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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, December 14, 2001

A toast to Chris Jericho

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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This past Sunday, at the World Wrestling Federation's Vengeance pay-per-view, an 'undisputed' champion was crowned. Four of the WWF's top competitors fought out a single elimination mini-tournament to be claimed North America's only top title-holder. Since that title is a conglomeration of both the WWF and WCW world championships, the honour is even more prestigious. That's why it came as such a surprise to so many that Chris Jericho would defeat all comers to first win the unified title. It's fitting that Chris Jericho should be crowned the 'undisputed' world champion at Vengeance. No one's accomplishments have ever been more disputed than those of Y2J.

In WCW, Chris Jericho faced a similar attitude in management that had caused Steve Austin to depart the organization. Eric Bischoff had told Austin that there was only so much he could do with a character as plain as Austin's. The future Rattlesnake left for the WWF and proved Bischoff very wrong. Later, when the nWo was on the rise, Chris Jericho was perfecting his comedic heel role. His wrestling talent and charisma drew many fans to WCW, but he never gained respect within the organization beyond that of a midcarder or a cruiserweight. So much so, in fact, that even though he designed and executed the first half of a hilarious feud with Goldberg, he was never even allowed to step into the ring with Goldberg, not even to be squashed. He was told he was too small for such an honour, figuratively speaking.

Jericho followed in the footsteps of Austin and many others and decided that he could better earn respect in a more entrepreneurial environment like the WWF's. He fled there, where he was welcomed with a long-hyped debut including the memorable millennium clock. His first verbal confrontation was equally memorable, opposite The Rock. Immediately after that debut, though, Jericho's critics questioned whether he could really reach the top echelons of the WWF. Jericho's supporters questioned whether the WWF would let him.

After a few lackluster feuds and many below average matches for Jericho, including a forgettable series with X-Pac, Y2J finally seemed poised for greatness the following spring and summer, when he and Chris Benoit wrestled a series of top-notch pay-per-view bouts. It seemed as though both Chrises from Canada were destined for greatness, but each found their pushes cooling off before long. Jericho even briefly won the WWF world title from Triple H, before having it stripped from him by a coerced referee. Not only was the title win disputed, but so was his very right to hold a main event spot in the WWF. In the summer of 2000, at Fully Loaded, Benoit and Jericho even co-main evented, wrestling solid matches against The Rock and Triple H, respectively. But the show didn't sell well, and whether the blame was placed on Benoit and Jericho or not, they found themselves hovering back down to the midcard.

Jericho would find himself quietly rising up to the main event from time to time, usually on free television and most often in tag team matches, but even after almost a year he hadn't really regained his former status. Some argued that Jericho's style just wasn't a good match for the WWF's, that it was too hard to take him seriously as a face or a heel. Others suggested that his semi-frequent blown spots or soft-looking finishing moves hurt him in the long run. Finally, there were those who simply believed that no matter how much he proved himself, Jericho would never surpass Austin or Rock or Triple H simply because of an alleged glass ceiling.

This year, in the months leading up to Vengeance, Jericho fought an intriguing feud with The Rock, the very same person he debuted verbally against over two years prior. Folks thought a feud between the smart-mouthed Jericho and the golden-tongued Rock would have been great back then, but it took a long time to materialize. When it did, fans were pleased that Jericho finally came off as a more serious competitor. Obviously WWF officials agreed, as Jericho won the WCW title from The Rock, then just recently became the first undisputed champion.

Chris Jericho has spent much of his North American career being second-guessed by every opponent, wrestling executive, and fan he came into contact with. Considering his mixed bag of successes and failures since his WWF debut and the perceived glass ceiling keeping Steve Austin, The Rock, and company on top of the WWF, it was an especially touching gesture that not only did Jericho win the first undisputed title, but he successfully defended it the following night (some fans worried that his would be a 24-hour title reign).

If I had a glass with an adult beverage in my hand, and you did too, then I would call for a toast to Chris Jericho, because scripted or not, I have no doubt that he was proud of his accomplishment this past Sunday. There may eventually be three hundred and eighty unified WWF-WCW world heavyweight champions, but there will only even be one person to first hold that belt, and it's Y2J. Considering his struggle to reach the top, his victory must be just that much sweeter. Hopefully with the new environment in the WWF, 2002 will be a banner year for Jericho.

Here's the mailbag:

Darryl McCool, from, writes:
"What the heck is with J.R.'s obsession with government mules? I swear he used the phrase 'beaten like a government mule' about 5 times in the first hour on RAW last night. It wasn't even funny the first time he said it. If I could get my hands on him, I'd beat him like a redheaded stepchild. Please make him stop."

Though I had seldom heard Ross' expression of choice prior to the Raw episode in question, I gather some government at some point has mistreated its mules. You sound especially annoyed at his repeated use of the phrase, but I find Ross' repetition to be endearing. He only flirts with the line separating funny and irritating. I find he rarely crosses that line.

Sometimes I wonder if he's playing a character on television, but from reading his interviews and listening to his conference calls, it would appear that's the real him.

Unfortunately, nothing I can do could make him stop (maybe you should ask John Molinaro), but I wouldn't ask him to anyway. He wouldn't be the same J.R.

Don Ron, from, writes:
"Hey, I just wanted to point out that after Chris Jericho's win at Vengeance, that most of the major titles are held by Canadians! Moreover, by Canadians with long blond hair (Y2J's red tips notwithstanding)

World Title: Chris Jericho
IC Title: Edge
European: Christian
Women's: Trish

Furthermore, I'm not sure there are currently any Canadians without titles in the WWF. Chris Benoit is still injured, Lance Storm is not with the company "in the storylines", Val Venis is somewhere gyrating. I don't really have a question but I'd like to get your thoughts on this whole Canadian prosperity, if I missed any current Canadians, who will be first to lose their title, will Chris Benoit come back with Lance Storm and win the tag titles right way, etc.

A Fellow Canadian"

I don't know if this is a deliberate effort to please us Canadians, but if so, it sure has worked. Many SLAM! readers wrote in to point out the very same thing.

Of course, it's not that big an accomplishment when you think that only five short years ago, the Hart Foundation held all major WWF titles, including the heavyweight, intercontinental, European, and tag team belts. The women's title hardly makes up for the tag team belts, which are at least usually decided in wrestling matches. Of course, we saw Lance Storm get beaten by Kane last night, so we have at least one Canadian without a belt.

If you ask me, it's a fluke. And in terms of prosperity, I'd rather have Chris Benoit back and wrestling and have no Canadian champions that have Canadians own every belt in the company with Benoit out rehabbing. We'd be more prosperous with the Canadian Crippler dressed and ready to go.

That's all for this week. Have a safe and happy pre-holiday week and see you in seven!

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