On Sunday 7th September, at Unforgiven, Chris Jericho finally regained the World Title.
After a gruelling “unsanctioned” match with Shawn Michaels that left him battered and laid flat out on the canvas, Jericho was inserted into the main event scramble match for the World Heavyweight Championship by GM Mike Adamle to replace the incapacitated champion CM Punk.
He took advantage of an opportunity that was presented to him in the final seconds of the match to pin Kane and claim his second WWE-styled Title, some six and a half years after losing his first.
Sure, he had numerous Intercontinental Title reigns in the intervening years, but it was the top title that he always strived for and that eluded him for so long.
Indeed, prior to his first "WWE" win, he also twice held the WCW World Title in the midst of a feud with The Rock that was a highlight of the dying days of the ill-fated Invasion angle; yet very few people remember those reigns even if the matches themselves were top quality.
No, what Jericho is remembered for is being the first holder of WWE’s Undisputed Title, defeating both The Rock and Steve Austin in the same evening at Vengeance 2001.
Moreover, the memories of his title reign from December 2001 to March 2002 are unfulfilling ones and he will be hoping that 2008 allows him to display a much more dominant character than he could the first time around.
To recap, although Jericho was given wins against the two top face performers of the day, two of the most popular characters that the (then) WWF had ever created, his heel persona at the time was being newly developed, and had much more of a cowardly, cheating slant to it.
Indeed, his slowly teased heel turn during the feud with The Rock was predicated on a rivalry between the two that turned into a battle, with Jericho portrayed as a jealous choker.
His win over The Rock came via distraction from Vince McMahon and a low blow, and the one over Austin after some refereeing shenanigans and then interference from Booker T, who hit Austin with the title belt.
Jericho’s tainted victories continued as Champion, with Booker helping him win the re-match with Austin, and cheating to beat The Rock at the Royal Rumble, before the nWo interfered in another title match with Austin at No Way Out 2002.
Not only was Jericho’s role one of “cowardly heel,” he was then made only the secondary focus in the Main Event, as Triple H’s feud with him was overshadowed by the involvement of Stephanie McMahon.
So, for 2008, Jericho will hope to be booked as a much stronger heel. His recent feud with Shawn Michaels has suggested that he is capable of playing such a role, and he was kept strong by the company by taking the Title win despite his earlier loss at Unforgiven.
He has a number of potential challengers that would provide ongoing feuds for several months over the Title (Batista, Kane, CM Punk, John Cena) even if the feud with Michaels is now considered over.
He also has the ability to play either heel or face, or mix characteristics—it’s not long since Randy Orton and JBL were a focus of his attention—and he can switch seamlessly between them.
Hopefully this is the start of a long reign for Jericho—one that once seemed an inevitability back in the days of his debut on Raw—and one in which he is given plenty of license to develop a character that comes across as a strong heel Champion, rather than the weak man he appeared in his first title reign.