Classic of the Week: Remembering Chris Jericho vs. Steve Austin at Vengeance

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistSeptember 10, 2013

Photo Credit: WWE.com
Photo Credit: WWE.com

It is November, 2001.

Vince McMahon's wrestling empire, then known as the World Wrestling Federation, was on the heels of the critical, creative and financial failure that was the Invasion angle. Its conclusion at the Survivor Series pay-per-view had brought an end to one of the most disappointing storylines in the history of the sport and had left the company with an overabundance of workers with nowhere else to go.

That problem would be solved the following March, when the rosters were split in the historical brand extension which created two specific rosters, one for Raw and one for SmackDown.

One problem that needed immediate attention was the world title picture.

The History

"Stone Cold" Steve Austin was WWE champion following Survivor Series while The Rock was WCW champion. With the majority of the WCW and ECW stars taken off of television following the conclusion of the angle, there was no need for two heavyweight champions. The decision was made to hype December's Vengance as the first time ever that two major titles would be unified.

That was not the entire truth.

In 1988, the American Wrestling Alliance (AWA) and World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) unified their respective heavyweight titles when Jerry Lawler, the AWA champion, defeated Kerry Von Erich, World Class' champion, in a controversial match at Superclash III.

Six years later, WCW unified its International Heavyweight title with its World Heavyweight title when Ric Flair defeated Sting at Clash of the Champions XXVIII.

Those are just two of the more memorable unification bouts to have occurred throughout wrestling history. Nikita Koloff, Wahoo McDaniel, Stan Hansen and Verne Gagne are just a few of the legendary competitors to have competed in similar matches. 

The rarity of the match allowed promoters to book unification bouts without feeling the backlash from fans over repetitiveness because most of those fans had never seen one before.

That rarity, and the fact that it had been seven long years since the Flair-Sting unification bout, allowed McMahon's company to promote one of their own in December at the Vengeance pay-per-view.

Rather than taking WWE champion Steve Austin and pitting him against WCW champion The Rock in a match that would have done a major buyrate and delivered the latest, greatest match in their series, the company chose to take four of its top stars and do a single-elimination series of three matches. 

First, the WWE title would be defended as Austin took on Olympic gold medalist, and his top rival throughout the summer, Kurt Angle. Then, WCW champion The Rock would defend against the man who beat him for that title back in October, Chris Jericho.

The two winners would compete for the right to become the first ever Undisputed champion.

Austin defeated Angle to retain the WWE title while Jericho used the interference by Mr. McMahon to his advantage and pinned The Rock following The Great One's own Rock Bottom.

This set up the unification bout between Austin and Jericho, which began immediately following Y2J's hard-fought, though tainted, win.

The Match

Austin, who had a 20-minute break during Jericho's match, took control of the match early. He took the long haired rock star to the ringside area and delivered hard rights and chops in an attempt to wear him down. He pulled back the protective mats around ringside to do the maximum amount of damage to his opponent, but Jericho put a halt to the offensive and cleared the announce table for what appeared to be a superplex attempt onto the concrete.

Austin blocked it and went for a Stunner on top of the announce table. Jericho grabbed his leg, pulled him down and tried to apply the Walls of Jericho. Austin twisted his body and sent Jericho flying off of the announce table and to the floor.

A vertical suplex by Austin on the exposed concrete floor followed.

Austin rolled Jericho back into the squared circle and Irish Whipped him into the corner. He charged at the World champion but Jericho moved and Austin crashed shoulder-first into the steel post. Jericho grabbed Austin and threw him shoulder-first into the post once again. Like any good technician, Y2J zeroed in on the injured limb, focusing his attack on it.

Jericho delivered a series of chops to Austin, then whipped him into the ropes and tried for a dropkick. Austin held onto the ropes and Jericho crashed on the mat. Stone Cold grabbed his opponent by the legs, pulled him towards the corner and delivered a slingshot that sent Jericho face-first into the top turnbuckle. A pinfall netted him a two count.

Not wanting to allow Austin to gain any measurable momentum, Jericho applied an arm bar to the previously injured arm. Jericho, a ring veteran, used the referee's position to his benefit, utilizing the ropes for leverage and sending more pain shooting down the left arm of Austin.

Eventually, referee Earl Hebner caught Jericho's cheating ways and booted his legs off of the ropes. Jericho argued with Hebner, allowing Austin the opportunity to get to his feet. He was unable to capitalize on the momentary opening, however, as Jericho caught him with a knee to the midsection and delivered a suplex.

