Wrestling: The Best & Worse Modern Championship Unification Matches

Title lineage has always had a suspect history in wrestling.  Championships are said to be used to elevate talents, but they are sometimes only used as a prop. In a scripted world, this is to be expected to some extent. Being used as a prop means that the championships bounce around at an alarming rate. It is difficult to follow who is holding on to which title, and this becomes more confusing when the same championship is split up. Luckily, wrestling has an ace up its sleeve with the Championship Unification match.

Throughout the years, wrestling has used the unification match for various amount of reasons. It is a good way to tighten up championships while providing a big-time match to promote. But have these matches been any good? Have the historic matches lived up to the hype that promotions put behind them? Below we will look at 9 unification bouts and see if they lived up to the hype, are any of them better than “The Biggest WrestleMania Match Ever” with Roman & Brock and their Championship Unification? Let’s be honest… probably.

Jeff Hardy v Rob Van Dam
(Intercontinental and European Unification; Ladder Match)

In 2002, there were too many secondary titles on the roster. Due to this over-saturation, it was decided that Hardy and RVD would compete in a ladder match to unify the Intercontinental and European Championships. It was a smart move to get the European Championship off the roster. It had become a joke title and it was doing nothing to elevate its holders… This was by far the best way to unify the championships.

When Hardy and RVD were the most dynamic athletes on the roster and they had a built-in history to build off of. The Championship Unification was your usual ladder match between RVD and Hardy. There was no new ground being broken, but that doesn’t mean it was a terrible match. The spots were great and the crowd was into the match the whole way.

Kane v Triple H
(World Heavyweight and Intercontinental Unification)

Further down in the road, in 2002, WWE decided to unify yet another championship. This time the decision was met with tremendous backlash. Thinking that one show should have one title, GM Eric Bishoff set a title unification match between HHH and Kane and No Mercy. It was a head-scratching decision and one that could have been saved if the match was any good. At this time, HHH’s reign of terror was in full swing, which meant he had to beat everyone. With outside interference HHH was able to get the upper hand and beat Kane, thus putting the Intercontinental Championship to bed.

This was an awful decision from WWE. The IC Title was established in 1979 and had a long and storied history in the company. Luckily, this decision was reversed months later and the secondary championship returned.

John Cena v Randy Orton
(WWE and World Heavyweight Unification; TLC Match)

With the brand split all but over there was little reason to have two world champions. That is why it was decided to unify both world championships at TLC 2013. This match was a great example of what can happen when Orton gives a damn. Cena would always show up for big matches, but Orton had his history.  Thankfully, Orton took this match seriously and was at his Viper best. The action was great and brutal throughout and both men did a great job of selling their chances of winning.

Orton was able to get the win over Cena, handcuffing him to the ropes and pulling him off the ladder headfirst into a table. It was a creative ending to their match and helped to make it one of the best of the year.

Bryan Danielson v Nigel McGuinness
(ROH World Title and ROH Pure Title Unification)

In the mid-2000s ROH had two significant championships, the ROH World Title, and the Pure Title. The World Championship stood by itself but the Pure Championship was your working man’s title. The title matches were held under rules such as no punches and only a limited amount of rope breaks. This created a more amateur atmosphere surrounding the strap.

McGuinness holding the Pure Championship irked Danielson as he felt that he was the best wrestler in the world. This set up a fantastic match between the two at ROH Unified. If you haven’t watched this match yet, why are you not watching it now?… Probably the best Championship Unification on the list.

This is one of the best matches in wrestling, and probably the best of Danielson’s career. The technical knowledge of both men was unmatched in this contest and only upstaged by the brutality of the contest. The stiffness with which both men worked was brutal and helped to make for a fantastic finishing flurry.

Steve Austin v Chris Jericho
(WWE and WCW World Title Unification)

Following the debacle that was the Invasion storyline, WWE was left with a problem. Having two world championships wasn’t going to fly on the roster, so Vince and company decided to hold a one-night tournament to crown an Undisputed Champion at Vengeance 2001.

