It’s one of the more memorable, most personal and highly regarded feuds that World Championship Wrestling produced during the 1998 year, but it’s seemingly hardly talked about.
Let’s backtrack a little bit. For most of 1997, Chris Jericho was lost in the shuffle trying to find his identity as a babyace. He had a rocker type of look, but for the most part wasn’t connecting with the fans. He was putting on good matches in the Cruiserweight division, but that’s about it.
On the other hand, Dean Malenko was busy putting on a series of great matches with Eddie Guerrero over the US and Cruiserweight Championships while also joining the Four Horsemen to combat the New World Order. He was also voted the #1 wrestler by Pro Wrestling Illustrated for their yearly special, the PWI 500.
Towards the end of 1997 and the opening weeks of 1998, Jericho started to flip out after losing matches. He’d tear the ring announcer’s tuxedo off and return the next week with a new one, just to rip it off again. It wouldn’t take long for Jericho to win WCW gold with this new attitude as he defeated Rey Mysterio Jr. at Souled Out in January to win the WCW Cruiserweight Championship. Of course, Jericho took advantage of Mysterio injured knee, yeah, he even had knee troubles back in ’98.
While Jericho was going through the Cruiserweight division, which also saw him unmask Juventud Guerrera at Superbrawl VIII, Dean Malenko wasn’t being used all that much.
Jericho started to get under Dean’s skin by claiming to know four more holds than Malenko.
On the March 12th edition of Thunder, Malenko thought he had won the WCW Cruiserweight Championship for a fourth time, but in fact, Dean did not make Jericho tap out to the Texas Cloverleaf. Instead, Jericho had gotten jobber Lenny Lane to disguise himself and take the beating. Thus, the championship was not won, and Jericho attacked Malenko afterward.
Have no fear, the Iceman would get a rematch three days later on pay per view at UnCensored. The match was highly disappointing. Jericho was able to win the match with the Liontamer. After the match, Mean Gene completely ripped on Dean Malenko calling him a loser. When asked “Where do you go from here?” The Iceman simply said “Home.” It was really an interesting turn of events.
With Malenko going home, Jericho would continue to defend the Cruiserweight Championship and take cheap shots at the Iceman. For instance, on the March 30th Nitro, Jericho started to list all 1,004 holds, though he didn’t name them all, thankfully.
Jericho successfully defended the championship against the likes of Juventud Guerrera, Super Calo and Prince Iaukea, who got a shocking title shot at Spring Stampede. I mean, Prince Iaukea hadn’t been relevant in a year and I don’t even think he won a match in that span. Okay, back to the actual feud.
Heading into Slamboree, there was a battle royal to determine a challenger for Jericho later on in the pay per view. Eventually, it was down to Juventud Guerrera and shockingly Ciclope. However, Guerrera decided to eliminate himself and Ciclope turned out to be Dean Malenko in disguise. The reaction the reveal got, was incredible.
Malenko would defeat Jericho to win the championship, but the next night JJ Dillon said that the belt was not Malenko’s due to how he went about winning it. Thus, on the June 11th Thunder Malenko gave the belt back to Jericho, but would meet Jericho at the Great American Bash three days later.
You’d think the babyface would manage to cleanly beat the heel in this feud, but you’d be wrong. Instead, the match ended after Malenko lost his temper due to Jericho insulting Dean’s deceased father.
Malenko was then supposed to have a no disqualification match with Jericho at the next pay per view, Bash at the Beach. However, Malenko broke a no physicality rule that had been put in place. That was due to Jericho insulting Dean’s mother. So, instead it was Rey Mysterio Jr. getting the title shot, and he would win the championship at the event.
Jericho managed to regain the championship the next night due to, you guessed it, Dean Malenko getting involved and costing Jericho the strap.
Malenko would get one final shot on the July 27th Nitro, and lost by disqualification. Jericho would lose the championship two weeks later at Road Wild to Juventud Guerrera, with Dean Malenko being the special referee.
The feud was mainly generated thanks to Jericho and his ability to get under people’s skins. Some of the segments he would be part of during this feud are truly classics and memorable to this day. However, the fact that Malenko never got that lasting victory over Jericho, kind of ruins the moment. For all that Jericho did to the Iceman, he was able to always keep the strap.
Of course, both men were far better than the WCW Cruiserweight Championship, and they both ended up having successful careers beyond this.
I’d consider it one of the better undercard feuds WCW was able to put together, especially for championship low on the card.
What are your memories of the Dean Malenko vs. Chris Jericho feud during this time? Did you enjoy it?
Thanks for reading.