On Thursday 24th May WWE held its first live event in Brazil. That’s a country WWE has been wanting to break into for a while thanks to its status as a growing economic power. As such the company wanted to make a good first impression and ensured that it booked quality bouts in the top spots. One of those matches was John Cena (the company’s biggest star) against Dolph Ziggler (a bumping machine talented enough to make a bore like Cena look good). The other was WWE champion CM Punk defending against Chris Jericho.
During the early going in that match ‘Y2J’ grabbed a Brazilian flag and threw it to the ground. That act has been a standard heel tactic for decades (perhaps doing something so unoriginal is why Jericho is “the best in the world at what he does”) but not in Brazil, where it is illegal to disrespect the flag.
Police arrived at ringside and demanded ‘The Ayatollah of Rock-and-Rollah’ apologise for his actions or be arrested. Jericho, suddenly taken from the entertainment world of WWE to a very real situation with very real repercussions, did so. That was the sensible thing to do.
Chris Jericho parades around the ring with the Brazilian flag, looking decidedly un-heelish
When Jericho kicked the flag he had no idea it was an illegal act. He was playing the part of a television villain (as it’s Jericho the term pantomime villain is more accurate) and antagonist. His job in that role is to make people hate him. He did that but broke the law along the way. He did the right thing and apologised for the act but has still been suspended. Why?
Well, in 2012 WWE markets itself very successfully as family entertainment. It cannot be seen to let one of its employees go unpunished for an illegal act on one of its shows, no matter what extenuating circumstances are involved. Shawn Michaels did something similar but went much farther in Montreal at Survivor Series ’97 when he humped the Quebec flag, but that was a different country and a different era both in WWE and the wrestling industry in general. More importantly it was not an illegal act in Quebec.
CM Punk's interaction with the Brazilian flag was received more positively
WWE’s hand was forced by the legal aspect introduced by the incident taking place in Brazil. The suspension is not popular but it is understandable. WWE wants to return to Brazil in the future and there is a greater chance of that happening if the man that broke the law on their debut show in the country was punished for his actions.
Times may have changed in the wrestling business but there is still a place for flags to be used to produce heel heat in 2012 (I realise how odd a statement that is). Not in WWE though. Unfortunately for Chris Jericho he has found that out the hard way. Taking into account his upcoming tour dates with Fozzy, his thirty day suspension form WWE and the gaps in his announced wrestling schedule it’s possible we won’t be seeing the former ‘Paragon of Virtue’ for a while. That may not be a bad thing. It will allow this embarrassing debacle to blow over and give Jericho the chance to come back with a renewed focus and make the impact he should have made in January.