Night of Champions Review: Bryan’s Win Creates More Questions than Answers

Daniel Bryan def. Randy Orton to become the WWE Champion

Grade: B+

While I would not go so far as to call Night of Champions a one match show, the WWE Title match was the undisputed main event of the night. For the most part, the match lived up to its potential. The match started with a deliberate pace as both Bryan and Orton held control with a series of strikes. Bryan picked up the pace with a top rope hurricanrana and followed it with a suicide dive, a missile dropkick, and a second suicide dive to the other side of the ring. When he went for a third dive, Orton anticipated it and met him with a big punch and delivered a DDT to the floor. Back in the ring, Bryan dodged an RKO, but the ref was knocked down in the process and a second ref came to the ring. Eventually, the original ref recovered to oversee the match. Bryan slipped out of a second rope DDT and turned it into a Yes Lock that Orton was able to escape when he reached the ropes. From there, the pace worked to a fever pitch of exciting counters: Bryan slipped out of a superplex and delivered a series of kicks to Orton in the ropes. Orton elbowed his way out of a German superplex, but Bryan climbed back up and hit a superplex of his own in which he anchored himself to the top rope. He climbed to the top and delivered a flying headbutt for a two count. He hit Orton with a series of kicks, but Orton caught him and hit a t-bone suplex. Bryan ducked an RKO, sent Orton down with a kick, and hit a running knee to win, albeit on a quick count be the referee. While there was no mention of the ref bump or the quick count, it seems inevitable that there will be substantial fallout on Raw. Perhaps the writers did not want to end a second consecutive PPV with a screwjob angle that would take the title from Bryan, but if that is the case, then the underlying issue is the repetitive booking of Dusty finishes that undermine the competitive spirit. As entertaining as the match was, the odd and unaddressed finish was equally distracting.

Curtis Axel and Paul Heyman def. CM Punk in a No DQ, Elimination Tag Team Match

Grade: B

As he has done for months, Heyman elevated this match and his entire angle with tremendous acting all night. He tried to beg out of the match earlier in the night with Brad Maddox- who made it a no DQ match when Heyman threatened to punch the referee-, and HHH. The match opened with Punk and Axel dueling with Kendo sticks. Punk put Axel down with a side Russian legsweep and immediate delivered a suicide dive to Heyman. He teased a shot on Heyman, but Axel hit him with a low blow that gained him control of the match for a significant stretch. Eventually, Punk set Axel up for his elbow drop. Axel rolled out of the ring to avoid it and blocked Punk’s attempted suicide dive with a chair. Nonetheless, Punk recovered to hit Axel with the GTS and put him in the Anaconda Vice to make him submit. When Punk finally squared off with Heyman, the fans showed the excitement that fit the steady build in the feud. Punk walloped him with a Kendo stick and bound his hands with handcuffs. As he prepared to smash Heyman in the face, Ryback ran in and drove Punk powerfully through a table ominously left set up in the corner of the ring. Ryback put Heyman atop Punk for the pin and carried him out. Ryback is an excellent addition to Heyman’s stable because Heyman will be able to cover the flaws in his inconsistent promos and character development. Moreover, there is a natural tie-in since Ryback was one of the most problematic threats to Punk’s WWE Title while Heyman managed him. Several months into the Punk-Heyman feud, I remain interested in where it will go, even if this match did not provide the payoff many wanted.

Rob Van Dam def. Alberto Del Rio by DQ, Del Rio Remained World Heavyweight Champion

Grade: A-

Del Rio and Van Dam worked briskly from the start of what became my favorite match of the show. Van Dam caught Del Rio with a spinning heel kick early while Del Rio taunted him. He followed it with his leg drop on the barricade outside the ring to a significant pop from the lively Detroit fans. Del Rio’s enzuigiri on the apron put Van Dam on the floor, but he missed a dive to the outside. When Van Dam tried to capitalize with Rolling Thunder, Del Rio dodged it and hit a back stabber. Van Dam got a near fall off of a split-legged moonsault. Del Rio answered with an armbreaker and a superkick. Van Dam rebounded and tried a Five Star Frogsplash, but Del Rio got his knees up to block it and put Van Dam in the Cross-Armbreaker. When Van Dam reached the ropes, Del Rio refused to break the hold and got himself disqualified. Ricardo Rodriguez saved Van Dam with a chair shot and Van Dam thrilled the crowd with a vintage Van Terminator across the ring. The rapid swings in momentum turned the match into a bit of a spot-fest, but Van Dam is uniquely able to work that sort of style. Also, despite the title retention for Del Rio, Van Dam made the fans happy, so the booking seemed sound.

