Wednesday 11 September 2013

Night of Champions 2013 preview

I don't usually talk that much about posters for WWE pay-per-views but I think I should here. At SummerSlam Triple H made Randy Orton the face of the company. Shouldn't it naturally follow that 'The Face' should be the featured performer on the following month's major show, especially when it's got a name as evocative as Night of Champions? Seems like a natural move to me.

The standard argument against that will surely be that the poster would have been produced months in advance. Well yes, but WWE clearly had a title win planned for Orty by the time he won Money in the Bank in July. That would have been decided on at least a week or two in advance. So basically WWE would have known over two months ago (at the absolute minimum) that Randy Orton was going to be heading up Corporation 2.0 as WWE champ by now. That's enough time for a company with their means to get a new poster ready. It would have been worth the trouble for the lovely little touch it would have been to the company’s main storyline.

Instead we have Kofi Kingston holding the Intercontinental championship, a title he hasn’t held since December of last year. It's changed hands several times since then and 'The Wildcat' hasn’t been seriously involved in the title picture since his loss. He is, in short, a peculiar sight on a Night of Champions poster.
The offending item

If WWE bosses were desperate to have the IC title on the pay-per-view poster, which is possible but entirely inexplicable, then current gold-holder Curtis Axel would have been a far better choice. In addition to being the reigning champion he's also involved in the company's number two feud right now. He’s playing a bit part but he's still there and his face on a poster would make a lot more sense than Kofi Kingston's does.

Axel's feud is, of course, with CM Punk. He's been brought in as a Brock Lesnar surrogate in order to keep the Heyman and Punk war going and preserve 'The Pain's' limited dates. It's a smart decision. Lesnar will be of far more value when WrestleMania season rolls around. And his SummerSlam match with Punk was a mild disappointment anyway. There's no urgent need for a rematch.

Since Lesnar took his leave of absence Punk and Axel have enjoyed a few brawls on RAW. All of them have been too long. Punk may be over and he and Heyman may be (rightfully) regarded as two of WWE's greatest assets in 2013 but they're still subject to the Too Much of a Good Thing rule. Having Punk and Axel tussle or Punk and Heyman snipe at one another in promos isn't necessarily a bad approach it's just one that can become samey pretty quickly. I did enjoy Heyman’s feigned ankle injury on RAW but it came just a little too late to be fully appreciated. The malaise had set in.

The Night of Champions clash will be a non-title handicap affair, Axel and Heyman facing a solo Punk. It will be fought under elimination rules, meaning that Punk has a chance to get his hands on Heyman in a "legal" setting. Should the New Yorker refuse to comply he'll be fired. This means Punk has no chance of becoming the Intercontinental champion. His feelings on this state of affairs are unrecorded.

Is there anyone who doesn't think that Punk will end up getting a measure of revenge against Heyman? I can't imagine this match playing out without the agent being forced to face the proverbial music. From there I can see two things happening. The first is Punk battering Heyman and then pinning him after a GTS or making him submit to an Anaconda Vice. That would wrap up the feud, which is the main reason I think WWE will avoid it. There's still at least another month left in Heyman v Punk.

The second possibility is the debut of a new charge for Heyman. They could interfere and cause a DQ or make the save after, it's all much of a muchness in that regard. They could get around Heyman organising someone to provide aid by having him deny all knowledge before agreeing to manage the new boy on the following RAW. The new guy could even make a pitch to Heyman about saving him because of their desire to be a Paul Heyman guy.

Obviously a new member of Heyman's stable would be the man to face Punk at Battleground. It could be a main roster guy who's doing nothing interesting. It could be Tyson Kidd returning from injury. It could be a newbie from NXT. Personally I think it should be Ryback. The heel turn's been disastrous for him. About the only thing that could save him and restore his credibility is an alliance with Heyman which sees him facing one of the most popular guys on the roster.

The match could go either way. Punk could win clean or via disqualification or Heyman could get the assisted victory. But because CM did the honours at SummerSlam I'm leaning towards him winning. Don't be surprised if Heyman wins though: it'll be a great chance for him to cut promos about holding a win over a former WWE champion.

Outside of the handicap match and the main event Night of Champions doesn't have anything especially noteworthy to offer. That's not necessarily a bad thing. WWE clearly aren't expecting it to be a show we remember in six months’ time. It seems to be more about advancing the big feuds and setting things up on the undercard. The show doesn’t look bad. It's just not going to be memorable.

The World Heavyweight championship match is probably the biggest match outside of the main events. Alberto Del Rio defends against Rob Van Dam. It's been a standard feud. Del Rio lost a non-title match to 'Mr Monday Night' and has attacked him a few times. RVD has hired ADR's former personal ring announcer Ricardo Rodriguez, making this feud as much Del Rio v Ricardo as it is Del Rio v Van Dam. Which makes sense: Ricardo has far more reason for targeting Del Rio than anyone else on the roster but isn't in a position to have competitive matches with him (not yet anyway).

The matches ADR and RVD have had on TV recently are best described as standard. There's been nothing especially great about them and they've avoided being bad. If they can achieve that at NOC, and I think they probably will, I won't have any complaints.

As far as a winner goes I'm picking Del Rio. Van Dam is exactly the sort of guy who would be given the World title but there's no need to take it off ADR. I think it'll be with him until there's a face ready to take it from him who could go on to work with Money in the Bank briefcase holder Damien Sandow directly afterwards.

The event's pre-show will feature a tag team turmoil match for a title match later in the show. Entered into it are Tons of Funk, the Usos, two undisclosed members of 3MB, The Real Americans and The Prime Time Players.

