Chris Jericho left WWE in 2018 after a near-20 year run with the promotion, shocking the world when he signed for NJPW and then AEW.
He seemed to be a WWE lifer, never to leave the promotion under any circumstances and to retire under Vince McMahon before being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
However, as we know that did not happen, although the reasons for it make perfect sense once explained by Le Champion. His final run in WWE was great but it ended very disappointingly, causing him to re-evaluate his options and decide to wrestle outside of the WWE for the first time in two decades.
In this article, we will details why Chris Jericho left WWE and instead decided to wrestle for their biggest rivals, helping to create the first real competition for the company in 20 years and flip the wrestle world on it’s head.
Why Did Chris Jericho Leave WWE?
Chris Jericho’s 2016-2017 run in WWE was one of the best of his career. While it started off slow, a heel turn quickly made him one of the tops tars in the company and one of the most popular men on Monday Night Raw.
He quickly gained fans with his hilarious “The List” gimmick. When annoyed by various and backstage personalities he would click his pen, drawing huge cheers from the crowd, and declare that “you just made the list!” before writing their names on his list.
He would join up with Kevin Owens, first as a one-off tag team for a match in the UK (Where the pair would declare themselves “The GOAT” and “The Donkey”) and then as a full-time tag team.
They regularly main evented Raw and pay per view events as two of the most entertaining stars on the roster.
During their time together, Kevin Owens became the Universal Champion, while Chris Jericho won the United States Championship for the first time in his career.
Festival Of Friendship
The pair were as thick as thieves, with Y2J helping his friend to retain his championship in countless occasions, against opponents like Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. However, things turned sour on February 13, 2017 during the legendary Festival of Friendship.
As Kevin Owens was gearing up to wrestle Goldberg at Fastlane 2017, Chris Jericho decided to throw a party of sorts to celebrate their long-lasting friendship and their incredible title reigns. He pulled out all the stops – presents, clowns, even Gillberg to try and show Kevin Owens just how much he meant to him.
However, this would be the end of Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens. At the end of the “Festival”, Owens gave Jericho a gift of his own – a new list.
However, on the back read “List of KO”, and without a moment’s notice, Owens lifted Jericho up and powerbombed him. It signalled the end of one of the best friendships in WWE history and started the road to the main event of WrestleMania.
Missing Out On The Main Event Of WrestleMania
Kevin Owens lost the Universal Championship to Goldberg at Fastlane. This was a shock, as it was expected by many (including Jericho himself) that the main event of Wrestlemania would be Kevin Owens vs Chris Jericho for the world championship.
It was to be the first time in his 30 year career that Y2J would become world champion as a good guy, or “face”. He was as popular as he’d even been, especially after being attacked by his former friend. It was set to be his greatest triumph but Vince McMahon had other ideas for the main event match.
The pair instead fought for the United States Championship at Wrestlemania 33. A major title, but not quite the world championship. It wasn’t the main event either – that honour went to the Roman Reigns vs The Undertaker match.
Instead, Chris Jericho vs Kevin Owens was placed second on the card, one of the worst spots possible, according to Jericho. He saw it as an insult and that Vince did not see him as a main event anymore, nor appreciated that the two Canadians has the best story in the company going into the event.
“”That’s fine. Maybe from a marquee standpoint, that might have been a bigger money match, but from a story standpoint ours was worth more.”
“But the difference was we went from the main event to being put on second. That’s an insult, because the second match is just another match. Either you’re on last or you’re on first, and maybe the semi-main event. But that’s it, those are your big money spots at WrestleMania.”
Their match was decent, but the second spot on the card meant that the fan reaction was not what it should have been, nor did they get the time they should have been afforded. Chris Jericho won the match but it was greeted with apathy and was a huge disappointment after the year-long build up.
He saw this as the reason that he needed to leave WWE. Chris Jericho left WWE because he knew Vince McMahon didn’t see him as a main event talent anymore. He knew that Vince saw his as a “second match guy” and that he knew he could offer more outside of WWE than he could have if he stayed there in the midcard.
Talking to Kurt Angle, the WWE Hall of Famer who hosts his own podcast “The Kurt Angle Show“, Chris Jericho revealed;
“I don’t see what else I could do, I felt the same when I left WCW. I had this great story with Goldberg, everybody was into it and Bischoff didn’t want to do it, Goldberg didn’t want to do it and if they’re not going to go with this, they’re probably not going to go with anything else I can think of.”
“I felt the same with the Kevin thing, I can’t go any higher than this and if Vince sees me as a second match guy, that’s where I’ll be my entire career so I need to split and that’s what I did. Not bitter, not angry, no problems but it was disappointing. But, as I’ve always done, if I don’t feel it’s the right place to be, I leave. That’s the way to do it and that’s what I did.”
After leaving WWE Chris Jericho went to New Japan Pro Wrestling, facing fellow Canadian Kenny Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 12. He then had a number of matches going forward in the promotion, before signing to start-up promotion All Elite Wrestling in 2019.
It was in AEW he would prove he could be a main event wrestler again. Chris Jericho was the first AEW Champion and even won the ROH Championship in 2022, continuing to be one of the top wrestlers in the world 33 years into his legendary career.
We can all agree that Chris Jericho leaving WWE was for the best, as he saw a resurgence in his career that gave us one of his best runs of all time in AEW.
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.