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TORCH FLASHBACK (12-09-01): Chris Jericho becomes WWE Undisputed champion - Torch cover story with parallels to The Miz as WWE champion, Vengeance 2001 PPV Report

Dec 9, 2010 - 6:26:32 PM

Nine years ago today, Chris Jericho became WWE's first Undisputed champion at the 2001 Unforgiven PPV. Jericho was Undisputed champion until WrestleMania 18 when he dropped the title to Triple H in the PPV main event.

The following is the Torch's coverage of WWE's decision to crown Jericho the first Undisputed champion over big names such as Steve Austin and The Rock, plus how the early view of his title run was very similar to how The Miz's current WWE Title reign is viewed. Will Miz hold the WWE Title until WrestleMania like Jericho?


Pro Wrestling Torch #683 Cover Story
Cover-Dated: December 15, 2001
Headline: Jericho surprise choice to be first Undisputed Champ
Report By: Wade Keller, PWTorch editor

The WWF has chosen to attempt to take Chris Jericho to the "next level" by giving him an Undisputed Title victory at Sunday night's Vengeance PPV. He defeated both The Rock and Steve Austin to win both the World (formerly WCW) Heavyweight Title and WWF Heavyweight Title belts.

The next night on Raw, Ric Flair led a segment congratulating Jericho for his win. Jericho continued to develop his heel persona with a long-winded, self-centered promo. Jim Ross continued to harp on Jericho's ego ("What an ego this guy has!") in an attempt to make that Jericho's key heel characteristic.

Can the WWF move Jericho to the next level, though? Is Jericho the right person to attempt to push to the top tier at this point? Those are two key issues that will dictate how successful Jericho is in coming weeks and months.

One key necessity for Jericho's push to have any positive impact on business is for him to hold on to the title for months. If Jericho loses the title anytime in the next two months, his PPV victory and title reign will be perceived as just a means to an ends, a transition from one storyline to another - but not an honest attempt to build around Jericho. There are mixed signals regarding whether the WWF is committed to that.

Jericho lost on TV last week to both The Rock and Steve Austin. Jericho fans may see that as a knock, but there is a logic behind the move. For one, they were setting up Jericho as an underdog headed into the PPV so his win would be all the more surprising. They also were attempting to create the impression that Jericho is the type of champion who can lose the belt anytime. He's not a powerhouse, dominating heel champion.

The key is for Jericho to appear to be a vulnerable heel champion, but not a fluke heel champion. The length of his reign will determine how his victories are remembered. If he holds the title for a while, even if it's by cheating, he will be seen as a vulnerable champion who figures out every which way possible to retain the belt. Ric Flair had that reputation as a heel champion in the '80s. He had a knack for making his babyface opponents look better than him, yet in the end squeaking away with the title belt still his.

The difference between the Flair type scenario and Jericho's current situation is that Flair was seen as the "bigger star" than most of his opponents. He established himself as "The Man" who all the babyfaces were attempting to dethrone. He had credibility, even if his rep was as a champ who kept his title through cheating rather than might. Jericho is not perceived as a bigger star than any of his top babyfaces challengers - not Rock, Steve Austin, or Triple H (assuming Triple H returns as a babyface).

On Raw, Austin had Jericho beat. He was about to step out of the cage to win the match, but he couldn't resist continuing to beat the bloodied and battered Jericho some more. It was only due to Booker T's interference a minute later that Jericho didn't lose just 24 hours after winning the titles.

In order to get away with being that weak of a heel champion, you have to be very good in other key areas that make a wrestler a top draw. The question regarding Jericho is whether he is strong enough in other areas to make for the perception that Rock, Austin, and Triple H are better and tougher than he is.

Jericho has been one of the most reliable wrestlers in the WWF lately. In big matches, he has come through with some of the better matches the WWF has seen all year - not mid-card highspot fests, but credible main event style matches. He delivered again on Sunday, especially in his nearly 20 minute semi-final match against Rock. He has grown tremendously in the ring in his two-plus years in the WWF - and he is the first to admit it.

Having great PPV matches, such as Sunday's win over Rock and his No Mercy PPV victory over Rock in October, are important to being taken seriously as a top tier draw. Jericho, though, continues to be overshadowed by Vince McMahon. McMahon continues to portray himself as the top heel in the WWF. McMahon is a strong, experienced, entertaining heel character (although unquestionably overexposed at times). McMahon, though, is overshadowing Jericho already. Monday on Raw, Jericho didn't seem to be the center of the promotion despite winning the Undisputed Heavyweight Championship. He was one of the pawns in the games McMahon was playing. Is that McMahon's fault? Yes, but it's also Jericho's fault.

