Jerry Lynn: Unsung Artist of The Mat

Jerry Lynn elevated wrestling to an art form. A tremendous technician, he delivered innumerable classics still cherished today. So why is this artist of the mat unsung?

Jerry Lynn over the years.
Jerry Lynn over the years.

Jerry Lynn: As Good As It Gets

Jeremy “Jerry” Lynn arrived in the world on June 12th, 1963. Born in Minneapolis, he would become one of Minnesota’s greatest grapplers.

He would have two world championship reigns, an iconic feud in ECW, was a pioneer of the X Division in TNA, and had innumerable incredible matches over his 25-year in-ring career.

Yet, when you look up any article covering the topic of “Best Wrestlers from Minnesota,” you’ll rightly find names such as Curt Hennig, Rick Rude, Jesse Ventura, Verne Gagne, Bob Backlund, Brock Lesnar, The Road Warriors Animal and Hawk, and countless others included. However, you’ll nary see a mention of Jerry Lynn, a name deserving of any top wrestling list.

Despite doomed runs in WWE and WCW, Lynn’s body of work in and out of the ring makes him one of the most underappreciated wrestlers ever. Here is his unsung story.

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Beginnings

Starting his career in March 1988, it wasn’t long before Jerry Lynn joined the AWA, toured Japan and Mexico, and wrestled for USWA and SMW. He also worked as an enhancement talent for the WWF in 1989.

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From 1995 to ’97, Jerry Lynn wrestled as part of WCW’s standout cruiserweight division as himself or the masked Mr. JL.

Unfortunately, much like his career, the WCW cruiserweights weren’t as loved at the time as they deserved to be, and in July 1997, he was unceremoniously let go by Eric Bischoff.

Jerry Lynn vs. RVD: Their ECW Classics

By 1997, it was in Extreme Championship Wrestling where Jerry Lynn would truly begin to etch his name in pro wrestling history.

Following a two-year stint paying his dues in the mid-card, a feud with one of the hottest performers in the promotion began to materialize.

At the time, a young, exciting, charismatic, and athletic prospect, Rob Van Dam, was riding the wave of an organic push. RVD reigned as ECW’s World Television Champion – the company’s secondary belt. But the title was being elevated through his program with his nemesis Lynn.

Fight Forever: Jerry Lynn and RVD had incredible chemistry in the ring.
Fight Forever: Jerry Lynn and RVD had incredible chemistry in the ring. [Photo: sportobsessive.com]
Meeting at the 1999 Living Dangerously pay-per-view, the pair tore the house down in a 20-minute time-limit draw. The referee bizarrely awarded the belt to Lynn, only for him to decline and request a time extension. It backfired when RVD subsequently pinned him.

 

The tandem would go even longer at ECW’s Hardcore Heaven PPV two months later, clocking in at just short of 30 minutes, with the same result.

Lynn’s stock was elevated every time he shared a ring with Van Dam.

He was feuding with the cult hero of ECW and referred to himself as “The New F’N Show,” opposing RVD’s monicker of “The Whole F’N Show.”

Lynn would claim revenge a year later in a non-title rematch from Hardcore Heaven. This was RVD’s return after breaking his ankle; a lengthy spell on the sidelines had forced him to relinquish his cherished ECW TV title.

“Rob Van Dam versus Jerry Lynn IS ECW,” announcer Joey Styles proclaimed as the crowd at Hardcore Heaven 2000 gave the pair a standing ovation just a few minutes into their match.

They could chain wrestle with perfection and repeatedly nail the high spots with little margin for error. The seamless transitions between moves and counters were something that, over time, helped change pro wrestling. Innovative use of chairs and crowd dives kept the hardcore element of their fanbase happy.

Thus, it was fitting that these two contested the final match in the original ECW.

Once again, Rob Van Dam and Jerry Lynn put on a 25-minute classic to close the show and bid farewell to Paul Heyman’s iconic creation.

As it turns out, it was a match that almost didn’t take place.

“It was an emotional rollercoaster,” Lynn explained in an interview with my podcast, the PWB Podcast, in 2010. “I almost didn’t even do the pay-per-view.

“I found out, once again, we were only getting half our paychecks. So I almost didn’t do it.

“I held out for my regular paycheck, which I was still owed a ton of money anyway, but we all had the feeling that this was it, so I wanted my money for that pay period.”

Lynn continued, “It was sad because I was really enjoying turning heel, and I think it was really fun working with Cyrus (Don Callis). We had a really good chemistry together. I was looking forward to the future, but it was sad that that was it.”

On why he feels he and Van Dam had such incredible matches, he replied, “I don’t know. Just certain people you have more chemistry with than others. Our styles just clicked from day one.

“We would always try to give the fans something they hadn’t seen before, and especially on the pay-per-views, up it a little every time.”

Watch highlights from the memorable rivalry of Jerry Lynn and Rob Van Dam: 

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Jerry Lynn and RVD Carry Their Feud Outside ECW

Even after the sad demise of ECW, their paths would cross on many occasions in different companies. On one occasion, they wrestled each other on a WWF Sunday Night Heat episode in a 2001 hardcore title match.

