WWE Night of Champions 2013: Examining the Greatest Matches in PPV's History
On September 15, World Wrestling Entertainment will present its annual Night of Champions pay-per-view, live from Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Mich.
With Daniel Bryan challenging WWE champion Randy Orton in the main event, Alberto Del Rio defending the World Heavyweight title against Rob Van Dam and Dolph Ziggler taking on Dean Ambrose for the United States Championship, there is no shortage of matches capable of stealing the show.
Night of Champions has featured several high-profile, high-quality matches in its six years of existence. Superstars such as John Cena, CM Punk, Randy Orton, Triple H and Edge have been responsible for several memorable championship matches at the September pay-per-view.
With the potential for several matches on this year's card to join them, here is a look back at the greatest matches in Night of Champions history.
Five-Pack Challenge Match for the WWE Championship, 2007
WWE champion John Cena entered the Toyota Center in Houston riding a wave of momentum and, in the middle of a 10-month title reign, had become the unquestioned leader of World Wrestling Entertainment. At Vengeance: Night of Champions, he would be faced with the task of overcoming four challengers if he wanted to leave the host city of the legendary WrestleMania X-7 pay-per-view with his championship intact.
Those challengers? Two 2013 Hall of Fame inductees (Booker T and Mick Foley), the 2013 Money in the Bank winner (Randy Orton) and a surging, young freak of an athlete (Bobby Lashley).
In the midst of a major push that had seen him win, lose and regain the ECW title throughout the spring, as well as his feud with the McMahon family in one of the featured angles on WWE programming, Lashley was the biggest threat to Cena's title. He was a rare combination of speed and strength, and although he was by no means a polished wrestler, the former amateur wrestler was on a roll.
Positioned as the second-most prominent babyface on Monday nights, Lashley was the greatest hope for fans sick and tired of the John Cena experience. Everyone else involved in the match was merely just "there."
A fast-paced, chaotic championship clash saw Lashley rise to the occasion and deliver the most impressive performance of the match. Randy Orton and Mick Foley rekindled their rivalry one more than one occasion throughout the match's 10 minutes.
In the end, the trading of finishing maneuvers would eliminate all but Cena and Foley from the match, and it would be the WWE champion's Attitude Adjustment to the Hardcore Legend that scored him the victory.
Historically speaking, the match had no impact on WWE. Lashley's performance would earn him an opportunity at the WWE title the following month at The Great American Bash, in a very good match, but his lack of passion for pro wrestling would lead to that being his final pay-per-view appearance.
Orton would challenge Cena for the title at SummerSlam in August, and their rivalry would continue into September, where an untimely injury would put an end to Cena's lengthy title reign.
King Booker's stay with WWE would come to an end after August's SummerSlam, where he lost to the returning Triple H, while Mick Foley would not make another in-ring appearance on a WWE pay-per-view until the following January's Royal Rumble.
WWE Championship Match: John Cena vs. Triple H, 2008
At WrestleMania 22 in April of 2006, John Cena defeated Triple H in the main event, solidifying his place at the top of World Wrestling Entertainment. It was a shocking win for the young WWE champion because it was rare for the title not to switch hands in the main event of the annual sports-entertainment extravaganza.
The two would meet again one month later at Backlash in a triple threat match for the title that also involved Edge. It would be two years, however, before Cena and Triple H did battle in singles competition for the WWE title.
According to WWE Home Video production The Shawn Michaels Story: Heartbreak and Triumph, original plans for the WrestleMania 23 main event featured a rematch from the year prior. Unfortunately, a quadriceps tear kept The Game off of WWE programming for nearly a year and put an end to any plans for the match to occur.
When the match was finally booked for 2008's Night of Champions event, it was treated as the big deal it was.
Two of the biggest stars of the era clashed over the top prize in the sport, each using their trademark moves in attempt to put the other away and escape Dallas' American Airlines Center with the WWE Championship in their grasp.
Triple H offset Cena's STF by pulling the crossface out of mothballs. Cena would fight out of the hold and attempt the Attitude Adjustment, but Triple H elbowed out and delivered the Pedigree for a definitive pinfall victory.
The match between Triple H and Cena at Night of Champions 2008 is exactly the type of match the event should be built around. It was a major, important match between two icons in the industry, and it was treated as such.
While it did not live up to the original match between the two—likely due to the lack of crowd reaction, which wasn't even remotely close to that of the Chicago fans that made the WrestleMania 22 that much better—it was still a great outing between two outstanding big-match performers.
World Heavyweight Championship Match: Jeff Hardy vs. CM Punk
In the summer of 2009, Jeff Hardy was the most popular Superstar in World Wrestling Entertainment.
He was so popular, in fact, that for the first time in years, SmackDown's World Heavyweight Championship headlined consecutive pay-per-view events. That year's Night of Champions would be the first, and it would feature the enigmatic daredevil squaring off against the man who cashed in Money in the Bank and beat him for the title, CM Punk.
Punk was in the middle of a heel turn that would, sooner than later, result in him becoming the most hated man in wrestling.
