Saturday, July 25, 2009

Night of Champions 2009

The WWE seems to have figured out, over the last few years, that giving all the second-tier pay-per-views different names isn't really enough to make them distinctive. So themed shows like One Night Stand and Cyber Sunday have started creeping into the schedule, and there's apparently more of this to come. There's talk that the September show, which has just been renamed Breaking Point, will feature a whole card of submission matches; this seems terribly ill-advised for a whole range of reasons (it only suits certain wrestlers, it'll be repetitive, it stops matches using near-falls to build excitement at a quick pace, and it forces a gimmick match onto feuds that might not logically require them), but I wouldn't be at all surprised to see them go through with it.

Night of Champions has a more straightforward gimmick: all eight titles are on the line. It's the third year they've done this, and it's slightly more distinctive than it has been before, since the company relied on midcard title matches to fill out pay-per-view cards less than before. They've also remembered to hold off the televised title defences for a few weeks.

Just to set the scene, here's how the titles actually break down. The WWE, you'll recall, is divided into three separate rosters, each with their own show - Raw, Smackdown and ECW. Raw and Smackdown are notionally equal, but everyone knows Raw is the bigger priority. Ironically, this means Smackdown suffers less meddling and last-minute changes of plans, and is usually a better show. The company long since dropped the pretence that ECW was in any way equal - at this point, it's basically a starting point for rookies, plus some experienced guys to help train them.

Raw has three titles - the WWE Title for headliners, the US Title for midcarders, and the Divas Title for women. (Yes, it's a dreadful name, isn't it?) Smackdown has the World Heavyweight Title for headliners, the Intercontinental Title for midcarders, and the Women's Title, which is self-explanatory. ECW has the ECW Title, and should count itself lucky to have that. And floating around, there's the Unified Tag Team Titles, which is defended everywhere. That's important, because it means they double as a plot device to let wrestlers appear on other shows.

And now, the card...

1. WWE Title: Randy Orton v. Triple H v. John Cena. Orton is still the defending heel champion, and here he is fighting the two main babyfaces on Raw... again. The WWE's spin is to say that this is the three top wrestlers on the show, fighting for the top belt. The problem is that we've seen these three in every conceivable combination, and there's really nothing new about it. The same match headlined Wrestlemania in 2007, and the fact that they're still doing variations on it should be cause for concern.

The problem is that the WWE has fallen into the classic wrestling trap of forgetting to elevate the next generation of wrestlers until it's too late. Orton really needs somebody else to feud with. But there's nobody lined up for that slot. And there's nobody new for Triple H and Cena to fight either. And when they try getting new people into the mix, they always get cold feet at the last minute - hence the recent Cena/Miz feud, where Miz came across as a persistent mosquito rather than a genuine threat.

Orton as champion still has possibilities, so he should retain here. They need to keep him strong, and a title change would achieve nothing. My inclination is that they should try and move Cena and Triple H on to other things - turning Triple H heel might be a smart move, because it's been a few years, and he's good at it. Orton's lack of challengers is a problem, but having written themselves into this corner, they've got to just choose some midcarders and run with it. MVP would be the obvious choice, if only they'd commit to him.

The match will be entirely solid - it's just unlikely to offer anything we haven't seen many times before.

2. World Heavyweight Title: CM Punk v. Jeff Hardy. The Smackdown match is a bit more interesting. The back story: Jeff Hardy won the title from Edge in a ladder match on the June show. Immediately afterwards, CM Punk cashed in the "Money in the Bank" title shot he won at Wrestlemania, and pinned Hardy to win the title, effectively turning heel in the process. Hardy is still chasing for his revenge.

This is Punk's first run as a heel in the WWE (not counting a couple of weeks where they teased it in ECW). But he was a very successful heel on the indie scene, doing a smug and holier-than-thou version of his "straight edge" persona. As on Raw, the lurking problem here is a shortage of credible challengers, particularly once Jeff Hardy takes that sabbatical he's supposedly got lined up. Still, there's always Rey Mysterio, they're trying to elevate John Morrison, and at some point the Undertaker will show up. You can keep Punk busy as heel champion for a while.

Since Hardy is on his way out for the time being, Punk should retain here. The actual match quality could be erratic; Punk is not the most consistent wrestler around. But it's likely to be in the "okay to good" range.

3. ECW Title: Tommy Dreamer v. Christian. Really? Because this doesn't seem to be working.

Tommy Dreamer is the last remaining veteran of the original ECW, an influential 1990s indie promotion which eventually went bust. The WWE bought the rights to the name, but their version is otherwise wholly unrelated. Dreamer's role in ECW-proper was to be the long-suffering babyface who went through hell to try and win the title, and never quite got there. Not many WWE viewers remember that storyline, for obvious reasons - it was over a decade ago on an indie promotion! Nevertheless, here's Dreamer, never a particularly good wrestler, finally getting his belated title run. Not many people seem to care.