Whereas Austin, Rock, and Triple H have held their own on the screen with McMahon and retained their star power, Jericho seems to get overshadowed. Jericho still doesn't have the presence or stature that Austin, Rock, Triple H, and McMahon have. That's not reason enough for failure, but it is reason for the WWF to go more out of its way than it has been to be sure he doesn't ever fade into the background. McMahon might notice the problem if he weren't writing himself as the centerpiece of his own shows. But as the star of the shows he is writing and directing, he doesn't seem to be noticing that his overwhelming presence is doing damage to a very important player in the WWF.

Why did the WWF pick Jericho as the one to receive the honor of being the first Undisputed Champion? Jericho has won over McMahon and management in general by being a low maintenance hard worker who has earned the praise of many who were initially critical of both his in-ring aptitude and his attitude when he first arrived in the WWF over two years ago. He also is the freshest option and seems to have the best fan following of any candidates.

Jericho is a better choice than Angle since Angle has already visited that top spot earlier this year. It would seem like a rerun. Others such as Edge, Rob Van Dam, Booker T, and Test aren't at Jericho's level in the ring, behind the mic, or in terms of overall popularity. Jericho was the best option to elevate to the next level.

Jericho's title win is part of a bigger storyline leading into next year's planned split of the WWF into two divisions. It's impossible to fully judge whether the Jericho victory was the right choice, or whether it's being handled ideally, until more of the storyline plays out over coming weeks. If the WWF is determined to give Jericho every opportunity to become a bona fide top tier player, he should hold the title at least until WrestleMania. Every top babyface should be chasing him, vying to win the Royal Rumble to earn a title shot against him.

Jericho, by any means, should retain the title over and over again. Even if he is seen as a vulnerable champion who retains his title thanks to McMahon's outside maneuvering and interference from others, he will eventually gain stature as a legitimate champion only over the course of time.


DECEMBER 9, 2001

The PPV opened with classical music playing as black and white footage aired of various champions over the years including Sting, Ric Flair, Bob Backlund, Hulk Hogan, Bruno Sammartino, Kevin Nash, Iron Sheik, and recent names such as Steve Austin and The Rock.

Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler introduced the program from ringside.

Vince McMahon walked out to his "No Chance in Hell" music. He didn't look happy. He said there is no man big enough or tough enough to make him kiss their ass. He recapped his embarrassment from last week at Smackdown. He admonished the fans for laughing at him. "You don't laugh at the misfortune of billionaires," he said. "You laugh when I tell you to laugh." He added, "Remember, he who laughs last laughs loudest."

Ric Flair came out and said some fun was about to begin. Lawler complained that McMahon hadn't finished talking. Albert and Scotty 2 Hotty then approached the ring. McMahon didn't look happy with the interruption. Albert and Scotty danced around him. Vince left the ring.

(1) Albert & Scotty 2 Hotty beat Test & Christian at 6:12. The heels came out to Test's music, which implies that he's a bigger star than Christian. Christian hit Scotty with The Worm, but Test broke up the pin attempt. Scotty then backdropped Christian over the top rope and gave Test an official Worm. Test rolled out of the ring. Christian then set up Scotty for his finisher, but Albert intervened and flattened Christian with the Baldo Bomb for the win. Solid action. It's surprising to see Albert get the win over Christian, considering the WWF hasn't done much consistently with Albert in the last year, whereas Christian has been consistently pushed in the IC Title range. (*3/4)

(2) Edge pinned William Regal at 9:06 to retain the Intercontinental Title. At 1:00 Edge hit Regal with a top rope dropkick. Regal bailed out to ringside for a breather. Edge pursued him, but Regal caught Edge and rammed him into the ring apron. Back in the ring Regal methodically worked over Edge (as if Regal has any other style than "methodical"). Does he have a second gear? Edge kicked out of a pin attempt at 8:40. Edge then surprised Regal with a Spear out of nowhere for the win. Passable, but a notch short of exciting. (*1/4)

Kurt Angle told Ric Flair backstage over and over again that he is going to become the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion, something even he (Flair) never accomplished. Funny segment because of the delivery by both Flair and Angle.

Matt Hardy apologized to Lita about dragging her into the middle of the problems between himself and his brother Jeff. He said after tonight they'd celebrate and put their problems behind them. A Hardys video montage aired including footage of them acting like wrestlers as kids.

