Monday 22 September 2014

Night of Champions 2014 review

In my Night of Champions preview I wrote that it looked like a show that had the potential to be good but was relying heavily on its main event. Now, with the show having taken place, I stand by those remarks. The show as enjoyable enough and featured a handful of title changes, but it was the main event that made it what it was. With the Cena versus Lesnar SummerSlam rematch the 2014 Night of Champions would be a far more forgettable affair.

This is not the sort of thing that should be said of any of WWE’s not so special events right now. A big part of the marketing strategy for the WWE Network is getting to watch these shows as part of the subscription. If they’re not any good then how worthwhile is their inclusion in the Network package? If WWE expects people to stay signed up to the Network they need to make these shows feel significant. One match in the main event spot cannot do that.

Don’t get me wrong here. While WWE is struggling with crafting an undercard of matches we want to tune in and watch he quality of the matches was mostly pretty high. They’re getting some things right, just not enough.

The show kicked off, as all WWE special events do, with a video package. This one featured footage of Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin and Ric Flair during their respective world title reigns, with audio excerpts from promos playing over them. It was well done and nice to see acknowledgment of the legacy of world titles in wrestling. It helped with the theme of the pay-per-view.

Another nice touch was showing former champions before each title match (with the exception of the main event, oddly). Opening the show, the tag title match was preceded by shots of The Legion of Doom (not the Road Warriors, because this is WWE, yo), Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson, and Edge and Christian. It sounded lie the latter got a pop but I may have been wrong.

Bad guys. Don't forget it!
Goldust and Stardust got a good reaction when they walked to the ring. The crowd must not have gotten the memo about them being heels now. Goldust had gone heavy on the black makeup while Stardust was doing everything in his power to come across as a weirdo.

The dusts controlled the match. They isolated Jey at first, then we he managed to tag out they isolated Jimmy. It was a good match wrestled at a fast pace. Everyone did what was expected of them with Goldust deserving special credit for trying to work in a more aggressive role.

Eventually Jey was tagged back in for the finish. He gave Stardust a top rope body block and a Samoan drop before Stardust came back with an inverted DDT (which has been one of Goldust’s many finishers) for a believable two count. After a dive sequence on the outside they returned to the ring, where Jey went for a splash and got hit with Stardust’s knees. The winded champ was rolled up by Stardust for the win and the straps.

Backstage Byron Saxton spoke to Dolph Ziggler and his stunt double, hired to combat Miz’s stunt double, R-Ziggler (it was R-Truth). Ziggles said Miz pretends to be a Hollywood star but he's the IC champ and that's better. Even with Dolph involved this was a nothing segment.

Despite the fact that we’d just seen the Intercontinental champion it was the United States championship match that came next. Champions shown beforehand were Harley Race, Sting (chosen for the obvious reasons, I’m sure), Ricky Steamboat, Eddie Guerrero and Booker T. Cesaro entered first wearing a red robe and a black towel over his head, like a cross between Rick Rude and ECW era Taz.

The pair started out with some technical exchanges but it didn't last long. Cesaro gave Sheamus a slap after breaking on the ropes and that got started fighting. They brawled around for a while before Sheamus did his skinning the cat to the top rope spot (to boos) and got lamped with an uppercut (to cheers). Cesaro took control with a sleeper. Shaymo absorbed a pair of clotheslines and a pair of uppercuts before firing back with a pair of Irish Curse back breakers. Cesaro countered the ten punch on the apron spot (which did get cheers) and booted Sheamus in the face. Not to be outdone, Sheamus yanked Cesaro off the top rope and attempted a Brogue kick.

Cesaro ducked it and hit Swiss death. Sheamus blocked a double underhook bomb and went for another Brogue kick. Cesaro dodged and connected with the double underhook bomb, which ‘The Celtic Warrior’ kicked out of. Cesaro landed on his feet after being back dropped out of a Neutralizer attempt and avoided another Brogue kick, muscling Sheamus up into a modified burning hammer. That yielded a fantastic two count.

