WWE Hall of Famer and current AEW broadcaster Jim Ross is the man largely responsible for creating the roster for the then WWF's "Attitude Era" boom period from 1997 to 2001. The era produced the highest television ratings and revenues the wrestling industry has ever seen and it was mostly due to the "murderers row" of talent the WWF had in their prime then, all of whom were hired by the then Head of Talent Relations for the company, Jim Ross. One man who was brought in from rival WCW while the WWF was already red hot that arguably made some of the largest impacts was Chris Jericho, whose contract with WCW was coming to an end in 1999 and Ross was eager to bring him to the WWF, where he could become a main event star instead of being relegated to the Cruiserweight Division in WCW.
On today's new episode of Jim Ross's Grilling JR Podcast, Ross spoke at length about not only Jericho's impact on the WWF in his first two years with the company, but he also shared his first-hand account of his contract negotiations with the man who would become "Y2J" and how they were careful to not spoil the big surprise of his signing for fans.
"It was secret only from the standpoint that we wanted to keep the official romancing off the radar. If we can bring him in, and bring him in as a surprise, it would be even better for him, and that's what happened in Chicago with that countdown clock. I didn't know what to expect when we met. I knew that the groundwork had been laid. Vince (McMahon) was just fine with the meeting we had in Tampa. I wanted to sit down and ask Chris (Jericho), 'What did you think of the meeting? How can we make this work? What can we do to get you on the team? What do you need, because I'll tell you I can't pay you what they're (WCW) is offering. There's no way in hell. We can sit here and talk all day long. We can have breakfast, lunch, and dinner here, and it's not going to change.' The issue is that the offer we gave him was a lot of money.
$450K is a good starting salary. I thought we were being very fair. The key component of that was convincing him (Jericho) that our incentive program, in other words, getting paid on the house, old school, commission so to speak, payoff, was real. Without naming names, I gave him some illustrations of, this guy has a $300,000 downside, but last year, he made $1.8 million. At one time, we had 20-something guys on our roster that were making over a million. That's incredible. They got that million dollar number by productivity. They sold tickets, PPVs, and merchandise. I think that was part of the only hurdle we had to overcome that it was really a true payoff system. We had a great meeting, he, Jerry (Brisco) and I. He was a fan of the Briscos and a student of the game. We both loved him. We both thought he can work heel or babyface. I love the fact that he was durable. It was a great meeting. Soon thereafter, guess what? We signed him. When his contract was over, and he didn't renew there at WCW, we closed the deal very quickly."
Chris Jericho would go on to be introduced to the WWF fans at the August 9, 1999 episode of Raw Is War in Chicago, interrupting The Rock in what would become one of the biggest debuts in wrestling history.
It's interesting to look back at Chris Jericho's situation in 1999 now, as it mirrors many of his coworkers' situation with WWE before joining Jericho at his current place of employment, AEW. In WCW, Jericho was an immensely talented young wrestler who got over despite what management did with him. WCW thought he was too small and too outside the box to be anything more than a Cruiserweight or a comedy act. He finally jumped to a different promotion who saw him for his potential and it was there that he became a main event superstar. How many names does that sound familiar about today?