Monday 21 September 2015

WWE Night of Champions 2015 review

Following a standard issue excellent video package WWE's eighth annual Night of Champions pay-per-view kicked off with an Intercontinental title match. Defending champ The Ryback got a mixed reaction from the Houston fans. That didn't deter him from running through his "Wake up!" and "It's feeding time!" shtick. Challenger Kevin Owens got a more positive reaction and started out the match with the crowd behind him.

'The Big Guy' spent the first minute or so of the match knocking Owens down to the mat. Then he gorilla pressed him to the outside and encouraged the fans to cheer him. They did. Owens shrugged off the gorilla press and began targeting Ryback's arm. Ryback absorbed various armbars and takedowns, a Russian leg sweep with his arm pinned behind his back, and a senton onto his arm before finally managing to floor KO with a clothesline. Owens escaped a power bomb but got caught with a spinebuster. The champ went to follow up with a meat hook clothesline but Owens struck him with a super kick instead.

That earned Owens a two count. He tried to put the champ away with a pop-up power bomb but The Ryback ducked out of the way and got his meat hook clothesline. Owens was hoisted up for the Shellshock but was spared the move when Ry' realised his elbow was too hurty to fall backwards. Owens took this opportunity to drop down to the mat and shove Ryback arm first into a ring post.

When that only got Owens a two count he hit an arm takedown and locked in an armbar. Ryback sold that for a moment before powering up to his feet and deciding he was, in fact, strong enough to hit Shellshock after all. But it wasn't to be: Owens raked Ryback's eyes before he could be dropped and slipped out of the move again, schoolboying the champ for a three count and the gold.

Owens as champ is a good thing. The reaction he got here, and the reactions he's been receiving on TV lately, showed that people were ready for the change. It's a nice change of pace and a call back to when the IC strap was used as a signified that wrestlers were destined for big things in WWE. Ryback's reign was fine but he'd had it long enough. I think he'll work better as a babyface chasing a rematch anyway. Owens deserves a meaningful run and I think he'll get it.

An ad aired for Brock Lesnar's Go to Hell tour. Next month he'll wrestle Big Show in MSG, appear on Steve Austin's podcast, and then face Undertaker at Hell in a Cell inside the cage. The highlight of this should be Lesnar's appearance on Austin's podcast. If there's any chance of Austin v Lesnar happening this should make it clear. The match with 'Taker could be fun but we've seen it before, at No Mercy 2002 (Lesnar won), and I imagine we'll get another offbeat finish even though the obvious thing to do is have 'The Beast' win decisively.

Match two was Rusev versus Dolph Ziggler. Before the match 'The Bulgarian Brute' told Rich Brennan he wasn't in the mood to chat, he was in the mood for crushing "the puny American" Ziggler. Grade A lad banter from Rusev, that. They also took the opportunity to establish that Summer Rae, Rusev's girlfriend, was wearing earrings 'The Show Off' had given to her on RAW. Because it's a soap opera feud and needs soap opera trappings.

The match was fine, mostly because both lads rarely have a bad match, although there was very little crowd heat between the start and the finish. To keep the ridiculous soap antics of the feud strong the finish saw Summer get involved, hopping onto the apron, taking a bump and being ordered to the back by the referee. She responded by taking offer her shoe and throwing it into the ring where it hit Rusev in the face. Ziggler snuck in a Zig Zag and won. Rusev left alone. Summer screeched in the aisle. Michael Cole delivered what he probably thought was a zinger about the sequence giving new meaning to the word "heel". Let's never speak of any of this again.

Heat magnets New Day entered first (in some absolutely fabulous new gear) for the tag team title match. They cut an anti-Dudleys, pro-table promo in an attempt to turn the crowd against them. It mostly worked, but they're never going to be completely successful because they're just too entertaining.

The match was fun. Big E and Bubba had some stiff big boy exchanges, Kofi was excellent as a cocky heel, and Xavier was cracking riling up the crowd (highlights included smack-talking Bubba, loudly screaming  "New Day!", and playing the Rocky theme on his trombone). Devon was also there. Bubba was isolated for a while before he made a hot tag. Within two minutes of that they'd hit a 3D. Woods broke the count up in front of the ref to cause a DQ, giving the Duds a win but ensuring New Day retained the belts.

