Towards the end of the pre-show Booker T said he wasn't the face of WWE when he worked for WCW. He was entirely accurate. In addition to inane comments there was also a surprisingly good tag team turmoil match on the half hour freebie. It was won by The Prime Time Players, granting them a shot at the straps held by Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins later in the evening.
Triple H kicked off the main show, entering to his heel King of Kings track. He was there to put his stamp of approval on the show because he believed it would be one of the greatest nights in company history (I’d be amazed if anyone believed that claim). After trotting out his "best for business" catchphrase he announced that the main event would feature no interference from anyone, specifically naming The Shield and Big Show. He then, bizarrely, started doing his “Are you ready?” shtick but got interrupted by Paul Heyman and Curtis Axel.
Heyman tried to get out of his match, spurring 'The Game' to activate face mode. This was a bad move. Inconsistency with how performers are presented is a contributing factor to heel and faces switches not sticking. You never would have caught Vince McMahon playing a face while acting as top bad guy.
Triple H pointed out that Paul had nothing to worry about because he could simply rely on Axel to defeat Punk, ensuring he wouldn’t need to tag in. When Axel piped up he got booked in an Intercontinental title defence against, perhaps as some sort of poster-related title switch tease, Kofi Kingston.
Michael Cole described the match as being of great importance to both men. That he spent several minutes promoting an online poll and rattling off seemingly random IC title-related factoids should tell you how true that claim was. Axel won an enjoyable enough bit of filler with his neck breaker driver.
Curtis Axel is very good at post-match celebrations
Backstage Ricardo Rodriguez and Rob Van Dam had a painfully awkward conversation. RR taught RVD various Spanish phrases in what apparently passes as comedy.
Elsewhere in the back Alicia Fox and Aksana were busy abandoning AJ Lee. Layla remained loyal but then disappeared to straighten out the deserters. It’s possible Layla was actually meant to be leaving AJ too, but that wasn’t clear. The upshot of this segment was that AJ was left alone for the four-way match.
Before the match we were reminded of AJ's worked shoot promo and subsequent alliance with the Divas who we'd just seen abandon her. An on-screen graphic also revealed that fans had voted Trish Stratus the greatest Divas champion of all time. That's pretty impressive considering she never won the belt.
The Total Divas teamed up on AJ at the start of the match before Brie turned on her allies and presented us with a fair bout. One of the highlights of this match, for me, was the revelation that fans had voted on what outfit Brie Bella would wear. Losing options included "raggedy Bella" and "strawberry shortcake Bella". This voting for outfits idea needs to be a permanent gimmick for the Bellas. It's tremendous.
Natalya clumsily applied a double sharpshooter to Brie and Naomi (during which the recipients' shoulders were on the mat in pinning positions for a lot longer than three seconds) only to be lumped by AJ. The champ then applied her wonderful Black Widow on Natty hold for the submission victory. The division has a long way to go before it becomes unmissable stuff but it's got the right woman as its figurehead.
Experts Booker T, Santino and Alex Riley had a chat about the World Heavyweight championship match. Booker picked Van Dam to win, largely because they're pals. I like the idea that he makes all predictions based on how well he gets on with people, as opposed to form or anything that even tries to sound legitimate. Santino and A-Ry contributed nothing.
The battle of men known by three initials is on!
Following the decision Del Rio gave his foe a kicking. His attempt to involve a chair was foiled by Ricardo, allowing ‘The Whole F’n Show’ to drop the champ with a DDT and dust off the old Van Terminator (a move which sees Van Dam launch himself from one corner of the ring to the other and kick a chair into a seated opponent). If that was a regular part of his repertoire it would be a nice use of Ricardo. But it's not. Head shots like that are rare in modern WWE, and for good reason. It happened here because RVD was so popular and it was a positive note on which to end the segment.
Backstage Paul Heyman and Curtis Axel were shown discussing their handicap match. Here Heyman tried using the fear of Triple H causing problems for Axel as motivation for his charge to perform. We’d seen plenty of this sort of stuff on TV since the match was announced.
The WHC poll revealed that Booker T is considered the greatest man to hold that belt by fans. He got an impressive 38% of the vote. Edge (22%), Batista (5%), Undertaker (21%), and Ric Flair (14%) were the other options. I suspect Booker benefited from being a part of the broadcast. I'd have voted for Edge.
Backstage (again) Randy Orton asked Triple H why he wasn't getting any help in the main event, all but admitting he felt he couldn't defeat Daniel Bryan unaided. Why are all heels cowards these days? This hasn’t always been the case, surely? 'The King of Kings' told him he wanted to make sure he'd picked the right man to be 'The Face of WWE'. Orton told him he had done and wandered off to do whatever it is he does before matches.
