Dancer, singer, wrestler Chris Jericho embraces new combat role


Miami Herald Writer

WWE superstar Chris Jericho has entertained fans in a wrestling ring, on a concert stage and even a ballroom dance floor.

The Fozzy lead singer’s latest role sees him as the host and play-by-play man for SyFy’s “Robot Combat League.”

The show, premiering 10 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26 features 12 teams controlling giant battling bots for the ultimate prize of $100,000. It’s less of its predecessors like “Robot Wars” and more of the real-life movie version of “Real Steel”.

For Jericho, the selling point of the league was a big concept never pulled off on this magnitude.

“When things come across your desk when you have a certain level of notoriety, some of them are interesting, some of them are generic. Some of them are bad. Then some of them are completely unique and original and stand out. Robot Combat League was like that,” Jericho said. “Whenever you hear about a show featuring 8-foot tall fighting robots controlled by humans, it’s definitely going to peak your interest.”

The rock star grappler got even more excited about the project after meeting the state-of-the-art fighting machines up close. He was made into a believer, marveling at the technology and engineering involved in making what was once seen as impossible possible.

“The thing about the show is that when you hear about the idea you think, ‘Yeah, this seems kind of cool,’” Jericho said. “Then you really see it like when I first saw how these robots move, how big they really are and fast they punch, it really blew my mind. It was really just something that sounded interesting in theory, but I wasn’t too sure how good it could. Then on the first day I was on set one of the robots came walking toward me, if it hadn’t had stopped, I would have ran away.

“That’s how intimidating it was. It’s like the scene in ‘Terminator’ when they’re walking on the human skulls of the future. That’s what it kind of reminded me of. This could be the first step of robots taking over the entire universe, and when it happens in 10 to 15 years, you can say you saw it on the SyFy channel.”

Not much for robots, but Jericho was more a fan of “Star Wars”, “Star Trek” and science fiction movies growing up. So you can imagine his elation when George Lucas visited the set on the first day of taping. The visionary director’s daughter is among the participants.

“I was just asking him how interesting that ideas we’ve had 45 or so years ago are now coming true,” Jericho said. “When you think about the 1950s, 1960s, the early 1970s, when you have the communicators and you’re talking to someone in the sky. Now there are cell phones. You have the screen where you can see somebody’s face and talk to them through Skype. You had the giant fighting robots [in movies], which we have now too. It’s weird that we had all these things that were predicted 40 or 50 years are absolutely coming true.

“I think anybody that has any kind of interest in fantasy or robots or anything along those lines. Technology has advanced so much that we can have this. It’s like the movie ‘Real Steel’, but this is real. There is no CGI or Hollywood trick. These are actual walking and fighting robots. It’s incredible to see that.”

The 12 teams are made up of one fighter that controls the moves of the robot called the “robo-jockey” and one engineer or “robo-tech”. Much like wrestling, the bots themselves have their own creative names, styles, strengths and weaknesses.

“This is something that we’ve never seen before, and that was the interesting thing while shooting the first season,” Jericho said. “The people that are controlling the robots aren’t the people that invented them. They are just normal people. You have the ones who are the rocket scientists, the ones with the PHDs. Then you have the ones who are the jockeys that are controlling the robots who are MMA fighters, army pilots and Olympic athletes.

“You have two separate kinds of people that are put together. The techs control the walking of the robot and try to make the repairs, and the jockeys control the fighting [as a sort of shadow boxer] for the robot. It really is an amazing thing that we are learning how to control the robots, as well as learn strategy. How do you win the fight? What do you do to take control of the fight? It’s something that hasn’t been before in the history of anything.”

Over the course of the nine episodes, viewers will have the opportunity to cheer on their favorites. The charismatic star says it’s about connecting with the crowd and making sure the people are having a good time.

“I controlled the flow of the show,” Jericho said. “I provided a shoulder to cry on when they screw up. I was there to give them a kick in the ass if they needed it or an inspirational speech if they need it. It’s something that if you are a wrestling fan, boxing fan, science fiction fan, a drama fan, there many aspects to this.”

Jericho believes there is something for everybody to enjoy in the show.

“The robots are amazing,” Jericho said. “They cost like a million dollars each, these immaculately created machines that are put into a fight in the middle of this pit. It was like having a demolition derby with a Lamborghini. It just hurts you to see them get pummeled and destroyed. They have 2,000 PSI per punch. It could actually kill you to get hit by one of these robots. Not only that, but you have the dramatics of the team.

“These are people who have never met each other. You see how much chemistry they are going to have. You see how they work together to win these fights. There are a whole lot of elements that this show has in making it unique. It’s more than the gimmick of the robots. It’s like a NASCAR race. You have the fastest car, but is the driver going to be able to control it to win. That’s what we have going on as well. I think a lot of different people from a lot of different genres are going to enjoy the show because of all these elements that contribute to it.”

