WWE legend Chris Jericho rocked the pro wrestling universe a couple of months ago when he announced that he would be heading to New Japan Pro Wrestling to face Kenny Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 12 (NJPW’s version of WrestleMania) at the Tokyo Dome on January 4 (available stateside on NJPWWorld.com). The announcement of the dream match, dubbed Alpha vs. Omega, came as a surprise considering that Jericho has never wrestled outside of the WWE since making his debut with the company in 1999. However, the 47-year-old wasn’t under contract when the idea was pitched and, with the blessings of WWE chairman Vince McMahon, made the move to appear in New Japan where he will face the man who many consider to be the best pro wrestler on the planet in the 34-year-old Omega. Yahoo Sports had the opportunity to speak with Jericho about how this match came together, whether or not McMahon will be watching, if this is truly a one-time deal and more.
How exciting is this for you to have this opportunity to compete in New Japan and against somebody who’s also from your hometown of Winnipeg?
Chris Jericho: It’s something that was very appealing to me, because it really is a dream match. It’s something that people thought was never going to happen, just like [Conor] McGregor versus [Floyd] Mayweather, and as soon as it’s announced it becomes the biggest thing in wrestling. I haven’t had one match outside of the WWE ring in 17 years. I think people thought that I’d finished my career there, but I like to do things that keep people guessing and surprise people. I think Kenny Omega is tremendous, he’s one of the best performers in the world and the fact that he’s from Winnipeg is an extra bonus. Winnipeg’s taken over the Tokyo Dome.
You’ve been in some high profile matches over the course of your career but what do you see in Kenny Omega that can bring out the best of the best of Chris Jericho?
Chris Jericho: Kenny Omega is one of the best wrestlers in the world and I’m no slouch either. It’s a great combination of two generations of performers that both started in Japan and understand the Japanese audience. I come from the greatest wrestling company ever and trained with some of the best of all time. So for me to come to New Japan, it’s not just Chris Jericho, it’s six time world champion Chris Jericho who’s been in the ring with every single legend that you can name. Kenny Omega can’t say that, he’s been in the ring with everybody in New Japan but he’s never beaten The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair, John Cena or Roman Reigns. I’ve worked with all of those guys and beaten them all, so I think me being here raises Kenny’s game more than he’s raising mine.
Would you say the past couple of years have been some of your best work in pro wrestling?
Chris Jericho: Absolutely. It’s one of the best runs that I’ve ever had. The whole thing with Kevin Owens and The List really took off. You can never predict that, it just happens. I could have went back to the WWE but I know what I’m going to be doing there, and it’s almost a been there, done that situation. I’ve never wrestled in the Tokyo Dome. That adds to the legacy of Chris Jericho. I’ve always been about stepping outside the box and doing something different.
Have you had any conversations in the past few years about you ever coming to New Japan or was it just something that came up?
Chris Jericho: I saw [NJPW booking agent] Gedo a few times over the years, but it was just to say hi because these are my old friends that I’ve known for 25 years. Never once was I asked if I’d work in New Japan because I was under contract with WWE. When [NJPW color commentator] Don Callis said “Hey what do you think about working with Kenny Omega at the Tokyo Dome?” I was like “It’s actually not a bad idea.” It was very kind of loosely brought up, and then I said well why don’t we see? Kenny loved it and he talked to Gedo and Gedo loved it. Suddenly we’ve got this possibility of a match. It didn’t come together that quickly, it took months and months to get the deal right, but once we got it right it’s like holy [expletive] this is actually happening!
How important is it for you to be able to take periodic breaks from the WWE to keep things fresh and recharge the battery?
Chris Jericho: It’s very important. I’ve been working in this business for 27 years. I haven’t been full-time wrestling since 2010, there’s a lot of other projects that I work on. But I think when I do come back it does give me some extra spark and it gives me a chance to evolve and to reinvent myself. I pick and choose my spots. I know what my window is and when I left it was the perfect time to leave. I wasn’t expecting to take this little detour to New Japan, but when it came up I was like why not? It’s a perfect place for me to be. It’s very exciting for me and that’s very important. There’s no match in WWE that I could have right now that would mean as much as Jericho vs Omega.
Knowing what Kenny Omega’s accomplished over the past 12 months and being recognized as one of the best in the world, is there extra incentive to perform?
Chris Jericho: No. His six-star matches [with Kazuchika Okada] don’t mean anything to me. What means something to me is the storyline, the angle, the excitement and the buzz of the match. The match will be great. Of course it’s great, it’s Chris Jericho. I’ve never had a bad match in 20 years. I hope it’s a seven-star match but I could care less. I hope it’s a sold-out show, if it’s a sold-out dome that’s a seven-star match right there.
That’s what wrestling’s all about — and some people may never get it — wrestling is about selling tickets. It’s about creating buzz and excitement, the match needs to be good too, but if you have a great match and nobody cares about it and there’s nobody there to see it, what’s the point? I mean I was a huge Ultimate Warrior fan when I was a kid, not known for having five-star matches, but he sure sold a lot of tickets.
Will Vince McMahon be watching?
Chris Jericho: No, he won’t watch it, he’ll probably have someone tell him about it, but I think the last thing Vince McMahon does is watch wrestling matches when he’s not actually producing them. But he knows about it, he knows the angles, he knows what’s going on and he’s supportive of it. I think he understands it’s great for the WWE and it’s great for me when I go back. Vince understands that the more competition, the more tickets are being sold, the more places there are for the guys to work the stronger it makes WWE. So I think that he’s very interested in what’s going on right now, and no animosity whatsoever between he and I for me doing this, that’s for sure. I made sure of that from start.
Is this a one-off, or is there a possibility that you may work with New Japan after this?
Chris Jericho: I’ve never said it’s a one-off, ever. That’s just what people are assuming. If you’ve learned nothing else you should know that you don’t ever assume anything about Chris Jericho.
Wrestle Kingdom 12 is airing on AXS TV Jan. 6 at 8 p.m.
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