Ringside Review “Undisputed: How To Become World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps”
I was going to delay this article and move away from all things Jericho, but the more I thought about it the more fitting it seemed to just carry on. It’s a natural second article to write in conjunction to last week’s review of “A Lion’s Tale,” so this week we’re looking at Chris Jericho’s second autobiography “Undisputed: How To Become The World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps.”
A large part of “Undisputed” is the same kind of thing as “A Lion’s Tale”. It’s written in the same self-deprecating, comical style with more than a dose of honesty remaining. The book follows the same structure as its predecessor. It begins in 2007, with Jericho getting his stuff together to go to the renowned “Storm Wrestling Acadamy,” run by his long-time friend and former tag team partner, Lance Storm, to get back into ring-shape for his 2007 return. As Jericho is contemplating his return to the ring, his mind wanders back to his debut, where “A Lion’s Tale” left us hanging. The novel takes us through Jericho’s WWE career from 1999 and his unforgettable debut (surprisingly, Jericho expresses regret over his debut, saying he would have done it totally differently if he was redoing it) interrupting The Rock to his departure at the hands of Eric Bischoff on Raw and ends as the countdown to the second coming was about to begin.
Jericho recounts most of the talking points of his first stint in the WWE. He recounts his difficult early period, where he had to come through a lot of back stage politics through to his phantom title win, how badly booked his world title run was (He became “Undisputed” champion after 1,372 matches, hence the title). Working with two of the biggest legends the business has ever seen in Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair to his final feud with John Cena in 2005. Also uncovered is a chapter called “The Big Fight,” which covers Goldberg’s debut. For all the WCW fans out there, this is interesting reading regarding a man who’s wrestling life and persona was shaped in WCW – so it’s not unreasonable to say the attitudes he developed regarding wrestling were a by-product of that environment.
This leads me into an ideal opportunity to criticise this book a little. One of the key selling points about “A Lion’s Tale” was its’ honesty. I’m not saying that “Undisputed” is dishonest, far from it. However, I get the impression that it’s far from being the whole truth if you catch my meaning. Yes I understand that Jericho would’ve known, or at least suspected, that he wasn’t done with the WWE and would be back for another tour of duty and therefore wasn’t going to bury anyone for fear of the future. While Jericho isn’t shy in criticising people like Goldberg and Chyna, who everyone knows are not exactly on good terms with the WWE (understandably so), but he’s very reserved when talking about people like Triple H – whose backstage issues with Jericho are legendary – gets off pretty lightly.
The point being that I think Jericho has left a lot unsaid. Sure, the logic is understandable, but if he was worrying about upsetting those in power at the WWE it would’ve made for a better book to have delayed the release till he knew he was done with the WWE and printed things as they actually happened without fear of retribution. However, it should of course be said that it isn’t unfeasible that the situation between himself and Triple H for example have been exaggerated and that there really isn’t anything worthwhile writing home about. I guess I’m just a bit of a cynic, and possibly a bit of a mark for backstage rumours with my opinion on that.
Alongside the wrestling material, there is quite a bit on his band “Fozzy.” In a way it’s fitting having this in. “A Lion’s Tale” focused on Jericho’s ascent into the upper echelons of the wrestling world, “Undisputed” mirrors that with Fozzy’s ascent to…well…maybe not the upper echelons of the metal world, but certainly to levels of respectability. It’s interesting to see the similarities between paying your dues in the wrestling world to the music world: there is a lot that they share in how you come through the ranks and prove yourself to a wider audience.
In reviews that I’ve read of “Undisputed”, reviewers have said that the Fozzy material detracts from the book, I actually disagree with this. I think that it makes a welcome tangent, especially if you’re a music fan it serves to be a welcome insight into some of the larger than life personalities in the music industry: again, much like the wrestling sections highlight the personalities of icons in the ring.
Unfortunately however, the book does carry some of the tragedy of “A Lion’s Tale.” Given that the novel takes place between August 1999 and November 2007, this means that the deaths of two of Jericho’s closest friends in the wrestling fraternity are chronicled in the book: Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit. There’s a recollection of a conversation that he had with Vicki after Eddie’s funeral where she told Jericho that Eddie was envious that Jericho had been able to walk away from the business on his own terms as opposed to being pushed out or being forced into retirement by injury. He also discusses what happened with Chris Benoit, and manages to convey what the impact of his actions were on the people that were close to him as well as adding some humanity into a man who has been vilified as a monster. Jericho makes absolutely no attempt to defend his actions, but seeks explanation into how a man who was very much “What you see is what you get,” how the guy who loved his kids so much he would change his schedule on a monthly basis to spend as much time with them as possible could commit acts which are incomprehensible. There is an oft repeated line however when he’s talking about a classic match that Benoit was involved in: “It’s unfortunate that the match has been buried and technically doesn’t exist anymore.”
The debate of Benoit’s legacy and actions will rage on, but this is not the place for that argument. To paraphrase Jericho himself: if you want that to have that debate, go somewhere else because it’s irrelevant to “Undisputed.”
Despite my criticisms of “Undisputed,” I still really recommend this book. It’s a highly enjoyable read that that chronicles one of the most talented performers the company has seen, as well as seeing what some of the major stars are like behind the curtain. The criticism I levelled weren’t a detraction from the book whatsoever, I just felt that with some of the stuff that has possibly been left out it could have been so much more had it been pushed back till he was out of reach of WWE politics. It’s still one of my favourite wrestling books of all time and think it that it should be on the “must read” list of anyone who considers themselves to be a serious wrestling fan.
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PS: Could you guys let me know if you think this has worked, doing two related reviews back to back? Or would you have preferred to have had these spaced out with stuff between them? Feedback is appreciated on all levels, I’m still trying to find my feet!