Jericho climbed the ropes and came off the top, only to catch a right hand by Austin to the midsection. Austin takes Jericho into the corner and delivers a few chops. He whipped him into the ropes, tried to catch him with either a back body drop or spinebuster but, in stead, Jericho rolled through and applied the Walls of Jericho.

Austin fought through the pain and the want to give up and was able to grab onto the bottom rope to break the hold. A frustrated Jericho stomped away at Austin. He sent Austin into the ropes but the Rattlesnake reversed. Y2J launched himself at Austin but, instead, aught the referee with a flying forearm to the face.

From there, Austin made his comeback, firing away with hard rights to the face followed by an Irish Whip and a back elbow to the face. A low blow by Jericho slowed the offensive onslaught, to which Jericho added insult to injury with a Stone Cold Stunner of his own.

Mr. McMahon appeared, waving down a second referee. Crooked referee Nick Patrick entered the ring and urged Jericho to cover Austin. Co-owner of the World Wrestling Federation, Ric Flair, hit the ring and pulled Patrick out, clocking him with a hard right hand. McMahon grabbed Flair and threw him into the ring post, ending his involvement in the bout.

Austin capitalized in the opening, attacking McMahon at ringside and assuring that he would not be a factor in the remainder of the match. He rolled back into the ring and took Jericho down with a Thesz Press, hammering away with rights to the side of the head.

An Irish Whip into the corner was followed with a charge by Austin. Jericho caught him with a boot to the face and climbed to the middle rope. He came off with a dropkick attempt but Austin caught him and paid him back for the insulting Stunner earlier with a Walls of Jericho.

Jericho tapped furiously, submitting to the hold but, with both referees knocked unconscious at ringside, there was no one to call for the bell. This allowed former WCW/ECW Alliance member Booker T to hit the ring and flatten Austin with a shot to the back of the head with the World title.

McMahon tossed the injured Hebner back into the squared circle and Jericho crawled across the ring and covered the fallen Austin.

Three seconds later and the first Undisputed champion in the history of McMahon's wrestling empire was crowned.

Analysis

The match was nowhere near as great as the Jericho-Rock match that preceded it but it was fitting of a major championship clash. Jericho had to have been exhausted by the time the glass shattered and Austin rushed to the ring while the Texas Rattlesnake, who had spent most of 2001 battling various injuries, was likely in pain throughout.

The overbooked ending, which saw interference from Vince McMahon, Ric Flair, Nick Patrick and Booker T did Jericho no favors as far as putting him over as a legitimate, deserving champion but he was a heel and it was typical of how heels were booked during that period of time. 

A solid match that never really hit that next level of intensity.

Historical Significance

Chris Jericho's victory at Vengeance was historic for a few reasons, none being more important than his unification of the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling titles.

His victory over Austin also assured that he was able to tout the fact that he had beaten Stone Cold and The Rock, two Superstars most readily associated with the hottest period in the history of professional wrestling, in the same night. He did so in consecutive matches, without a break. It was an outstanding performance in 30-plus minutes of action.

Finally, it spelled the definitive end of WCW. With their title unified with the WWF's heavyweight title, any chance it had of continuing the legacy set forth by Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, Harley Race, Ricky Steamboat and Sting was gone.

Lasting Impact

The Undisputed Championship, for all the hype that went into its initial creation, lasted less-than a year. In March of 2002, the WWF split its enormous roster in two and sent half of the talent to Raw and half to SmackDown in an attempt to create two distinct brands, the idea being to create internal competition since no other major wrestling company was in existence.

The Undisputed Championship would last until September 2, 2002 when Eric Bischoff awarded Triple H the World Heavyweight Championship. The Undisputed title became, simply, the WWE title so that each brand had a major title for their wrestlers to compete for.

What should have been a monumental occurrence, one whose influence was felt to this day, instead became an exciting concept that ultimately failed due to a lack of defined direction and political power plays behind the scenes.

Though the idea of an unified champion in Vince McMahon's company ultimately failed, no one can take away the excellent performance by Jericho on that night in San Diego, California. For over one-half hour, he stole the show from two all-time greats and, in the process, solidified his own legacy as one of the all-time great performers.

The win showed the company's trust in Jericho and would catapult him, permanently, into the upper echelon of WWE Superstars. Today, Jericho is one of the most decorated champions in wrestling history and is among the most respected in the world.

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