Thursday 15 September 2011

Night of Champions preview

Do you like bright blue posters featuring bearded men holding a championship belt over their heads? If the answer to that question is yes then the WWE Night of Champions 2011 poster is just what you’ve been looking for. If, like me, you’re fairly disinterested in such posters don’t be disheartened, Night of Champions still may have something to offer you!

Yes, it’s time for WWE’s fourth annual Night of Champions pay-per-view. It’s sort of a gimmick pay-per-view, just with a more enjoyable and logical gimmick. Instead of a handful of matches on the show being fought inside the Hell in a Cell (as will happen next month at, erm, Hell in a Cell) the gimmick is simply that all of the company’s titles will be defended. WWE never really promotes the event in the right way which is a shame because I think if they got it right it could be quite meaningful.

Putting aside the show’s promotion and what it could be I think the announced card looks very strong. The most anticipated title match (I’ll get to the non-title match) is probably Alberto Del Rio’s defence of the WWE championship against John Cena. I think ADR is tremendous: he’s a polished act and a great performer. There’s just something about this match that doesn’t excite me. It comes down to how underwhelming the feud has been since starting a few weeks ago. It doesn’t help that Cena being booked as challenger in place of Punk steals a little of ‘The Straight Edge Superstar’s’ thunder.

Del Rio cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase on Punk at SummerSlam, but it was Cena screaming and shouting about unjust that move was the next night on RAW. It was Cena who stated that Del Rio is not a champion (I assumed he meant that metaphorically because Del Rio clearly is a champion). It’s also Cena involved in a WWE championship match for the third pay-per-view in a row despite the fact that Punk won and retained the belt on the last two supershows by beating ‘The Doctor of Thuganomics’. Cena won a number one contenders match on RAW? So what! What about the “contractually obligated” rematch all champions are supposed to receive? Punk has not been involved in a WWE championship match since losing the title to Del Rio at SummerSlam. That not only degrades the title (what does it say about a championship when a former champion isn’t fussed about his rematch?), it makes Punk look inferior to Cena.

I would have much preferred a three-way WWE title match including Punk. The Triple H match could have waited until Hell in a Cell or Survivor Series and Punk would have been portrayed as the serious competitor he’s supposed to be.

But we’ve got Cena challenging ADR alone. I don’t think it will be a bad match, but I have a feeling the two will have slightly awkward chemistry. As I said above I’m surprised at how lacklustre their feud has been so far: this feud is the reason Del Rio was moved from SmackDown to RAW in April, so it would have been fair to assume that a plan was in place for this program months ago. If it was I’ve seen no evidence of it in the past few weeks, the segments involving the two men have been the usual Cena routine. They’ve certainly not seemed like the segments of two men fighting over the top belt in the business. Maybe things will pick up between NOC and HIAC. If they don’t I suspect both men will have fresh opponents when Survivor Series rolls around.

Who’ll leave Buffalo as champion this Sunday? Despite the fact that Cena has lost clean on the last two shows I think Del Rio will retain the gold. Interference from Ricardo Rodriguez will allow Del Rio to keep hold of the gold and his heat whilst continuing the program for another month. I cannot see Cena losing clean, no matter how much it would benefit Del Rio. If that’s going to happen it will be at one of the two WWE pay-per-views in October, or Survivor Series if the two men suddenly click.

The second world title match this Sunday will see Randy Orton put his World Heavyweight championship on the line against ‘Better is Better’ Mark Henry (that’s not what WWE bills him as, it’s a reference to a line he used a few times earlier in the year – a line that should have caught on and become a regular part of his routine). Despite Henry’s claims in recent weeks that he’s been overlooked throughout his entire WWE career this is not the first time that he’s challenged for a world title. It’s not even the first time he’s challenged for a world title on pay-per-view. But it is the first time that he’s come across as a genuine threat to win the title. That either says a lot for WWE’s writing team and Henry himself or the state of the current roster, I can’t tell which.

Looks can be deceiving. No matter how well Henry’s been booked I think the plan has always been for ‘The Apex Predator’ to retain. Henry’s been established as an unstoppable monster that shows no remorse, and that seems to have made a lot of people think he’s going to beat Orton. No, he’s been built up as unstoppable to make the babyface that does stop him look stronger.

I think the match could be surprisingly good (Henry’s been on as good a form as he’s capable of for a few months now) but there’s no way anyone can convince me Henry has a chance of winning the title. Orton to win.

On the undercard there’s an enjoyable looking four-way match for the United States championship: Dolph Ziggler defends against Alex Riley, John Morrison and Jack Swagger. Ziggler and Morrison are two of my favourite WWE performers and should enjoy some entertaining exchanges in this match. Swagger has a lot of potential (and is a former World Heavyweight champion don’t forget) but seems to be in the unfortunate position of being someone the writing team don’t know how to use properly. He’s a good wrestler and should help to make this match work well.

The potential weak link of the bout is A-Ry. WWE seem to have pulled back on his push since his feud with the Miz ended and so crowds aren’t reacting to him as well as they were. On the plus side he’s been given televised wins over Ziggler to make him look like a contender going into this match and he’ll be with three very talented workers so he’s almost guaranteed a good pay-per-view match to his name.

One of the goals in this match will be to progress the Ziggler and Swagger storyline (neither of them like sharing Vickie Guerrero’s managerial services). At the moment there are two ways I can see the story going. The first is to have one of the men turn face for a full feud, with Vickie staying with whoever the heel is. The second is for the two men to become a reluctant tag team to are successful despite the fact that they don’t get along. It could be something else entirely but those strike me as the likeliest options. For the record I’d prefer the tag team option. It’s a well worn storyline but when done right it can get everyone involved over and be enjoyable to watch.

