“A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex,” by Chris Jericho (412p)
A Lion’s Tale is the autobiography of WWE wrestler and rock musician Chris Jericho (real name Chris Irvine). A Lion’s Tale tells Jericho’s life story from his earliest days growing up Winnipeg, Canada through the first half of his career in professional wrestling, traveling around the world, until his debut with the (then) World Wrestling Federation (Entertainment) in 1999. Jericho also happens to be my favourite wrestler.
One of the first things Jericho establishes is why he loved wrestling – his grandmother. He grew up in an athletic family in Winnipeg, Canada – Jericho’s father is NHL hockey legend Ted Irvine – and naturally gravitated toward show business. Growing up, Jericho was always enamoured by films, comics, rock music and wrestling. He would watch the American Wrestling Association promotion on television and attend events at the Winnipeg Arena when the AWA would come to town. Later, when the AWA began to decline, Jericho began following the World Wrestling Federation as Vince McMahon was launching his takeover of regional territorial promotions throughout North America in the 1980s. When the WWF came to Winnipeg Jericho would go to all the shows, practically stalk the wrestlers at the hotel looking to get autographs and meet the stars of the WWF. At school he and his friends formed their own backyard wrestling group and performed matches at their high school. Jericho had set his sights on becoming a professional wrestler at the age of 17 and, when turning 19, he left home and went to Calgary to train with the famous Hart Brothers in their wrestling camp.
Wrestling training is notoriously brutal and Jericho doesn’t spare the details on the difficulties he faced. But he graduated (along with future star Lance Storm) and soon found himself wrestling in small regional shows in Canada, scratching out a simple living. He soon finds himself making his mark in Mexico as Corazón de León (Lionheart), winning championships, learning the ropes of the business and making lifelong friendships. He moved around the world and went to Germany for awhile, until landing his first real big paying wrestling gig in Japan with the Wrestle Association R company while also spending some time in the United States wrestling for Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling. The stories of independent wrestlers are legendary, and Jericho happily tells of some of the “colourful” moments he saw in the US and in Japan, where he was becoming a big star in WAR’s junior heavyweight division. Most of his in-ring ability and techniques he learns there are the things we see today and it’s fascinating reading about the experiences in Japan.
The last part of the book deals with Jericho’s break in the United States. Jericho, through his connections in the late Chris Benoit and late Eddie Guerrero, debuted in the up and coming Extreme Championship Wrestling promotion based out of Philadelphia in 1996. He remained there through 1996, touring in Japan as well. Jericho remained in ECW until the summer of 1996 when he was signed by World Championship Wrestling, soon to become the number one wrestling promotion in the United States. He soon finds the promised land of the big time not to be what he thought it would be, and Jericho talks at length about all the problems he faced in WCW.
It makes for pretty fascinating reading if you have an interest in pro-wrestling to hear about the scattered and confusing way WCW was run, with multiple doing the same job and nobody seemingly knowing what the other was doing. Jericho’s time in WCW was blighted by this as he spent months doing nothing in the company until his one big run. There, Jericho developed the character he would later use so successfully in the WWF – the abrasive, cocky, whiny and cowardly bad guy who mocked everyone with witty and original insults and plays on their names – and tells the story of how he came up with some of the funniest and most original segments to ever air in wrestling as he feuded with Dean Malenko.
But Jericho felt himself stifled by the atmosphere at WCW and never able to progress in a company that was so dogged by internal politics and backstabbing. With the massive salaries being paid out to the likes of Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Randy Savage and Sting Jericho knew he was never really going to be able to make it to the top there. So, he took it upon himself to make a move to the World Wrestling Federation and meeting with Vince McMahon. In late 1998 he signed with the WWF and debuted later in the year with one of the most memorable debuts in wrestling history. The Y2J Problem had arrived in the WWF and A Lion’s Tale ends with Jericho’s famous debut.
I probably should have prefaced this review by saying that, yes, I am a wrestling fan and still very much a child when it comes to this sort of thing. Jericho is my favourite wrestler so naturally I enjoyed his autobiography immensely. My recommendation below is hardly without bias. But the book actually is brilliant and very fun to read. It’s told in a carefree, relaxed and entertaining style. Jericho writes it in a way so it doesn’t come across as “and on August 5 1995 I went and did this …” like some people do with their autobiographies. Rather, he casually moves from place to place and moments in his career by telling (mostly humorous) stories about the people he met across his career, in particular and mentioning the unique and crazy side of the wrestling business. If you’re like me and find this sort of thing interesting anyway, it makes for natural entertainment and a great read.
I suppose this is a difficult book to recommend to most people. It’s probably only going to ever be read by wrestling fans, but all the same it is a great autobiography. Jericho is a natural writer and I can’t say I have any complaints about it. As far as entertainment and ease of read goes, it’s a true success.