Jericho winning the Undisputed Title at Vengeance 2001 - Was it really unexpected?
I was watching the Monday Night Wars documentary at the Network recently and the episode on Chris Jericho they talked about how him winning the Undisputed title at Vengeance 2001 was something no one saw coming or was totally unexpected.
Then over the years I've heard comments on people saying the same thing regarding this topic.
I always wondered. Was this really that Unexpected?
I ask because the moment I heard that in Vengeance 2001 was going to be a mini-tournament to determine the Undisputed Championship between The Rock, Austin, Kurt Angle, and Chris Jericho from the get go I was predicting Jericho to win.
Now people may not believe me and say I have the benefit of hindsight and yes I wasn't 100% sure at the time. But If I was going to put money into who was winning I was somewhat comfortable in picking Jericho at the time.
If you look at the circumstances, at the time, there were many reasons to think Jericho was winning the title:
1. Vengeance 2001 was at December meaning Wrestlemania 18 was only a few months away. Now traditionally the Champion heading to Wrestlemania is normally a heel. Now if Austin stayed a heel after Survivor Series 2001 I probably would have predicted Austin to win but he already turned back to a right after Survivor Series and The Rock was a face as well. That leaves us between Kurt Angle or Chris Jericho which brings us to reason #2.
2. Between Angle and Jericho, Jericho was the one with the most heat and momentum as a heel. He turned his back on Team WWF at Survivor Series and already has started a feud with The Rock which, at the time, was still pretty fresh. If you were going to keep the momentum of Jericho's recent heel turn giving him the title would be it.
3. Triple H's return. In my mind I was thinking that WMX8 was going to be between Triple H vs. Jericho for some reason. Maybe it's because they had some great matches in the past and do have a history but the moment Triple H's return had a timeline you knew that he was winning The Rumble and I felt Jericho vs. Triple H made sense since both Austin and Rock were babyfaces and Angle/Triple H might be a tad redundant since we saw that Triple H/Stephanie/Angle story line already.
4. Finally it's fresh. Angle, Rock, and Austin were all previous World Title holders. Jericho, held the WCW for a couple of weeks ony, it seems like if WWE wanted to generate interest and present something fresh giving it to Jericho would make the most sense. WWE was, at the time, creatively stagnant and they just killed of the Invasion storyline. So to try something new why not take a chance at Jericho? Plus he had a really solid 2001 being in most of the top programs. Giving the title to Jericho would be fresh and credible.
So what do you think? Were you all shocked to see Jericho win the Undisputed title or was it just me?
At the time, Chris Jericho was a favorite of mine, but not #1 on my list. My favorites were Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock. When Jericho won, I was so pissed that I quit watching WWE for about 22 hours. After that episode of Raw, I went from a casual / social drinker, to a full blown Jericho-holic.
As for your points:
1. Vengeance being on December really had no bearing on who will be Champion heading into WrestleMania. We still had the Royal Rumble in January and No Way Out in February, to make any changes to the Title picture. So Austin, Rock, and Angle had as much of a chance to win the tournament as Jericho did.
2. Jericho may have had the most heat and momentum, but storyline wise, Angle was McMahon’s pick. It felt like Jericho was the 4th man compared to the other 3.
3. Triple H’s return and subsequent Royal Rumble victory was a little predictable, but his WrestleMania Main Event opponent was not. The Rock could have won the Big Eagle and Big Gold at the Royal Rumble, if it wasn’t for the Un-Americans, and Stone Cold Steve Austin could have won the Big Eagle and Big Gold at No Way Out, if it wasn’t for the New World Order. What I thought was going to happen, but didn’t, was Jericho joining the Un-Americans AND the New World Order.
4. As for it being fresh, well I can’t argue that. It was definitely fresh.
Looking back, I wouldn’t have the events happen any other way.
Y2J!! Y2J!! Y2J!!
The Jericho win was a surprise as he had not yet been WWF Champion. Yes, he had been WCW Champion in WWF just a few weeks prior, but that title had always been treated as a secondary title by WWF.
In that sense it was surprising. Jericho was going to win the title sooner or later, so in that sense maybe it wasn't all surprising.
1) I agree that the heel champion should generally be in place by December for the coming WrestleMania. It gives the heel champion time to build heat and start teasing a program with the top face.
Unfortunately WWE stopped seeing things this way. Even in 2001, the same year Jericho became Undisputed, Rock beat Angle at No Way Out and held the title for a month into Mania.
2) Angle and Jericho both had heat momentum. Jericho turned his back on WWF and Angle was a mole within the Alliance and begged for adoration and got boos. Angle was almost awarded the WWF title. I think you could make an argument for either having more momentum. Either way, they were the top two heels at the time with recently heel Undertaker working the hardcore title scene.
3) Triple H's return hadn't been advertised at this point to my recollection. Sure he was inevitably coming back, but without 20/20 hindsight, did anyone really predict a huge babyface return for one of the companies most hated heels?
Triple H had just been working the two man power trip alongside Austin who had just turned face.
