Night of Champions 2014. The sad truth is that despite how good these matches were, and there were a few outstanding contributions, it is an event that will not live long in the memory. For the four weeks of build for this event were filled by a mixture of the bland, confusing or ridiculous. RAW and Smackdown didn’t afford enough time to build meaningful feuds for the majority of champions on the card, in spite of the fact that this was the one night they kind of had to. Instead, the majority of television time that wasn’t repetitive filler was afforded to a Seth Rollins/Roman Reigns bout that was cancelled due to Reigns’ injury, a patriotic battle between Mark Henry and Rusev that any wrestling fan would know was going to suck, and John Cena’s battle for redemption against Brock Lesnar, the one thing done somewhat correctly.
The superstars on the main roster were seemingly working in cruise control more often than not, and one of the better performers of recent shows, Bray Wyatt, was not even scheduled to make an appearance. The creative direction of shows leading to this event had been substandard if you are being kind, and they had been utterly overshadowed by the current performances of the NXT roster and their recent Takeover event. So, were many looking forward to this PPV? Probably not, and if people didn’t have the WWE Network they likely didn’t fork out the money to watch such a poorly built event.
Luckily for those that did sit through Night of Champions, there was some excellent action to take away from the event, but also one absolute horrible bout and some commentary decisions that would have eyes rolling into the back of heads like a narcoleptic Undertaker. So, who carried the moniker of Champions with pride, and for whom would the title of Chump be more fitting?
NR – Seth Rollins vs. Roman Reigns/Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose
For the second time in three PPVs, Seth Rollins was the benefactor of a forfeit in his match. The unfortunate hernia sustained by Roman Reigns cost the Samoan his opportunity to beat his former Shield brother twice in one week. This left Rollins cutting a lonely figure in the center of the ring, Charles Robinson and his Money in the Bank briefcase his only companions. He proceeded to run his mouth about how weak Reigns is, and gave him ten seconds to show his face and prove he was a man. The Architect then stood with a beaming smile as Robinson counted out Reigns, before raising Rollins’ hand in victory.
But Rollins was not done, and stated that as he was a confirmed opportunist, he was in the mood to give someone an opportunity this evening. He issued an open challenge for anybody in the backstage area to try and make a name for themselves at his expense. He stood patiently as the titantron peered backstage as a yellow cab arrived. Enter Dean Ambrose. The Lunatic Fringe returned from having his head violently introduced to a pile of cinder blocks on a past episode of RAW. He charges towards the ring with purpose, as Rollins begins to dispel bodily fluids in anticipation of the upcoming brawl.
The two former allies turned vicious enemies trade blows in the ring, but it isn’t long before the action spreads to the stands. Ambrose is the clear aggressor as he keeps Rollins on the back foot, the crowd right behind the maniacal Cincinnati-native. The cavalry arrives to rescue Rollins from the onslaught, as Triple H and Stephanie McMahon lead out backstage personnel and security guards to save their Authority minion. But, their army can’t stop Ambrose, who runs across a screen and floors every man standing between him and his prey. The action between the former Shield members returns to the ring, and Ambrose grabs a steel chair for good measure. But, before he can swing for the highlights in his rival’s hair, Ambrose is tackled to the canvas and has his hands bound by security and is hoisted out of the arena. Though neither of Rollins’ encounters can merit a rank as they weren’t true matches, the excitement of Ambrose’s return does earn plaudits, as he is swiftly becoming the most over person on the roster.
#7 – Rusev vs. Mark Henry
When this feud first commenced following Summerslam, not many fans were left rejoicing over the prospect of a match between these two behemoths. Whilst I believe that two super-heavyweights can provide a compelling match and something different than the technical style that is stylish but formulaic, this wasn’t one of those matches. In fact, this feud entered with low expectations and still managed to disappoint. Despite the company giving an absurd amount of time to this feud, as well as the two closing segments of the go-home RAW and Smackdown shows, not a single person was interested in this match. Just because you get a load of fans to chant “USA!” before a contest doesn’t mean their invested; they are simply patriotic and would react accordingly in just about any other setting.
Even before the bell rang, an emotional rendition of Star-Spangled Banner had Henry of tears, fitting for someone who prides himself on inflicting pain onto others. From the get-go, this was boredom personified. They would trade blows which seemed to take minutes to complete, and Rusev would be sent to ringside for an age by the World’s Strongest Man to allow him a chance to catch his breath. When Henry finally lumbered to ringside, he was slammed into the ring steps, injuring his back, as if the match needed a spot to make the Texan move slower. From that point on Rusev was in control, but his offense looked somewhat meager prior to a spinning heel kick. He didn’t even slam Henry once, which is something he should be capable of doing.
