Chris Jericho reflects on late friend Owen Hart as AEW hits Calgary

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At 53 years old, Chris Jericho is showing no signs of slowing down.

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In fact, slowing down isn’t even a consideration for the Winnipeg-born wrestling legend and rock star.

“I don’t ever really think about age, to be honest with you,” the All Elite Wrestling star said in a telephone interview ahead of his return to Calgary on Wednesday night. “It’s just what I do and how I feel.

“I’ve doing this for 33 years now and don’t really feel like I’ve been doing it that long. There’s the old adage, when you love what you do, you never work a day in your life and that really is how I feel. The advent of AEW and how much fun we’ve been having, we’ve been able to build this company so huge in such a short period of time, there’s really no reason to stop and, like I said, I’m having a great time and really enjoying the work that we’ve been doing. It’s just been amazing across the board.”

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Jericho was one of the key players in the creation of AEW back in 2019, along with the Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and Cody Rhodes. Since then, he’s been an instrumental part of the rise of AEW to become a global wrestling promotion under Tony Khan, its CEO, general manager and head of creative.

“Chris Jericho is one of the top stars in the history of AEW,” Khan told Postmedia in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “He was the first ever AEW champion. As our first champion, Chris helped introduce AEW to the world, with AEW Dynamite on Wednesdays and our huge pay-per-view events. When he signed with AEW, it greatly legitimized this entire enterprise and his involvement in AEW is a huge credit to our company and his legendary career helps bring so many eyeballs to AEW, where he’s also done some of the best work of his wrestling career.”

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Jericho, whose real name is Christopher Irvine, is also a great human being, Khan said.

“He’s a good friend to myself and so many people in the locker room,” Khan added. “He’s a great mentor to a lot of the young wrestlers and he’s just a really kind-hearted person. Whenever someone is in need, you’ll always see Chris donate to the charity, he’s always looking out for other people, and I think outside of the ring, Chris is every bit as great as he is in the ring, where he’s one of the all-time best.”

On Wednesday, Jericho and Khan will be in Calgary, where Jericho cut his teeth in pro wrestling at the famed Hart family Dungeon. However, this will be Jericho’s first trip to his former stomping grounds as a member of the AEW roster.

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“It’s always fun to come back to Calgary,” Jericho said. “It always holds a special place in my heart. Winnipeg is where I grew up, but Calgary is where I became an adult. This is where I lived by myself for the first time, learning the business, finding my fame and fortune and all of this type of stuff.

“The last time we were here, I wasn’t on the show so that’s going to make it more special as well and the fact that it’s in the middle of the (Calgary Stampede) and the fact that it’s the finals of the Owen Hart Foundation Tournament. All of that stuff means a lot to me and I think anytime I get a chance to come back to Calgary, it’s always a great time and even more so this time.”

Hart, the late Calgarian who died tragically during a WWE show in 1999 when a harness he was being lowered to the ring in broke, has been being honoured by AEW for the last two years with the permission of his family. AEW holds a men’s and women’s Owen Hart Foundation tournament that both raises awareness for and pays respect to the foundation named after Hart.

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Jericho said it was important to him when he signed with AEW that the company find a way to pay tribute to his late friend.

“When we started AEW, it was one of the missions that Tony Khan and I had was to get Owen involved in wrestling again,” Jericho said. “I’ve really always felt over the years that people have just focused on Owen’s past. The last 10 minutes of his life have kind of erased his amazing legacy of being one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all times, and not to mention being a huge influence on me. I wouldn’t be in the business if it wasn’t for Owen. I really wanted people to think about him in a positive light rather than this cloud of negativity. I wanted to do the same within pro wrestling, where people think of Owen Hart in wrestling, they can think about him in AEW. We have an Owen Hart action figure, Owen Hart’s in the video game and you can actually do things with this guy who was one of the greatest ever and basically wasn’t even (mentioned in) the business for many, many years. That never sat well with me.”

