Sunday night marked WWE's yearly event that puts titles first as Night of Champions emanated from TD Garden in Boston. CM Punk vs. John Cena for the WWE championship headlined the show, but every other title was defended as well.
Night of Champions is generally considered to be a B-level show, and I would say that it lived up to that advanced billing. There wasn't a lot of build put into the undercard matches and that ultimately detracted from each.
The fact that JBL sat in on commentary for the recovering Jerry "The King" Lawler may have been the high point of the night, since several of the matches fell short of expectations. I wasn't expecting anything great, with much of the energy likely being focused on Survivor Series in a couple of months, but the show didn't really have any great moments.
The Punk vs. Cena ending in particular closed things out on a bad note, but there wasn't a lot to love prior to that either. Keep reading for grades for that match as well as every other match on the Night of Champions card.
It may not have featured any sort of technical excellence, but the pre-show battle royal to determine the No. 1 contender for Antonio Cesaro's United States title delivered with some solid action and a sensible winner.
Entering the night, there were a few possibilities in terms of who might win, but Long Island Iced Z Zack Ryder came out on top.
Ryder has been given some wins as of late, most notably a disqualification victory over Daniel Bryan on SmackDown, so he had a lot of momentum after eliminating Tensai and becoming No. 1 contender for the U.S. strap.
It was nice to see some of the lower-card guys compete in the match and I was especially glad that Ted DiBiase made his long-awaited return. It seemed like DiBiase might have a legitimate shot to win in his return a la Christian at Over The Limit, but he was thrown out quickly.
Tyson Kidd also would have been a solid choice, but he was eliminated by Tensai with a cool powerbomb over the top rope. The only guy standing between Ryder and a win was former United States champion Santino Marella, so it was encouraging that he was eliminated as well.
I had no interest in seeing Santino vs. Cesaro again, so I can't argue with the WWE's decision to have Ryder win, especially since he is a former United States champion in his own right and a guy who is extremely over with the crowd.
I had high hopes for the fatal four-way Intercontinental title match heading into the night, despite the lack of build, but the bout ultimately fell short of my expectations.
The Miz, Cody Rhodes, Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara are all solid in-ring workers, but there were too many instances where multiple wrestlers were resting outside when there could have been a little more action. Both Mysterio and Sin Cara were somewhat sloppy in certain situations, too.
Miz retained the title after a strange spot in which Sin Cara put a spare mask over his face and temporarily blinded him. Miz recovered, however, and hit Rhodes with a Skull Crushing Finale to win.
I was fine with Miz winning, but Rhodes would have been the better choice. Rhodes has been in dire straits since losing the Intercontinental title and hasn't been utilized particularly well, so winning the title may have put him back on the right track.
Miz, on the other hand, is being held back by the Intercontinental championship. He has suffered several non-title losses since winning the belt, and there is no clear path to the main-event scene despite the fact that Miz is a main-event-level talent.
With that said, the ending leaves open the possibility of a Miz vs. Rhodes feud, which should be beneficial for both guys. The match wasn't as good as the participants in it suggested it should have been, but it wasn't a disaster either.
As somebody who has long enjoyed tag-team wrestling, the tag title match was one of my most highly anticipated bouts on the card. The match itself wasn't great, but the result gives me plenty of hope for the division's future.
Kane and Daniel Bryan are the best thing to happen to the tag scene in quite some time. They bring instant credibility to the titles. Bryan and Kane were at odds throughout the entire match, just as they were on the previous Raw, but they were able to overcome that and defeat Kingston and Truth.
The finishing sequence was entertaining. Bryan pushed Kane off the top rope and onto Kingston, which resulted in a three count. It wasn't totally accurate, since Bryan touching Kane should have resulted in him being the legal man, but it furthered the notion that Bryan and Kane are a reluctant pairing.
Kingston and Truth have their merits, but they did little with the titles over the course of several months and it was time to move on. Kane and Bryan may only be a temporary team, but since they are two of the more popular guys in the company, they will suddenly make the titles very visible and meaningful.
Hopefully Kane and Bryan hold the titles for a couple of months while some new teams are developed and the division returns to prominence. This match wasn't great in terms of in-ring work, but what needed to happen did.
After winning the pre-show battle royal to become No. 1 contender for the United States title, Zack Ryder challenged Antonio Cesaro for the title at Night of Champions. Cesaro winning was essentially a lock, so the result wasn't surprising, but the match was definitely solid for what it was.
Cesaro won the United States championship from Santino Marella at SummerSlam, but only had one title defense heading into Sunday night. Therefore, the match was an important one for him. Ryder had some momentum and the crowd behind him, so Cesaro's clean win should help him moving forward.
I would have rather Cesaro been put into an actual feud, but Ryder was a good opponent for him and I could see them having a program. Ryder may have lost the match, but he performed well and looked fairly strong in his own right.
Ryder has always been an underrated in-ring worker due to his over-the-top character, but he posed a nice challenge to Cesaro, whose varied moveset makes for some interesting bouts as well.
