Looking back on the careers of certain professional wrestlers, specific achievements can instantly be linked to them. Whether it’s Bruno Sammartino holding the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship for over 4,000 days across 2 separate reigns or The Dudley Boyz winning 6 different major promotions’ tag team titles, oftentimes these achievements become so legendary that they take on lives of their own. For further proof of this, look no further than Chris Jericho becoming the first Undisputed WWF Champion at Vengeance 2001.
Few would argue that Chris Jericho is among the most decorated wrestlers across all eras. However, the ascent to the top wasn’t without its hurdles, whether in regard to the proverbial glass ceiling in World Championship Wrestling or growing pains in the World Wrestling Federation. In other words, it took time for All Elite Wrestling’s “Le Champion” to reach prominence. Up until 2001, Jericho achieved major success, but it could be argued that his history-making achievements began at Vengeance of that year. Let’s take a look back at this moment that’s still routinely touted by “The Demo God” himself.
Chris Jericho Becomes Undisputed WWF Champion
Following The Invasion
On November 18, 2001, the Invasion storyline concluded at Survivor Series. With this came the dissolution of The Alliance. Furthermore, all traces of WCW and Extreme Championship Wrestling, from a branding perspective, faded. That was, however, save for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship, otherwise known simply as the World Championship, held by The Rock. On the Monday Night Raw following Survivor Series, former 16-time world champion – per WWE, though this statistic varies depending on the source – Ric Flair interrupted an in-ring segment with Vince McMahon, who threatened to strip “Stone Cold” Steve Austin of the WWF Championship. By the end of the night, the WWF boasted 2 world titleholders, but it was evident that only one man could reign supreme.
Though McMahon and Flair, now on-screen business partners, disagreed on many details, they were in firm agreement that the aforementioned world titles needed to be unified. This would bring rise to the Undisputed WWF Championship, with the first champion being decided at Vengeance the following December. The conclusion of the show saw a 3-match tournament, the winner becoming said inaugural champion. The 4 men involved in this tournament were Kurt Angle, who was integral to The Alliance’s downfall at Survivor Series, Chris Jericho, WWF Champion “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and World Champion The Rock.
The Undisputed WWF Championship Tournament at Vengeance 2001
Vengeance 2001 took place on December 9, 2001, from the San Diego Sports Arena in California. Fans in attendance, as well as those watching from home, eagerly anticipated the 3-match main event. This was the tournament to decide the first-ever Undisputed WWF Champion. The first match pitted WWF Champion “Stone Cold” Steve Austin against Kurt Angle; this was a heated match, to say the least, especially considering it was Angle that turned on Austin at Survivor Series, giving Team WWF the ultimate advantage to win. This Vengeance match was a brutal affair, including a brawl on the outside that “The Texas Rattlesnake” felt at home with. Despite a valiant effort from the self-proclaimed “Olympic Hero,” Austin put out Angle with a Stone Cold Stunner, retaining the WWF title and moving onto the finals of the tournament.
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The second match featured The Rock, who won the World Championship from Booker T at SummerSlam the August prior, taking on Chris Jericho. This was a match pitting two reluctant allies turned rivals, which took form during the Invasion storyline. In fact, at Survivor Series, Jericho nearly cost The Rock, as well as Team WWF, that night’s decision-making main event. Needless to say, this showdown at Vengeance wasn’t short on mutual animosity. Jericho nearly saw the lights when he attempted a People’s Elbow on The Rock, only for “The Great One” to counter it with a Sharpshooter. The Rock seemed to have the match won until Vince McMahon rushed to ringside, distracting the official. Though The Rock received retribution by attacking McMahon, it was short-lived, as he was later met with his own Rock Bottom, courtesy of Jericho.
One pinfall later and Jericho not only won the World Championship but moved onto the finals. A weary yet elated Jericho proudly held the world title above his head. However, his celebration was brief, as the tournament finals took place shortly thereafter and WWF Champion Austin marched toward the ring with a purpose. The top of the WWF was a small platform and there was only room for one.
Chris Jericho vs. Steve Austin: Who Will Become the First?
