WWE's Night of Champions has come and gone, and the annual September pay-per-view featured more than a few performances that were noteworthy.
From John Cena and CM Punk's battle over the WWE Championship to Sheamus' attempt to retain his World Heavyweight Championship against Alberto Del Rio, and Randy Orton and Dolph Ziggler nearly stealing the show, the top WWE Superstars delivered performances worthy of pay-per-view.
With the show in the rear-view mirror, this is a comprehensive look at each Superstar's performance at Night of Champions and the grades for each individual performance at show.
The evening's festivities got off to an action-packed start as The Miz defended his Intercontinental Championship against Rey Mysterio, Sin Cara and Cody Rhodes in a Fatal Four-Way match.
The Miz really was the centerpiece of the match, carrying the load for the most part against three very talented individuals and never once appeared out of place, despite the differing styles of the three challengers.
In what was easily his best performance since returning at July's Money in the Bank, Miz looked as solid as he did during the United States title reign that eventually led to a WWE title run.
At Night of Champions, he was crisp and hit everything perfectly. He also competed during the closing moments of the bout with what may have been a rib injury following a springboard moonsault from Rey Mysterio that saw Rey's knees slam into his mid-section.
The finish was clever as well, with Sin Cara covering Miz's face with a mask, only for the champion to mistakenly grab Cody Rhodes, deliver the Skull Crushing Finale, and pick up the victory without really knowing what he was doing.
The Miz has been on a roll between the ropes since returning from the movie set—a roll that continued Sunday night.
Sunday featured what may have been Sin Cara's best performance since arriving in WWE. He had no noticeable blown maneuvers, nothing appeared too awkward and he was adequate in the big spots of the match.
His exchange with Rey Mysterio at the mid-point of the bout was somewhat disappointing, but that will not factor into his grade for the match. It was to be expected, considering hopes of a match between the two at WrestleMania 29.
The most impressive part of old "No Face's" performance Sunday night came after the bell when he realized Miz had retained his title. For the first time outside of his entrance, where he typically tries to pump up the audience, Sin Cara showed real emotion.
He was angry that he could do nothing to change the outcome of the match and he showed his frustration. It was a different layer to a performance by a man who is regularly criticized for his staleness.
There was nothing wrong with Rey Mysterio's performance in Sunday's Fatal Four-Way match, but when someone is an all-time great as Mysterio is, more is expected than "just OK."
Like The Miz, Mysterio did a large amount of the work during the match, having a few really good exchanges with the Intercontinental Champion and an entertaining back-and-forth with Cody Rhodes outside the ring.
But it is clear that Rey is not 100 percent, and until he is, average grades are to be expected.
Cody Rhodes is in an interesting place right now because he has proven himself between the ropes on a number of occasions and is a seemingly decent talker, but he has done nothing to really evolve as a performer.
The Cody Rhodes you see today is essentially the same Cody Rhodes you saw at the end of 2010 and 2011. His character has changed a number of times, but he is lacking that "something" that makes someone stand out from the other young stars in the company.
His performance at Night of Champions was evidence of that.
Cody was good, as were the other three competitors in the match. But whereas The Miz really took over the match and managed to stand out amongst the others, Cody was just "there." He did his part to make a quality opening match, but after watching it, you would be hard pressed to say, "Wow, that Cody Rhodes was really good there."
And that has been the only glaring problem with Cody Rhodes since his first push began two years ago.
The WWE Tag Team Champions entered the match having little television time over the last month and, for all purposes, were sitting ducks.
With that said, Kofi and Truth managed to hold together a tag-title contest that was more about storyline than the action going on inside the squared circle. Kofi and Truth brought the work rate, which is incredibly interesting since Daniel Bryan is usually expected to fill that role.
The champions were very good here, using double-team maneuvers to negate the strength and size advantage of Kane. They provided the action between the drama that unfolded between Kane and Bryan. Without them, the match may not have reached the quality that it ultimately did.
Sunday may have brought an end to Kofi and Truth's title reign, but the two popular mid-card Superstars went down with one of their best performances as a tandem.
The storyline between Kane and Daniel Bryan remains one of the most interesting and entertaining things on WWE television. Sunday at Night of Champions, it poured over to the WWE Tag Team Championship match.
There are two ways a match more concerned with story than substance can go. It can be an unbridled disaster or it can be an entertaining mess that exceeds expectations. Thanks to the dedication of Bryan and Kane in playing their roles to the tee, the match was more of the latter than the former.
The performers themselves have made the anger management storyline a success because they buy into it and you can tell by their performances. Kane and Bryan have been downright hilarious at times—no more so than during the match itself.
Kane pulling Bryan out of the ring and yelling at him, "He was going to kick your head off!" was just good stuff all around and their "I'm the tag team champions" shout-off made a roomful of 20-somethings watching the show with me laugh out loud.
The match was never meant to be a classic all-time great match. It was meant to be entertaining and further the storyline between Kane and Bryan, and it did just that.
Antonio Cesaro was OK at Night of Champions, nothing more and nothing less. And that is part of the problem with his character at this point. He has yet to show what made him a standout performer with Ring of Honor.
By trying so hard to adapt to WWE's style, he has dumbed down his skill set. He has also done nothing to impress on the microphone, a weakness of his that is likely more of a result of the creative team than anything.
Cesaro had the best match of his WWE career against Zack Ryder, but that does not say much considering his lack of in-ring activity to this point.
