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Chris Jericho made his memorable WWF debut in August 1999 interrupting a promo from The Rock. Two years later, Jericho finally won the WCW Title … from Rock … on a WWF PPV.
The title victory took place 14 years ago today at the WWF No Mercy PPV.
Jericho was not positioned as a WCW Hvt. Title challenger when he was with WCW in the late 1990s. But, after growing as an all-around wrestler in WWF, he finally won WCW’s top prize, which was a mixed bag since WWF/E phased out WCW by the end of 2001.
PWTORCH #676 Cover Story
HEADLINE: Jericho beats Rock to win WCW Title
SUBHEADLINE: No Mercy PPV shows off strengths of the WWF, giving reason for optimism during down period
By Wade Keller, Torch editor
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The WWF is concerned about business dropping. Raw ratings sunk last week to a 4.1, tying the lowest rating of the year. Smackdown ratings also sunk to alarming lows last week.
One thing the No Mercy PPV showed on Sunday is that there is no need to panic about the quality and depth of the roster. In fact, it may have proven that the roster could handle being split into two separate promotions.
Chris Jericho’s victory over Rock for the WCW TItle was a match of the year candidate, confirming the tremendous advancement in Jericho’s overall skills since arriving in the WWF. Rock also put to rest silly comparisons between his main event performances and those of Hulk Hogan in the ’80s and ’90s.
Rock and Jericho both have certain trademark moves and routines they go through in their matches, but rather than resting on them for pops, they incorporated them into an intricately well-booked match with excellent execution.
Jericho’s WCW Title win is a reward for his improvement in the ring and behind the mic. In WCW, he had raw potential and an attractive underdog personality. Because of WCW’s political locker room structure, he has no chance to rise to main events. There were too many people being paid more than him, with more established brand names, and with closer ties to management for Jericho to be given a fair chance to rise. However, the “back-up quarterback” isn’t always ready for the starting position.
When Jericho arrived in the WWF just over two years ago, WCW fans were eager to see him get a fair shake for once. When he arrived, he got a fair shake. His arrival was given one of the bigger build-ups in the WWF in recent years. The “Countdown to Y2J” campaign climaxed with Jericho’s debut on Raw. His ring entrance was one of the best produced in wrestling history.
In the ring and behind the mic, though, he was a letdown. Although Jericho loyalists wrote off Jericho’s slowed push during his first year in the WWF as similar to WCW politics, the fact is Jericho wasn’t ready. In WCW he was never given the chance, although compared to the stale main eventers they were pushing, he might have been an improvement. In the WWF he was given a chance.
Then top members of management and influential wrestlers deemed him a “project.” With the help of Triple H, Sean Waltman (X-Pac), and other respected veteran workers, Jericho refined his in-ring skills to adapt to the “WWF style.” (Jericho has gone out of his way to thank the veteran workers who have helped him along the way and didn’t give up on him despite some shaky ring work early on.)
Jericho was popular enough to be given main events on TV and even on PPV now and then, but he was never a top tier player; he was never given a World Title win. Sunday, that changed.
His feud with Rock, even before they stepped into the ring, showed the advancement of Jericho’s character. During his early time in the WWF, his character was one-dimensional. He was entertaining as a second-tier player, but his character didn’t have the depth that is necessary to carry the TV minutes required of a top tier player in a main event program.
With Triple H injured and Steve Austin and Kurt Angle involved in their own program, Rock needed an opponent to work a full-fledged feud with once the Booker T feud played out. Jericho was next in line. It was time for the WWF to test whether he could stand in the same frame with Rock and not appear to be overshadowed or out of his league. Jericho’s segments with Rock have been some of the highpoints of WWF television in recent weeks. Not only has Jericho shined himself, but he has brought out the best in Rock, whose own character was suffering from a feeling that he was just going through the motions.
The question was whether Jericho could live up to the same standards in the ring against Rock. Sunday at No Mercy, they both came through. They wrestled a 24 minute match that surpassed even optimistic expectations. Often, matches between two babyfaces can leave a crowd indifferent, despite great athleticism. Without a heel to boo, it’s often a challenge for two babyfaces to generate emotional response from a crowd, especially for 24 minutes. Jericho and Rock kept the crowd into their match from start to finish.
The WWF was playing up Jericho’s reputation for being “unable to win the big one.” He was portrayed as the underdog. The fans got behind Jericho, yet they didn’t entirely turn on Rock. The match was the best of both possible worlds in that the crowd seemed split three ways – one-third were strongly pro-Jericho, one-third were strongly pro-Rock, and the other third were behind both of them.
Jericho may have established himself as a top tier player with that one PPV match. On the downside, the WWF didn’t treat Jericho’s title win as the “top story of the week” on Raw. Instead, Vince McMahon got top billing with a featured in-ring interview. McMahon’s interview was newsworthy and well-delivered, yet it overshadowed Jericho’s win. Once again, a McMahon segment took the place of what could have elevated a wrestler to strong main event status.
The WWF has depth to its roster like never before. Jericho is a fresh and now legit main eventer. Rock has shined recently. Austin, Van Dam, Kurt Angle, Undertaker, and Booker T round out the list of experienced main eventers. Add to that the return of Triple H late this year, the potential arrival of free agents in coming months (Hall, Nash, etc), and other hungry second-tier players ready to carry meaningful spots on cards (Edge, Christian, Raven, Waltman, Kane, Test, Albert, Big Show, William Regal, Justin Credible), the WWF can credibly make a case that the roster could afford to be split in two. The WWF now just needs a strong new “concept” to take advantage of the talent depth.