Chris Jericho hasn't stepped into a WWE ring since July 25, 2017. In that time, Jericho has been busy touring the world with his band Fozzy, while juggling a growing list of pursuits outside WWE, including acting, a podcast and an upcoming wrestling cruise.
The ever-ambitious Jericho has been vocal about wanting to make his WWE return only if the right story or moment surfaces, but that didn't stop fans from expecting him to show up at WrestleMania 34 to make one of his patented returns; a YouTube search of "Chris Jericho WWE return" produces five different Jericho surprise appearances dating back as far as 2007 and as recently as this past January.
Even as Jericho shot down rumors, bringing up the fact that he already was booked for a Fozzy show the day of WrestleMania, that only added to fans' imaginations. Never mind the fact that at this point, Jericho has missed six of the past 13 WrestleManias -- he wouldn't miss this one.
Fans were obsessed with figuring out how it would go down. Jericho was rumored as a possible surprise entrant in the Andre the Giant Battle Royal, and when Shane McMahon was hospitalized with diverticulitis, Jericho's name came up as a potential replacement to team up with Daniel Bryan against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. The mystery of who would be Braun Strowman's partner for his match against The Bar led to gossip ranging from James Ellsworth to Rey Mysterio to Big Cass to, of course, Jericho.
But after all seven hours of WrestleMania came and went, there was no sign of any light-up jackets, enlarged clipboards, or GOAT-emblazoned trunks at New Orleans' Superdome. Instead, Jericho was right where he said he was going to be -- watching WrestleMania alongside fans after Fozzy's matinee show 1,500 miles away in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.
"Well, why did it get changed in the first place? That's WWE. Things change all the time. After 17 years, I definitely know that. It's one of those things where I'm gonna be there either way and that might change again. If they decide they want me to face Funaki in a lingerie match, that's fine too. That's one thing with the experience level that I have for doing this for so long -- you gotta be able to roll with the punches. Sometimes you get asked to do something, and sometimes you get asked not to do something, but either way it's all cool. It doesn't stress me out at all." Chris Jericho
"I'm not a full-time wrestler -- I haven't been since 2010," Jericho said in a recent interview with ESPN. "It's all based on what Fozzy's doing and what else is going on in my career at the time. It just wasn't working out this year. I'm not the type of guy who's gonna fly in, do WrestleMania and leave. There has to be an angle. There has to be a buildup. There just wasn't. Even though everybody thought it was a big conspiracy, I actually wasn't even there. I wouldn't be a surprise guest at WrestleMania unless it was something really, really huge, and at that point in time we were touring."
But with Fozzy's lengthy tour now in the books, and WWE's massive show in Saudi Arabia set for Friday, the stars have aligned for Jericho to return to in-ring competition at the Greatest Royal Rumble.
"It's one of those things -- I would have rather been a surprise, but I think WWE is going in there with all guns blazing and all hands on deck," Jericho said. "When I got the call to do this, I was like, 'It doesn't get any bigger than that.' It's much bigger than showing up even at Madison Square Garden, where we've been there a hundred times before. But doing it over in Saudi Arabia, it's very majestic and very mysterious, adventurous, and that's kind of what I'm all about."
Jericho initially signed on as one of the 50 entrants in the Greatest Royal Rumble at Jeddah's 60,000-plus-seat stadium. However, for a brief moment, it appeared as though Jericho would replace Rusev to face The Undertaker in a casket match. Jericho took the change in stride, bragging that he was the "King of the Casket Match" due to his undefeated record with the stipulation (though he's never wrestled in a casket match in his career). But as Jericho has learned over the course of his nearly two-decade run in WWE, circumstances changes at the drop of a hat. When the WWE announced Rusev was back in the match against The Undertaker just four days after inserting Jericho, he was far from surprised.
"Well, why did it get changed in the first place? That's WWE," Jericho said. "Things change all the time. After 17 years, I definitely know that. It's one of those things where I'm gonna be there either way and that might change again. If they decide they want me to face [Shoichi] Funaki in a lingerie match, that's fine too. That's one thing with the experience level that I have for doing this for so long -- you gotta be able to roll with the punches. Sometimes you get asked to do something, and sometimes you get asked not to do something, but either way it's all cool. It doesn't stress me out at all."
Jericho's last WWE appearance was subject to the same sort of volatility that he's become accustomed to. WWE reached out to him in January to gauge his interest in being in a segment at RAW 25 -- his first appearance on WWE TV in six months -- but plans changed throughout the day. Though there were rumors of Jimmy Fallon's appearance at RAW 25 being involved in the creative change, which WWE has categorically denied, Jericho went with the flow on that night and appeared in a quick backstage segment alongside Elias.
"Once again, go with the flow. Make it good. It was fun. He's got a lot of steam. He's a great character," said Jericho. It was cool, but it was not planned until three hours beforehand ... that's how the business works. Let's move on to the next thing. And that's the best way to exist in the business and stay on top is to be diverse and always go with the flow, no matter what it is that you're given."
Jericho's cameo at RAW 25 came as somewhat of a surprise, as he'd been involved with New Japan Pro Wrestling for a few months leading up to a match against Kenny Omega at Wrestle Kingdom that took place less than three weeks prior.
The match was widely considered the best of that night at the Tokyo Dome and arguably among the greatest performances of Jericho's career at age 47. Jericho attacked Tetsuya Naito at New Year Dash the next night, foreshadowing that perhaps he wasn't done competing for NJPW, but the match never came to fruition as Jericho broke off communication with NJPW, recently saying, "As of right now our relationship is pretty much finished at this point."
"Things change," Jericho said. "That's how it goes. Sometimes things seem like a good idea at the time, and then when you look at it a little bit deeper and a little bit further, you realize it's not gonna go the way you want it to go."
Predicting the next move for someone as spontaneous as Jericho is nearly impossible. Although he is set to compete at the Greatest Royal Rumble, that doesn't mean he's ready to return to WWE or wrestling of any kind on a full-time basis. Fozzy goes back on the road in mid-July for another month's worth of shows in the Midwest USA and Europe.
Conversely, he's not ready to retire from wrestling, either.
Jericho is in a unique stage of his career where he's content with what he's already accomplished -- the world titles, main-eventing WrestleMania, reinventing himself more times than anyone else in the WWE -- but he also knows he still can compete at a high enough level to keep going for a while longer. Jericho has the luxury of going back and forth between wrestling, Fozzy and his other projects until he finally decides to hang up his sequined boots for good. He says he'll "know the exact second" that time comes, but he doesn't plan on letting anyone else know.
"I'm not one of those guys that needs a big sendoff or big retirement. If I never had another match, it wouldn't bother me. It really wouldn't," Jericho said. "I'm not one of those guys that needs that farewell match. I think when the time is right you're gonna know.
"With the Omega match, a lot of people said, 'That's Jericho's best match'. If that's the case, then I still know I'm at the top of my game, so there's no reason to think about stopping. There's no reason to think about continuing, either. Whatever happens, happens. If it's interesting and fun, then I'll do it -- and if not, then I'll just step away gladly and let the business move on without me."