After the match New Day beat down Bubba and Devon then set up a table. They didn't get to use it though. The Dudleys recovered and put Woods through it. Presumably this was done to give the crowd something to cheer after such an unsatisfying ending and to create cause for a tables match between the two teams either at the MSG Network special or at Hell in a Cell.

The Divas championship match was not the scorcher we'd get from an NXT women's title match. It was heavy on delay tactics from Nikki towards the start and had a far slower pace. The champion targeted the challenger's leg and kept her on the mat to work it over. It was a logical story that played on Charlotte's figure eight leg lock finish, the idea being that ikki would do such an effective job that Charlotte wouldn't be able to apply her trademark hold effectively. It succeeded in engaging the crowd and kept them invested in Charlotte. It also played to the pair's respective strengths. 'The Nature Girl' is very convincing when it comes to selling and Nikki works best with a slower, more deliberate pace where she's free to interact with the audience without needing to do try anything overly athletic. 

Charlotte would eventually fire up and give Nikki some chops (accompanied by unenthusiastic wooos from the crowd). Nikki fought back, clambered onto the second rope and launched herself at the challenger. Charlotte caught her with a spear and locked in a figure eight leg lock, despite Nikki having effectively worked over her leg for the entire match. Nikki only managed to hold on for about ten seconds before she tapped out.

Compared to what we've seen from Charlotte in NXT this wasn't that great. Compared to the average Divas title match over the last few years it was. Charlotte and Nikki told a story, played to their strengths and provided the clean finish that was needed. I don't think we could have asked for more. Nikki's reign hasn't been bad and I enjoy her work but I'm pleased we've got a new champion. Charlotte defending against her fellow fresh additions is what the division needs now.

After a brief Kevin Owens promo (he said he's a prize fighter who now has a prize), a check-in with the pre-show panel (they said nothing of interest), a commentary team check-in (they blathered about the following match) and a shot of PCB and Flair backstage (Charlotte botched her pa's limousine-ridin' catchphrase then left to celebrate her win) the Wyatts v Shield rivalry was introduced. Of note during the entrances Michael Cole called Dean Ambrose a dude, Roman Reigns got a babyface reaction, and a guy who looked a bit like New Jack slipped into the ring to stand with Reigns and Ambrose before the third man was introduced. Security quickly removed him and Ambrose and Wyatt, being stone cold pros, played the incident up.

The actual third man was Chris Jericho. Because apparently he has to get himself involved with every hot act or feud he can in an effort to convince people, and himself, that he's still relevant and capable of hanging with younger fellas. He isn't and can't. Despite the involvement of 'Y2J' the match was good. Highlights included; Reigns deadlifting Harper into a sit out power bomb; a Harper suicide dive to Reigns followed by a senton on the floor from Bray; Ambrose turning a Sister Abigail into a(n unsuccessful) schoolboy; Strowman being booked to stay on his feet after two Superman punches; a crazy-good spear from Reigns to Strowman; and Jericho being caught in mid-air as he tried the Codebreaker on Strowman and being muscled up for a backbreaker. The finish saw Jericho, who'd tagged himself in as Reigns seemed poised to polish things off, pass out in Strowman's bear hug.

The match was surprisingly short at thirteen and wasn't a patch on the Shield v Wyatts matches of 2014. But equalling them was an unreasonably high expectation for this match. It was the fun outing it needed to be and it had the right result: Reigns and Ambrose should not be able to beat the Wyatts with anyone other than Seth Rollins (and that match will happen again someday). It also seemed to contribute to the long term plan of having Reigns accepted by the majority of fans by getting him a good opening reaction and sticking him in a good match. Following the finish the Shield boys looked disappointed and checked on Jericho. He heelishly barged passed them and wandered up the aisle, setting up Jericho v Reigns and-or Ambrose. Because, as already stated, Jericho has to get involved with every act that could conceivably be considered hot.

Backstage Triple H and Stephanie McMahon told Seth Rollins they believed in him. He said he was the man, pumped himself up and headed off down a corridor. Sheamus wandered up and hinted at a Money in the Bank cash-in. Trips and Stepher looked concerned. If they were that concerned they wouldn't have booked their boy in back-to-back title defences, but there you go.