(3) Jeff Hardy pinned Matt Hardy at 12:30. Lita was special referee, and she winced at virtually every move by either of the guys. At 4:40, when Matt was beating on Jeff while he was caught upside down in the corner, Lita pulled Matt away. Matt wasn't thrilled that she enforced that rule. At 6:00 Jeff clutched his left knee. Matt clipped Jeff from behind as soon as he struggled to his feet. Matt continued to work over the knee. Matt applied a half Boston crab. When Jeff reached the ropes, Matt refused to break until Lita reached a four count. At 8:50 Jeff went for a dive over the top rope onto Matt at ringside, but he couldn't spring off of his bum left knee. Jeff climbed to the top rope, but did so slow enough that Matt caught him before he could leap off. Jeff went for a sunset flip, but Matt sat down on it and scored a two count. Lita stopped the count when he attempted to use the ropes for leverage. As Matt argued with Lita, Jeff rolled him up from behind for a near fall. Lawler complained about Lita's refereeing. Ross said that Matt picked her to be ref. Lawler said Matt had a right to expect some loyalty. At 12:20 Jeff got to the top rope and hit the Swanton Dive onto Matt. Matt put a leg over the bottom rope during the first count, but then Jeff hooked the leg for the second and third counts. Matt protested, but Lita didn't see the leg on the rope and awarded the match to Jeff. Matt returned to the back right away rather than congratulating his brother like he said he planned to do, win or lose. Lita looked disappointed with how things went. Not the highspot fest some may have been expecting, but a good match with strong internal storyline and execution throughout. (**3/4)

Trish Stratus walked into Rock's locker room while he was finishing a cell phone call. Trish kissed Rock on the cheek and wished him luck. Rock told her that the only thing he is concentrating on is winning the Unified Championship. He said afterward there will be plenty of time to celebrate the win. He then grabbed at his crotch and walked away. Trish seemed enamored.

(4) The Dudleys beat Big Show & Kane at 6:50. Ross pointed out that Big Show has held both the WWF and WCW titles in his career. Big Show and Kane dominated early offense. When Stacy entered the ring at 3:20, Big Show spanked her. The Dudleys then gave Big Show the 3D. Then they low-blowed Kane. D-Von flew off the top rope with a flying headbutt onto Kane's crotch. Late in the match Kane mistakenly hit Big Show with a top rope clothesline after Bubba moved out of the way. Kane helped Big Show, but Show was upset. As they argued, the Dudleys recovered. Big Show gave Bubba a big boot, then went to shoulder block Bubba, but Bubba moved and Show knocked Kane off the ring apron. Stacy distracted Show. The Dudleys then dropped Show face-first over the exposed turnbuckle and Bubba scored the pin. Not bad considering the styles of the four wrestlers. (*3/4)

Lita went to Matt's dressing room to talk out their problems, but Matt grabbed his bags and stormed off.

(5) Undertaker pinned Rob Van Dam at 11:08 to capture the Hardcore Title. Undertaker made his first PPV appearance with his Steven Richards-like crewcut. Van Dam scored an early two count at 1:00 after a spin wheel kick. Taker knocked Van Dam to the floor with a big boot to the face. He went after Van Dam at ringside, ramming him into the stairs. At 5:30 Van Dam fought back and dove off the top of the entryway onto Taker about 18 feet to the floor. Van Dam went for a pin after he legdropped Taker onto a trash can lid on the Vengeance entry stage. Taker fought right back and gave Van Dam a Last Ride. When Taker went for a second Last Ride, Van Dam grabbed onto the wall of the entrance set to block it. Taker grabbed a chair, but Van Dam kicked Taker in the gut several times before Taker could hit him. Van Dam then hit Rolling Thunder and scored a two count at 9:22. At 10:30 Van Dam almost kicked Taker off the stage. Taker ducked a Van Dam jump spin wheel kick. Taker then chokeslammed Van Dam off of the stage. Van Dam crashed onto several tables and hoses below. Taker covered him for the win. Since opening match wrestlers aren't doing these types of matches every week on TV in "hardcore matches" anymore, this type of match actually seems novel. Nice looking impact on the final bump. (***1/4)

Chris Jericho told Ric Flair he should believe in him. "If you can pull it off, more power to ya'," Flair said. Jericho insisted it's not if, it's when.

A Triple H video aired to U2's "Beautiful Day." Footage aired of Triple H going in for surgery, and then actual surgery footage aired.

(6) Trish pinned Jacqueline at 3:34 to retain the WWF Women's Title. Jackie hit Trish with some stiff moves. Kept short. Lawler was bug-eyed after the match and couldn't take his eyes off Trish as she left the ring even as Ross began hyping the upcoming segment. Very sloppy match at times. (1/4*)

Highlights aired of the Rock, Vince McMahon, Jim Ross, Trish Stratus, Rikishi "ass kissing" segment on Smackdown last week.

Highlights aired of the hype leading up to the Unification Mini-Tournament including another excellently produced music video (back to hard rock).