Eventually, Henry starts a ‘comeback’ of sorts by breaking free of an attempted Accolade and land the World’s Strongest Slam. But, he didn’t even get a cover as the Bulgarian gradually rolled his way to the floor, before kicking Henry in the head. This initially looked to have woken Henry up, so the bout might have benefited from him doing that to the rest of the audience, but two more kicks left Henry prone for the Accolade, and a quick tap-out. Rusev is not bad, but trying to make this an enjoyable match was beyond his talents. It was slow, basic and ended with a predictable finish. The bouts with Jack Swagger felt a great deal more important and climactic, whilst this just left the crowd dead either through sadness or boredom. Either way, this was a definite low-point and a possible contender for worst match of the year. However, they would be hard-pressed to beat Naomi vs. Cameron from this past RAW – at least they know how to pin an opponent.
#6 – The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler
I feel so sorry for these two superstars, it cannot be overstated. They are great wrestlers, Dolph Ziggler a master craftsman and The Miz far better than most will ever give him credit for, and they have terrific chemistry. And even though some unimaginative booking had the R-Ziggler/Miz-dow additions last far too long on television, I was actually looking forward to this match. Personally, it would have been more entertaining in the feud to have Ziggler switch stunt doubles with other lower card superstars, like Xavier Woods or the Great Khali. But, the substandard booking prior to the match was nothing compared to whatever moron decided to make a change in the commentary.
Apparently, Florida Georgia Line are this country and western duo, and were at Night of Champions to the delight of some of the Nashville crowd. Now, one could do the smart thing and have them appear in a backstage segment where they shamelessly promote their new album on news that their performing at the Tribute to the Troops show. Instead, they allow them to be on commentary during the Intercontinental Championship match, detracting from the action in the ring. Now, I’m not saying I dislike these guys; I have no idea who they are so that would be unfair. But, when your lead commentary team is spending more time promoting their latest tour or single or award then on the action in the ring, then you start to realize that the company just doesn’t care one iota about the Intercontinental title anymore. You can do whatever you want with video packages hyping past glorious champions, but doing this was a blatant act of disrespect both to the belt and the performers battling for it.
The action in the ring was solid enough, if somewhat predictable. It followed a similar pattern to their match at Summerslam, their two styles meshing well together. Ziggler looked good, and sold Miz’s Figure-Four Leglock like he was having one of his legs amputated. Miz also looked good with his usual blend of cheap shots and methodical grappling. One could even look to Damien Miz-dow at ringside as adding some humor to the match. But, when the Florida Georgia Line pushed Miz-dow to the ground, this bout just reeked of a forgettable segment on RAW, not a championship defense on the night where the gold means more than anything. The finish was also aggravating, as instead of a clear winner, Miz wins via roll-up with a handful of tights. He is a heel, but as the second match that night to end with a cheap roll-up, it just smacked of a lazy way to end Ziggler’s reign. The Miz is back with the title, not that anybody seems to care. But, at least country and western got over, right?
#5 – Gold/Stardust vs. The Usos
The Tag Team Championship match had actually attracted a fair amount of interest since Gold/Stardust turned heel. The bizarre golden brothers’ pursuit of the ‘cosmic key’ had unleashed a new aggression in their tandem. They looked hungry and desperate, and looked like the Usos’ biggest threat to their reign as champions because of that. The titles have certainly grown in prestige through this lengthy run by the Samoan twins, and the intensity and underhanded tactics of their opponents have only gone further to elevate the title. This was one of the hottest feuds going into Night of Champions, but it seems a great match wasn’t written in the stars.
The Usos are arguably the two most consistent performers in the ring that WWE has to offer, with matches ranging from serviceable to awesome, so they aren’t really expected to ever have a bad match. This wasn’t a bad match, but it didn’t inspire much excitement from the crowd either. It seemed to formulaic, like both teams were simply going through the motions, getting done what needed to get done without exerting themselves further than necessary. There were some high spots; it’s always exhilarating to see the flying Usos over the top rope, and even Goldust got in on the act with a nice senton from the apron onto Jimmy Uso. Nevertheless, these two teams are certainly capable of better as they have demonstrated on previous occasions, and for some reason it didn’t quite click into motion.