At some point, the current U.S. Champion has to do something that makes management and the audience stand up and take notice because at this point, what he is doing is not working.
Zack Ryder brought as much fire to his performance Sunday night as any other WWE Superstar did. When "Long Island Iced Z" gets a shot to perform on a WWE pay-per-view, he almost always delivers a very good performance.
Still one of the most popular stars in the company, Ryder worked hard and had the crowd behind him in a match that had no right to get over with the audience as it did. He took a tremendous beating before hitting his trademark spots and making a comeback that saw him nearly capture the U.S. Championship.
He probably will not see any career growth from his performance, but he can rest assured that he made the best of another opportunity.
Randy Orton had his best match since returning from suspension more than a month ago.
He and Dolph Ziggler had given fans a preview of what they could do in recent televised matches but at Night of Champions, they nearly stole the show. The Divas title match and the World Heavyweight Championship match that followed had no chance of living up to the standard set by "The Viper" and Ziggler.
Randy was motivated, and when that happens, it is extremely difficult to out-perform him.
The match was fast, furious and never relented in its intensity. Orton was a major part of that, showing a fire that had been missing from him and his performances in recent weeks. He finally appears to be back in the swing of things and ready to take that next step back into the title picture.
Dolph Ziggler continued a string of strong pay-per-view performances with a gem against Randy Orton Sunday night.
As usual, Dolph bumped all around the ring to make Orton's offense look even more spectacular than it is. The one difference from his other performances on big shows this year was that Ziggler appeared to be more crisp than normal. He has a tendency, at points, to mistime things with his opponents, but against Orton, everything was on time, nothing looked awkward and it made for a better match.
If Dolph's performance against "The Viper" taught us anything, it is that he is ready for the main event. He is ready for the World Heavyweight Championship. He is just plain ready. The sooner he cashes that briefcase in and wins the big gold belt, the better for everyone included.
Like Dolph Ziggler, Layla has a tendency to mistime maneuvers or spots with her opponent. As a result, some of her offense appears sloppy.
That was not the case in her title defense against Eve. Everything hit its mark and Layla was very good in selling her rib injuries during her opponent's attack.
As was the case with Kofi Kingston and R-Truth earlier in the evening, Layla's best performance as champion came on the night she would lose the title.
Eve may very well be the best female performer in WWE today. That is saying something considering the performances of AJ Lee and Vickie Guerrero.
Sunday night, she reprised her disingenuous heel character. She warmed up to Kaitlyn and Booker T after Kaitlyn's injury, caused by a sneak attack by an unknown assailant that cost her a spot in the Divas title match.
Eve would take her place in the match and even con Layla into trusting her long enough to cheap shot the champion. She systematically dismantled Layla to claim her third Divas title.
It has been a while since there was a legitimate storyline surrounding the Divas Championship, and Eve has performed her role as the scheming villainess to perfection.
There comes a time when every great champion has that truly great moment to validate his title reign. Sheamus had a phenomenal match against Daniel Bryan at Extreme Rules—the best of his title reign. But most of the credit for that bout went to the challenger.
Since then, Sheamus has been engaged in a rivalry with Alberto Del Rio, a program that has never managed to capture the interest of the audience.
That continued Sunday when Sheamus and Del Rio had a perfectly acceptable wrestling match that only managed to get fans invested in its closing moments.
Sheamus has to be better than that. ADR has been far from an intriguing challenger, but as World Champion, it is Sheamus' job to take his opponent and carry him up to his level. That did not happen in this match, and the Celtic Warrior will only face further criticism until he proves himself capable of doing just that.
I have been incredibly critical of Alberto Del Rio in the past and will continue to be until he evolves past the same tired tendencies he has been guilty of for two years.
With that said, Del Rio was very good Sunday night, showing real emotion in a match that needed its performers to come through on that front. When he continually could not put Sheamus away, he showed frustration. When he locked in the cross arm breaker in the closing moments of the bout, he showed intensity that had been missing in the past.
He may not have added anything interesting in terms of his offense, but he did enhance what could have been a boring, pedestrian match by emoting. For that, I applaud him.
Now let's see if he can keep it up.
Does it surprise anyone any more when John Cena and CM Punk steal the show on pay-per-view?
Punk was his normal great self once the bell started but it was the emotion that he showed, the facial expressions and the interaction with the Cena family and Paul Heyman that really added to his performance. He was a heel in the purest sense of the word, an evil villain that the casual fan wanted to see lose the WWE Championship.
The champion's "I'm the best in the world" claims as he walked out of the arena, beaten, battered, and lucky to have escaped with his title, was phenomenal.
Night of Champions featured the best performance by Punk since his heel turn and, hopefully, is only a sign of things to come.
It is matches like this that make claims by so-called "smart" fans that John Cena cannot work that much more questionable.
The clunky finish aside, John Cena had another "Match of the Year" candidate Sunday night against CM Punk. According to his official Twitter account, Cena was working with an ankle injury that occurred early in the match, and he never once missed a beat. He was not good, not very good but great in a big-match situation. He did not appear out of place as he hung in with a great in-ring performer in CM Punk.
The trading of finishing maneuvers created tremendous drama, and Cena's ability to read the audience and make his comeback at the appropriate times is a trait that all of the all-time greats have.
Some will say that Cena's greatness in this match was a direct result from working with Punk. Those fans will never be swayed from their anti-Cena mindsets. And that is OK. For the rest of us, Cena remains one of the better main-event performers the company has ever had.
Cue the comments.