Nearly two decades removed from his iconic confrontation with The Rock on the August 9, 1999 edition of Monday Night Raw, Chris Jericho’s iconic debut is still remembered as one of the greatest arrivals ever in WWE history and for good reason.
Jericho is among the few elite competitors who have stood the test of time and has found ways to reinvent himself over and over again. Look no further than his long list of accomplishments that include countless championship reigns, and even today he continues to find success in New Japan Pro Wrestling.
However, it’s unknown whether he would have made it this far within the realm of wrestling had his WWE debut 19 years ago not gone off without a hitch. That moment alone helped put Jericho on the map and cement his status as a star on the rise from the get-go.
For months, the WWE Universe looked forward to the countdown clock that appeared on the Titantron at random finally reaching zero. It wasn’t uncommon for WWE to hype something up only to not deliver in the end (i.e. The Gobbledy Gooker), so fans had their guard in case the countdown turned out to be a disappointment.
Jericho emerging as the mystery man behind the countdown clock was the ultimate surprise. As noted, he was far from main event status in WCW, but seeing him interrupt The Rock on his first night with WWE didn’t feel forced in the slightest.
Rock was on another level of super stardom at that time, yet Jericho managed to hold his own against The Great One on the mic and introduce himself to viewers in grandiose fashion.
Although Rock got the last word in their intense verbal exchange, Jericho benefited immensely from being associated with such a star upon his arrival on Raw. Then again, despite his unforgettable debut, most fans tend to forget that Y2J still had to work his way up the ladder in the months that followed.
In fact, Jericho went on to lose his debut match in WWE later that month against Road Dogg. It hardly sent the right message that he was to be taken seriously, especially since he was riding an incredible wave of momentum following his interaction with Rock.
Jericho was then relegated to wrestling on Sunday Night Heat for a brief period and came close to fizzling out quite quickly, but a feud with Chyna over the Intercontinental Championship allowed him to redeem himself as a credible title contender.
While the matches with Chyna were nothing to write home about, they resulted in multiple Intercontinental title reigns for Jericho and gave him the opportunity to develop an actual character for himself. Their segments made for entertaining television before he eventually got involved with Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit heading into WrestleMania 2000.
It was then that Jericho’s wrestling skills were put to the test against two of the very best in the world. Their Triple Threat match at ‘Mania was among the few saving graces of the show and led to a stellar series of matches between Jericho and Benoit that spring season.
Shortly thereafter, Y2J got his first real break when he upset Triple H on an episode of Raw and seemingly captured the WWE Championship. The outcome was later overturned and the title was returned to The Game, but the reaction to the angle was enough to convince officials that Jericho was more than a midcard act.
All things considered, Jericho’s first year in WWE was nothing short of a roller coaster that featured its fair share of ups and down. Through the twists and turns, he prevailed and proved himself as a top-tier talent on what was a stacked roster at the height of the Attitude Era.
In late 2001, Jericho’s career came full circle when he defeated Rock (as well as Stone Cold Steve Austin) to become the inaugural Undisputed champion. That was a testament to how the company believed in his ability to be a perennial main event player in the promotion, and he definitely did not disappoint by clinching nearly three dozen championships over the next two decades.
As we celebrate this remarkable milestone in the illustrious career of Chris Jericho, it’s important to recognize everything he has done to pave the way for others, dating back to his debut 19 years ago today that rocked Raw to its very core and changed the landscape of WWE forever.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham “GSM” Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and “like” his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.