Jim Ross has discussed the negotiations to bring Chris Jericho into the WWF in 1999 and what the only sticking point in signing the star was.
Jericho had made a name for himself in World Championship Wrestling as his charisma and skills on the microphone made him stand out. With a stacked main event scene boasting the likes of Hogan, Goldberg, Nash, Savage, Flair, and Sting, opportunities for other stars to break through into that role were few and far between.
In 1999, Chris Jericho left WCW and headed to the new world of the WWF, instantly making a splash with his lavish debut where he immediately went one on one with ‘The Great One’ The Rock on the microphone.
“It was secret only from the standpoint that we wanted to keep the official romancing off the radar. If we can bring him in, and bring him in as a surprise, it would be even better for him, and that’s what happened in Chicago with that countdown clock. I didn’t know what to expect when we met. I knew that the groundwork had been laid. Vince was just fine with the meeting we had in Tampa.”
“I wanted to sit down and ask Chris, ‘What did you think of the meeting? How can we make this work? What can we do to get you on the team? What do you need, because I’ll tell you I can’t pay you what they’re (WCW) is offering. There’s no way in hell. We can sit here and talk all day long. We can have breakfast, lunch, and dinner here, and it’s not going to change.’ The issue is that the offer we gave him was a lot of money.”
While it might have been a lot of money and the potential to earn was almost unlimited, the guaranteed cash on offer wasn’t as good as WCW. As Jim Ross details though, he had plenty of examples of WWF Superstars far outkicking the number on their contract:
“$450K is a good starting salary. I thought we were being very fair. The key component of that was convincing him that our incentive program, in other words, getting paid on the house, old school, commission so to speak, payoff, was real. Without naming names, I gave him some illustrations of, this guy has a $300,000 downside, but last year, he made $1.8 million. At one time, we had 20-something guys on our roster that were making over a million. That’s incredible. They got that million dollar number by productivity. They sold tickets, PPVs, and merchandise.”
“I think that was part of the only hurdle we had to overcome that it was really a true payoff system. We had a great meeting, he, Gerry (Brisco) and I. He was a fan of the Briscos and a student of the game. We both loved him. We both thought he can work heel or babyface. I love the fact that he was durable. It was a great meeting. Soon thereafter, guess what? We signed him. When his contract was over, and he didn’t renew there at WCW, we closed the deal very quickly.”