April 3, 2010
THE ROCK VS. CHRIS JERICHO
“The Main Event Wall Breaks Down”
In the fall of 2001, the WWF found themselves fending off an entity known as The Alliance, which was comprised of remnants of the late WCW and ECW promotions. The supergroup was hellbent on hurting the World Wrestling Federation, due to the wresting titan being the last promotion standing.
In addition to recent WCW and ECW talents filling the ranks of the Alliance, WWF Champion Stone Cold Steve Austin threw his support behind the group, citing a lack of respect from his WWF contemporaries. In terms of the power behind the muscle, there were Shane and Stephanie McMahon acting as financial rudder for the ship, with the dual ambition of bringing their father, Vince McMahon, upon their mercy.
Not withstanding this imposing core, the Alliance also boasted the likes of former WCW Champions Booker T and Diamond Dallas Page, as well as ECW stalwarts like Rob Van Dam and The Dudley Boyz. Throw in rising stars like Lance Storm, Hurricane Helms, Rhyno, as well as WWF defectors such as Christian, Test, and William Regal, and you had yourself a rather caustic group that was capable of doing battle with Vince McMahon’s army.
ACT I: Allied Against the Alliance
The World Wrestling Federation was not short on fire power, however. In addition to established domineers like The Undertaker, Kane, Kurt Angle, and others, there were two names who definitely stood out: Chris Jericho, who was on the cusp of stardom, and The Rock, who had won the WCW World Title from Booker T at Summerslam.
For the most part, Rock and Jericho seemed like potent allies, and the duo led the charge, along with Undertaker and Angle, against the rogue Alliance. However, on October 8, 2001, Jericho and Rock were defeated by Shane McMahon and Rob Van Dam on Raw. The ending came when Jericho, blinded by his own blood, swung violently with a steel chair, and accidentally knocked out The Rock. Van Dam reaped the benefits and pinned The Great One, and the Alliance had notched an important victory for themselves.
The troubles didn’t end there, as Rock confronted Jericho while Y2J was being stitched up, giving him the business for the costly error. In the end, the tiff between Rock and Jericho degenerated into a fistfight, and all was not well in WWF’s camp.
ACT II: Talk to the Hand
That week on Smackdown, Jericho would defeat Van Dam to earn a shot at the WCW Title at No Mercy. Yes, the very title held by The Rock, whose harsh words from Raw were still fresh in the mind of The Ayatollah of Rock n Rollah.
The two men proceeded to interfere in each other’s matches on the October 15 Raw, which indicated that even with the Alliance juggernaut standing in their way, the simple misunderstanding from one week earlier was proving costly for Team WWF, as Rock and Jericho now appeared to be sworn enemies.
As an addition to the tension surrounding this new rivalry, Stephanie McMahon attempted to further drive the wedge between the two men, pointing out how Jericho always chokes in clutch situations. With Jericho coming so close to a World Title several times in his career, only to never taste the sweet nectar of triumph, his will to defeat The Rock only strengthened.
Even Rock was using Jericho’s main event record as evidence that Y2J had no chance at No Mercy. This led to a particularly heated verbal spat on the go-home Smackdown, wherein Rock basically claimed he had nothing to fear, since Jericho can never “win the big one”. Rock then cut off Jericho’s “Never EVER” catchphrase to further belittle him, after which Jericho mimicked Rock’s palm-to-the-face gesture, which silenced the champion and drew disbelieving gasps and cheers from the crowd. Another fistfight ensued, but the truth was that even if Jericho was afraid, he had no intention of showing it.
ACT III: Removing the Collar
At No Mercy, on October 21, 2001, Jericho and Rock tore down the Savvis Center in St. Louis, as one would expect, given the circumstances. The fans even rallied behind Jericho, wanting to see the underdog finally get his due.
After over twenty minutes of see-saw battling, Jericho was dropped by a spinebuster. Rock then followed up with his usual attempt at the People’s Elbow, but Jericho simply rolled to his side, swept Rock’s leg out, and locked the WCW Champion in the Walls of Jericho. Stephanie McMahon then made her way to the ring to try and distract her former nemesis, Jericho. The diversion worked, as Jericho relinquished the Walls to get at Stephanie, and promptly ate a DDT from Rock.
Rock, however, didn’t want Stephanie to be a factor, and so he dropped her with a vicious Rock Bottom. Rock may not have welcomed Stephanie’s presence, but, ironically, Jericho did, as he hooked Rock up and slammed him face first with the Breakdown into a steel chair (which Stephanie had brought with her) to win the match and the WCW Title. Rock, however, fumed at the conditions that surrounded his loss, and made it clear that he wasn’t done with Jericho. For the time being, however, Chris Jericho had finally “won the big one”.
Fifteen days later, The Rock would get his revenge, as he regained the title on November 5, pinning Jericho with a cradle as the new champion attempted the Walls of Jericho. Jericho’s angry assault on Rock afterwards indicated that the heat between the two men was not about to die down soon.
ACT IV: Kamikaze Mission
On November 18, 2001, at the annual Survivor Series event, there was more on the line than usual. Bigger than titles, it was the fate of the WWF that rested in the balance. Vince McMahon had wagered his children, still heads of the Alliance, that his five hand-picked superstars could beat any five members of the Alliance in an elimination match. At stake? The losing side would be forced to disband, and virtually everyone on the team would be out of a job.