Two other glaring issues meant that this match couldn’t rank much higher than fifth on this list. Firstly, the match didn’t concentrate enough on the leg injury sustained by Jey Uso, which had been a focal point on television. In fact, it was Jimmy that took the brunt of the abuse from Goldust and Stardust during the sustained heel domination, and it was only when Jey went after the leg of Stardust that this storyline was in any way addressed. Secondly, the finish was once again a major issue. Of course, heels are the bad guys and should look to exploit any opportunity to get a victory. But, to use a roll-up to end a title reign as long and strong as the Usos’ had been just smacks of laziness and doesn’t really recognize how difficult it has been to defeat them. Stardust should have won via a distraction with Dark Matter rather than this type of victory.
#4 – Randy Orton vs. Chris Jericho
When you place two of the modern greats in a match with each other, expectations rise among fans. However, the rushed build-up for this encounter reduced its degree of anticipation, as Randy Orton and Chris Jericho were seemingly thrown together for no reason than simply not having anybody else to fight on the card. This was indicative of the WWE’s booking in the weeks leading into Night of Champions, and unsurprisingly this helped take the edge away from what was an otherwise fine match. Unfortunately for both the Viper and Y2J, this match did not have a title on the line to recover any lack of investment in their feud, and so is destined to become a forgotten footnote in the history of this PPV.
There was some excellent back and forth action between the pair. Orton has been consistently excellent these last few years, and after some stodgy performances against Bray Wyatt, Jericho has certainly returned to the sort of levels that he is capable of in the ring. They certainly left it all in the ring, with superplexes, outside brawls, buckets of signature moves and near-falls. The veterans have been in numerous battles in the past together, and so were feeding off that chemistry to construct a fine match. Eventually, after an excruciating amount of time in the Walls of Jericho and suffering a Codebreaker, Orton was able to catch a flying Jericho in an RKO to earn a hard-fought, though expected victory.
So, the workings of the match was fine, and one cannot fault the effort of the competitors. If this was a match on RAW or Smackdown, one would likely be applauding it as one of the highlights of the night. But, without a significant amount of fire and investment behind the rushed rivalry, it made fans struggle to really care about the match or the result. It is nothing more than a win in Orton’s favor, and a loss doesn’t hurt Jericho in any significant way. It didn’t feel like it mattered, and for this reason cannot rank among the top three in this countdown.
#3 – John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar
The WWE World Heavyweight Championship was the main talking point of last month’s SummerSlam, as Brock Lesnar destroyed John Cena en route to winning his fourth world championship. The Beast Incarnate was relentless in victory, hitting sixteen suplexes on his way to battering Cena in what many have considered the most one-sided world championship match in history. Thus, the story leading into Cena’s rematch at Night of Champions was one of redemption, and to show the world that he could beat Lesnar. Paul Heyman had done wonderfully in trying to fill the void left by Lesnar’s part-time schedule by goading Cena into unleashing his darker side, a remorselessness that would be necessary to beat the champion. It’s a story that has done countless times before, especially with Cena, but it is tried and tested and is certain to get the crowd involved.
The match commenced with Lesnar on the offensive, but Cena hit a quick AA, reminiscent of Lesnar’s instant F-5 from the outset of the SummerSlam match. Lesnar kicked out, and swiftly applied the Kimura Lock, a move that he would consistently return to throughout the match. The suplexes and punches again rained down upon the leader of the Cenation, Lesnar constantly on top with his beatings. But, Cena looked more combative, exploiting any opening by connecting with another AA. Lesnar was almost always on top, but couldn’t get the killer blow on Cena, whilst Cena fought as an underdog and just attempted his signature moves instead of building up a gradual offense. Eventually, a third AA followed by a prolonged STF wore down Lesnar, before a fourth AA had him down for the count. Then, Seth Rollins interfered, knocking out Cena with the briefcase before Curb-Stomping Lesnar to attempt a cash-in. Cena chased him away before that match began, and Lesnar hit an F-5 after he retained his title through disqualification.
