Another neat little detour in Chris Jericho’s career, and one that he apparently didn’t even want to take. In a 2021 interview with Inside the Ropes, Jericho said of the match: “Yeah, I mean, I didn’t want to have that match. I just thought, ‘Why is the WWE Champion having a match against some guy that’s just coming in for NXT?’”

Hard to tell just how much Jericho really knew about Bryan and his reputation based on that one interview, but he actually puts his best foot forward in this. The opening of the match is quick and oddly stiff for Jericho. When Bryan lands his first few shots, he’s going all in as he always does and Jericho clearly gets the idea that this might just be a sink or swim situation for him. He lands a real solid punch to cut off Bryan’s flurry and follows up with some nice kicks of his own.

The centerpiece of the match is the big bump Bryan takes into the announce table. Bryan overshoots his tope and Jericho sends him crashing right into the edge of the table instead and a real nasty welt appears on Bryan’s side instantly. You can tell that they don’t quite know what to make of it in the moment as Bryan’s actually trying to rise as though he’d nailed the move before choosing to stay down.

Decent enough showcase from both guys here even though Jericho continues to have one of the most awkward possible bumps for a Dragon Screw Leg Whip I’ve ever seen (believe me when I say this is apparently a problem he’s had across his entire career). There’s a real nasty flash heel hook from Bryan in this but that’s just a neat little false finish before Jericho gets the win.

It’s not a great match but a good one and a nice little show again of how Bryan’s presence kind of forced the most motivated and best versions of his opponents out of them.

It’s a shame that the quality of the match almost gets drowned out by heel Michael Cole on commentary shouting down basically any attempt to reference Bryan’s reputation in the wrestling industry. At one point, Josh Matthews refers to Bryan as “world-renowned” which triggers Cole to yell, “IN WHAT WORLD?” Cole takes up half the match with a tirade about the tiny indies working out of bingo halls and the dumb smarks on their internets, and it’s truly awful stuff. It’s clearest with Bryan here but there’s a real cruel tone to reality TV NXT where the newest members of the roster are forced to sink or swim in difficult situations. It feels like on camera hazing watching these guys have to improvise their way through situations clearly designed to humiliate them in some ways.

Day 1 and the deck was stacked against Bryan in just the pettiest, cruelest ways imaginable.

Wonder if he ever overcame it.

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