Cesaro slapped Sheamus, then gave him an uppercut into the corner. Sheamus shoved him off and called for more. Cesaro obliged before getting dragged off by the referee before, finally, eating a Brogue kick. More matches like that and people might care about Sheamus and his championship.

We were shown Mark Henry getting ready for his match in a locker room. Big Show joined him and asked if he was ready, focused and aware of what was on the line. Henners said that he knew and he said he wouldn’t let people down. Show told him he had 18,000 tag partners with him (which seemed a bit unfair). Show then gave Henry a new outfit and told Henry to tear Rusev's head off. Henry said he would because that's what he does. He walked off leaving Show to stare after him like a proud dad. It was a standard pandering, pro-America bit to remind everyone why they should cheer for Henry.

Florida Georgia Line, the hottest band in the world according to 'Big Daddy Hip' Michael Cole, were introduced as guest commentators before the Intercontinental title match, which was preceded by shots of Pat Patterson, Pedro Morales, The Honky Tonk Man, Mr Perfect and Razor Ramon. I’d hoped for a shot of Jeff Jarrett but it wasn’t to be.

I’ll say here and now that Florida Georgia Line were an irritating addition to the show. The first half of the match was broken up by constant shots of them sitting at commentary and none of the three people paid to talk about what happens in the ring did anything to put over Dolph Ziggler, The Miz or the Intercontinental championship for the majority of the match.

Things changed when Damien Sandow (currently trading under the name Damien Mizdow as Miz’s stunt double) shouted at FGL one too many times and they shoved him onto his backside. Proving that they could handle a wrestler they sat back down and left R-Truth to chase Sandow to the back. Yeah, Sandow was booked to run away form a pair of weedy-looking singers. I think we can all agree his career isn’t getting back on track anytime soon.

Like twins.
With the seconds gone Ziggler got a near fall off a super kick before ‘The Awesome One’ placed him in the figure four. After a rope break he dropped Miz with a Fameasser for two. The champ prepped for the Zig Zag as Sandow returned, taking a super kick from ‘The Show Off’ but providing enough of a distraction for Miz to get a roll up and a handful of trunks for the win. Florida Georgia Line just sat there and let Miz win the title by nefarious means. Sickening.

That was followed by a video of roman Reigns discussing his bladder region. I think that’s all I need to say here.

Seth 'Hawkeye' Rollins walked out. He did a lot of smiling and posed on a turnbuckle. The announcers talked more about him walking to the ring than they did about Miz v Ziggler.

Rollins cut a promo and had Charles Robinson count Roman Reigns out of the match and declare him the winner. Michael Cole bleated about "Mr Reigns" being unable to make it to the building. Rollins went back to the mic and ran down Reigns some more before issuing an open challenge. His reason? He knew people wanted to see him compete.

In the back a taxi cab was shown arriving. Out got Dean Ambrose to one of the biggest reactions of the night. ‘The Lunatic Fringe’ stormed to the ring, immediately taking down Rollins and brawling into the crowd with him. The Authority brought out security and a bunch of agents to stop the fight. Ambrose leapt off part of the entrance structure, wiped them all out and carried on the fight.

They returned to the ring where Ambrose grabbed a chair. Before he could use it he was once again taken down (by Joey Mercury and Jamie Noble, fact fans!) and swarms by security. With plastic cuffs applied to his wrists Ambrose was carried out of the arena. Rollins was left to pitch a fit at ringside with H3 and The Stepher. It was a hot angle. If WWE don't push Ambrose hard in Reigns's absence something will have gone wrong. He’s the most over man in the company.

Over at the expert panel set Renee Young mentioned the title changes. A-Ry rambled on about nothing. Show said if Henry can stay focused he'll send Rusev home. Booker said "it" was "all about America!" The message was clear: America is the bestest thing ever.

Henry wandered out in his patriotic singlet... and a scarf for some reason. Lilian Garcia sang the US national anthem because AMERICA!! Henry cried. The crowd ate it up and burst into a USA chant afterwards. Rusev, hero of the Russian federation, came out to a surprising lack of heat. I’ll put that down to the crowd. He usually gets far better (or worse, depending on your point of view) treatment than that.