Vince’s squad consisted of Rock as the captain, along with Undertaker, Kane, Big Show….and Jericho. Meanwhile, the Alliance fielded Austin as their captain, with Angle, Booker, Van Dam, and Shane McMahon himself.
It came down to two on two, as Rock and Jericho remained to face Austin and Angle. After Rock made Angle submit to the Sharpshooter, it seemed victory was inevitable for the WWF. With Rock and Jericho standing tall together, the irony would have been lost in relief and elation.
However, Austin pinned Jericho on a seemingly fluke reversal, causing Jericho to miss out on part of the triumph. Jericho’s mind was now conflicted, as he watched Rock and Austin, the two World Champions, fight it out for their armies. If Austin won, he was out of a job. If Rock won, he still had his job….but he’d have the knowledge that Rock won it without him. Consumed by rage, Jericho returned to the ring and nailed Rock, his own partner, with the Breakdown, preferring to die as long as Rock died with him.
Rock managed to kick out, however, and actually won for the WWF, after Angle proved himself to be a mole and returned to double cross Austin. The Alliance was now dead, and Rock stood tall, knowing he’d have to again deal with the Y2J problem.
ACT V: Unlikely Uniter
Vince McMahon is known for making history, and he was looking forward to doing so again at Vengeance on December 9, 2001. He was going to unify the WWF and WCW World Titles in a mini four man tournament, thus creating a unified champion, an idea that had largely been a pipe dream for years.
WWF Champion Stone Cold Steve Austin and WCW Champion The Rock would each be given an opponent. Austin was slated to face Angle, who he’d had issues with going back six months. Rock, however, would get his newest arch enemy in Jericho, who still technically had a rematch to his credit after losing the belt one month earlier.
Austin dispatched Angle in their usual competitive match, setting himself up to face the winner of another competitive contest. Jericho and Rock, as usual, threw caution to the wind, fighting back and forth in a contest that saw Jericho get DDTed through a table at ringside.
In the end, Vince McMahon interfered in the contest, as Vince felt Rock was ungrateful toward him for supplanting Angle as the mole at Survivor Series. After a distraction, Jericho planted Rock with his own Rock Bottom to win one World Title, shell-shocking the fans who wanted the Austin-Rock match to be the climax.
Austin’s music hit immediately, and Jericho had no time to rest. Austin pounded the winded Y2J, but it was Vince again, as well as Booker T, who cost Austin victory, as Booker waffled Austin with Jericho’s belt, and Jericho scored an anti-climatic and cheap pin to unify the gold.
Chris Jericho had become the first Unified Champion in modern history, but if you think his tactics and chicanery were going to stand without Rock forcing the issue, you’re dead wrong.
ACT VI: Rumbling for a Rematch
On January 3, 2002, Rock kicked off the new year on Smackdown by downing Booker T to become #1 contender for Jericho’s title. With the Royal Rumble seventeen days away, Jericho had just two and a half weeks to do something he had yet to do: defeat The Rock in two straight singles matches.
Jericho had begun to amass his own little cult following of fellow Canadians Lance Storm, Test and Christian, who had come to Jericho’s aid as if he were Ric Flair and they were his Horsemen. The assistance was moot on the January 10 Smackdown, as Rock and Van Dam def. Jericho and Test, with Rock forcing the Unified Champion to submit to the Sharpshooter.
The two would finally have their rubber match at the Royal Rumble, and it was much like their earlier clashes, except with a twist: Jericho’s new henchmen in Storm and Christian inserted themselves liberally, but Rock managed to fight off both. It looked like Jericho had to win this on his own.
After referee Earl Hebner was taken out, villainous official Nick Patrick came in to take over. After refusing to count a pin in which Rock had Jericho finished, the challenger dropped Patrick with a Rock Bottom. After Hebner slowly recovered, Jericho used three tainted tricks to win the match. First, he rammed Rock’s head into an exposed turnbuckle. Then he rolled him up, pulling the tights and laying his feet on the ropes for leverage, to retain the gold and, in a shocker, win the feud.
Jericho’s reign as champion lasted two more months, when he was finished off at Wrestlemania X8 by a returning Triple H, who had won the Royal Rumble match just after Jericho ended his saga with Rock. Jericho wandered through the rest of 2002 rather aimlessly, losing to everyone from Triple H to Rob Van Dam to Ric Flair to a young John Cena, before capturing Intercontinental and World Tag Team Gold by year’s end.
As for Rock, he found himself the target of the New World Order, in particular its leader, the returning Hulk Hogan. The two men engaged in one of the most epic matches in wrestling history at Wrestlemania X8, with Rock winning. Hogan shook his hand afterward, cementing what was maybe the biggest win of Rock’s career that didn’t involve a belt.
Other than an instance on the Highlight Reel on Raw in 2003, as well a playfully insulting acknowledgment at the 2008 WWE Hall of Fame, Rock and Jericho never again crossed paths. However, the feud between the two men showed that all it takes to become a main event player is to beat one in fairly decisive fashion.
For Chris Jericho, outlasting a man the caliber of The Rock in a three month marathon was what it took to “break down the walls” and achieve serious glory.
Justin Henry is an aspiring wrestling writer that is fascinated by the history of the business, as well as they ways in which it evolves. Henry writes event reviews, historical accounts, and editorials on professional wrestling for both The Camel Clutch Blog (http://www.camelclutchblog.com), as well as his Facebook fanpage, The Cynical Examination ( http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Cynical-Examination/257452252539).