(7) Steve Austin (WWF Champion) pinned Kurt Angle at 15:00 to advance to the Unification Match. Austin and Angle engaged in a staredown to start the match. The first three minutes were just a feeling out process with some criss-crosses, lock-ups, and ringside bail-outs. Austin hit Angle with some chops at 3:40 leading to crowd "whoos." Austin rolled out of a quick anklelock attempt. Austin thumbed Angle in the eye at 4:30 and then choked him over the middle rope. At 8:00 Angle locked Austin in a figure-four leglock wrapped around the ringpost (a la Bret Hart). The ref broke the hold quickly. At 10:00 Angle gave Austin an overhead belly-to-belly suplex. Angle followed up with three suplexes for a near fall. Pretty routine matchup to this point from these two pros. Austin delivered five German Suplexes on Angle, something we haven't seen out of Austin before. Austin scored a very near fall. Angle low-blowed Austin and then gave him the Angle Slam for a two count. At 14:55 Austin caught Angle with the Stunner for the clean win. Good match, but not so good that the other two "couldn't follow it." It was what it needed to be. (***1/4)

They went to a camera shot of Trish applying make-up. Test barged in and told her it was her lucky night. Test said even if she tells on him, he can't be fired. She opened her door and shoved him out.

(8) Chris Jericho pinned The Rock (World Champion) at 19:00 to capture the World Title. At 4:40 Jericho got a two count on Rock, and in a nice twist on the usual "overselling" by wrestling announcers, Ross acknowledged that Rock "wasn't in much jeopardy right there." Later Jericho put Rock in a sleeper. Rock sunk to the mat. Jericho yelled at the ref to "ask him!" The ref dropped Rock's arm twice, but Rock's arm didn't drop the third time. The crowd didn't pop for the move since when has a match between two main eventers ever ended that way? At 11:33 Jericho began disassembling the ringside announcers' table, kindly removing the monitors as not to hurt Rock too much when he slams him onto the table. Jericho rolled in the ring and back out in order to avoid being counted out. Jericho slapped Rock, then set up the Rock Bottom. After Jericho showboated too long, Rock blocked it and DDT'd Jericho through the table. After Rock recovered from a Wall of Jericho, he gave Jericho a Rock Bottom at 17:40, but he was too spent to make a cover. Vince McMahon ran to the ring and talked to the ref about something. Rock punched McMahon off the ring apron. Rock then gave Jericho a Spinebuster. Rock then threw McMahon into the ring and gave Jericho a People's Elbow. Jericho then gave Rock a low-blow followed by a Rock Bottom of his own. The ref then counted to three. (****1/2)

(9) Chris Jericho pinned Steve Austin at 12:31 to become the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion. The match started without any introductions as Austin entered the ring right away. Angle ran into the ring and nailed Austin with a chairshot. Rock then entered the ring and gave Jericho a Rock Bottom. The bell finally rang to officially start the match with both Austin and Jericho out on their backs. They went to ringside at 2:30 where Austin chopped away at Jericho's chest. Lawler pointed out the strong advantage Austin had over Jericho since he had time to rest after his match. Later, Jericho flew at Austin, but Austin ducked and the ref went down. Jericho caught Austin with a low-blow and then gave him a Stunner at 9:50. McMahon then brought out Nick Patrik. Patrik encouraged Jericho to cover Austin. Flair dragged Patrik out of the ring. Vince then punched Flair, who took his first WWF bump in years. Vince then threw Flair into the ringpost. Austin stomped away at Vince at ringside. Back in the ring at 11:00 Austin gave Jericho a Thesz Press followed by punches and a vertical elbow drop. Jericho caught a charging Austin with a boot. When he went for a flying dropkick, Austin caught him and applied a Boston crab. Jericho tapped out, but there was no ref present. Booker T then hit Austin from behind with a title belt. Vince rolled Earl Hebner into the ring and he made a slow, groggy, deliberate three count. As Jericho grasped at both title belts, Vince returned to the back with a big smile on his face. Solid main event. (***1/2)

[Torch art credit Grant Gould (c)]

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PWTorch editor Wade Keller has covered pro wrestling full time since 1987 starting with the Pro Wrestling Torch print newsletter. launched in 1999 and the PWTorch Apps launched in 2008.

He has conducted "Torch Talk" insider interviews with Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Steve Austin, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Eric Bischoff, Jesse Ventura, Lou Thesz, Jerry Lawler, Mick Foley, Jim Ross, Paul Heyman, Bruno Sammartino, Goldberg, more.

He has interviewed big-name players in person incluiding Vince McMahon (at WWE Headquarters), Dana White (in Las Vegas), Eric Bischoff (at the first Nitro at Mall of America), Brock Lesnar (after his first UFC win).

He hosted the weekly Pro Wrestling Focus radio show on KFAN in the early 1990s and hosted the Ultimate Insiders DVD series distributed in retail stories internationally in the mid-2000s including interviews filmed in Los Angeles with Vince Russo & Ed Ferrara and Matt & Jeff Hardy. He currently hosts the most listened to pro wrestling audio show in the world, (the PWTorch Livecast, top ranked in iTunes)


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