got to achieve this seemingly unattainable goal of becoming a WWE superstar and all the trials and tribulations I went through to get that all over the world–from Japan to Mexico to Germany to small towns in Canada, small towns in the States and everywhere in between.”

The son of former NHL player Ted Irvine–who played 724 games in Boston, New York, Los Angeles and St. Louis between 1963 and 1977–Jericho began training to become a wrestler at the age of 19 after pursuing a journalism degree on the advice of a future state governor.

“I actually met Jesse Ventura at a celebrity hockey game that my dad was playing in,” says Jericho. “He was awesome, I talked to him for two hours straight. He says, ‘You want to a wrestler? That’s great, but make sure you have something to fall back on, too.’ I had some time to kill so I decided to go get a journalism degree from Red River College in Winnipeg. I got my degree and when I was 19, I graduated and I drove from Winnipeg to Calgary to start training with the Hart Brothers.”

Jericho’s career has taken him around the world. He has wrestled in front of thousands of people in sold-out stadiums, but also tangled with opponents in front of dozens in stranger circumstances.

“I worked in this one match in Matamoros, Mexico in what looked like a Bloodsport arena,” recounts Jericho. “There was basically a cage surrounding the ring and the fans going straight up to the cage and throwing stuff. You felt like you were in a blood fight, a death fight. Afterwards I walked backstage to talk a shower because it was really dusty, but the shower was actually a hose that was in the back of a toilet. They sucked on the edge of the hose, like siphoning gas, then the water would come out of the hose and they would shower with it. I politely declined because, where I come from, toilet water is toilet water.”

Following the expiration of his contract with World Wrestling Entertainment in the summer of 2005, Jericho took time off to reflect on his career and pen his book. While Jericho has also played music with his band, Fozzy, and pursued an acting career during his hiatus, he admits that wrestling is a large part of who he is today.

“The book deals with all these things I went through to get not only match experience, but life experience,” reflects Jericho. “Whether it was being held up at gunpoint on the side of the road on the outskirts of Mexico City in the dead of night and being left to die or getting specifically told by the Japanese Yakuza that they would cut off my finger if I didn’t give them money for the flowerpot that I accidentally broke on the street to all these different things that happened to me.”

Despite being out of the ring for the better part of two years, Jericho says the process of writing his book has reignited his passion for wrestling. He hints that a return to the ring is probably coming in the near future, but for now he’s enjoying himself.

“I needed to take a break after 15 years of the physical and mental pounding,” says Jericho. “But after I finished writing the book I realized how rare it was for someone to have this goal at such a young age and to achieve it at such a high level. You know, I think that’s pretty special and I could go back to wrestling now that I remember how much I love wrestling and how much passion I have for it. When the time is right and I feel it’s right, I’ll go back and be better than ever.”

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