Historically, Night of Champions has always been the definition of an “up and down” pay-per-view effort for the WWE. The very first Night of Champions (titled “Vengeance: Night of Champions”) will forever be remembered by wrestling fans as the first night we didn’t see Chris Benoit, along with having no match that lasted longer than 12 minutes.
In 2009, we were treated to an entertaining WWE Championship match as John Cena challenged for Triple H’s championship, and we also saw Mark Henry and Kofi Kingston take home singles gold. Last year’s Night of Champions event has the unfortunate distinction of being the only event in the series to not be headlined by a championship match, as Triple H defeated CM Punk in a No-Disqualification main event. However, it was also one of the most well received Night of Champions events.
As we prepare for the 2012 installment, a typical question is raised—How can the creative forces within the WWE make this a successful pay-per-view event?
The Main Events
Wrestling events, much like mixed martial arts events, are graded on a scale that is heavily weighted toward the top of the card. No one orders a UFC pay-per-view for the first fight, and no one will order Night of Champions because of the United States Championship match. The WWE and World Heavyweight Championship matches will make or break this event.
On paper, the WWE is presenting two matches that would normally have fans less than enthused—WWE Champion CM Punk versus John Cena, and World Heavyweight Champion Sheamus versus Alberto Del Rio.
However, the events of Monday’s RAW have shifted the landscape of both matches, elevating their status for even the most hardcore fan.
John Cena’s challenge to CM Punk got a whole lot more interesting when CM Punk drove off in a town car after Monday’s show, ending his attack on Cena. The town car window lowered to reveal Paul Heyman as the driver. Heyman has been entertaining working opposite Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, but Heyman working opposite John Cena has the potential to be very, very entertaining. And that’s not even taking into account the best talker in the company, WWE Champion CM Punk!
On Monday, Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio went from stealing cars and issuing arrest warrants to fighting toe-to-toe in the center of the ring. Alberto Del Rio looks strong again, and that is the key to this match. Del Rio is a strong heel, and much like CM Punk, he poses a better challenge to Sheamus when booked as such.
But, these matches need to deliver in the ring. RAW appeared to up the intensity for many of its in-ring competitors on Monday, quite possibly due to the Chicago crowd. Boston is a notoriously hot crowd for the company as well, and come September 16 they’ll expect the same brutality we saw on the most recent RAW. Regardless of who wins either contest, these matches need to be crisp, exciting and feature finishes that we can’t see from a mile away.
A Big Surprise
If you want to create a memorable pay-per-view that people will talk about for years, you have to place a memorable moment into the script. Luckily for the WWE, they have a memorable moment built right in—Dolph Ziggler’s Money in the Bank briefcase.
Fans all over the country are cheering for Ziggler, no matter how dastardly he acts. Ziggler stole a win from Randy Orton as part of Monday’s RAW, and the Chicago crowd cheered. While Chicago possesses a unique breed of fans, that was not a unique reaction. The reaction at Night of Champions in Boston would be similar. Have Ziggler cash in the Money in the Bank briefcase and walk away as World Heavyweight Champion, and you’ll have people talking for months. Ziggler is ready, the fans are ready, and by now the WWE should be ready.
Ziggler, however, isn’t the only big surprise that the WWE could pull out for Night of Champions. CM Punk is now aligned with Paul Heyman, and the company seems hell bent on making Punk into a true heel. What better way to drive that point home than beating John Cena thanks to a little interference...or a rather large interference in the form of Brock Lesnar. It would add depth to Lesnar’s character, Punk’s character and provide opportunity for a very unique match around Survivor Series—CM Punk and Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena and Triple H. In an era where main event tag team pairings are the norm, this would still feel fresh.
The Secondary Championships
The United States and Intercontinental Championships are stacked with history and prestige. While many present day fans don’t see the history, Night of Champions provides the company with a chance to reestablish that sense in such a short span of time.
Next Monday’s RAW, already three hours in length, can have a subplot of determining The Miz’s challenger at Night of Champions. The Miz spent most of last Monday at the commentary booth, and a simple six-man mini-tournament (three qualifiers and a triple threat for the title shot) with Miz on commentary the entire time could go a long way. Plus, The Miz can offer a handshake to the winner—a handshake that turns into a Skull Crushing Finale! The stage was already set for the handshake reference when Miz told Layla she needed to shake Eve’s hand during RAW.
Antonio Cesaro, the current United States Champion, should be done with the challenge of Santino by now. But, next Friday’s Smackdown could be used to build up his title match for Night of Champions in a different way. Build a Fatal Four-Way for the United States Championship to take place on the pay-per-view. Santino could qualify through one of the matches on Smackdown, as could two other competitors. The execution of the title match lends itself to establishing a new challenger for Cesaro, as he can steal someone’s pin to retain the title.
The Tag-Team Championships
Despite the WWE’s apparent attempts towards the opposite, the tag-team division is always a topic of discussion among wrestling fans. Night of Champions is a great chance to move the division in the right direction. With No. 1 contenders established as part of the recent Smackdown tapings, a match for the pay-per-vew is apparently built. But, you have a pair of wrestlers that fans are going to want to see team up. A pair with amazing chemistry, and a pair who, apparently, is starting to “get” one another.
Daniel Bryan and Kane.
It would be very easy to have Bryan campaign for a title shot request backstage during the pay-per-view, and when his request is denied, he can decide he wants to make a full-time move back to Smackdown. We already know that RAW General Manager AJ Lee is concerned with talent leaving her brand, so she will give in to keep him on the roster. Under one condition—that his title shot is a tag-team championship opportunity, with Kane as his partner.
With a triple threat on the card, any number of possibilities are available. It only makes sense for the newest “super team” of Daniel Bryan and Kane to leave as champions, allowing teams to form and move up the ranks to challenge wrestling’s newest odd couple. With R-Truth and Kofi Kingston, Primo and Epico, The Usos and The Prime Time Players, the division is already off to a good start. Throw in Justin Gabriel and Tyson Kidd, The Ascension (from NXT) and the new pairing of Rey Mysterio & Sin Cara, and the new champions would have plenty of competition to build a division with.
A true Night of Champions
The biggest perk of Night of Champions is the focus on just that—the championships. The WWE should build to the pay-per-view in such a manner that each match is important. When you establish a No. 1 Contender, it should be shared during the match that the winner will get their shot at Night of Champions. Plus, every champion should be featured. And, I’m not expressing concern towards the United States or Divas Champions. I’m talking about a champion never seen on WWE television—The NXT Champion.
Night of Champions should be built as a place where the NXT Champion gets their first big pay-per-view match. Build to it on the NXT program, deciding the challenger through a tournament that spans several weeks. Don’t show the matches on RAW or Smackdown, but feature the highlights. This will promote the match, as well as the NXT brand. During the Night of Champions build, have the NXT Champion debut on RAW and Smackdown, and have wrestling enhancement matches that showcase his abilities and get him over with the fans. Shortly after Night of Champions, the NXT Champion can continue to appear on Smackdown without the championships, giving him time to lose the title on the NXT program and remain on the main roster.
A true night of champions would feature every champion. Every single champion. And following that principle is the final key in building a successful Night of Champions pay-per-view event.