Tuesday, 22 September 2015

WWE Night Of Champions 2015

Image Source: TV Newsroom
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Genre: Wrestling
Produced By: WWE
Format: Pay-Per-View
Date: September 20 2015
Location: Toyota Center, Houston, Texas, USA
Attendance: 14,369

On the surface, the annual WWE Night Of Champions has decreased in importance over the last few years, not because the show itself is inconsequential, but because with fewer titles than at any point since the mid-1990s, WWE now regularly promotes PPV cards where every Championship is at stake. However, if you look closely, that hasn't been the case. Since the WWE World Titles were unified at TLC 2013, reducing the title count to five, we have seen Payback 2014, Hell In A Cell 2014, Survivor Series 2014, TLC 2014 and Fast Lane 2015 without a World Title match; Royal Rumbles 2014 and 2015 featured no other matches for Championship gold; Elimination Chamber 2014, WrestleMania XXX and Extreme Rules 2014 did not feature a United States Championship match, nor did Money In The Bank 2014, Battleground 2014 or SummerSlam 2014; WrestleMania 31, Battleground 2015 and SummerSlam 2015 did not see the Divas Title at stake; the Intercontinental Title wasn't on the line at Extreme Rules 2015 (although it was supposed to be defended, to be fair) or at Payback 2015; and the first two John Cena-Kevin Owens bouts at Elimination Chamber 2015 and Money In The Bank 2015 were not for the U.S. Title.

Therefore, by chance or by design, Night Of Champions remains the only WWE PPV where all five regular titles are on the line. That could change in the future, especially if the Intercontinental and United States Championships are ever unified, as has been rumoured (and desired) for years now. But regardless, for all intents and purposes, NOC is still the one show where all straps are at stake. Phew!

The main storyline heading into this year's instalment of the gold-themed PPV series was based on Seth Rollins and the fact that becoming a double Champion at SummerSlam ended up being a double-edged sword; not only would he be required to defend the WWE World Title against Sting in a historic showdown, but he was also scheduled to put the United States Title on the line against former champ John Cena. Adding to his woes, Sheamus had strongly hinted that a Money In The Bank cash-in would be likely, since Rollins would theoretically be physically spent after wrestling two huge matches (and back-to-back matches at that). It seemed unfathomable that Rollins would remain a double champ after NOC, under the circumstances, but would Rollins have any gold at all or could he pull off a miracle? And if he did retain a title, which one would it be?

The Kick-Off show featured a six-man tag team match pitting the newly-formed Cosmic Wasteland combination of Stardust and The Ascension against Neville and The Lucha Dragons. The continuation of a long storyline which began with Stardust first threatening Arrow star Stephen Amell back in June, this was by and large a standard pre-show bout, save for a sensational triple dive by the good guys, with Sin Cara and Kalisto hitting tope/senton dives at the same time as a Neville moonsault, all to the floor before a huge ovation. In the end, Stardust sacrificed one of his partners by shoving Viktor into Neville, who was about to hit the Red Arrow, and then connected with Queen's Crossbow (formerly Cross Rhodes) on Neville for the victory.

I assume that Neville and Stardust will square off at least once more, if not a future Amell-Stardust singles match, but I don't see how much more WWE can do with this feud, or with Stardust as the whacked-out weirdo, for that matter. He has undoubtedly shown previously unseen charisma, but if WWE doesn't plan to bring back Goldust for one last match with his brother under the Stardust guise, I don't really see the point of the character continuing. It'd be different if this was a unique, fresh new persona, but it is really an extension of the more famous gimmick which Dustin Rhodes/Runnels first played in 1995. I don't mind seeing more of Stardust as Stardust, but can't we just get Cody Rhodes?

The PPV card kicked off with the Intercontinental Title match between Ryback and Kevin Owens. Going in, I expected a win for the villain here, because as good a job as Ryback has done with the IC Title since winning it at Elimination Chamber, there isn't that much more he can do with it, unless he entered a red-hot feud with a super-over bad guy. Owens arguably fits that role, but he actually stood to benefit more from winning the gold here, especially since his momentum has fizzled out a bit since the end of the Cena feud at Battleground.