Most people probably won't be talking about this match on Monday, and it won't be considered a classic by any means, but it was a nice undercard match that provided some entertaining action.
The Dolph Ziggler vs. Randy Orton match was a prime example of a great match that was ruined by a poor booking decision. Ziggler and Orton are two of the best in-ring workers in the company and left everything they had in the ring, but the result was mind boggling.
Orton won the match with an awesome spot where he tossed Ziggler in the air and hit him with an RKO, but I didn't understand the reasoning behind it. Ziggler is Mr. Money in the Bank and he has been booked in an absolutely terrible manner over the past couple of months. That continued at Night of Champions.
Seeing as Ziggler is a future world heavyweight champion, you would think that the writers would give him as many wins as possible in order to make him look strong. However, that hasn't been the case. It was bad enough that he lost to Chris Jericho at SummerSlam, but this loss may have been worse.
Orton is scheduled to begin filming 12 Rounds: Reloaded in the coming weeks and is a multiple-time world champion to boot. There was no reason for him to win the match. I understand that heels aren't going to win every match, but if Ziggler is going to be a credible world champion, he needs to be presented as a threat.
Since winning Money in the Bank, Ziggler has lost to Orton, Jericho and even Alex Riley. Building him up obviously isn't a priority. This match gets a good grade for the in-ring action, but the booking was beyond bad.
The divas division has been a wasteland as of late, but I have to give the creative team credit for coming up with something interesting. Layla was scheduled to defend the Divas championship against Kaitlyn, but Kaitlyn was jumped earlier in the night and couldn't compete.
SmackDown general manager Booker T decided to put Eve in the match in place of Kaitlyn because of her good work as his assistant. Eve won the match and is now the Divas champion, but there will obviously be more to the story moving forward.
Eve has been acting like a face lately, but it has clearly been nothing more than an act. The Kaitlyn situation was reminiscent of figure skater Nancy Kerrigan getting attacked in 1994 prior to competing by Jeff Gillooly, who was the husband of rival figure skater Tonya Harding. For that, I give the entire angle high marks.
One of the more intriguing storylines in the coming days and weeks will likely be who attacked Kaitlyn, and that person will then be involved with Eve. I feel like Layla is an underrated diva in terms of in-ring work and one of the better divas on the roster, but it was time for a change.
Eve is red hot after winning Stars Earn Stripes and has done some great overall work in the ring and as an authority figure, so I support the switch.
Sheamus vs. Alberto Del Rio for the world heavyweight championship was one of the stalest major feuds in recent memory, but after Sunday's result, it seems as though it has finally come to an end.
Although I've been ready for this rivalry to culminate for quite some time, I thought their match at Night of Champions was well wrestled.
Prior to the bout, SmackDown general manager Booker T came to the ramp and reinstated the Brogue Kick, which I wasn't a big fan of. As boring as the angle has been, the Brogue Kick ban added a bit of intrigue to the picture. Sheamus was going to win regardless, but at least that created a bit of doubt.
Sheamus and Del Rio have had so many matches that most fans didn't even care anymore, but Del Rio looked strong throughout the contest and had Sheamus on the ropes on a couple of occasions. Where this match really disappointed, though, was the lack of action afterward.
There was potential to either have Dolph Ziggler cash in his Money in the Bank contract, have Wade Barrett attack Sheamus or both, but things ended unceremoniously. I didn't necessarily want Ziggler to cash in so soon, but doing so would have helped save face after the loss earlier in the night.
I anticipate Barrett being Sheamus' next challenger, so it would have made sense to have him announce his re-arrival by sticking the world heavyweight champion, but that didn't come to fruition.
As glad as I am that this feud is over, it could have concluded in a much more creative fashion.
It was clear entering Sunday night that the success of Night of Champions hinged on the main-event match between CM Punk and John Cena for the WWE title.
The match itself was highly entertaining and packed with action—as all Punk vs. Cena bouts are—but the ending left a bad taste in my mouth.
I understand that the WWE wants and needs to continue this feud until Hell in a Cell or even Survivor Series, but there were other ways to end it. Punk dominated the vast majority of the match, but he couldn't put Cena away. It looked like Cena had won the strap with a top-rope German suplex, but the decision was reversed as both men's shoulders were on the mat.
By virtue of that, it was ruled a draw with Punk retaining. Punk then leveled Cena with the belt after the match and stood tall. I'm happy that Punk seemingly got the better of Cena yet again, but he should have won dirty rather than the unsatisfying ending we got.
There are times when a draw is an acceptable and logical booking decision, but not in the main event of a show that depended on the match to be great. Even without taking the ending into consideration, the match didn't come anywhere close to measuring up to the Punk vs. Cena matches at Money in the Bank or SummerSlam last year.
The pace was surprisingly slow as they were trying to build suspense, but it seemed to detract from the match a bit. Neither Paul Heyman nor someone like Big Show or Brock Lesnar got involved in the match like I thought they might, but they probably should have.
Having Cena lose after getting hit with a WMD from Big Show would have been equally sensible and much more satisfying, but the writers went with the cheap ending that really hurt the show.