It was a rivalry between two polar opposites that captured the attention of the WWE Universe. Punk was quick to call out Hardy for his past of substance abuse while the popular babyface devoted himself to recapturing the Heavyweight title.
Punk would control the majority of the match using his superior wrestling skill set to keep Hardy grounded. It seemed as though the champion was able to cut Hardy off at every turn, preventing any sort of comeback attempt.
Then Punk set Hardy up for a superplex attempt. The challenger blocked and delivered a front-suplex from the middle rope, putting an end to Punk's dominance and turning the tide in his favor. Hardy gained some offensive momentum, but soon, Punk was back in control of the match.
Late in the bout, Hardy tried for the Twist of Fate, but Punk countered into the GTS. It looked like the World title would stay put, but Hardy somehow shot his shoulder off the mat at two, denying Punk a successful pay-per-view title defense.
A frustrated Punk grabbed the World Championship from ringside and tried to walk out, only to be tossed back into the squared circle by his opponent. Seconds later, Hardy delivered Twist of Fate, followed by the Swanton Bomb, and picked up his second World Heavyweight Championship.
Punk would go on to regain the title at August's SummerSlam before forming the Straight Edge Society later in the fall. Hardy would leave the company shortly thereafter.
United States Championship Match: Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz
There are perhaps no two Superstars more different than Daniel Bryan and The Miz. One worked his way through the independent scene, wrestling in bingo halls and with numerous injuries to one day achieve his dream of competing in World Wrestling Entertainment.
The other was a former reality television star who lucked his way into a developmental deal following a losing effort in 2004's Tough Enough.
The one thing they have in common is work ethic. Both men have worked extremely hard to get to the point they are at now as former WWE champions.
In 2010, they were feuding over the United States Championship, and a match at Night of Champions would prove to be the culmination of that feud.
Bryan entered the company as a competitor on the first season of NXT. His pro mentor? The Miz.
Fans, especially those prominent on the Internet, were disgruntled over the choice of someone like The Miz, a product of sports-entertainment, being the mentor for a wrestler like Bryan. It created a unique dynamic between the two that led to entertaining television on the weekly program.
Their match at Night of Champions remains one of the best in The Miz's career, and it was Bryan's first really good singles match in WWE.
The Miz managed to keep up with Bryan, never once looking out of place between the ropes with an infinitely more talented in-ring performer. He was motivated by the outrage of the fans, and it showed in his performance. His moves were crisp, he was aggressive and he pulled moves out of his bag of tricks that most did not know he was capable of.
In the end, it was Bryan who would sucker The Miz in, grab his left arm and apply the No Lock (then known as the LeBell) for the submission win. It spelled the end of Miz's U.S. title reign and the beginning of Bryan's three-year build toward September 15 and his WWE Championship match against Randy Orton at this year's event.
Six-Pack Challenge Match for the WWE Championship, 2010
Sheamus entered the Allstate Arena in Chicago on September 19, 2010 riding a wave of momentum that had begun the previous December, when he upset John Cena and shocked the world by winning the WWE Championship less than a year into his stay on the main roster.
He would lose the title back to Cena but would only be separated from the gold for four months, as he regained it in June at Fatal 4-Way, thanks in large part to the interference of Wade Barrett and Nexus.
Speaking of Barrett, the winner of NXT Season One organized his fellow competitors into a faction known as Nexus and terrorized World Wrestling Entertainment throughout the summer of 2010. He targeted the top stars in the industry, including Cena, Edge, Chris Jericho and Randy Orton, and would stop at nothing to introduce a new era in professional wrestling.
With six men intertwined with one another leading into WWE's annual September offering, it made sense to put The Celtic Warrior's WWE Championship on the line in a match involving all of them. So a Six-Pack Challenge match was booked for the main event of Night of Champions.
The match was chaotic, as any match involving six Superstars would be, with the focus heavily on Cena and Barrett. When they were eliminated from the bout, it left Randy Orton to try to dethrone Sheamus.
And that is exactly what he did, courtesy of the RKO.
Sheamus would stumble in the months following Night of Champions. He went on a long losing streak that saw him left off of the WrestleMania 27 card and serve as a frequent punching bag for fellow Superstars. He would make a switch to the SmackDown brand, turn babyface and embark on a six-month reign as World champion in 2012.
Orton would hold the title until The Miz cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase and defeated him the night after Survivor Series that November. He remains one of the top stars in the industry now and will defend his WWE Championship against Daniel Bryan on September 15 at Night of Champions 2013.
World Heavyweight Championship: Randy Orton vs. Mark Henry, 2011
Sometimes a great wrestling match has nothing to do with a back-and-forth exchange, a series of near-falls or how many German suplexes a wrestler can throw.
Sometimes a great wrestling match is one in which a story is told and a star is made.
For 15 years, Mark Henry entertained fans of World Wrestling Entertainment, oftentimes as a smiling babyface who loved to have a good time and had a soft spot for the ladies. Dubbed "Sexual Chocolate," Henry was a midcard talent that never really reached past that level.