Henry sent Rusev rolling from the ring twice at the start of the match then knocked him off the apron as he tried to dash back in. After chucking him out for a third time Hnery followed him. That turned out not to be the brightest move: Henry was rammed into steel steps and then splashed in the corner back in the ring. Despite the rousing patriotism, Henry’s early offence, and Rusev’s shady method of gaining the upper hand the crowd were dead at this point.

Henry came back from a sleeper with some basic moves. He didn't get long before Rusev floored him with a spinning heel kick and tried for the Accolade. Henry powered out, took a kick and then hit the World’s Strongest Slam. Rusev rolled out of the ring to avoid being pinned (which the crowd did react to). Henry stupidly stuck his head out between the ropes and took a super kick. Rusev returned to the ring and connected with a second, then applied the Accolade for the tap out victory.

Rusev and Lana: Mr and Mrs Russia.
After the match audience members were shown looking disappointed. JBL declared that he was disappointed in Henry. That was a poor call, in my view. Considering the heavy patriotism of what we’d seen it felt as though Layfield was admonishing Henry for not being a good enough American. It would have made more sense for him to say that if Mark Henry, ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ and a former World Heavyweight champion, can’t beat Rusev he doesn’t know who can. But no, Layfield had to act the super patriot. Because AMERICA!!

A recap of Michael Cole’s interview with Brock Lesnar followed that. ‘The Pain’ said both he and Cena were fired up for the rematch but that Cena will get another ass beating. The crowd understandably cheered that.

They also cheered Chris Jericho's entrance. Which is far less understandable.

Jericho and Randy Orton put on a better match than I thought they would. They made good use of their plethora of signature spots and finishers to craft interesting sequences and believable near falls. Highlights included an Orton to Jericho superplex; a wild over the turnbuckle bump to the floor from Jericho; a Punt being reversed into a schoolboy; Jericho countering an RKO into the Codebreaker; and the match-winning cross body block turned into an RKO (which was predictable and sloppily performed but still good to see). Meanwhile, on commentary, commentary JBL said Orton reminds him of a young Barry Windham and Cole said that’s high praise. I’d be amazed if he’s ever watched a Windham match for pleasure.

That said, the match was still slow in places and I don’t think it’s too much to say that we could have expected more form the pair considering the time they had, their standing in the company, and the number of times they’ve worked together. Nothing I saw made me change my mind about ‘Y2J’s’ presence in WWE in 2014.

The Divas championship match was preceded  a video of Paige talking about AJ being her frenemy and putting down Nikki Bella as unworthy of a title shot. Lots of shots of Paige applying the PTO were included. It did a lot to make Paige look like a serious competitor with a personality. And a nasty submission hold.

Backstage Byron Saxton asked Brie Bella what she thought of the Divas championship match. Brie said everyone he was the first person to ask her that. Everyone else, apparently, is more concerned with asking when Nikki will “get hers”. So, not when her husband’s coming back then? Brie said Nikki shouldn't be the champion because she's self-centred and obnoxious already. Basically she delivered poor banter poorly.

Divas champs shown before the match: The Fabulous Moolah, Wendi Richter, Lita and Trish Startus, none of whom ever held the Divas championship. I wouldn't have mentioned that but Cole got snippy with JBL for saying the APA had been WWE tag champions, correcting him and saying he was a world tag champion. You can’t have it both ways, WWE.

AJ got cheers when she entered. Nikki and Paige got apathy. Paige deserved better considering the video they’d played and the fact that she’s mimicking the popular AJ.

The AJ Lee dead sell. It's a classic.
It was a standard WWE triple threat: the three combatants took it in turns to catch their breath at ringside while a string of singles matches took place in the ring. That finish saw Nikki tossed off the apron by AJ and then a Black Widow applied to Paige for the submission. New, three time, Divas champion crowned in a nothing match. Something fresh needs to be done if the rivalry is to continue into Hell in a Cell (the show, not the gimmick match).

