Tuesday 16 September 2014

Night of Champions 2014 preview

In case you’re not keeping track Night of Champions will be the first WWE pay-per-special event to fall after the expiry date of the initial batch of Network subscriptions. Because of that many people, including myself, expected everything possible would be done could to make it a can’t miss (or, if you prefer, must see) showing. Not only have they not done that but they’ve opted to present a card which is decidedly uninspiring.

Take Randy Orton and Roman Reigns for example. They had been at loggerheads since the night after WrestleMania, albeit indirectly. They’d faced off in six man tag matches at Extreme Rules and Payback, been in the same ladder match at Money in the Bank, and the same championship match at Battleground. It took until SummerSlam for them to have a full length, competitive match that didn’t dissolve into nonsense.

You’d think that after waiting so long to pit the two against one another in a singles bout WWE would want to have them face off in a rematch on the following pay-per-spesh. That’s their usual approach and the pairing’s still fresh, so it would have made sense. Instead they brought the rematch forward to the “season premiere” edition of RAW and then had ‘The Viper’ randomly attack Chris Jericho later in the night, for no reason other than to set up a new match for Night of Champs. That’s the same Chris Jericho who’s deciding third encounter with Bray Wyatt had opened that episode of RAW instead of taking place at NOC.

Those rematches, in and of themselves, were good ideas. Reigns failed to get the second clean victory he probably needed but Orton didn’t beat him. Meanwhile Bray Wyatt did get the victory he deserved in his cage match against Chris Jericho. He won the feud. Unfortunately these results have left us with Reigns being shunted into a match against Seth Rollins, Jericho and Orton facing off because someone in WWE feels they have to be used on the show, and Wyatt being left off the announced card altogether.

But the lack of thought doesn’t end there. Instead of saving the first televised encounter between Rollins and Reigns for a pay-per-view WWE decided to give it away for free on the September 15 RAW. After they’d announced it for Night of Champions. The logic of that, if there is any, completely escapes me.

Rollins versus Reigns is a match that could and probably should have been kept in reserve for a later date when both men are more established. The issues they’re fighting over are terribly generic. Rollins has cost Reigns a match with Orton and smacked him with the Money in the Bank briefcase. Very little has been made of their shared past in The Shield, save for Rollins stating over and over again that he “created” Reigns.

The rivalry could almost have written itself. The first televised meeting between the two former Shield members deserved more. Both men are also at a point where they really need steady victories. Frankly it would have made more sense for WWE to keep them apart until after next year’s WrestleMania and have Rollins cash in on newly crowned champion Reigns (that assumes a lot, but they seem safe assumptions right now).

But that’s not what we’ve got. With this scenario the best thing WWE could do is have Reigns go down to a screwy finish. That would keep heat on Rollins and protect Reigns from looking too heavily pushed, something which will lead to crowds turning on him if WWE aren’t careful.

That Jericho v Orton match is going to be as forgettable as all of their other matches. With ‘The Highlight of the Night’ set to disappear again soon he’ll probably lose this match. Orton will probably get to do the angle that writes him off TV, either on this show or RAW the next night, but it would be nice if the accolade was given to Rollins via his new cement block skull-annihilation finisher.

Speaking of accolades, Rusev will face proud American Mark Henry (how seamless was that?). I don’t think this one needs much discussion. ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ is a physically intimidating big lad who can be sacrificed to make Rusev look good. It’s all about building Rusev up. Expect Henners to put up a spirited fight before being trapped in The Accolade.

Because of the show’s name the rest of the matches on the show will be for championships. Outside of the WWE championship match only one of those defences interests me: the Intercontinental title match between challenger The Miz and champion Dolph Ziggler. Their rivalry hasn’t blown anyone away over the last month but enough has been done to make it clear why they’re facing each other here and to make it more than just another dispute. Miz has done some solid work with his new Hollywood gimmick while ‘The Show Off’ is just about the best choice for IC champ on the current roster. If WWE wants to make that title mean something again this is the sort of approach they need to stick with: an athletic, popular babyface being spotlighted and sensible booking that creates a logical reason for matches to happen. Ziggler to win.

The lesser of the two mid-card straps, the US championship, will be defended by Sheamus against Cesaro. I love Cesaro. I’m not keen on Sheamus but if I’ve got to watch him wrestle ‘The King of Swing’ is the sort of opponent I’d like to see him against. I still think the best use for the US title is to add heat to Rusev but this will at least be an enjoyable hossy showdown. Either man could leave with the gold but I’ll pick Cesaro just because that’s what I’d prefer to see.

Tag champs, brothers, and sons of Rikishi, Jimmy and Jey Uso will face former tag champs, brothers, and sons of Dusty Rhodes, Goldust and Stardust at Night of Champions. The story of this match is that the dusts have turned heel and become poor sports. No reason has been given for this change of behaviour. We’ve been left to assume it’s happened because they know how convenient it would be for the writing team or, if we’re feeling generous, because Cody Rhodes taking on a Goldust-inspired character has tipped him over the edge and driven him insane, with Goldy going along with his craziness for the ride.