The voice of the league looks back at one fight that really put the project in perspective. It was during a match between the dangerous Scorpio facing off with the militant Commander.

“Scorpio has blades on his fists,” Jericho described. “One of the earlier fights Scorpio was just hitting the midsection of Commander. It’s like a boxing match with robots, where it gets judged and if the robots don’t get knocked they go by score. Scorpio was pummeling this other robot called Commander that is kind of an army kind of robot.

“The midsection has these actuators that connect the lower torso and to the upper torso. Scorpio nailed one of the actuators and broke it in two. Then there was this whole domino effect where the torso collapsed. The Commander was torn in two. That was a moment where I couldn’t believe I saw that. It was crazy to see him cut the robot in two. This was all really happening. There were no special effects or wires. You didn’t know what to expect.

“You actually have moments when you forget that the robots are mechanical and not human beings. The team went from a two-person team to basically a three-prong team with the tech, the jock and the robot itself. You get invested in them.”

In the middle of shooting with the Robot Combat League and touring with Fozzy, Jericho was plotting a return to WWE. The big moment came when Y2J, known to make an entrance, kicked off Royal Rumble match with Dolph Ziggler.

“Nobody knew, that’s why it was such a surprise,” Jericho said. “It’s something that rarely happens nowadays because it always gets leaked online or to one of the sheets or whatever. So I really kept it under wraps and didn’t tell anybody. It was kind of decided on back in November. I was really impressed that we were able to pull of that surprise. That is why people went bananas for it because it was legitimate surprise like when we were kids. I thought it was really, really cool that we are still able to do that.”

Jericho ended up lasting more than 47 minutes in the 30 superstar battle royal. He followed this up with stellar matches with the likes of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan.

“I have been feeling great,” Jericho said. “I feel like all the matches that I’ve been having are the best matches on the show or close to it. This is especially true the last couple of weeks working with guys like Daniel Bryan. I really like doing other things too.

“Fozzy has been doing great. We are getting ready to go to Australia and then I will come back to WWE after that. The Robot Combat League is a big opportunity. I’ve always considered myself an entertainer more than just a wrestler or just an actor or just a musician. I think it’s very beneficial to do all these other things, but still be able to come back to WWE for good chunks of time or spurts.

“That is probably going to be my career from now on. I will keep coming back as long as I feel I’m still working at the highest level that I can. It won’t be for two years, but if I come back to two or so months at a time. Then I can do that, then it gives me the opportunity to do the other projects I have going on as well.”

His next match is in the unforgiving Elimination Chamber match with five other competitors for a shot at the World title at WrestleMania in April. This Sunday will be Jericho’s eighth appearance in the chain-linked circular steel structure. If Shawn Michaels is Mr. WrestleMania, then maybe Jericho is Mr. Elimination Chamber.

“I’ve actually been in more Elimination Chamber matches than any other human being on the planet,” Jericho said. “It really has been a badge of honor for me. I really wasn’t supposed to be in that match, but Rey Mysterio got hurt, and they put me in there. It’s always great to add to your legacy. It’s one of the most hard-hitting matches you can have. I guess I’m an expert at these chamber matches so I thought, ‘Sure, let’s do it.’”

Jericho on the International Olympic Committee’s executive board’s recommendation to drop wrestling from the Olympic schedule starting with the 2020 games.

“I never was an amateur wrestler,” Jericho said. “It’s a drag, but it’s a big business. It doesn’t affect me like a Jack Swagger or a Dolph Ziggler or Kurt Angle who did that. For me, I think it’s a drag from a traditional standpoint, but it doesn’t really affect anything that I do because pro wrestling will pretty much carry on forever.

“Think about it, pro wrestling as an Olympic sport would be pretty cool. Look at figure skating or gymnastics, what is it? It’s a choreographed performance that is judged. It’s whoever puts on the best performance. Why can’t you do that with different countries like a Canadian team, an American team and a German team go in there. Then whoever puts on the best match according to the judges wins. You take two of the best American workers in a match against each other and get scored by the judges. It’s the exact same thing as figures skating, so why not?”

• The Robot Combat League premieres 10 p.m. EST Tuesday, Feb. 26 on SyFy. Visit Robot to meet the robots and the teams.

• Chris Jericho will vie for a shot at the World title with Jack Swagger, Daniel Bryan, Kane, Mark Henry and Randy Orton in an Elimination Chamber match during the WWE Elimination Chamber pay-per-view 8 p.m. EST Sunday, Feb. 17 from the New Orleans Arena. The winner will get that World title shot at WWE WrestleMania 29 on Sunday, April 7 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

Also, CM Punk challenges The Rock for the WWE championship in the main event of the WWE Elimination Chamber PPV.

• Follow Chris Jericho on Twitter: @IAMJericho.

• Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN,!/smFISHMAN, where I post links and information. Opinions expressed reflect no other entity. I can also be found tweeting incessantly during wrestling shows weekly.

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