We were presented with a bonus match after that, The Miz facing Faaaaaan... daaaaaan... goooooo. 'The Ballroom Brute' was introduced first to a huge pop and enthusiastic gyrations. 'The Awesome One's' reaction was decidedly more tepid. I suspect WWE are building to a double turn with this feud. Miz is not considered a success as a face (although I like him in the role) and Fandango basically plays a tweener anyway, so it'd make sense.
The match was solid. Miz worked over Fandango's leg (further indicating he may be turning) and they included a number of spots that should have gotten a response from the crowd. They didn't. The audience was dead. Miz won with the figure four.
CM Punk and Curtis Axel both had kendo sticks with them when they came out for their handicap match. Perhaps they should have had a kendo stick on a pole match instead. Chairs and tables were also introduced. They made the most of the no DQ ruling they'd been granted, walloping each other and doing everything they could to remind us this was a relaxed rules affair. It was very effective. They undoubtedly benefited from being the only non-standard bout on the show. WWE should bear that in mind. Less is more.
Heyman predictably stayed down on the mat and didn’t involve himself in proceedings for the majority of the bout. His hand was forced when Axel had fallen to a GTS and an Anaconda Vice. He tried running away but that didn't work. After a jog around the tech area Punk caught him in the ring. He pulled handcuffs from his boot, slapped them onto his former agent-slash-bestie, and then pelted him with painful-looking kendo stick shots.
CM Punk is a talented man to be capable of wrestling with handcuffs pressed against his leg
I'm a fan of this development. It's what I predicted would happen in my preview for the show. It should give Ryback a fresh start after being thoroughly mishandled for most of the year. He’s not bad on promos, but he’ll benefit from not having to do them quite so much and from the association with Heyman. Naturally he’ll be facing Punk at Battleground, which should be good for him too.
We saw the experts again at this point. They wittered on about what had occurred so far on the show. Santino's mind was apparently blown by the actions of Ryback. He's easily impressed.
Dolph Ziggler failed in his attempt to become a two time United States champion. Dean Ambrose beat him with the headlock DDT he's fond of. The match was good but didn't draw the crowd in. You may have noticed this was a theme at Night of Champions. The crowd were rowdy during introductions and at certain points during matches but quietened down often. They were less than ideal.
The result was a blessing in disguise for 'The Show Off'. Winning a mid-card title a couple of months after losing the WHC would have been a comedown for him, and would have looked like an admission that he didn't belong at the top of the card. Hopefully WWE will remember how popular he was in early summer soon and so something meaningful with him. He’s wasted at the moment.
After being told that 53% of WWE fans (those that voted, at least) believe Sting to be the greatest US champion ever it was time for the tag team title match. I wouldn't have been surprised had The Prime Time Players won the championship considering the rise in status they've enjoyed recently. But they didn't. The Shield retained when Reigns hit a spear on Titus, setting up a Rollins pin.
A video package recapped Bryan defeating John Cena for the WWE championship, Triple H going heel, Randy Orton successfully cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase, the firing of Cody Rhodes, the manipulation of Big Show, and Trips explaining that he's all about what's best for business. It was a very good video. It's the sort of approach that could be good for a post-PPV RAW.
Randy Orton's entrance was deemed the perfect time to address the greatest WWE champion poll. Bit weird, what with him being the face of the company and all. Hulk Hogan was considered the greatest (which surprised me) with an impressive 55%. 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin came second with 16% (he'd have been my pick), followed by John Cena (13%), CM Punk (12%) and Triple H (a meagre 4%). If these polls proved anything it's that we can't trust poll results from WWE's website.
Back to the action. The match was slow to begin with. Orty was on offence which meant a plethora of stomps, rest holds and nonsensical mid-match posing. Bryan took over at various points, which always resulted in a quickened pace and some noise from the crowd.
They had a good match. The regular spots such as Bryan’s diving headbutt, Yes Lock, and top rope German suplex and Orton’s hanging DDT and numerous failed RKO attempts were all present and correct. As good as it was it didn’t quite hit the heights of their exchanges on RAW and SmackDown from the summer. Perhaps it was the lack of a stipulation or Orty altering his style because he’s now a bad guy.
The finish saw Daniel Bryan escape an RKO attempt before hitting his running knee to win. That's two shows in a row where Bryan has beaten an established star with his new finisher. At SummerSlam it was a completely clean win. Not so with Night of Champions. Referee Scott Armstrong, who'd taken a scheduled bump at the hands of ‘The Viper’ during the match and been briefly replaced by a second official, gave a fast count during the match-winning pin.
Daniel Bryan there, celebrating his title win with a fan
Night of Champions had the potential to be a surprise hit. The handicap match and the WWE title match both featured performers popular enough to deliver belters, but they didn’t. The rest of the card featured nothing that couldn’t have occurred on RAW or SmackDown (or Main Event in some cases). The fate, future and direction of the company were not affected in any unforeseen manner.