Mind games are nothing new for Chris Jericho. From his rise to stardom as a cruiserweight in ECW and WCW to his most heated championship rivalries in WWE, Jericho has toyed with all of his opponents and tried to intimidate them at every turn.
What he has been doing to CM Punk over the last several weeks, though, is more than just mind games. By targeting the WWE Champion's deepest personal feelings and tossing them into a blender, Jericho has transformed Punk into a more volatile, hot-tempered and, perhaps, mentally vulnerable Superstar. And it has made Jericho look not only like the favorite for their Chicago Street Fight at Extreme Rules, but evoked images of another Superstar who knew exactly how to get into his opponents' heads.
Over his legendary career, Triple H earned the moniker "The Cerebral Assassin" for his uncanny ability to pick contenders apart from the inside out. This was no more evident than during his fierce clashes with The Rock and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, the latter of which included having Austin run over by a car at Survivor Series in 1999.
Similar to The Game, Jericho has uncovered his rivals' soft spots and poked at them as if they were open wounds. In his early career, that involved mocking other WCW high-flyers by stealing and wearing trophy items following his victories, or upstaging their signature handles, like calling himself "The Man of 1,004 Holds" to upset Dean Malenko. As he grew more experienced, Jericho became more sinister and resorted to such acts as relentlessly ridiculing and humiliating WWE Hall of Famers Edge and Shawn Michaels on his "Highlight Reel" talk show. Jericho even stooped low enough to put an end to Michaels' retirement address at SummerSlam in 2008 and showed no remorse for accidentally punching HBK's wife in the face.
Yet one could argue that, with his recent attacks on The Straight Edge Superstar, Jericho has crossed the line more than he ever has before.
Jericho's personal assault on Punk can be traced back to the March 12 edition of Raw SuperShow. It was then that Jericho claimed that the real reason Punk embraces the straight-edge lifestyle is because his father struggled with alcoholism, and that Punk feared that he would wind up like his father. Up until that point, the WWE Champion appeared to have no chinks in his armor as he posted big win after big win during his impressive title reign. But on that night, Jericho did something to Punk that no Superstar had been able to do: he exposed potential cracks in Punk's psyche for the whole WWE Universe to see. As the inconsolable Second City Savior dragged his feet back up the entranceway, for a moment it looked like Jericho had found exactly the opening he needed to seize the title of "Best in the World" – and the WWE Championship.
Despite repeated verbal attacks on his family, though, The Straight Edge Superstar refused to become another victim of Jericho's twisted mind games. Punk prevailed when it mattered most and conquered Jericho on The Grandest Stage of Them All. However, the very next night after WrestleMania XXVIII, Jericho gave the WWE Champion no time to celebrate, or even breathe, when he doused him with a bottle of liquor on Raw SuperShow and smashed the glass bottle over his head. Showing no mercy over the next two weeks, Jericho followed up that offensive act by drenching Punk in beer in the middle of the ring and accusing him of drinking in a London pub.
Jericho has proven he will stop at nothing in his attempt to wear Punk down to the point of mental and emotional exhaustion, and that spells big trouble as the two rivals head into a grueling Chicago Street Fight where every last bit of energy counts. On April 29, Jericho's heinous game plan could either fuel Punk's drive to demolish his antagonist once and for all. Or, it just might be remembered as the master stroke of the new "Cerebral Assassin."