And, as expected, Owens did win the match. The two matched up well and exchanged a good number of big moves; there were cool spots and last-second kick-outs, but not enough to seem over-the-top or to reduce the impact of finishing moves (a frequent problem in WWE matches this year). As a matter of fact, no finishers were used here at all, although Ryback did try to hoist Owens up for Shell Shocked. It was this which allowed the Canadian to rake the Champ's eyes and roll him up for the three count (which met with great approval amongst the Houston throng). This was a good opener, but it felt like a precursor to bigger and better things, so I'd like to see these two have a rematch at Hell In A Cell.

Speaking of Hell In A Cell: it was announced after the opening contest in a video package that Brock Lesnar would face The Undertaker in a HIAC match at the Hell In A Cell card (to conclude Lesnar's "Road To Hell Tour", which takes in a Madison Square Garden match with Big Show on the WWE Network and a Stone Cold podcast appearance). I'm happy that this feud will presumably be ending at HIAC rather than being dragged on until WrestleMania 32; I've enjoyed their interaction, especially over the summer, but I don't think a great number of fans want to see them meet at another Mania. With plans having changed, one begins to wonder who Lesnar and Taker will now face at WrestleMania. More importantly in the short-term, though, can these two produce a HIAC contest to remember in the PG era, especially given how brutal and extremely bloody their last Cell match was at No Mercy 2002? (This will be the second HIAC rematch, by the way, after John Cena-Randy Orton at HIAC 2014.)

Next up was Dolph Ziggler vs. Rusev. I have to be honest, this feud hasn't exactly piqued my interest. It started way back in May with Lana leaving Rusev (or Rusev dumping Lana, depending on your point of view) and Lana going off with Dolph Ziggler. A subsequent foot injury to Rusev led to him eventually introducing Summer Rae as his "new" Lana, and storyline injuring Ziggler until Dolph returned for a SummerSlam showdown that ended in a double countout. A mixed tag team match seemed assured, until a wrist injury to Lana meant she was out of the picture. Meanwhile, WWE had begun hinting at a possible Ziggler-Summer Rae affair, complete with prolonged "drama" and somewhat dodgy acting skills. Overall, the feud has given those involved a purpose on television, but it has that dreaded "fake" feel; in other words, unlike the Edge-Lita-Matt Hardy saga of 2005 (which started out real, to be fair) or other similar plotlines, this one has felt like soap opera from the start.

So, my hope was that NOC would mark the end of the feud. If it does prove to be that way, it will fortunately end on a high as Ziggler and Rusev produced an impressive match, and an improvement on their meeting at SummerSlam. Summer Rae's presence ended up bungling things for her so-called man, as her attempted interference saw her thrown out by the referee, and a shoe thrown at the ref ended up hitting Rusev, which led to a Zig Zag and a Ziggler win. I am hoping that over the next few weeks, Ziggler is slowly removed from Rusev and Summer Rae on television and is directed into something that fans (or male fans, at least) can appreciate based on Ziggler's in-ring skills. A Show-off he may be, but a great actor, he ain't. As for Rusev? At this point, the once-unstoppable Bulgarian Brute appears to be on a downward spiral, and I am unsure at this point what could elevate him back to the upper mid-card. (Oh, and Ziggler's tights featured a picture of Lana's face. Just thought I'd mention that.)

Match three pitted The New Day (NEW DAY!) against The Dudley Boyz. New Day have continued to grow in popularity since regaining the Tag Team Titles at SummerSlam, to the point where they are now one of WWE's most popular acts despite their heel roles. They were on form again here with another daft pre-match interview, and Xavier Woods (sporting a new, ridiculous black-and-red hair style) played the trombone at ringside during the bout in a mixture of being annoying and being downright hilarious. Case in point: Kofi Kingston at one point had Bubba Ray Dudley on his knees and delivered a series of punches, while Xavier was playing the Rocky theme on the trombone. Priceless. WWE should strike while the iron is hot and release an iTunes album of Xavier performing several famous tunes on the trombone; it'd be more entertaining than some of their theme songs these days.