This was a far more even battle between the two, in spite of the same relationship of Lesnar as the dominant monster to Cena’s plucky battling. Arguably, this made it as a match even better than their SummerSlam encounter, though not nearly as unique a spectacle. There were simply two issues holding back this brutal fight from making it to the top. The first reason was the number of AAs were a little excessive. If you hit three and then have Lesnar in the STF when Rollins attacks, it makes for a more questionable outcome – if Cena hits four AAs, Lesnar would not have been likely to potentially kick out. And, the screwy finish of interference not only devalues Lesnar’s reign somewhat, it made the end of the show feel like an episode of RAW. A cash-in is exciting, but not if nothing comes to it and its simply a device to escape a definitive ending.
#2 – AJ Lee vs. Paige vs. Nikki Bella
It is really refreshing to finally place a competitive Divas contest this high up the list, and though some might question it as #2, if you don’t encourage these things then the improvements won’t stick. It is also surprising to see such a good match considering the debacle on RAW between Naomi and Cameron, which would have made even the women’s most ardent supporters question their allegiances. But, thanks to this compelling battle between Paige, AJ Lee, and even Nikki Bella of all people, this was one of the highlights of the evening. A closely fought match with plenty of close calls and near finishes, with a Black Widow wielding her deadly poison the key to victory.
From the outset AJ Lee was battling against the vicious Paige and the bratty Nikki as a temporary tandem, but eventually she faltered against the strength of the latter. Paige went to pick the bones of Nikki, but was caught by an impressive springboard kick out of the corner before locking her in an armbar that the champion has to escape from. AJ is able to send both her opponents into the barricade, and this gives her and Paige some alone time in the ring to continue their odd love-hate relationship. Nikki didn’t allow them long, as she was a constant presence in the match, and that didn’t devalue its quality in the slightest. AJ caught the Bella twin in the Black Widow only to have Paige save the title, and following an impressive Tower of Doom, Nikki almost secured the victory with the Rack Attack on the Brit. AJ disposed of Nikki and locked in the Black Widow on her frienemy, who eventually taps out for another title change.
This was a very good match, certainly a lot more impressive than some of the recent television encounters between the Divas. Of course, AJ and Paige have this sort of performance in their respective lockers, and finally showed more chemistry than past encounters. But, what was both shocking and exciting was the showing by Nikki Bella, who looked like she belonged among her skilled opponents. AJ with the title once more likely suggests her feuding with Paige still hasn’t reached its conclusion, with those two and the Bella Twins feud likely to head the Divas division for the foreseeable future. If all the matches are like this, that certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing.
#1 – Sheamus vs. Cesaro
The United States Championship has for a while been considered the ginger step-child of the championship belts in WWE. In the past few years its champions have seemingly carried it as a mere prop, whilst the booking team have been known to forget that it even exists. But, at Night of Champions two powerful brawlers did their damnedest to make the title feel important once again, and for the most part succeeded. Sheamus has never been the most over babyface in the company, whilst Cesaro has been floundering in the midcard with very little direction. But, when they are placed on opposing sides, everything problem falls away. The crowd were dead in the opening stages of this match, but by its conclusion they were on the edge of their seats. Sheamus and Cesaro were born to fight each other, and on this night they proved that fact once more.
Both superstars seem to take pleasure in taking each other to the physical limit with some of their strikes. Cesaro has the best uppercut in the business, whilst Sheamus is no slouch with his fists either, and that combination makes the fighting seem genuine and the competitors appear as tough as nails. Their initial mat-wrestling at the beginning was likely to throw fans off the scent of what this match would become, a slow burn to a fiery climax. After some emphatic uppercuts to Sheamus propped up in the corner, the Celtic Warrior was able to respond with two consecutive Irish Curse backbreakers. Every move was physical and looked painful, from the Ten Beats of the Bohdran to Cesaro’s countering boot to the face. Every time Sheamus attempted the Brogue Kick, Cesaro had a counter, but after beating Sheamus hard in the corner, the Irishman begged for more, and the Swiss Superman charged into his opponent’s waiting boot for a successful title defense.
These two get the plaudits of top spot on this list not merely for the physical action and incredible chemistry these two shared, but that was certainly a major factor. They showed immense trust and respect for each other by inflicting that sort of punishment to their opponent for the honor of being US Champion. Believe me, I would not be envious of the bruising both sustained during this contest. But, beyond that, they managed to take a belt that had lost much of its prestige and a feud that had been afforded very little attention, and by the final bell have the crowd applauding their remarkable efforts. Cesaro may not have won the belt, but he again demonstrated why he is one of the best wrestlers in the world today, and Sheamus suffered for his victory but never stopped battling his rival. Terrific contest.