The company tried several times to push Henry into the main event picture, but injuries, poor booking or lack of fan acceptance resulted in the World's Strongest Man returning to his former position on the card.
That changed in 2011, when Henry was finally treated like the unstoppable monster that he's always been. He tore through the competition on SmackDown, including the likes of The Big Show, Sheamus, Christian and Kane, before earning his World title showdown with Randy Orton at that September's Night of Champions.
Henry would make his first shot at the Heavyweight gold count, dominating the match with Orton, leaving small windows for Randy to attempt a comeback but cutting him off at every turn. Randy struggled to his feet, using Henry's massive frame to help himself to his feet. He was stubborn in his refusal to quit and tried one last, almost pathetic attempt at an RKO but was shrugged off and tossed across the ring by his larger, stronger and more determined opponent.
Henry scraped Orton off the mat, delivered the World's Strongest Slam and won the first World Heavyweight title of his lengthy career.
The match told a phenomenal story of a championship wrestler who had vanquished so many challengers in the past running into an unstoppable force, a destructive being that dominated the landscape of the sport leading into the match and who would not be stopped in his quest for career validation.
Orton's defiant shaking of the head as he used Henry to pull himself up, followed by the pathetic attempt at one last RKO, was reminiscent of Batman pulling every weapon out of his arsenal in his attempt to beat Bane midway through The Dark Knight Rises only to succumb to the stronger, more physically imposing man.
Henry's title reign would be short-lived. He would lose the strap to The Big Show at TLC and a groin injury would eventually sideline him for the majority of the following year. The run-up to the match with Orton and his subsequent title reign, however, remain bright spots in a career that has been far longer and far more decorated than most thought it would
For that, Henry should be proud.
WWE Championship Match: John Cena vs. Alberto Del Rio
At SummerSlam 2011, Alberto Del Rio capitalized on a stunning jackknife powerbomb from Kevin Nash to CM Punk and successfully cashed in Money in the Bank, winning his first WWE Championship. His first title defense would come one month later against John Cena at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, N.Y.
Del Rio was the heel champion, the aristocratic Mexican Superstar who believed it was his destiny to be champion. He was deceitful, cunning and opportunistic. Despite losing several title matches in the past, including one to Edge at WrestleMania 27, Del Rio managed to hang around the top of the card before capturing Money in the Bank, thus earning him a title shot whenever and whenever he wanted.
As we have already covered, he cashed that contract in and won the WWE title.
Cena, on the other hand, was the consummate good guy who competed under the moral code of hustle, loyalty and respect. He believed in earning titles (unless you count that time that he was handed an opportunity against Rey Mysterio, who had already competed in a match to win the gold earlier in the night), and the fact that Del Rio had so cheaply won the title did not set well with the leader of the Cenation.
Cena defeated CM Punk to earn a shot at the title and at Night of Champions and would look to put an end to Del Rio's title reign.
The champion was still at the point in his WWE career where he was working to adapt to the WWE style of working. As was usual, Del Rio focused on the left arm of his challenger in hopes of eventually locking in the cross-arm breaker. Cena powered out of it, slamming Del Rio into the mat and applying the STF.
Seconds later, Del Rio had no choice but to tap out, his head and neck wrenched in what had to have been a painful direction.
Cena celebrated yet another title victory, while Del Rio saw his first reign, which he did not truly earn, come to a disappointing end.
Del Rio would regain the title weeks later at Vengeance in October before dropping it to CM Punk at November's Survivor Series.
Cena's most recent title victory came at WrestleMania 29, when he defeated The Rock in the main event.
WWE Championship Match: John Cena vs. CM Punk, 2012
The greatest rivalry of this generation delivered a solid entry into its legacy at Night of Champions in 2012, as CM Punk entered the TD Garden in Boston, Mass. as the WWE champion. His opponent that night? Boston's own, John Cena.
Cena and Punk had feuded on and off since 2011, when Punk cut his infamous "pipebomb" that changed his career forever. From that point on, the two biggest stars in the industry oftentimes found themselves at odds over the richest prize in the industry, the WWE title.
Heading into the September 16 show, Punk had completed a heel turn that saw him immediately become wrestling's top villain. With Paul Heyman by his side and the WWE title strapped around his waist, he was in the middle of one of the hottest streaks in the history of the sport. His title reign was nearing a year in length, something that is unheard of in the modern era of professional wrestling.
In fact, over the last 15 years, only two men have had WWE Championship reigns reach the year-long point. CM Punk is one. The other?
History awaited the two stars as they set foot inside the squared circle, Cena's family and friends watching from the stands as two Superstars celebrated for their ability to deliver in big-match situations squared off for the right to call themselves champion.
They delivered a masterpiece of dramatic performance art, exchanging holds, counter-holds and the moves fans have come to expect out of them over the years.
On that night, however, there would be no definitive favorite. Neither man could gain the advantage long enough to put the other away for a three-count. Instead, a double-pin resulted in a draw. As is the case in professional wrestling, a tie goes to the champion, meaning Punk would leave his opponent's hometown with the title tightly in his grasp.
The greatest match in Night of Champions history.