As for The Dudleyz: having returned as a surprise to a monster pop on Raw the night after SummerSlam, they were focused on winning their first WWE Tag Titles since 2004. Despite a lukewarm reaction when they came out here, they performed well, save for a botched top rope suplex by Bubba that almost broke Big E's neck. I fully expected a non-finish here, since New Day shouldn't lose the gold (or bronze?) while being so popular and wildly entertaining, and The Dudleyz are too soon into their comeback to lose a PPV doubles bout. And that's exactly what happened, as Xavier's interference prevented Bubba pinning Kofi off a 3D, leading to a Dudleyz DQ win. Afterwards, New Day left their opponents laying and hilarious reneged on their "Save The Tables!" campaign by planning to put one or both Dudleyz through a table. But instead, a reversal of fortunes saw Xavier taste a 3D through a table. This feud will continue, most likely culminating in a Tables match on PPV where The Dudleyz will once again win the Tag Team Titles.

Following this was the Divas Championship match between Nikki Bella and Charlotte, the build-up to which had been somewhat controversial. Having reigned as Champ since Survivor Series 2014, Nikki was closing in on setting a new all-time record for the title that was born in 2008. A Raw match with Charlotte was make-or-break, as she would either lose the title on the night she equalled the record or would lose it. As it turned out, the highly over-used Twin Magic trick kept the title on Nikki allowing her to set a new record, but with a rematch pencilled in for NOC. As poor as the manner in which this was achieved was (give us a new heel tactic, WWE), more frustrating were two other aspects of the circumstances by which Nikki achieved this milestone. It seemed that this was done purely to beat AJ Lee's previous record for the simple reason that she left WWE, and that is partly because AJ married WWE's public enemy number one, CM Punk, a few months after he left WWE. Whether you agree with their explanations for leaving WWE or not (although we never got one in AJ's case, besides the assumption that her marriage to Punk was causing internal issues), this was an unbelievably petty way of trying to make fans "forget" about the contributions of AJ - WWE's best diva since the heydays of Trish Stratus and Lita - and to "punish" her and Punk, as if they care, nearly two years after Punk originally left the company. The other rumoured explanation for Nikki's record-breaking reign sounds even more blood-boiling; the rumour has been that Nikki's boyfriend John Cena has prevented WWE from taking the title off Nikki more than once since she became Champ, thus partly explaining the slightly muddled manner in which the "Divas Revolution" began in July. If the latter is true, then Cena may someday be left with no choice but to turn heel, such will be the animosity towards him, especially considering that Nikki is not exactly the best female wrestler of her generation, despite what WWE's hype machine says. (That being said, nobody complained when Cena supposedly opened doors for Zack Ryder to achieve success in late 2011, nor for the rumours that he and Triple H have been responsible for Cesaro's mini-push over the last couple of months, no doubt because both men are or were popular with hardcore fans. That's wrestling for you.)

Apologies for that long paragraph, but it required a lengthy explanation. Back to the match at hand: the original rumour that WWE was only keeping the title on Nikki until she broke AJ's record appeared to be true as Charlotte finally ended it here following a Figure-8 (which Nikki was barely in before tapping out). It was a decent match, based on Nikki targeting Charlotte's legs, but not one which will be remembered that much. The post-match celebration between Charlotte, her Team PCB cohorts Paige and Becky Lynch and her dad Ric Flair (Whooooo!) was more notable than the bout it was concluding. The hope is that the "Divas Revolution" will now truly explode, with potential title bouts for Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky, Paige and possibly Bayley if she's called up, along with the other main roster girls and forgotten females like Natalya. The even greater hope is that the era of Bella boredom is now over. Unfortunately, the news that Brie and Nikki's mother - their mum! - is marrying John Laurinaitis ("the former Executive Vice President of Talent Relations, and the former General Manager of Raw and SmackDown ... People Power!") suggests that this won't be the case. Criticise Triple H all you want, but at least his family only integrated with one influential wrestling person, not three.

