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A new era in WWE, not the same as the old

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On Sunday, Randy Orton became the first WWE World Heavyweight Champion. WWE television celebrates this as a crowning achievement and the beginning of a new era for the promotion.

Of course, most long time Cedar Rapids wrestling fans know this isn’t the first time WWE presented a unified champion. Over ten years ago, the then WWF ended the long running WCW/ECW invasion storyline. With WCW dead, the company retained the World Heavyweight title from the promotion, then held by The Rock. At the 2001 “Vengeance” pay-per-view Vince McMahon set up a unification tournament. Former WCW Champion Chris Jericho ultimately walked out with the title, beating both Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock in one night.

WWF referred to Jericho as the Undisputed Champion and he retained the title for over two months, winning a rematch against the Rock before main eventing “Wrestlemania” against Triple H. The current company COO and television figurehead would beat Jericho and start his first title reign as a hero.

That run would only last a month though. With the sudden rise in popularity of the recently returned Hulk Hogan, the long time star won his final championship just a month later. He would drop it to the Undertaker after just a few weeks. Undertaker lost the title to The Rock, which set up a major match at the annual “Summer Slam” event. The Rock defended the title against then-newcomer Brock Lesnar. The two men fought in an epic main event that saw the crowd turn on the heroic Rock for the first time in years. Lesnar would walk out as Undisputed Champion, ultimately the last one for over a decade.

Just the week before his victory, Lesnar jumped from the Raw brand to the Smackdown brand. In those early days of the brand extension, only the Undisputed Champion worked both shows. But the Smackdown General Manager Stephanie McMahon decided to keep Lesnar as a Smackdown only star after his title victory. Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff answered by bringing back the World title and rewarding it to Triple H. Thus ended the six month run of the first Undisputed championship.

Ultimately, the single WWF champion served little purpose in the early days of the brand extension. Instead it just made one show often feel weaker than the other. When the title was split, many fans were more than happy to see both brands start to build as separate shows. Ten years later, the brand split is dead.

Without two shows, two major titles served no purpose across WWE. Over the last two years, the World title fell in luster as the WWE championship was presented as the more important belt. John Cena’s winning of the title helped raise its profile in recent months, but the ultimate showdown between Cena and Orton accomplished something long overdue in the company, a major championship that marked the peak of WWE television.

After “TLC” and the unification, the WWE World Heavyweight title is more important than either title had been for years. With the “Royal Rumble” ahead, the 30 man battle royal becomes much more important. The story potential going into 2014 offers a unique new place at top of the company. With Daniel Bryan, John Cena and CM Punk all in the title hunt, it seems anything could happen between now and “Wrestlemania”.

WWE airs “Raw” every Monday and “Smackdown” every Friday, both at 7 p.m in Cedar Rapids. Subscribe to the Cedar Rapids Examiner to never miss an update.

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