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Dr. Martha Hart, shown with a photo of her late husband Owen, has become a community leader via her massive philanthropic work and establishment of the Owen Hart Foundation, honouring the legacy of her husband who died in a tragic wrestling stunt accident 25 years ago.
Dr. Martha Hart, shown with a photo of her late husband Owen, has become a community leader via her massive philanthropic work and establishment of the Owen Hart Foundation, honouring the legacy of her husband who died in a tragic wrestling stunt accident 25 years ago. Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia

With the blessing of Hart’s widow, Martha, AEW has been honouring Hart and on Wednesday at the Saddledome will hold the men’s and women’s finals of the annual tournament, with the winners earning a respective AEW title shot at next month’s All In pay-per-view at Wembley Stadium in London, England.

“To have the finals of the tournament in the Saddledome, during Stampede, with the winner getting a world title shot at Wembley Stadium in August, it doesn’t get any bigger than that for AEW and for what we want to do in Calgary and for what Martha wants to do with Owen’s legacy and what we want to do with Owen’s legacy,” Jericho said.

He also talked about the huge influence Hart had on his own career.

“I grew up a big wrestling fan,” Jericho said. “I loved Hulk Hogan. I really loved Ricky Steamboat, Randy Savage, The Rockers, those types of guys, but those guys were like living on another planet for me. They were wrestling in Madison Square Garden, or they’re wrestling in Texas, or they’re wrestling in Oregon or California. I had been to those places, but only with my parents and I had no idea how to get there, whereas Stampede Wrestling was 14 hours west from Winnipeg. I knew I could get there. Owen was a new kid on the scene, he was so acrobatic and so explosive and not the biggest of guys, not six-foot-eight or six-foot-five and 240 pounds of muscle. I knew I could go to Calgary; I knew I could learn to wrestle there and I knew I was as big as Owen was, or I could be at least because of my stature was similar to his. And that was it. That was it, it was like ‘I can be like that guy.’ I know where Calgary is and this is what I want to do.”

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Jericho recalled a Stampede Wrestling promotional video that featured Hart performing some of his athletic and acrobatic moves.

“There was a package, a video highlight package they did to the Bryan Adams song Heart’s on Fire and I saw that thing and I remember I recorded it on the VHS and I watched it over and over and over again,” Jericho said. “I still can’t figure out how (Owen) did some of those moves, to this day. I remember a guy bent over for a backdrop and Owen jumped on his back and did a back flip off it, and I was like ‘What?’ What is that?’ ”

He also recalled how he included Hart’s influence in his first book.

“I drew pictures of me and Owen Hart as Stampede Wrestling tag team champions back of class one day in high school,” Jericho said. “Stuff like that, things that you never forget and how much that guy meant to me as a young wrestler.”

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Khan said the Owen Hart Foundation tournament is a highlight of the AEW year.

“The first two have been excellent and this third one is, in my opinion, the best one yet,” he said. “It has the highest stakes with the Owen Hart Foundation Cup winner receiving an AEW Championship match and also the site of their title challenge being Wembley Stadium in London, England, maybe the greatest sporting ground on the entire planet.”

Jericho, who faces Samoa Joe in a Stampede Street Fight in Calgary on Wednesday night, rejected any notion that what he’s doing into his 50s is exceptional.

“I just saw The Rolling Stones, four times this tour, and Mick (Jagger) is 80 and I don’t think of it like you’re not supposed to be doing this at 80,” he said. “I’m thinking of it like you should be doing this at 80. If everybody had the same attitude and mindset as Mick Jagger, I think it would be a lot better for you own life. For me at 53, I’ve never heard anybody say you’ shouldn’t be able to do this. To me, it’s like ‘Why shouldn’t I be able to do it?’ It’s just what I do. I did it when I was 43, 33, and 23 and to me, I’m living in the moment and living in the now, and I’m not concerned about any type of number other than the numbers on your pay cheque,” he added with a chuckle.

“All that matters is the money and the miles, they say in the business. If I ever feel like I can’t do this or that I’m hurting myself, then that’s the time to re-evaluate, but for right now, I’m having a great time being in AEW and enjoying all the success that we’re having as a company and working with the younger guys and giving them the experience that I have and still doing great work and having a lot of fun and that’s the most important thing to me.”

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