Match five was a source of intrigue beforehand, as Bray Wyatt, Braun Strowman and Luke Harper would battle Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and a mystery partner. All sorts of names were thrown about to be partnering with the former Shield members, from NXT star Baron Corbin to The Rock himself, along with such names as Kane, former Wyatt member Erick Rowan and Randy Orton. I was half-expecting a Daniel Bryan comeback for some reason, and during the show, frequent Rey Mysterio references made me think that HE might have showed up, despite how nonsensical it would have been in the storyline. What we weren't expecting, unfortunately, was a fan to get in the ring and line up with Reigns and Ambrose, leading security to hurl him out to a smattering of boos (although if you can find the brief picture online, the visual of him standing as a possible member of The Shield was funny; even funnier was Wyatt taking advantage by shouting "Is that your partner?" A hilarious adlib, in my opinion.). This is the fourth time in the last two months that a fan has gotten close to or even launched a form of attack on a WWE star during a show (and all linked to former Shield members, bizarrely), and follows an incident at the London SmackDown in April where several fans jumped in the ring before the tag team main event as a guerrilla marketing stunt. In all seriousness, WWE has to tackle this problem, because the last thing that anybody wants is for a wrestler to be seriously hurt by an idiot fan. Even more worryingly, any fans who do try stunts like this are likely to take a far more severe beating by security, and maybe even by the wrestlers themselves.

Anyway, the mystery was solved when Chris Jericho came out to join up with Reigns and Ambrose to a positive reaction. I can honestly say that I wasn't expecting it to be Y2J (I'm not sure why, since he has been heavily involved with WWE on virtually everything which isn't Raw, SmackDown or a PPV), so it was a nice surprise. Some fans weren't happy, but Jericho does have history with The Wyatts, and no matter who the partner was going to be, one sensed that the Wyatts would win, meaning that in the end the partner's identity wouldn't matter. And fair play to Y2J, as the established veteran in his first proper WWE in-ring appearance since NOC 2014 (he fought Neville in a great match in Japan, but that was a one-off showing) cleanly put over Strowman via submission to his as-yet-unnamed choke. Jericho had slightly heelishly tagged himself in from Reigns moments earlier, and he acted like a villain by angrily bumping past Ambrose and Reigns after the bout. It looks like Y2J will be sticking around, and appears to be turning heel for a feud with Reigns and/or Ambrose. If it brings an end to the Wyatts/Shield-of-sorts rivalry, I won't mind, since it's been going on since Money In The Bank now and, to me, has run its course. (By the way, my WWE Network connection went a bit fuzzy from midway through the Divas bout through to the vast majority of this match. I still saw everything, but the picture wasn't very clear; I haven't researched online, but I do hope that this was a one-off and that the WWE Network signal will be strong for Hell In A Cell and forthcoming events.)

And so we come to Seth Rollins' double duty of doom. First up was a United States Title defence against John Cena, which by and large resembled their SummerSlam match, only with slightly fewer flashy moves by Rollins and the knowledge in people's minds that we couldn't see too much of Seth's repertoire here, because he still had to face Sting (and possibly Sheamus) later on. Fortunately, Cena's performance was an improvement on his SummerSlam appearance, as he delved more into his arsenal of moves and generally gave more than we saw when these two last faced off on August 23. Cena countered a Rollins turnbuckle powerbomb attempt into a sweet hurricanrana, avoided a frog splash and hit a tornado DDT. Rollins maintained control, however, most notably by treating us again to a top rope suplex into a second standing suplex, but to no avail.

