By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Chris Jericho © vs Steve Austin © 12/9/01
WCW World Heavyweight and WWF World Heavyweight Title Unification Match
With the embers of the Invasion angle still smouldering mainly through the presence of WCW titles within the promotion, the WWF effectively killed off the final remnants of the feud with a four man, one night tournament to crown an Undisputed Champion. Coming into the evening, Steve Austin held the WWF incarnation, whilst the Rock was the WCW champion. With the Invasion storyline creating two hot feuds in Austin versus Kurt Angle and the Rock versus Chris Jericho, the four men were booked to first meet their rival, before a winner takes all main event.
Coming into the pay per view, you’d probably have got long odds on Jericho walking out as Undisputed Champion. Whilst he had had a run with the WCW World Heavyweight Title in his feud with the Rock, the title was still clearly playing second fiddle to the main WWF version. With such luminaries as Angle, Austin and the Rock alongside him, it felt that they were better placed to be put into position of leading the company forward as they sought to run with one world champion.
In the first tournament match of the evening, Angle and Austin would meet each other in a contest that saw Austin defeat the Olympic champion with a Stone Cold Stunner after Angle’s frustrations at his inability to put his opponent away got the better of him. For Jericho to make it into the final, he would have to defeat the People’s Champion. Luckily, Jericho had friends in high places. Vince McMahon, having seen one of his nemeses make their way into the final already, interfered in match on Jericho’s behalf. In an odd finish, Jericho would actually put the Rock away with the Rock Bottom, one made possible after the Brahma Bull was distracted by his desire to drop McMahon with several punches to the face.
Jericho was now the WCW World Heavyweight Champion for a second time, but he had no time to enjoy this as Austin hit the ring for the final and de facto main event. What might have been a severe disadvantage for Jericho was quickly evened up by a sneak attack on Austin by Angle, the Olympian whacking him with a chair. However, Jericho would then be subjected to a Rock Bottom for his troubles, leaving the match beginning with Earl Hebner counting to eight before Jericho broke the count.
It would be Y2J who had the early success, all the more impressive for going twenty minutes with the Rock and being able to raise the tempo once again. It was short lived as Austin would tackle him to the mat before sending him ten times into the top turnbuckle face first, much to the delight of the crowd. Jericho managed to avoid the first attempt at a Stunner, yet his decision to head to ringside backfired almost instantly as Stone Cold joined him at ringside and used the guard rail and the ringpost to work over his opponent.
After a battle on top of the announce table that saw Jericho’s attempts to lock in the Walls of Jericho thwarted, an Austin charge in the ring saw the current WWF champion meet nothing but ringpost. The next time Jericho managed to get Austin down on the canvas, he used the ring ropes to put more leverage on an armbar, a tactic that Hebner eventually realised and forced the heel to break. Fighting back after an ill-advised trip to the top rope saw him jump into an Austin punch, Jericho locked in the Walls of Jericho, only for Austin to fight his way to the ropes.
Jericho was never going to win clean, and a collision with the referee saw Y2J hit a low blow and a Stunner in shades of the earlier finish. Ushered in by McMahon, Nick Patrick hit the ring to count, leading to Ric Flair’s arrival and a brawl between Flair and McMahon. In all the madness, Austin maintained control with the Lou Thesz press and a driving elbow to the face after finding a moment to punch McMahon in the face.
Austin would get the visual submission in his own version of the Walls, yet with no referee around, Booker T was able to break the hold with a belt shot as the amount of interference reached ECW main event levels. This would be the defining moment though, with Jericho making a cover and the groggy Hebner counting to three.
You could argue that in one night, WWF set out to make Jericho a star. You can then look at the resulting Triple H feud that saw him play second fiddle to Stephanie McMahon and lost the title to Hunter at Wrestlemania and realise that any good in putting Jericho over was quickly diminished. Whilst it is probably just a coincidence, Jericho wouldn’t win another world title for six years.