Over at the expert panel set Alex Riley agreed with Paul Heyman’s sentiment that Cena has to become a beast in order to defeat Lesnar. Big Show said he should stick to his usual approach and remain true to himself. Booker T, with the only insightful comment from the trio all evening (I know right, Booker T!) said he noticed Cena trying for takedowns in their RAW scuffle and that he should do that in the rematch.

The pre-match video package was predictably excellent. Cena was positioned as a man with a fresh game plan who wants a fight as much as the championship. Lesnar was positioned as someone who's not just unstoppable but someone who has Cena's number.

There was a mostly positive reaction for Cena's entrance. Lesnar's got a roar of approval. The in-ring intro got cheers for Cena and a mixed reaction for the world champion. There were duelling chants at the bell.

Lesnar took Cena down at the bell. Cena escaped a German suplex attempt, dropped Lesnar with a clothesline, and hit an AA. It didn’t even earn him a two count. A visibly angered Lesnar applied the kimura arm lock. Cena grabbed the ropes for a break. Lesnar mauled him with knees and connected with a German suplex.

Cena popped up and fought back. Lesnar halted him with knees and snapped on the kimura again. Cena got a rope break and hit some punches before German suplex number two and the Three Amigos (a spot I love Lesnar doing because it references one his more entertaining feuds from over a decade ago). More strikes went Cena's way before Lesnar ran through him with a lariat. Cena tried a takedown but Lesnar hammered his back and applied a standing kimura, Cena once again having to rely on the ropes for escape.

‘The Beast’ threw Cena with a belly-to-belly suplex. Cena came back with some more right hands but Lesnar easily spun him round for some shoulder barges in the corner. The challenger hammered back with a barrage of rights on Lesnar. But it did nothing. Lesnar shrugged them off and nailed a third German suplex then smashed his foe with more shoulder charges.

One of the match's many kimura locks.
A surprise AA put Lesnar down for a two count. He hauled Cena up for the F5 but Cena escaped and applied the STF. Lesnar slipped out of that and clamped on the kimura again, positioning himself between the ropes and Cena's free arm to keep Cena trapped in the hold. Cena got to his feet (because he’s Cena) and rammed Lesnar into the turnbuckle for the break. He hit the third AA of the match, opting to apply the STF again instead of trying for a cover. Lesnar kept crawling to the ropes, forcing Cena to break and dragging him back to the centre of the ring to reapply it (like a player spamming a hold in a wrestling video game). On the third application it felt like Lesnar was close to tapping.

But he didn’t get the chance to: Seth Rollins slid into the ring and hit Cena with the money in the bank briefcase for the disqualification finish. He walloped Cena again, sending him out of the ring and then gave Lesnar, who was staggering to his feet, a Curb Stomp. Rollins left the ring for the ceremonial handover of the briefcase that signals a Money in the Bank cash-in then made to get back into the ring to pin the champ.

Cena stopped him, pulling him from the apron and sending him scurrying to the back. Cole was exceptionally quick to point out that the cash-in match bell hadn’t rung so Rollins’s title shot was still safe. It was almost as if he were being promoted.

Cena slumped against the ropes looking dejected. When he got up he was immediately slapped with an F5. The official announcement came in: Cena had won the match by DQ but Lesnar had retained the gold. It was a clever way of keeping Cena and Lesnar’s rivalry alive for a final outing at Hell in a Cell. I’d much rather see Rollins and Ambrose clash inside WWE’s premiere gimmick but I won’t deny putting Cena and Lesnar in there makes sense.

Results summary:
Goldust and Stardust defeated the Usos for the tag team championship
Sheamus defeated Cesaro
The Miz defeated Dolph Ziggler for the Intercontinental championship
Seth Rollins defeated Roman Reigns via count out
Rusev defeated Mark Henry
Randy Orton defeated Chris Jericho
AJ Lee defeated Paige and Nikki Bella for the Divas championship
John Cena defeated Brock Lesnar via disqualification

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