Nine years later, TNA booked a leading event for its ECW-themed Hardcore Justice pay-per-view. It was to be Lynn vs. RVD in a No-DQ match.

Sadly, it fell through at very late notice when Lynn suffered a debilitating back injury just a few days before the show. It was heartbreaking for Lynn; he couldn’t take part and rekindle the revered rivalry.

“Rob called me the day before the pay-per-view to see how I was,” Lynn told me in 2010. “He said not to worry about that; we can make it happen again.”

Thankfully, the future delivered more matches for them to thrill the fans. They battled a year later at Bound For Glory in a Full Metal Mayhem match won by RVD and finally got their much-anticipated rescheduled No-DQ match at TNA One Night Only: Xtravaganza 2013.

Watch Jerry Lynn vs. Rob Van Dam at TNA ONO: Extravaganza 2013: 

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It was part of Jerry Lynn’s retirement tour, and even at their advanced ages, at just shy of 50, they worked with supreme speed and precision, moving like cruiserweights.

Van Dam’s victory culminated in the locker room emptying to show respect, and RVD made it abundantly clear how much he respected Lynn: “The best matches of my career,” he stated on-screen.

Taz, on commentary, noted how it was often a difficult assignment for fellow performers to follow the longtime rivals on ECW shows, such were their high standards and ability to have the crowd in the palms of their hands. As a result, the atmosphere for subsequent matches sometimes suffered.

Run as ECW Champion

In late ’99 and early 2000, ECW began to lose some of its biggest singles stars when Taz and Mike Awesome departed for the bright lights of the WWF and WCW, respectively. As a result, the company needed new blood to fill the roles in its world title picture.

Justin Credible, formerly Aldo Montoya in the WWF, took the mantle and held the ECW World Championship for six months as a hated heel and did a respectable job of keeping the ship sailing.

By autumn, it was Jerry Lynn’s turn to capture the gold, having paid his dues with his stellar in-ring work. Then, at ECW’s Anarchy Rulz pay-per-view, he pinned Credible. It was his highest point, and a feeling of ecstasy was tinged with some trepidation about how his reign would pan out.

Jerry Lynn as ECW Champion.
Jerry Lynn as ECW Champion.

“That was a bittersweet night, too,” Lynn reflected. “I knew it wouldn’t last long because they initially didn’t want the belt on me.

“I think Justin (Credible) talked them into it because it was good business then. So I knew it wasn’t going to last long, which was fine. I guess I always looked at getting a championship as a reward for hard work, so it was bittersweet.

“What made the night great was that my dad was there to see it because he had only been to about three of my matches, which made it a little more special.”

Just over a month later, the belt was gone. Steve Corino became the guy winning a Double Jeopardy match also involving Credible and Sandman.

A few months later, the RVD and Lynn match that main-evented Guilty As Charged 2001 saw ECW sign-off in style. The promotion folded in April, and a new era for the business began.

Jerry Lynn’s Bittersweet Time in the WWF

The ECW and WCW rosters were desperately looking for a new home in the WWF.

Thankfully, Jerry Lynn already had a foot in the door.

“When I started with ECW, they wanted me to do some light-heavyweight tournament,” he explained. “I’d already committed to Paul E. and ECW, so I didn’t do it. Jim Ross said that when I was done with ECW, I still had an open door there.

“You’re always concerned when a company’s done, and there’s no longer a weekly paycheck there. That’s when things get tough. You’re working week-to-week without a paycheck. It’s a big gamble.”

Lynn’s tenure with the biggest brand in sports entertainment started with a bang, winning the WWF Light-Heavyweight belt on his debut. However, that fizzled out when a knee injury squashed any push he might receive.

“It wasn’t a good run because I got hurt six months in, and they’d already bought ECW (and WCW), so they had twice as many guys as they needed. When I got hurt, I was done.”

“We’re like a bunch of toys: when toys break, bring on the new toy.”

Jerry Lynn during his time as the WWF Light Heavyweight Champion.
Jerry Lynn during his time as the WWF Light Heavyweight Champion. [Photo: The Wrestling Insomniac]

Jerry Lynn in TNA

A fledgling promotion called Total Nonstop Action was to be where Jerry Lynn made his biggest mark on the business. Mere months after his release from WWE in February 2002, he had landed firmly on his feet in a company that would allow him the freedom to express himself in the newly-formed X-Division.

A feud between Lynn and a wrestler who would become a household name in the WWE thirteen years later helped establish the X-Division that promoted skill and talent over looks and charisma.

AJ Styles was gradually becoming the immense star many on the independent scene predicted he would be. His matches with Lynn rekindled, and some might say surpassed, the quality of match that Lynn and Van Dam had in previous years.

This time it was youth versus experience. The two, along with the likes of Low-Ki and Amazing Red, pioneered a style, similar to WCW’s cruiserweight glory days, of high-paced wrestling rarely seen on television.

