Remembering WWE's Original Undisputed Champion Storyline

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Remembering WWE's Original Undisputed Champion Storyline
WWE.com

WWE is set to crown an undisputed champion a dozen years after Chris Jericho celebrated a victory with a world title in each hand.

Will it be Randy Orton or John Cena who relives that moment? Does WWE instead plan on delaying the unification, ending Tables, Ladders & Chairs 2013 with a non-decisive finish?

The storyline that ended with the first-ever undisputed champion was a narrative built on rivalries and high stakes and led to one of the most memorable nights in WWE history.

After buying out WCW in 2001, WWE had to not only find a way to manage an influx of wrestlers from the rival promotion, but its championships as well. Before that year's Survivor Series, 10 championships were contested in WWE.

Survivor Series trimmed that number down some with two unification matches, but it wasn't until Vengeance 2001 that the WWE Championship and the title formerly known as the WCW World Heavyweight Championship would become one.

Like with Orton and Cena today, the argument was that there couldn't be two top champions at the same time. Only one king shall rule.

 

The Alliance Falls

After March of 2001, WCW, in reality, was no more. It was nothing more than a collection of memories and set of archives in WWE's possession. In terms of storyline, though, WCW lived on as a faction.

Survivor Series' main event would pit members of that faction against WWE Superstars in a traditional elimination tag team match. The winning team would see their company live on; defeat meant dissolution.

The four men who would later fight for the undisputed title played major roles that night.

Kurt Angle and Steve Austin aligned with The Alliance, serving as the two most dominant forces on that team. Jericho and The Rock joined Kane, Big Show and The Undertaker to form Team WWF.

Jericho promised to not let his bad blood with The Rock get in the way of Team WWF winning. Hotheaded as he is, though, he broke that promise late in the match.

Frustrated with his temporary partner and upset over being eliminated, Jericho drove The Rock's face to the mat. That emotional flare-up nearly led to Team WWF losing.

The Rock managed to kick out of Austin's pin attempt and those two long-standing rivals brawled in and around the ring. Neither man was able to keep the other down. It was Angle's betrayal that finally decided the outcome.

In the heart of chaos created by a WCW referee refusing to count for The Rock and "Stone Cold" knocking that same referee to the canvas, Angle darted into the ring and clocked his own partner with a championship belt.

WCW's departure made the WCW world title superfluous. 

Vince McMahon announced that due to Angle's part in saving WWE, he would give him the WWE Championship. It wouldn't be as simple as that, though. Ric Flair made a power play and booked the now-famous main event for Vengeance.

Shane and Stephanie McMahon had sold their stocks in the company to a consortium. Flair, in his trademark, manic delivery announced, "The consortium was me!"

Flair had The Rock defend the WCW title against Jericho, Austin defend his WWE Championship against Angle and the two winners would meet in a third match to decide the undisputed champ.

 

Dec. 9, 2001

Austin and The Rock were WWE's biggest stars at the time. It seemed inevitable that those two would be the men in the finals at Vengeance. 

Even with many fans believing the first two matches to be predictable, anticipation filled the San Diego Sports Arena that night.

One wrestler would make WWE history. Two championships would merge into one.

Austin and Angle went at it first. The tension that the ending of Survivor Series created only added to a run of animosity between them.

Earlier in the year, they had headlined three straight pay-per-views as opponents, from SummerSlam to No Mercy.

That contentious past led to an intense showdown at Vengeance. Austin damaged Angle's arm, and Angle slammed Austin's leg against the ring post. 

The Angle Slam wasn't enough to put Austin away. Austin's Stunner proved to be decisive, though. Austin retained his title, keeping the possibility of the marquee matchup against The Rock alive.

Jericho's battle with The Rock was the best match of the night. The action was aided by bad blood as well.

The Rock was Jericho's first WWE antagonist, being there for Y2J's memorable debut.

Despite being successful tag team partners, those two spent much of 2001 colliding over the WCW title. Jericho won it from The Rock at No Mercy thanks to hitting him with Breakdown onto a steel chair.

At Vengeance, with the chance to face Austin as WCW champ on the line, the foes scuffled with an extra sense of urgency. The Rock DDTed Jericho through a table, but later found himself a victim of his own signature moves.

Jericho used the People's Elbow, the Sharpshooter and Rock Bottom, along with interference from Mr. McMahon to upset "The Great One."

Orton and Cena won't have the advantage of having two dramatic matches en route to a final clash. They will head straight to what will be the equivalent of Austin vs. Jericho.

Jericho entered with one title belt, Austin with another.

Clearly not over the heartache of defeat, Angle and The Rock left their respective foes flat on their backs. Thus began a chaotic main event that saw Booker T ambush Austin and stress over the thought of Austin being champion again rattle Mr. McMahon. 

In the end, Jericho prevailed. He could then brag for the rest of his career that he was the only man ever to beat Austin and The Rock on the same night.

The enthralling nature of that storyline and the payoff of the three matches set the bar awfully high for Orton and Cena. The first title unification narrative built itself on bubbling hatred and ended with a surprise result that has stayed in fans' mind to this day.

As Cena and Orton climb the ladder toward the two championships hanging above them, they will certainly have past animosity to propel them.

Even as great as that match promises to be, the performance that four Hall of Fame-worthy Superstars delivered in 2001 will be an act that will take near-perfection to follow.

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