In a swerve, WWE decided to have Chris Jericho make it past The Rock and face Steve Austin. Jericho was gaining steam as a top heel and this was the right move. His work leading up to this match was perfect and was getting some great heat from the fans.

The match was a serviceable one but it failed to build Jericho as a threat. Austin dominated most of the match and Y2J was only able to get the win after interference from Booker T. It was a missed opportunity from WWE to build a top-level heel.  A mistake they would continue to make with the entirety of his championship run.

Ric Flair v Sting
(WCW World Title and WCW International Championship Unification)

The backstory leading to this match is more convoluted than the current WWE booking. Having left WCW for WWE Flair was stripped of the championship and a new belt was created. Flash forward a few years and Flair returned to WCW, winning the original NWA Championship. WCW then withdrew from the NWA but the company was left with two championships, the WCW and International Title. Not wanting a confusing lineage, WCW booked a Unification match between their two greatest rivals.

The match left little to be desired by the viewer. Sting and Flair had faced each other many times in the past, with each being a great contest. That is why it was disappointing that no new ground was broken here. It was your basic paint-by-numbers Ric Flair match. Entertaining sure, but it mirrors many of their battles from the past.

Flair unified the titles with a predictable swerve and became the undisputed World Champion. Unfortunately, he was served up on a platter to Hulk Hogan shortly after.

John Cena v CM Punk
(WWE Championship Unification)

The Summer of Punk was one of the more famous missteps by WWE. After his world-famous pipebomb, Punk was one of the hottest stars in the world. WWE capitalized on this by running a great angle with him winning the championship and leaving the company. Following a tournament to crown a new champion, Punk made his return presenting WWE with the problem of two World Champions. A problem that would be settled at Summerslam.

It is a darn shame that the entire Punk angle was not on par with this match. Cena and Punk were two of the best workers in the company and their talents were on full display. They used the spots that worked from their Money in the Bank encounter and expanded on them. The desperation of both men was apparent during the match and it was a perfect bit of storytelling.

Alas, the finish was screwy at best and highlighted how WWE mishandled one of the hottest angles in the wrestling world.

Shinsuke Nakamura v Kurt Angle
(IWGP World Championship and IWGP Third Belt Championship Unification)

Before Nakamura would become one of the most charismatic stars in New Japan, Shinsuke was battling Kurt Angle to unify the championships. At the time both New Japan and IGF had their versions of the IWGP World Championship. Not wanting a convoluted history it was decided that the titles would be unified between Shinsuke and the Wrestling Machine, Kurt Angle.

For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of watching this match, go now! Both men were in their prime during this match and it was fantastic. The offensive flurry to start the match was fantastic and got the fans into the match from the get-go. It was only matched by the amazing submission spots that ended the match. Both men were known for their submission moves and the turns in and out of each spot were crisp and perfect.

The finish was amazing as Nakamura spun into a brutal cross-arm breaker that forced Angle to tap out. It was a perfect finish to a near-perfect match that should be watched by all.

Ultimo Dragon v Dean Malenko
(J-Crown and Cruiserweight Championship Unification)

Ultimo Dragon was one of the biggest names in the world before coming to North America in 1996. Debuting in WCW, Dragon would bring the J-Crown Championship with him. The championship was an amalgamation of 8 cruiser/light heavyweight championships from around the world and it caused Ultimo to be the perfect cocky heel. It led him to want to combine the WCW Cruiserweight Championship with his titles, leading to a fantastic match with Dean Malenko at Starrcade in 1996.

The Cruiserweight division was the hidden gem of WCW, and this match highlighted exactly why. Both men were world-class athletes and put on one hell of a match. They blended the fast-paced cruiserweight style with a more technical one perfectly. The two styles meshed incredibly well and complimented each other as the match went on.

It should also be noted just how over Dean Malenko was here. The crowd was hot for him the entire contest and it goes to show just how badly WCW messed up pushing talents who were naturally over.

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