Despite being the obvious choice for show-closer (see my preview for why) Cena v Rollins took the semi-main event slot. As predicted they tore the house down (not literally) with the match of the night. Rollins hit Cena with a Blockbuster, a tree of woe double stomp, a sling blade, a tope, and a superplex floated into a falcon arrow, amongst other moves. Cena hit Rollins with his belly-to-back suplex, the Five Knuckle Shuffle, a sunset bomb, a tornado DDT, and the STF. They also reversed a number of one another's usual moves, Rollins kicking Cena in the head on a FKS attempt, landing on his feet off an AA, and turning another AA into a sunset flip, Cena turning a buckle bomb a hurricanrana and weaselling out of a Pedigree at least once.

Cena would win the match with an inverted suplex, his Dangerous Top Leg Drop and an AA, giving him his fifth United States title. It's interesting to note that even though the match was packed with big moments there was only one finishing move (the STF is a hold so doesn't count here) and it brought things to a close. This seemed like a concerted effort to rein in the number of finishers in main events matches in an effort to make them mean more.  

After the match 'The Future' grabbed the WWE strap and tried to leave. Cena cut him off and AAed him in the aisle before throwing him back into the ring. The match that followed was heavy on ringside action and big bumps from Rollins, both designed to hide the physical limitations of 56-year-old Steve 'Sting' Borden. For the most part it worked.

Sting dominated Rollins until he headed to the announce area. Rollins shoved 'The Icon' off the English announce table through the Spanish announce table and Sting (kayfabe) cracked his head on a monitor. In the ring Sting took a sling blade, a falcon arrow, and a buckle bomb. The big man from WCW kicked out of them all. Instead of doing the sensible thing and hitting Sting with a Pedigree, Rollins went to the apron and went for a springboard something or other. Sting recovered and shoved him off the ropes into the crowd barricade below.

Rollins pretty much no-sold that and was back in the ring almost immediately. He was met by an amped up Sting. The champ took some right hands and a pair of Stinger splashes. Then Sting pulled out the big guns and tossed Rollins out of the ring to give him a cross body block from the top rope.

In the ring Sting hit the Scorpion Death Drop. Rollins saved himself with a foot on the ropes. Sting got the Stinger splash again then followed up with a mounted ten punch in the corner. Rollins countered that into a buckle bomb. After that Sting collapsed while running the ropes and the referee called the ringside doctor in to check on him. After a bit of a breather he was cleared to continue (a storyline sequence designed to protect Sting). Rollins immediately went for a Pedigree. Sting turned it into a Scorpion Death Lock. Rollins escaped and tried the Pedigree again. Sting again reversed it onto the Death Lock but Rollins reversed that into a small package to get a three count and retain the world title just shy of the fifteen minute mark.

After a few minutes of celebrating from Rollins, Sheamus rushed the ring and Brogue kicked the world champ. Before he could officially cash-in Kane made the return that literally nobody's been waiting for. He continued the Rollins abuse with a choke slam. Shaymo returned to the ring but he was choke slammed too. 'The Big Red Machine' then ended the show by Tombstoning Rollins, leaving us with the question: whose side is he on?

Night of Champions was a good show. There were no outright bad bouts. The opener, Nikki versus Charlotte, and Cena versus Rollins were all very enjoyable. The main event was far from a classic but it was fun if you like a brawl with clever use of big bumps. The booking of Rollins was disappointing. He's supposed to be an undeserving, cowardly champion but he retained the world title clean and held his own with Big Match John, a feat that not just anyone in WWE can manage. They should have gone all the way with him overcoming the odds and had Sheamus take his briefcase title shot only to lose. Three title matches in one night would have really helped Rollins' character.


Results summary:
Kevin Owens defeated Ryback to win the Intercontinental championship
Dolph Ziggler defeated Rusev
The Dudley Boyz defeated New Day by DQ
Charlotte defeated Nikki Bella to win the Divas championship
The Wyatt Family defeated Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Chris Jericho
John Cena defeated Seth Rollins to win the United States championship
Seth Rollins defeated Sting to retain the WWE championship

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