This will hopefully be a fun, entertaining match that gets twelve minutes to draw people in and to churn out near falls. A title change would be interesting and it’s not impossible, especially with Jey Uso’s storyline leg injury, but I think the champions will retain. WWE have gone out of their way to protect the Usos in title matches since they won the belts in March. I’ve thought that approach would stop before and I’ve been wrong so I’ll stick with them this time.

The Paige and AJ Lee feud will rumble on for another month. This time it’s Paige making the defence after AJ lost the belt at SummerSlam. The thing that will set this match apart is Nikki Bella’s involvement. She was awarded a title match after turning on her sister at SummerSlam, being dubbed the ideal face of the Divas division by Stephie Mac.

After the last few AJ versus Paige matches I’ve given up on saying they could do something special. That feeling was based on their ability and passion for wrestling. They’ve shown no hint of having particularly good chemistry with one another. It’s unlikely Nikki Bella is going to improve things there. That’s not to say she won’t win: her alignment with The Authority (or Steph at least) could see her win via shenanigans. I’ll predict a Nikki victory (a Niktory) because it would provide a change of scenery for the women’s division. Just not a terribly promising one.

Finally there’s the Cena v Lesnar rematch. Their SummerSlam match was many things: the second big fight match to headline SummerSlam in a row; a masterful bit of storytelling; a promising sign of WWE building for the future; and a joy for anyone who feels Cena doesn’t job enough, amongst others. It is unlikely to be these things again.

Part of the reason SummerSlam worked as well as it did was that it was unexpected. People thought Lesnar would win the championship but I don’t think anyone thought it would come about in a glorified squash match. The impact would be lost a second time around because it would be expected and because it’s been shown Lesnar is capable of dominating Cena in such a fashion. There’s also the issue of Cena’s status effecting things: WWE were willing to sacrifice him in that fashion once but it’s tough to see them doing it again so soon, even though Cena’s character is so established that it could withstand a second such loss with ease.

Another story is needed for Cena and Lesnar’s second 2014 encounter. I think e’ve been given a clue to it in Paul Heyman’s promos over the last five weeks. He has told Cena on several occasions that to beat ‘The Beast’ he must become a beast. WWE tried doing this story at WrestleMania XXX in Cena’s first match with Bray Wyatt (something which Heyman has referenced) but they didn’t quite pull it off. There were a few reasons for that, the main one being that the crowd hadn’t been primed to expect it, so they didn’t react accordingly to the spots of Cena almost snapping and lobbing chairs at Wyatt (something Cena had no problem with at Extreme Rules the next month). Without the narrative exposition of Michael Cole it just looked like Cena was either indecisive or forgetting the plan for the match.

This won’t be a problem at Night of Champions. Heyman taunting that Cena will have to break his hustle, loyalty, respect code of ethics has been a significant part of the build-up to this match and people will understand moments in the match based around Cena struggling to not go too far. Hopefully this match will make use of the excellent promo work (and I should point out Cena’s been had his moments opposite Heyman) to tell that different story and keep people interested in a different kind of way to the SummerSlam mauling.

I’m picking Lesnar to win, because of my belief in the long term plan for Reigns toppling him at WrestleMania 31. Cena could win and lose the title back to ‘The Pain’ before ‘Mania but what would be the point of that? It would make a Reigns win far less of an achievement.

The main event is clearly what’s propping Night of Champions up. The undercard isn’t bad but there’s nothing there that will make anyone renew their Network subscriptions. If they’d wanted to WWE could have made this show far bigger than it looks right now. Triple H could have had a match. ‘The Game’ would have been a far more interesting opponent for Reigns at this point than Rollins. They could have advertised Ambrose for a return too. He’s advertised for the following night’s RAW and is expected to be free for NOC. I understand why a PPV appearance from him wouldn’t be advertised (surprise return to get a big pop as he seeks retribution on villainous ol’ Seth Rollins an’ all that) but if they’re trying to give people reasons to stay with the Network, or sign up for the first time, they need to be using their bigger names effectively.

Night of Champions looks like a show that could be good. The undercard has potential and the main event is big. But that’s not enough for a company struggling to encourage people to buy into their ne long term business plan.

Predictions summary:
Brock Lesnar to defeat John Cena 
Seth Rollins to defeat Roman Reigns
Rusev to defeat Mark Henry
Dolph Ziggler to defeat The Miz
The Usos to defeat Goldust and Stardust
Cesaro to defeat Sheamus for the United States championship
Nikki Bella to defeat Paige and AJ Lee for the Divas championship
Randy Orton to defeat Chris Jericho

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