Seth also hit a Five-Knuckle Shuffle earlier in the match in an attempt to mock Cena, but the egg would be on Seth's face by the end of the bout as Cena cleanly pinned him with an AA to regain the U.S. Title. I wasn't that surprised at the result, but given that Cena's AA has actually been unsuccessful more often than it has been successful in recent months, it was unexpected that he would only require one Attitude Adjustment to win here, and against the World Champ no less (even if that particular title wasn't at stake here). In the end, the match served its purpose; Cena and Rollins shouldn't feud again until there is only one title at stake, meaning that Cena will probably now move on to a new opponent, probably via the United States Open Challenge (might WWE be daring and call up Samoa Joe to follow in the footsteps of Kevin Owens?). Actually, when you think about it, Cena and Rollins are now right back where they started, which would lead some to argue that the entire exercise was a bit pointless. (Incidentally, prior to this match, it was Tweeted that before Rollins-Cena, every WWE title was in the possession of a former NXT grappler. Food for thought.)

But then, of course, we had Seth's next match, for the WWE World Title against Sting. Rollins originally tried to run away, but Cena brought him back and drilled him with an AA. I actually thought at this point that WWE would swerve us and have Sheamus cash in MITB on Rollins here, and then lose the WWE Title to Sting. But WWE adhered to the main plan, and had Sting then come out quite quickly to begin his challenge at Rollins' crown, his first ever crack at the WWE Championship. This actually made Rollins look more like a babyface, if anything, especially as he then took a fairly prolonged beating from The Stinger. But Seth turned things around when he gave Sting an awkward and painful-looking shove through an announcer's table off of one desk. It was hard to tell if Sting's head collided with a monitor or not; either way, Sting was hurting.

Rollins then took firm control of the bout, even hitting Sting with two turnbuckle powerbombs, one of which apparently caused a serious neck injury to Sting. Details are sketchy right now but some are reporting that Sting's career could be at jeopardy as a result. I truly hope not, primarily for his health and because it'd be a shame to miss out on the Sting-Undertaker match, which prior to this incident seemed a certainty with Taker-Lesnar being moved to Hell In A Cell. This explains the pause in the NOC main event where it appeared that Sting couldn't continue. But he rallied and ended up trapping Rollins in the Scorpion Deathlock, which Seth escaped via the ropes the first time, and which second time he reversed into a cradle for the clean-as-a-sheet pinfall win. I thought that, considering his age (56), Sting's performance here was superb, and I was surprised he even agreed to take the turnbuckle powerbombs which have ultimately caused an injury. If it does end up being his last match, performance-wise he went out on a high, although I was surprised that WWE had him lose cleanly, even if the match was cut short due to Sting's neck problems (that being said, it wasn't the deflating, let-all-the-air-out-the-room loss that Sting suffered to Triple H at WrestleMania 31, partly because many didn't actually expect him to win here, and partly because most hardcore fans didn't really want Rollins to lose the World Title).

It seemed that Rollins had done his double duty (and very well, I might add), but then Sheamus' music hit and he levelled Rollins with a Brogue Kick, and signalled for the referee to begin his official cash-in of the Money In The Bank. The official took a bit too long, which indicated to me that something would prevent the moment from coming to fruition (whenever MITB is cashed in for real, it's usually done quick as a flash). The obstacle would come in the form of another comeback, this time the unexpected return of Kane, complete with mask and old (well, 2011-2014) attire! We last saw Kane getting his leg smashed by Brock Lesnar in July, and being insulted heavily by Rollins for being the victim of said attack, so it wasn't surprising that Kane chokeslammed Rollins. It seemed that Sheamus would get his moment of glory after all, until Kane also chokeslammed him, and then tombstoned Rollins to end the show. It looks like we're finally getting that Rollins-Kane title feud, five months after most expected it, while it appears that Sheamus will have to wait until he cashes in MITB (which is a good thing, because few were enthralled by the prospect of Sheamus winning the World Title here).

On the whole, I liked Night Of Champions, but it was lacking the elements that would have made it a great show. It had several good matches, two surprise returns and three title changes, but none of the bouts grabbed you like Lesnar-Taker at SummerSlam or any of the Cena-Owens showdowns. And while it was good to see Jericho and Kane return, they weren't exactly comebacks which you will remember for years to come. So, a good effort by WWE, and the show was certainly no worse than expected, but I am hoping for more from Hell In A Cell next month, when it looks like we'll get Rollins vs. Kane and the end of the feud between Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker.

Overall Rating: 7/10 - Respectable

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