I’m pretty sure Ziggler is going to lose the belt because I can’t imagine WWE promoting so many title matches without a couple of switches. I’ve no idea who’ll walk out as the champ though. Morrison’s push has been halted (again) because of his relationship with Melina (which is over, but that won’t mean anything to WWE management) so I can’t see him winning. Riley could win but there’s nobody obvious for him to feud with, so I’ll pick Swagger to win as that seems like a logical progression.

At time of writing Intercontinental champion Cody Rhodes doesn’t have an opponent announced. I’m confident he’ll defend his title though. Against who? Ted DiBiase is the most obvious candidate seeing as Cody turned on him recently. Whoever he faces I think Cody will win as it seems as though the promotion is finally grooming him for a main event spot with his “restoration of the Intercontinental title” storyline. Losing the belt so soon after winning it would accomplish nothing.

Beth Phoenix will challenge Kelly Kelly for the Divas championship for the second month in a row. There’s no way of knowing for sure but I suspect the reason Beth didn’t win the title at SummerSlam is because WWE wanted to save the win for her home town. It would make sense as the crowd is going to be behind Phoenix during the match and having her announced as the new champion should make the pop slightly bigger when she wins. Yes, I’m picking Beth Phoenix to win: Double K’s had the belt since June and it’s time for a change. I also think Kelly will work better as a babyface chasing a heel champion.

The final title match sees WWE tag team champions Air Boom defend against R-Truth and The Miz. First of all I want to say that I think Miz and Truth are a tremendous pairing. The two characters gel nicely and both men riff off one another perfectly. Although they’ve barely worked together they are my favourite WWE tag team (until the Kings of Wrestling debut at least).

But being my favourite doubles act doesn’t automatically mean I think they’ll win. I’d like them to win, but I have a feeling part of the reason they’ve been put together is to give Kingston and Bourne an impressive win to establish them as a top team that the tag division can be constructed around. Miz and Truth are both main event level talents and beating them should establish that Air Boom are a tight unit. I could be wrong and we could see new champions but I suspect we’re going to see the champs reign at the top of the rejuvenated doubles ranks for a while yet.

And then there’s the lone non-title match of the show. Triple H versus CM Punk. No disqualification. If Triple H loses he must vacate his position as Chief Operating Officer. With just one stipulation WWE have practically ruined this match. It’s not that it gives the result away (there’s no way of knowing who will walk out of this match with the win), it just takes some of the focus off the personal issues between the two men and places them on Triple H’s on-screen authority role. That should just be a backdrop to ‘The Game’s’ character, not the focus of a pay-per-view main event.

The build to this match has been confusing. There’s not been any physical interaction between the two men save for Punk lamping Triple H over the head with a microphone at the end of Monday’s RAW. That should ensure the video package for the match looks more at the various promos the two have cut on each other rather than the more traditional approach of showing two adversaries punching and kicking one another and then hitting their finishing moves.

The match itself should be good. Both Punk and ‘The King of Kings’ are experienced workers who know how to pace a match and work in memorable spots and believable false finishes. It’s a fairly safe bet that the Spanish announce team’s table will be saved for this match too. WWE (and Triple H) will want this to be a memorable encounter.

Match quality isn’t what worries me. It’s the needless COO stipulation that does. Let’s review the facts. John Laurinaitis has gotten himself involved in match making a few times over the past month or two. That same John Laurinaitis tried to tell Triple H how Vince would want the company run when ‘The Game’ became storyline COO. He was also the man who signed Kevin Nash to his contract, and the man who was seen walking around backstage with ‘Big Sexy’. If Triple H isn’t COO who takes over? In storyline terms there’s only one option: Mr John Laurinaitis.

I suspect Nash will appear at Night of Champions. The way he was written off TV was far too ordinary considering he’d been part of the promotion’s lead storyline for a month, and he now has an interest in seeing Punk and Triple H fail. He can assault both men (it’s no DQ remember), drape one man’s arm over the other, and then leave or resume the beating, whichever he fancies.

Who will he help to win? Punk of course. That way his buddy John Laurinaitis can take over as COO and re-sign him to a new big money contract and give him the match with CM Punk that he wants.

This strikes me as frighteningly plausible and I’m fairly sure we’re going to see the Triple H v Punk match play out along these lines. I don’t think WWE can afford to have Punk lose on pay-per-view if they want to turn him into a huge star. Perhaps they don’t want him to become a big star and this is their way of sabotaging him. It’s not too hard to imagine that being true. I’m not sure it’s the case though. I think it’s more about Triple H, Vince, the writing team and Punk himself not knowing where to take the character next.

Of course there is the possibility that a Triple H heel turn will happen. That would allow him to lose and retain his COO position by saying he never put the losing his job stipulation into the match contract or something like that. It’s a bit cheap, but logical and simple enough. I don’t think it’ll happen though. If a Triple H heel turn happens it will likely be in a few months time.

On paper this looks like the third strong WWE show in a row. I don’t think it will quite manage to better Money in the Bank (the best WWE event of 2011 in my opinion) but it does stand a chance of topping SummerSlam. As long as match quality is high and there are one or two surprises Night of Champions should be one to remember. Any time there’s the chance of a Johnny Ace promo you know you’re on to a winner!

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