As this is on the pre-show WWE has the option of giving it a lot of time. I hope they do because this could be a great series of matches (although it relies on The Real Americans getting a long stay to reach its full potential). As the champions are heels it seems reasonable to assume a fan favourite team will win. I'm picking the PTPs. There are no two men better suited to playing babyface tag champions now. I don't think they'll win the titles here though. I can see Rollins and Reigns going over to remind us that they're a formidable unit. Perhaps it'll start a PTPs v Shield programme, which would do everyone involved some good, but I don't think it's likely.

Speaking of The Shield I suspect Dean Ambrose will end up in a match with Dolph Ziggler. They've had a little feud going for the past week or two based around 'The Show Off' speaking out against the Triple H regime. I think they'll have a good match but I don't think we’ll see a title change, nor should we want one. Ziggler getting a mid-card championship would be a massive step backwards. Perhaps Rollins and Reigns could interfere to avoid (yet another) clean loss for Ziggler, providing a handy segue point for the tag title match to boot.

Ziggler's on-screen ex-beau AJ Lee will defend her Divas title in a four-way match. Her opponents are Natalya, Naomi and Brie Bella. The match has come about because of AJ's feelings regarding the Total Divas show (made emphatically clear on the August 26th RAW). Since then WWE has taken some tentative steps towards making this an actual feud, including recasting all of the Total Divas as babyfaces fighting on the same side. How that will translate to a four-way match is anyone’s guess.

This match could help to make the division mean more. I can't imagine Naomi or Brie winning the title. Natalya would be good enough in the role but she wouldn't be better than AJ. If WWE wants to make their women's league mean something again, and all signs indicate that they do, then their best course of action, to my mind, is to keep the championship on AJ. Let her have good matches and build up anticipation for a title change. She's the perfect person for the job.

The big match is the WWE title match. Randy Orton, 'Apex Predator', champion, and ‘Face of WWE’ (I’m not going to sully the English language by referring to it as “the” WWE) defends his title against Daniel Bryan. In a way this rivalry has been just as formulaic and prone to repetition as has Heyman v Punk. Practically every TV show since SummerSlam has ended with some combination of Randy Orton, Triple H, The Shield, and a reluctant Big Show giving ‘The World’s Toughest Vegan’ a hiding.

Somehow the approach hasn’t worn thin here. It could be because there are more people involved, giving us more variety. It could also be that Bryan is fresher in such a prominent spot than either Punk or Heyman. That Randy Orton’s been playing a diminished role for several years could be a contributing factor too. Whatever it is I’m pleased not only that Bryan’s been given a chance to succeed at the highest level in WWE but also that audiences have reacted so well to him and the feud. It’s a good sign that he’ll stay at the top of the card for good.

I’ll be very surprised if Bryan and Orton don’t have the best match of the night. Both are two of the best wrestlers in WWE and have been doing solid work lately. ‘The Viper’s’ been an A-lister in the company for so long that he can beat anyone on any night. Bryan doesn’t have the tenure that his opponent does but he did beat John Cena, completely clean, just a month ago. These things serve to create a match that makes suspension of disbelief easy: either man could beat the other.

I’m picking Orton to win. While ‘The Dazzler’ regaining the title would get a great reaction I think it’s far too soon into the feud for that to happen. If I had to guess I’d say he won’t get the belt back until at least Survivor Series. I could even see WWE holding off until WrestleMania XXX.

Orton beating Bryan fair and square would risk putting a serious dent in Bryan’s popularity, not to mention show that Orty actually deserves to be the champion. As that goes against the entire point of him being ‘The Game’s’ hand-picked champion I think it’s safe to assume we’ll see some outside interference. It could come from The Shield and perhaps even Triple H himself, but I think the likeliest person to make an “unscheduled” appearance during the match is Big Show.

‘The World’s Largest Athlete’ has been dragged into the WWE title feud since SummerSlam. His financial recklessness is being exploited by the McMahons, making him batter Daniel Bryan on a weekly basis or see his contract terminated (presumably those iron clad clauses John Laurinaitis wrote in for him have expired). Show’s been an important part of the last month’s worth of plots and yet he doesn’t have a match at Night of Champions. An appearance during the main event is practically guaranteed.

This appearance could come alongside Triple H and-or Stephanie, with the bosses demanding that Show cost Bryan the title. Or we could see a classic swerve turn with Show coming out to ward off Shield interference only to KO Bryan once ‘The Hounds of Justice’ are gone. We could even see a combination of the two: Show being told to assault Bryan by ‘The King of Kings’, pretending he doesn’t want to, and then doing it.

A Show heel turn makes sense. It would create a new rivalry to keep Bryan busy before he moves back into WWE title contendership. Orton could then move on to… well, something. Perhaps I’m wrong about the Punk and Heyman feud ending. Punk may be heading into a programme with ‘The Apex Predator’. Or perhaps I’m wrong about Show being built up for a heel turn. Maybe he’s going to remain a face and slide into a title match with Orton.

That there are several possibilities regarding the top matches and performers at and after Night of Champions is good. There’s no obvious next step, but all realistic possibilities seem like they’d be entertaining. I approve.

Predictions summary:
Randy Orton to defeat Daniel Bryan
CM Punk to defeat Curtis Axel and Paul Heyman
Alberto Del Rio to defeat Rob Van Dam
AJ Lee to retain the Divas championship
The Prime Time Players to win tag team turmoil
The Shield to retain the tag team championship
Dean Ambrose to defeat Dolph Ziggler

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