Meeting Chris Jericho

In the February 2011, Chris Jericho stopped at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore on the book tour for his second memoir Undisputed.

For those unfamiliar with Jericho, his biggest claim to fame is as a professional wrestler—one of the last great stars from the territory system (he traveled internationally to cultivate experience in and the style of many different regions) and the World Wrestling Entertainment’s first undisputed world heavyweight champion (unifying the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling titles). Aside from his accolades in wrestling, he’s the lead singer of a truly awful band called Fozzy, has appeared on reality shows like Dancing with the Stars and Celebrity Duets, and has served as a talking head for several VH1 pop culture programs.

But, yeah, he’s significant to me as a wrestler. Both for his athletic abilities and his skill as a talker, he has to make any serious fan’s shortlist for top stars of the past twenty years.

I’ve seen Jericho perform live a half dozen or so times, but none of his performances stood out to me more than a 3-on-1 handicap match in which he defeated “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, and Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka at Wrestlemania 25.

You see, for wrestling fans, everything that happens at a Wrestlemania is a little more significant. The show gets almost a million live pay per view buys each year and draws a live crowd of 60,000-plus. When the lights are on brightest and the most eyes gravitate to the product, WWE delivers its most iconic moments.

When Jericho came to Baltimore, he delivered a brief speech and held a Q&A, then set up shop for a meet and greet and to sign copies of his new book. As I stood in line, I mentally prepared what I would say to him. A half hour later, I had reached the front of the line. I shook his hand. I posed for a photo. I handed over my copy of not only Undisputed, but his original memoir A Lion’s Tale for his autograph.

And I spoke.

“Mr. Jericho, I was there in Houston for Wrestlemania 25. You made three legends look they were in their twenties again. It was an honor to watch you at work.”

Jericho finished his signature and looked up at me through the lenses of this totally-unnecessary-indoors sunglasses. “Wrestlemania 25. Which one was that?”

“Uh… it was you and Ricky Steamboat… and Piper… and Snuka.”

“Oh yeah, that was a lot of fun.”

And that was it. We shook hands once more and I walked away while the next fan stepped up to the table.

A wrestler like Chris Jericho has probably worked well over 5,000 matches in his career, and I’d never expect him to recall every one of them. But Wrestlemania? Against three hall of famers? Who had Ric Flair in their corner? After which Mickey Rourke, fresh off his star turn in The Wrestler, came in the ring and punched him out?

That moment in the Baltimore library has stuck with me as one of my most awkward, and yet most thought-provoking celebrity encounters. As fans of any given form, we have these transcendent moments—a wrestler’s great match, a musician’s great concert, a politician’s great speech, a writer’s great passage. We have these moments that resonate with us, and we think that if they were so important to us, they must have been positively monumental for the man, woman or child who actually did it.

But no one remembers everything.

And perhaps that’s the greatest gift of the greatest artists: to deliver a thousand moments, each of which a different fan clings to for his own reasons and in his own way. In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter that Jericho hardly remembered my greatest memory of him—it matters that he gave me the moment at all.