WWE Classic of the Week: Randy Orton vs. Mark Henry, Night of Champions 2011

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WWE Classic of the Week: Randy Orton vs. Mark Henry, Night of Champions 2011
Credit: WWE.com

There comes a time in every great champion's career when they are presented with a test in the form of an unstoppable force, a Superstar riding a wave of momentum that comes crashing down on anyone unlucky enough to be in his path.

No matter how hard the champion fights or how valiant the effort he puts up, there is nothing he can do to deny his opponent his place atop the WWE mountain.

John Cena found this out on August 17 when Brock Lesnar demolished him in the most lopsided heavyweight championship match. But he was far from the first champion to be overwhelmed by a bigger, stronger and more unstoppable No. 1 contender.

Three years ago, in fall 2011, Randy Orton found himself faced with seemingly insurmountable odds as he was challenged by the World's Strongest Man, Mark Henry.

After years spent underachieving in the world of sports entertainment, Henry had put his days as "Sexual Chocolate" behind him, changing fans' perception of him in the process and positioning himself as a top contender to the World Heavyweight Championship.

Would The Viper bring the biggest push of Henry's career to a disappointing conclusion or would the former Olympian tear through the third-generation star and claim his first major singles title?

This is their story.

 

Background

2011 was a banner year for Randy Orton. He had compiled a string of Match of the Year candidates during his rivalry with Christian, captured the World Heavyweight Championship on two separate occasions, decisively won a feud with CM Punk and was the face of the SmackDown brand. One of the most popular stars in all of professional wrestling, he was as hot has he had ever been.

At SummerSlam in August, he regained the world title, pinning Christian in an outstanding No Holds Barred match.

After months of being preoccupied by the crybaby heel, Orton could move on to his next challenger. Unfortunately for him, that challenger would be the most dominant Superstar on SmackDown.

Mark Henry's arrival to the blue brand triggered a career renaissance that saw the grizzled vet rise rapidly through the ranks. Big Show, Sheamus and Kane were just a few former heavyweight champions in his path of destruction, which roared throughout the Friday night staple for months before he even sniffed the championship picture.

On August 19, Henry won a huge 20-man Battle Royal to become No. 1 contender to Orton's heavyweight championship. 

Upon earning that reward he repeatedly demonstrated his dominance over Orton, creating very real doubts in the minds of fans that The Viper could overcome the challenge and avoid induction into Henry's Hall of Pain.

Those doubts, as it turned out, would be founded.

 

The Match

 

 

Analysis

The Night of Champions match between Orton and Henry is one of the finest pieces of storytelling by two in-ring performers in recent WWE history.

Henry was nearly flawless in the match, dominating the action and outmatching Orton throughout. Orton, ever the resilient champion, continued to try to fight back but his offense was met with heavy resistance by his opponent. 

The finish to the contest remains one of the best WWE Creative has booked in quite some time.

Orton had thrown everything he could at the challenger but had barely stunned the unstoppable competitor. His body wracked with pain and his grip on the World Heavyweight Championship loosening, he clawed his way off the mat, using the body of his opponent to help hold him up. Defiant in the face of certain defeat, he tried for one last RKO but was tossed to the mat like a rag doll, then flattened with the World's Strongest Slam.

Three seconds later, Henry was the World Heavyweight champion and WWE had a masterpiece on its hands.

Fans too often confuse what makes a great match. A great match is more than just chain wrestling, counters and sequencing. It is about so much more than strong strikes and high spots. At the heart of every great match is a story that fans can follow, that they can emotionally invest themselves in.

The match between Orton and Henry delivered that in spades. What it lacked in suplexes and reversals it made up for in a tale of a desperate champion whose very best simply was not good enough.

 

Aftermath

Orton and Henry would clash in a rematch weeks later at the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view. The Viper again provided the World's Strongest Man with a tough fight but found himself on the wrong end of the World's Strongest Slam.

Henry would break away from Orton and engage fellow behemoth Big Show in a feud over the heavyweight title. At Vengeance in October, they met in a huge one-on-one contest that ended in a No Contest when a superplex caused the ring to collapse in on itself. At Survivor Series and TLC, they would clash again with Big Show eventually getting the upper hand and taking the title from his rival.

Orton would move onto feuds with Cody Rhodes and Wade Barrett, all the while developing into one of the best workers in the entire company.

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