Chris Jericho has lived a very interesting life. And he is truly one of the last of a dying breed: wrestlers who became stars through years of hard work, dedication to ones craft, and, to a point, the old territory system. His book, “A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex,” may be the best of the breed: the best book written by a pro wrestler.
I am personally biased to Bret Hart’s book for his candor and the fact he taped his career. So Bret’s book basically covered the entirety of my wrestling watching life. Was it a little heavy handed at times? Sure. Can Bret be a little delusional? Sure, but no more than most wrestlers. I personally look forward to a book from the Iron Sheik. THAT should prove truly delusional. But that is not what I am getting at here. What I AM getting at is that Bret’s book isn’t necessarily going to be everyone’s cup of maple syrup. Some prefer the more Foley-ish route. Well, if you enjoyed Foley’s “Have A Nice Day,” (book review coming RIGHT HERE very soon), then Jericho’s book should appease your tastes.
Now, Jericho has two books, and they are both excellent reads. I prefer his first, mainly because it details his rise to the prime time. His second book, “Undisputed,” is also a good read, also in my top 5. If you want Vince McMahon and the WWE, that is your book. You will also digest a good amount of Jericho’s heavy metal career. Trust me, those portions are as much fun as the wrestling portions of his second book. But I always enjoy hearing about the CLIMB to the big leagues, the trials and tribulations a person endures. And, In “Lion’s Tale,” Jericho goes through quite a bit on his way to VinnieLand.
The book begins with Chris Irvine’s childhood, as the son of legendary NHL toughman Ted Irvine. His dad, obviously, was not around a great deal during Irvine’s childhood, aside from on television in Irvine’s native Winnipeg. The yet to be named Chris Jericho obviously had, and has, a soft spot for hockey, as most Canadians seem to (don’t take this as a stereotype: I live just outside of Boston. Original Six represent!), but his true passion was wrestling. Particularly, for a young Jerichoholic, the AWA was his poison, as his dad, in the offseason, would take his young tyke to see the likes of Baron Von Raschke, Jerry Blackwell, and a tanned, muscled young lad by the name of Hogan. Then, one afternoon, as the Irvine’s went to the local Winnipeg arena, they were shocked to see, not the AWA, but the WWF instead. This was during the days where Vince just RAPED the AWA, and, using strongarm tactics, ran the AWA stars in a new WWF market: Ventura, Hogan, Okerlund, etc etc. Jericho also had some other outlets for wrestling at a young age, specifically Stu Hart’s Stampede promotion from Calgary. Jericho’s two favorites were Ricky Steamboat and a young high flyer from Stu’s promotion…Stu’s youngest son, Owen Hart. Jericho and his friends, like many an impressionable teenage (myself included) horsed around during gym classes and made their own wrestling “league.” From the early chapters, my favorite Jericho tidbit was he was working at a deli on the night of February 5, 1988, and the conversations between he and his friends on the Andre-Hogan rematch are priceless.
Jericho saw an ad for the “Hart Brothers Pro Wrestling Camp” when he was 17, and, after attempting to chat up visiting WWF wrestlers at a local Winnipeg watering hole through the years (also great reading; not to ruin it for anyone, but Dynamite Kid seemed to be a huge prick. Go fig.), he enlisted. He was told he needed to be a year older so, after graduating High School, he took some brief classes in college, one of which allowed him to seamlessly write his books. Once you read his books, you will see the effect of education (of which you current scribe does not possess.)
Jericho was nothing if not persistent, and enrolled in the “Hart” camp, and, for me, that is the highlight of the book. Keith Hart showed up for one day…to collect the money (of course), locked up with Jericho, called him a toolbox and…and…c’mon, junior, read the book.
Anyway, Jericho’s anecdotes are just great as he talks about the Hart camp, from the trainer to the one guy to make it out of his camp with him…some potbelly guy wearing a mumu named Lance Evers. It was obvious Evers (later Lance STORM) and Jericho were the standouts of the camp, and they were treated accordingly.
From there, well, THAT is where the book takes off. Lance Storm and the newly self-named Jack Action…uh…I mean, Chris Jericho, set out a course to dominate the wrestling world. And the wrestling world shit on their head in return. Fat gay promoters, unexpected crack runs in Denver, by god, the book hits on all cylinders by this point. The only wish Jericho has is to emulate his then hero, Chris Benoit, in getting an engagement in Japan. That turns out comically, short and long term.
The best parts of the book, to me, are these. First, Jericho and Storm as “The Thrillseekers” in Smokey Mountain Wrestling. Those three chapters fly by, and, remember stay TRUE TO THE CRU. And Wal Mart totally rules. These chapters are short, and I do not want to ruin anything for anyone who might read it.
Secondly, Jericho’s time spent in Germany. He wrestles for the German CATCH tournament, and it seems everyone in the tournament is a rip off of a famous wrestler. British Blackie? The LEGEND of Doom? Plus Jericho’s hotel is situated in Germany’s Red Light district, so that, for a young bachelor, leads to some nasty depravity. Indeed, the “Reeprbahn” is as depraved as anything in Thailand or Amsterdam. A very fun portion of the book that also includes Jericho’s only admission to purchasing performance-enhancing drugs.
Speaking of depravity, Jericho’s days as a heartthrob in Mexico. THIS is the best part of the book. Jericho was signed, basically, as a raw rookie out of Canada, because of his heartthrob looks. And the promoters in Mexico were looking to exploit his sex appeal to the fullest. The story on how he got his nom de’ wrestle is fun enough. But you also get Jericho losing his virginity to a top Corona model, and another instance where a young, naive Canadian almost had his head blown off trying to seduce a senorita. As well, Jericho meets Eddy Guerrero and Art Barr, and becomes fast friends with Los Gringos Locos. It is especially touching reading when Art Barr dies the lengths Jericho went to in order to adhere to the “wrestlers code,” as he was staying in Barr’s Mexico City hotel suite while Barr passed away with his child in his native Oregon. That has always been a tough one for this scribe, as Barr was on the precipice of superstardom. People think Eddie had charisma? Art Barr was in a league of his own. Art, while not a technical great like Benoit (who?) or Eddie, was a total force of nature, and, prior to his death, was, probably, the TOP performer in all of wrestling.
So Jericho is destroyed by this. But ones career must go on, and Jericho’s did. He was wrestling on a hybrid show with WCW on the left coast in 1995, and Eric Bischoff, then the grand puba of WCW, wanted, and signed, Jericho. Only Jericho, a pure and natural heel, was portrayed as the ULTIMATE BABYFACE from his first match on, where he defeated Alex Wright by countout because he would not take a countout victory. To wit, which Bobby Heenan asked Bischoff, on camera, “How many mortgages did you take out on him?”
Jericho plodded around the mid card for about a year (the Gedo story he gives is GREAT), doing nothing and impressing no-one. Then, Bischoff told the total white meat babyface Jericho to turn HEEL. Jericho took that small ball, and ran with the fucker as hard as he could. He got himself OVER to a degree that WCW felt threatened by it. Jericho was a breath of fresh air in that then NWO world. Jericho took every chickenshit characteristic a heel could have, and he PERSONIFIED it. It, in an era of subpar WCW entertainment, was a breath of fresh air. Jericho was, for getting over, punished, and de-pushed, until he signed with the winning company.
That, basically, is the synopsis of the book. I didn’t include the weed smoking session between Brain Hildrebrand, Benoit, Jericho, Malenko, and Guerrero. The book encompassed a bunch more than that. Read the damn thing.