You could look at WWE knowing about his impending return and setting up Jericho as his Mania fued for the title, but unless you were reading internet spoilers, no one saw that coming.
4) If things are fresh, should they not have the element of surprise? WCW title notwithstanding, Jericho was the only guy in the match that didn't have a proper run with the WWF title under his belt. Since 1999, all of Rock, Angle, and Austin had been a heel WWF champion on the side of the McMahons.
Jericho hadn't done that. He did later align with Stephanie, but he never really was a direct ally of Vince while champion.
I guess it all really boils down to what you consider to be unexpected. When you're in a unification match for the WWF and WCW titles and two of the guys in the match are The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, then it's kind of unexpected. If you expect the unexpected, then it's not very unexpected.
Either way I'd say it was the smart move, unless they already had signed the nWo, then it might have made more sense to put the title on The Rock, but they may not have signed them in December.
I think the thing you have to remember is that this had actually been brewing for most of the year... They'd had the whole Benoit/Jericho v HHH/Austin feud that had gone on during that year... at the time it seemed Benoit was ahead of Jericho for the push, but his neck injury meant Jericho moved up.
To be fair, Jericho didn't do much wrong in that period after his rocky start, mishaps like the Benoit and Triple H quad injuries simply cleared the road for him and on each occasion, he made the best of it...something Vince likes to see.
So no, it wasn't a shock at all, in fact I was convinced it was going to happen, as by then the trend was apparent... WWE were creating at least one new main eventer every year, if not more. They'd done Austin in 97, Foley and Rock in 98, Trips in 99, Angle and Big Show in 2000 and in 2001 it was going to be Benoit and Jericho but ended up being just Jericho.
Had Benoit not been hurt, then I think you'd have seen Jericho face him in the finals, with Angle not being involved and a win apiece over Rock/Austin.
As it worked out, what surprised people more was how strongly he was put over by both Rock and Austin and how shoddily they treated him thereafter (no doubt Trips' influence and probably a reason for their legit heat) as it was the proverbial rocketship.
With hindsight, the right time for him WAS when he first beat Trips and that powerplay saw the title go back the same night... but, had that happened, we might not have the Jericho who is now on his way to being a top 10 legend of all time... so it's swings and roundabouts
I suppose in the kayfabe sense, Jericho was the outsider in this situation. Rock, Austin and Angle were former World Champions, and good ones at that. Jericho was up there and doing great things, but he wasn't on that level yet. Therefore, Jericho was kayfabe the underdog here, and was never expected to win.
But then this is WWE, and we should be used to expecting the unexpected by now. The Attitude Era was littered with unexpected moments which is partially what made things so fun. The fact that Jericho was the outsider makes him stand out as either the obvious big loser or the obvious big winner. And to me, there was no benefit doing Rock vs. Austin AGAIN in 2001. It had to be something else. So, it's a matter of perspective as to what you consider expected or unexpected.
As for the Triple H thing, I'm not sure if that was predictable. Sure, he was going to return. But as the biggest face at the time? Come on, nobody could have assumed that. By that point in his career, Triple H had only really been on top as the heel for the most part. For me, Jericho vs. Triple H wasn't very obvious at all. If anything, Austin vs. Triple H made more sense (or so we thought) considering the fact that the last time Triple H was there, he and Austin were the Two-Man Power Trip.
It was a great moment for sure. And I think the staying power of Chris Jericho has retained the significance of that moment. It maybe wasn't as unexpected as it is claimed, but it was definitely a major shift to somebody who had never carried the title before. And the exciting part of that makes for this moment to be great, whether you totally saw it coming or didn't even fathom it at all.
At the time I didn't see the WWE doing a Face vs. Face main event so soon after Austin vs. Rock at WM X-Seven. I was thinking WWE would go with a traditional heel vs face title match and Triple H vs. Jericho made the most sense.
Like I said if Austin didn't turn baby face I would have picked him to win become the Undisputed Champion at Vengeance setting up Triple H vs. Austin.
I'm always skeptical whenever people claim to have predicted unexpected events that have already happened, Its got to be the greatest achievement in Jerichos career, Beating arguably the two biggest names in wrestling in the same night plus an indirect win over an olympic gold medal winner to become the first undisputed champion is quite impressive.
Considering how Survivor Series ended Jericho seemed poised to win the belt, although initially I thought he might win it at the Royal Rumble. But the writing was on the wall leading up to the Vengeance PPV once they built up the tournament. Austin had already turned twice, Angle turned/not turned, and Rock was lugging around the WCW title. All three of these guys had been champs previously, and with Triple H still on the shelf, Jericho was the next man up.
I was shocked. What I remember was a huge focus on what it meant to be the undisputed champ. I also still remember how I used to believe the champ drew like it was 1977. It made me think that WWE would surely put their newish title on one of their two biggest stars. I can't dispute the points you make, mostly because I don't remember that level of detail but also because they probably didn't cross my mind at the time. Although the internet and dirt sheets did exist, I just didn't pay attention to this level.
That said I was more surprised that people didn't think Jericho would win. I actually felt at the time most in the Internet would pick Jericho as one of the favorites.
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