Night of Champions 2013 belonged to Paul Heyman.
On a card with a number of flat matches and a WWE Championship bout outcome that is in serious danger of being overturned, it was a non-wrestler who was the most compelling performer on the big stage. His expressiveness and acting chops made him the captivating center of a championship-themed pay-per-view despite never holding a wrestling title in his life.
Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan deservedly received the majority of the hype heading into the event, but Heyman outshone him as a victim, manager and cockroach.
The Night of Champions pay-per-view opened much like an episode of WWE Raw when Triple H delivered a promo. Heyman soon interrupted him, looking frazzled and frightened.
He begged the COO to let him get out of his match against CM Punk.
Heyman evoked both pity and disgust in this segment. He sounded like a criminal suddenly remorseful once he feels the cold of the electric chair. He drew in the audience before anyone dished out the first wrestling move of the night.
He soon found out that his client Curtis Axel would be defending the Intercontinental Championship against Kofi Kingston, in addition to his match against Punk.
Axel was not the only one pulling double duty, though. Heyman did what he's perfected over the years, stand at ringside and emote.
His facial expressions drew the camera’s interest as much as the action in the ring.
So often managers fade into the background once the wrestling begins, becoming a prop on the outside. Heyman was the opposite. He was the lightning rod for the emotions of the match, exuding hope, fear, irritation and relief throughout the bout.
Heyman then made his third appearance of the night as an unwilling participant in a Handicap Elimination match against his former best friend. If Punk beat Axel, he would get his hands on Heyman and shined even before it was his turn to fight.
His teeth seemed to grind as he watched Axel battle Punk. Heyman wore all black ring gear and resignation and stubble on his face. When Punk forced Axel to tap out with his Anaconda Vise, "The Best in the World" turned to his soon-to-be victim.
Heyman's reaction proved that he's the best in the business at that aspect of sports entertainment.
Both Punk and Heyman had done such a fantastic job in building the hatred between them over the last few weeks that this moment was highly anticipated. Justice was finally at the doorstep and we were able to finally see Heyman get the punishment he had more than earned.
Heyman tried to escape his impending beating by darting around the ring.
Punk eventually caught him. He handcuffed Heyman and beat him with a kendo stick. Heyman squirmed and howled, both overwhelmed and indignant, as Punk thrashed him.
The lines he screamed were as memorable as any of the wrestling moments from the match.
"I'm tapping. I'm tapping." "Oh my god, are you crazy? What are you doing?" #WWENOC— Kevin Berge (@TheBerge_) September 16, 2013
Heyman's suffering was somehow funny, unsettling and cathartic all at once. He made the most of every blow, turning a one-sided battle into the car wreck one can't look away from.
While Bryan and Orton will get much of the headlines after the show, it was Ryback's interference at this point that was the biggest moment of the night. Ryback prevented Punk from finishing his destruction of Heyman when he smashed Punk into a table and dragged Heyman over Punk for the win.
As cheap of a victory as it was, Heyman now has more wins at Night of Champions than Punk.
That's not a statement many fans would have predicting they would read after the event. Bryan's win was a surprise as well, but referee Scott Armstrong's fast count will likely lead to Triple H reversing the decision.
That ending made that match an unsatisfying one, giving it the feel of a transitional chapter to a larger story.
Bryan and Orton will have their ultimate climax in the future and likely a bigger, better match than their bout at Night of Champions. Heyman acted as if he was the main event star and left the audience agreeing with him.
Heyman set off every firework within reach on a night that ranks among the best of his career.
Punk's story of revenge doesn't seem to be over either, but Heyman created a buzz through showcasing his range of emotions and continuing to be one of the most fascinating characters in WWE. His new apparent partnership with Ryback is going to have a major impact on WWE storylines to come.
On a pay-per-view where the battle for king of the jungle between predators, vipers and wildcats, it was the cowardly rat that wore the crown for a night.