Dean Ambrose def. Dolph Ziggler to Remain U.S. Champion

Grade: C+

Throughout the show, the announcers revealed poll results on the greatest champions for a variety of titles. While many notables were absent from the list (Bruno Sammartino from the WWE Title list, Randy Savage from every list), the poll results were uniformly bizarre, as if a majority of fans teamed up to choose the result WWE would least want. TNA employees Hulk Hogan and Sting were voted the greatest WWE and U.S. Champions of all time, and Booker T beat Ric Flair as the greatest World Heavyweight Champion. In any case, Ambrose and Ziggler were left with the unenviable task of bringing the fans down from the emotional high of the Punk-Heyman match and Ryback’s involvement. They worked slowly at first. Ziggler eventually hit the fameasser for a two count before Ambrose reached the bottom rope. He tried for a splash in the corner and hit his head on the turnbuckle. Ambrose followed it with his finisher to retain the title. Although the backward step for Ziggler is disappointing, Ambrose has looked good in his expanded role lately.

The Shield def. The Prime Time Players to Remain Tag Team Champions

Grade: B-

The Prime Time Players beat the Real Americans to conclude the pre-show Tag Team Turmoil match and earn a title shot at the PPV. Titus O’Neil threw Seth Rollins around early in the match, but lost control when he wasted time with his whistle. Darren Young hit a nice belly to belly suplex and O’Neil delivered an impressive fallaway slam. He hit Clash of the Titus on Rollins, but Roman Reigns broke up the pin and hit a spear when the referee was distracted. Reigns made the cover and The Shield retained the titles. The Prime Time Players got a great reaction when they earned the title match and got enough of support that I think they can remain in the title picture for some time.

Curtis Axel def. Kofi Kingston to Remain Intercontinental Champion

Grade: B-

HHH opened the show with a promo in which he promised there would be no interference in the WWE Title match because he wanted to see if Orton was the right choice to be the face of the company. Heyman and Axel interrupted him as Heyman begged out of his match and Axel accused HHH of carrying a vendetta after Axel beat him on Raw. As retaliation, HHH booked an Intercontinental Title match against the first person he saw backstage. Kingston came to the ring and quickly took the fight to Axel. He hit a spinning springboard splash on the floor and impressively flipped out of a suplex to hit a DDT. Axel was able to avoid SOS and Trouble in Paradise, but when he tried his spinning facebuster, Kingston countered with SOS for a two count. Axel recovered and hit his finisher to gain the win to Heyman’s great relief. Part of me wonders whether Kingston was only included on the card due to his prominent image on the show’s promotional materials.

AJ Lee def. Natalya, Brie Bella, and Naomi to Remain Divas Champion

Grade: B-

Although the Divas Title match was quite short, each participant got a chance to show off some offense. Naomi delivered a sharp looking hurricanrana very early in the match. Natalya body slammed Brie on top of Naomi and locked them in a double Sharpshooter. Brie didn’t do a lot, but she did wear a Rainbow Brite-themed outfit, so there’s that. AJ broke up Natalya’s double Sharpshooter and made her tap to the Black Widow to keep her title.

The Miz def. Fandango

Grade: C-

Miz won a thoroughly unnecessary match with the Figure Four on Fandango. The only notable offense in the match was a pair of legdrops by Fandango- the first one hit Miz while he was caught in the ropes and the second missed, leaving him with a bad leg for the rest of the match. I think this feud would have been better served to remain on free TV with more commitment to the match. A very short, unannounced PPV match helped neither wrestler.

Altogether, the PPV did not have any undercard matches that elevated themselves to unexpected heights, and the main events were good-not-great. I appreciate the sentiment that the conclusion of the WWE Title match was so confusing that nobody knew how to react to the end of the show, but that storyline question is one that should be addressed over a longer timeframe. As a standalone show, Night of Champions was entertaining and featured solid wrestling in its most important matches. What happens next may be good or bad, but it does not change the quality of the PPV.