WrestleMania 33 is finally here. Over weeks and months of action on "Monday Night Raw," "SmackDown Live," "205 Live" and a variety of pay-per-views, we've reached the pinnacle of the year in the world of professional wrestling.
For those casual viewers who need to get caught up ahead of diving back into the WWE ahead of WrestleMania, or those just seeking a refresher because of the sheer volume of programming it took to get here, we have everything you need to know leading into some of the biggest matches on the card. We'll be dropping them throughout the week, and we continue our coverage with a look at one of the most highly-anticipated clashes on the show -- the battle between two former best friends (over the United States championship) -- Chris Jericho vs. Kevin Owens.
For a look at the full WrestleMania card, click here.
While much of the WrestleMania 33 card only truly came together in the last month, the origins of the friendship, conflict and ultimate betrayal between Owens and Jericho dates back almost a full year. In a time before the brands were split, and SmackDown wasn't even live yet, a one-off tag team match pitting an impromptu pairing of Owens and Jericho against Sami Zayn and Dean Ambrose ended with Jericho pushing Ambrose off the top rope and Owens claiming the pinfall. An improvised moment in which Owens leapt into Jericho's arms in celebration planted the seeds of a friendship that would blossom a few months later.
After occasionally running into one another in funny backstage segments, Owens ultimately came to Jericho's aid in a conflict with Enzo Amore and Big Cass going into SummerSlam in August, with the team picking up the victory in Brooklyn. In the chaotic weeks that followed, Owens ultimately claimed the Universal championship (with a big assist from Triple H) and began a reign of terror that was the centerpiece of "Monday Night Raw" over the months to follow. Every step of the way, Jericho was right there by his side protecting his championship reign, through challenges from Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, in cage matches, Hell in a Cell and anything else thrown his way.
Jericho went to the ends of the earth to protect Owens' championship reign, and the pair also conspired to win Jericho the United States championship. Fed up with how everything had gone, former Raw general manager Mick Foley had Jericho suspended above the ring in a shark cage as Owens defended his championship against Reigns. While there were occasional cracks that showed in the foundation of this friendship, it wasn't until Triple H returned to TV and Jericho volunteered Owens for a Universal championship match with Goldberg that things fell apart. During one of the most memorable moments in the history of "Monday Night Raw," Jericho celebrated their bond in the "Festival of Friendship" -- which memorably ended with Owens giving Jericho the 'List of KO' with his name on top and a beating to signal the end of their partnership.
Jericho showed up at Fastlane to distract Owens and cost him the Universal championship, and the two were put on a collision course. Toss in a photo of Owens as a "Jericoholic" at 16 years old for good measure, and you have everything you needed (and then some) for a build to the U.S. title match at WrestleMania 33.
The longest world title reign of Jericho's career, as the first ever "undisputed" WWE champion, lasted 98 days.
After coming back for short stretches at various points over the last decade, Jericho has stuck around for well more than a year. It's largely because of the tremendous success of this partnership and story, and for the first time since his initial run Jericho has added to his lengthy list of catchphrases and gimmicks that will go down in the annals of wrestling history; "the list" is first and foremost, but the word "it" and its many iterations, "Jimmin Marvinluder" and Jericho's insistence on calling Tom Phillips by the wrong name all got over in a big way with the crowd. But reality calls.
Whether it's the danger that Jericho's now-good guy role could quickly turn stale, or summer dates locked in for his band Fozzy to tour, it's time to put a bow on this wonderful chapter of Jericho's career. That means that, after a memorable confrontation at WrestleMania, Owens will beat Jericho for the United States championship, and maybe again the next night on "Monday Night Raw." Owens and Jericho have the potential to create the perfect ending and close the loop, and in turn push Owens onward and upward into a future filled with possibilities.
In wrestling, good friends make even better enemies. We saw it with Zayn, and now we've seen it with Jericho. If recent weeks are any indication of what the future holds, Samoa Joe may be the next name on that list. For the time being, it appears that Triple H is assembling an army around him and that Owens and Joe are two of the major players, all of which could go a long way in determining the post-WrestleMania direction of "Monday Night Raw."
As for Jericho, I don't think this will be the final chapter, no matter how strong an ending it might be. He'll tour with his band, release another book, continue to build his podcast up and work on other creative ventures, but at some point the timing will be ripe for another return. Whether that's around a major event like SummerSlam, Survivor Series, the Royal Rumble or even later, Jericho will wait until the right moment strikes him, and then he'll dive back in.