Watch Jerry Lynn win the X-Division Championship against AJ Styles: 

YouTube video

“I always thought, years before, when X-Pac [Sean Waltman] was still the Lightning Kid, he and I would get together every day and watch anything we could find: Mexican tapes, Japanese tapes, and I think we implemented all the styles together, and back then we created the X-Division style, so to speak.”

Jerry Lynn and Sean Waltman (as the Lightning Kid) had groundbreaking matches together earlier in their careers in PWA and GWF worth seeking out.

Esteemed wrestlers who would go on to win the X-Division title, established by Lynn and others, include Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, Jay Lethal, and Kurt Angle.

After five years with the company, Lynn departed TNA in 2007, holding the X-Division gold twice and winning NWA Tag Team titles on two occasions with Styles and Amazing Red.

Ring of Honor Glory

A year later, Jerry Lynn arrived in Ring of Honor in his mid-40s, and he hadn’t lost a step.

He quickly established himself as a key member of the ROH roster, and it wouldn’t be long before a second World Title was around his waist.

Nigel McGuinness had reigned as ROH World Champion for 545 days before defending it against Jerry Lynn in the main event of ROH’s equivalent of WrestleMania, Supercard of Honor.

A crowd renowned for booing older guys and wrestlers they didn’t respect out of the building went crazy when he dethroned the longtime champion. Then, finally, the historic McGuinness run was over, and ROH included the emotional, celebratory aftermath in their legendary Supercard of Honor moments.

In a sign of deep respect, the crowd chanted, “You’ve still got it.”

At a subsequent ROH event, 16-time World Champion Ric Flair said:

“You know that to be the man, you got to beat the man, and right now, Jerry Lynn is the man.”

Ric Flair with Ring of Honor Champion, Jerry Lynn.
Ric Flair with Ring of Honor Champion Jerry Lynn. [Photo: @WrestlingIsKing on Twitter]
2009 was capped when Pro Wrestling Illustrated awarded Lynn its “Comeback of the Year” award. But, unfortunately, the Indian summer concluded when Austin Aries defeated Lynn for the belt.

 

In an in-ring promo with Tyler Black (Seth Rollins), Jerry revealed an insight into his personal life at that time.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’m at home and I got my bags ready,” he admitted.

“They’re packed, and I’m getting ready to walk out the door, and I say goodbye to my wife and daughters. My little one, she looks up at me and says: ‘Daddy, don’t go.’ So I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t thinking about slowing it down a little bit and semi-retiring.”

He then conceded that “No-one ever, EVER, truly retires from professional wrestling.”

Current Role in AEW

True to his word, even though Jerry Lynn wrestled his last match in 2013, he remains a key part of the business and has not retired from pro wrestling.

He currently works as a coach and producer for All Elite Wrestling.

Britt Baker openly praised Lynn for being someone she’d go to for help and advice in his coaching role.

“[Lynn] has been like my coach, like my main coach,” Britt admitted to Robbie Fox on the “My Mom’s Basement” podcast. “That’s who I go to for all my matches, my promos, everything. He has helped me, maybe more than anyone has in the last year, specifically with like wrestling and just coming into my own as an in-ring performer. He is a genius.”

It’s a sentiment that many would echo.

Jim Ross stated on his Grilling JR podcast that he couldn’t name anyone he respects more in wrestling and life than Jerry Lynn. He believes Lynn would have had more success in WWF had he not been labeled as a light-heavyweight.

Ironically, the company he now works for is an environment he would have flourished in – a promotion that promotes wrestlers more on their ability and work rate than size and looks.

In early 2022, he joined FXE Wrestling Training and Performance Academy as a trainer in Hendersonville, Tennessee.

As a coach and producer, Jerry Lynn is making a difference behind the scenes at All Elite Wrestling.
As a coach and producer, Jerry Lynn is making a difference behind the scenes at All Elite Wrestling. [Photo: AEW]

A Rich Legacy

Summarising the career of Jerry Lynn is complex.

Responding to a tweet by Justin Credible, who labeled Lynn as “one of the greatest of all-time,” respected veteran Lance Storm said, “Jerry Lynn is the equivalent of an Academy Award-winning supporting actor. One of the greatest actors of all time never cast in that lead role.”

Sports journalist Dave Meltzer has also gone on record to describe Lynn as “one of the most underrated workers of the last quarter century.”

Universally loved, no one can say a bad word about the 2022 Indie Wrestling Hall-of-Fame inductee. But, ever humble, Lynn told me in 2010, “I guess I can’t say any one particular thing is the biggest accomplishment of my career,” he noted before pausing for a second.

“I guess I consider the big accomplishments of my career are when some legends compliment me and my work. That’s a real high.”

While Lynn may still be unfairly left off all-time great lists, he has a far different kind of success. Lynn has the admiration and love of his peers.

Simultaneously unsung and beloved, his ring was his canvas, and Jerry Lynn painted many a masterpiece.

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Ian Aldous is a former International Boxing Organization fight commissioner and writer for BoxingNews24.com. He briefly covered pro wrestling in the late 2000s for WrestlingNewsWorld.com and the PWB Podcast before finding a home for his work on Pro Wrestling Stories.