Chris Jericho vs. Rey Mysterio (WWE The Bash 6/28/09)

Match Reviews

I’ve recently been watching a ridiculous amount of Chris Jericho matches for no specific reason that should be of concern to anyone. It’s not always the most pleasant experience given my general sentiments about Jericho but it would be an absurd thing to say that the man was entirely devoid of talent or never great in his career. That is quite clearly untrue, and the late 2000s were a good time for him.

2009 was an especially good year for Jericho because he spends most of it working with one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, Rey Mysterio. In that time, they wrestled multiple matches for the WWE Intercontinental Championship, with three of those matches playing out across consecutive pay-per-views. I made a day of watching that series and just how steadily it reaches this point, the apex of their feud at The Bash.

It is, with all sincerity, one of the finest booked series of matches I’ve ever seen and a very real highlight of wrestling in 2009. There’s an astonishing attention to detail throughout all these matches that make them jump off the page, combined with simple but strong booking and you get probably the best work of Jericho’s career.

The entire feud has been built around two things: the Intercontinental Title and Rey Mysterio’s mask. It’s a real steady build from match to match where each wrestler learns from the last encounter. Although all the matches build around the same general pool of signature spots, the little wrinkles they add in subsequent matches keep each encounter feeling distinct and purposeful.

The main example of this comes from how Jericho attacks Rey’s mask. In their first match at Judgment Day, Jericho tries to unmask Rey in a little moment of spite. It doesn’t lead to much in this first match as Rey still gets the victory but it’s the seed of a strategy that will pay dividends for Jericho down the line. At both Extreme Rules and a title match on Raw, it’s Jericho specifically grabbing at Mysterio’s mask that allows him to get victories over the luchador. All the while, commentary does an excellent job of putting over the cultural significance of Rey’s mask. They make it clear that it’s far more than just an aesthetic choice but something with deeply rooted emotional and historical significance to not only Rey, but to Rey’s family and his people.

Basically, the perfect set up for an apuesta match. Is there a world where this feud involves a little more blood and that makes the eventual match even better? Sure, but that’s true for a lot of stuff in post-2008 WWE. I think that the fact they achieve what they do here even without something like blood is a real testament to what Jericho and Rey built together throughout the feud.

Of course, Rey is a fucking powerhouse in this match. That should go without saying for someone who has been as consistently fantastic for as long as he has. The fluidity he has in his sequences, the bumps he takes when he’s being worked over, the spectacle of his biggest dives–all the best qualities of Rey’s ring work are on full display in this match. He’s just smooth as butter going through this fast-paced sequences of counters and reversals, always trying to keep a step ahead of his opponent. It’s not all finesse though, he’s able to supplement that with small things like these really stiff leg kicks that add a little viciousness to proceedings. At the same time, he’s also delivering the kind of emotional ferocity one wants from a match with these kinds of stakes.

As for Jericho, the man whose contributions to these matches I was more focused on, he hits a career peak in this match. This might just be the absolute best ever Chris Jericho in-ring performance and it’s not something he’ll ever have the chance to really achieve again.

The best compliment I can give Jericho in this match is that he doesn’t look overwhelmed or out of place working with Rey Mysterio. So much of Jericho’s early WCW career is plagued by him being clearly athletically inferior to his peers in the cruiserweight division. He doesn’t hit as hard as Benoit, he’s not as smooth as Eddie, he’s not as dazzling as Rey. That’s not a problem in this match. Of course, he’s not doing all the big, wild high flying that Rey does, but he plays his role in this perfectly. He’s an excellent base for all of Mysterio’s offense, a lot of which simply can not work as well as it does if Jericho’s timing and pacing is not exactly on point.

Jericho doesn’t fuck up once in this match. He’s quick on his feet and his timing has never been better. There’s too much coordination necessary between both Rey and his opponent in this match for me to even think about calling this a carryjob. Jericho’s busting his ass out there, keeping time and matching Rey’s rhythm so that everything comes off as well as possible.

Is it a perfect, all-timer of a performance? No, it’s still Chris Jericho, there’s still a ceiling on what he can achieve here. His strikes continue to be a point of frustration as those could always be a little stiffer, a little more vicious especially given that this is the big blow off to a very personal feud. But for once, he’s actually able to work within those limitations to put forward the best possible performance. He doesn’t lean on striking too much in this as there’s too much forward motion from Mysterio. Instead, he focuses on messing with Rey’s mask to get his heat.

Jericho’s also in the great position of being able to work with someone smaller than him that he can bully around. With Jericho having bulked up since his WCW days, this is one of the few times he’s actually able to ragdoll an opponent and Rey makes all those moves look great. That’s why instead of limp punches, we get great stuff like Jericho swinging Rey head first into the barricade. It’s not something Jericho’s ever really able to do with any other of his most famous opponents. It adds an edge of violence to the match that’s so missing from so much of Jericho’s most lauded work.

Beyond just the mechanical execution, the structural ideas embedded in this are better than anything Jericho’s ever done. For years, Jericho’s always prided himself on his heel work and often pointed to his unceremonious dismissal from Raw in 2005 as a high point in his career. He’s a fine enough stooge most of the time, but it’s here where he’s able to apply a little more thought to his heel work that he shines the best. In theory, Jericho understands the importance of heel comeuppance, and it’s one of his better traits as a worker when he’s able to maximize it but never is it sweeter than in this match.

It’s not the overt stooging of being carried out of an arena by security. Instead, it’s the growing realization that what had once been an effective in-ring strategy has finally begun to crumble around him. One of the signature moments in every match in the series so far has been Jericho cutting off a 619 attempt from Rey by scooping him up and hitting a La Atlantida-style backbreaker. The same is primed to happen in this match with Jericho getting Rey into position on his shoulders but Rey finally finds the counter and turns it into a DDT instead. It’s a rapturous moment, the effect twice as strong given that I watched all the matches in quick succession. Seeing Rey finally solve the Atlantida was just a beautiful moment.

The same goes for the finish. Two matches in a row now, Jericho has stunted Rey’s momentum by either unmasking him or tugging the mask askew to distract the babyface. Usually he does this in the very deep waters of the match, using it to cut off Rey who’s building steam with his standard finishing spots. Every time, it’s led straight to a Jericho victory. It happens again here with Rey finally stringing together all his best offense, only for Jericho to yet again yank the mask off. This time Rey’s unbothered though and is able to keep applying pressure to get the victory. Rey had worn an extra mask under the one Jericho yanked off, ensuring he didn’t need to waste the mental energy on protecting his mask.

It’s a perfect finish that pays off all the thematic elements of the series so far. Jericho gets punished because his opponent finally figured his game out and took the necessary steps to work around it. It’s a satisfying defeat for Jericho just as much as it feels like a glorious victory for Rey.

In terms of Jericho, it feels like him finally putting the pieces together. Finally being athletic and smooth enough to compete with a BITW-level talent like Rey, having the experience and smarts necessary to structure something that could sustain itself for a full series like this, and having an opponent that allowed him to explore new facets of his ring work that were able to overcome his usual limitations. In a perfect world, that’s the Jericho we continue to get down the line but that’s just not something that came to fruition.

But however much I criticize and dunk on the guy, there’s really no taking away this match from him. The peak of his career. A brilliant, shining moment where I can say wholeheartedly, that yes, Chris Jericho was damn great.

Better than 6/3/94. Where 6/3/94 is a great match from two men that can do better, there’s a certain value to this match being the absolute apex of one of the participant’s careers. But even beyond that, the furious pace and attention to detail in this trumps the looser and more methodical structure of 6/3/94.

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