Before the bell rang, Kurt Angle stormed the ring, attacking “The Texas Rattlesnake” with a steel chair. Jericho seemed to have the advantage out of the gate until The Rock hit him with an emphatic Rock Bottom. Both men were weary, to be certain, but the allure of becoming the first Undisputed WWF Champion motivated them to continue. Amid this melee, WWF official Earl Hebner became an inadvertent physical casualty. With said official out, Vince McMahon emerged and ordered “crooked official” Nick Patrick to call the match. Given Patrick’s association with WCW, it should come as no surprise that the fans in attendance jeered him upon sight.
This brought out Ric Flair, who pulled Patrick out of the ring and proceeded to lay him out with a right hand. In turn, McMahon sucker-punched Flair and threw him into the ring post. Austin saw this and assaulted McMahon for his transgressions. Austin quickly returned his focus to Jericho, seemingly ready to close the night as the first Undisputed WWF Champion. “The Rattlesnake” cinched in the Walls of Jericho, his opponent’s own signature maneuver, as Jericho tapped. However, without a conscious official, the call couldn’t be made. Suddenly, former Alliance member Booker T sneaked into the ring and hit Austin in the back of the head with the WWF title before escaping through the crowd.
As McMahon revived Hebner, Jericho crawled over the unconscious body of Austin. Hebner made the slow 3-count and when the bell sounded, the first Undisputed WWF Champion was crowned. A groggy Jericho victoriously made his way back up the ramp, celebrating alongside McMahon, with the two world title belts in his possession. Not only did Jericho make history as the first Undisputed Champion in company history, but he bested arguably the 2 most popular wrestlers in the same night to do so.
Chris Jericho as Undisputed WWF Champion
Chris Jericho would hold the Undisputed WWF Championship for a total of 98 days. During this time, he overcame such names as The Big Show, Kurt Angle, Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and The Rock. Not only did Jericho defend his title on television but major pay-per-view events including Royal Rumble 2002. On paper, this seems like a solid first reign, with “Y2J” picking up victories over established names. However, once you look past the general statistics, it will become evident that this was an underwhelming reign, a sentiment many fans share.
The strongest piece of evidence supporting this sentiment is Jericho’s final feud as Undisputed Champion. Enter Triple H, who made his return to the company on the January 7, 2002 episode of Raw, following a quadriceps tear sustained nearly 8 months earlier. He went on to win the 2002 Royal Rumble match before entering a feud with Chris Jericho, who was then partnered with Triple H’s then on-screen ex-wife, Stephanie McMahon. The main issue with this feud was that it was more focused on the feud between Triple H and Stephanie, with Jericho becoming arguably the least important member of this world title angle. Even the image of Jericho walking Triple H’s bulldog, who was won by Stephanie in a settlement, like a servant was indicative of the Undisputed Champion’s role in the program.
Even the way that Chris Jericho’s reign as Undisputed WWF Champion ended was viewed as a disappointment. In theory, losing the title in the main event of WrestleMania X8, on March 17, 2002, is as good of a way as any for a reign to end. The issue therein was that the main event between Jericho and Triple H went on 2 matches after The Rock vs. “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, which had the crowd in Toronto on the edge of its collective seat the entire time. By the time Rock vs. Hogan ended, the crowd was spent, so the reaction toward the show’s main event was less exuberant. Despite this, it’s difficult to see a title reign end in a better way than by closing WrestleMania.
Looking back, it’s difficult to feel too badly for how Chris Jericho was portrayed as Undisputed WWF Champion, especially given the success he would see afterward. In World Wrestling Entertainment alone, he went on to capture 5 more Intercontinental titles, which allowed him to become a record-setting 9x Intercontinental Champion. As of this writing, this is a record that has yet to be broken or even matched. Throw in 3 additional world titles, 3 tag team titles, and even 2 United States title reigns, and it’s easy to see that the remainder of his time in WWE wasn’t without further success. What he achieved afterward, not only in New Japan Pro-Wrestling but AEW, is a story for another time.
From the jump, Chris Jericho becoming the first Undisputed Champion in WWE history was a pivotal moment. Admittedly, it should have been bigger, especially given that he defeated The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin on the same night to earn the accolade. However, different missteps detracted from its importance. What it did, more than anything else, was further set Jericho for future success in every organization he’s worked for since.
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