Dreamer won the title in June, and has held on to it for a surprisingly long time. He's still feuding with Christian, the guy he won it from, who appears to be in the process of turning heel. That's fair enough; Christian's a natural heel, who had to go through an initial babyface run after a lengthy absence from the company. I'd say this is probably the time to move the title back. However, the TV shows have been teasing a three-way feud with Vladimir Kozlov, which makes me suspect we're actually going to get some sort of non-finish.

Christian's very good, but I can't see this being much more than okay.

4. Intercontinental Title: Rey Mysterio v. Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler had the misfortune to debut during a period when the company was keen on silly names - see also Jack Swagger. In his initial run on Raw, he was also saddled with a baffling gimmick: he insisted on introducing himself to everyone. Since being drafted to Smackdown, however, he's been given a more serious push, and seems to be something of a priority.

I can see this being a good match. Ziggler's really not bad, and Mysterio is obviously great. And knowing WWE logic, I can easily see Ziggler winning. It'd be an upset win, but it would preserves his momentum, and free up Mysterio as a challenger for CM Punk's World Title, after a discreet interval. Plus, Mysterio is the sort of lower-tier headliner that the company would regard as expendable for the purposes of elevating a younger wrestler. There's a lot to be said for the challenger winning here.

5. US Title: Kofi Kingston v. The Big Show v. MVP v. Carlito v. Jack Swagger v. The Miz. Very strange. The build-up for this match initially suggested a three-way with Kingston as defending champion, the Big Show, and Evan Bourne. Bourne now seems to have vanished from the plot altogether, and instead we've got this mess.

Kingston has been around for a year and half now. He's actually from Ghana, but for some reason the company is billing him as Jamaican. He's got something, but doesn't seem to be quite ready to break from the pack yet. Then again, to be fair, he's never really had any compelling storylines to work with. He won the US Title from MVP at the start of June, somewhat out of the blue, after which they started the stuff with Evan Bourne.

Instead we're getting a six-way match, where the first pinfall or submission wins. It's going to be an utter mess, in other words. I presume this is just a device to get a bunch of people on the show. Big Show is a headlining giant heel, looking for something to occupy his time, and the US Title is probably beneath him - although having him win here, and drop it back to Kingston in a straight match, might work. Carlito has just turned heel, breaking up his tag team with brother Primo, who isn't in the match at all (but should probably interfere somewhere along the line, to advance their story). Swagger and the Miz are midcard heels who could both make credible enough champions, but this doesn't feel like the right place to make that switch.

Kingston probably retains in a chaotic affair.

6. WWE Unified Tag Team Titles: Chris Jericho & ??? v. Legacy (Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes). Now this is an interesting one. As I said before, the tag titles are important, because the champions can be used on all three shows. That's why, on the June show, the titles were won by Jericho and Edge. It meant that two extra main event heels were now available across the company.

Unfortunately, Edge almost immediately went down with a (genuine) Achilles tendon injury, which will keep him out for months. To make matters worse, this happened after they'd taped two weeks of television, prior to going on an international tour. So there hasn't been much time to change direction. They've settled for an unsympathetic Jericho blithely announcing that he'll be replacing Edge with a mystery partner on Sunday.

To be honest, there aren't many obvious contenders for this slot. The problem with announcing a "mystery partner" is that it's terribly underwhelming to bring out some random midcard heel. But with all the headliners otherwise occupied, that might well be what they end up doing. Kane is probably the best of a bad bunch, in terms of not disappointing the crowd.

The challengers are an equally odd choice. DiBiase and Rhodes are Randy Orton's henchmen, and this is a heel/heel match - something that usually doesn't work. But there's a running subplot here, with Rhodes as the loyal soldier, and DiBiase starting to question whether he's getting anything out of this relationship. DiBiase, in other words, is on the first steps of a babyface turn - but his partner isn't. Now, in the WWE's mind, Legacy are probably supposed to be elevated by hanging around with main eventers like Orton. What actually happens is that they get beaten up a lot. So there's a lot to be said for Legacy winning this match and getting the chance to go out and defend their titles on Smackdown and ECW, away from the boss's shadow.

As for Jericho... well, logically I suppose he transitions into a mini-feud with whoever he chooses as a partner. The Legacy are actually quite good, though they rarely get the chance to show it, and Jericho is excellent - so this could be good. I'm honestly quite intrigued to find out what they do here.

7. Divas Title: Maryse v. Mickie James. Maryse is a great heel character, but not much of a wrestler. Mickie's actually pretty good, certainly by the (admittedly undemanding) standards of the WWE women. As an actual wrestler in a division of swimsuit models, she's doomed to a life of trying to have decent matches with hopeless opponents. Maryse is a model, but at least she tries hard and she has genuine charisma.

I suspect Mickie wins here. They've built up this match reasonably well, and they're also hinting at pairing Maryse up with the equally self-absorbed Miz. That would probably be a very good opposites-attract double act, and I can see plenty of potential in it, but it doesn't need the title belt. (Or, rather, if one has a title, they both need one. Come to think of it, Miz is in the US Title match...)

8. Women's Title: Michelle McCool v. Melina. Um... well, it's Night of Champions, the gimmick is that every title is on the line, and so this match has to go on PPV. It'll be short, and it'll be used to give the crowd a breather between more significant matches. There's not much to hold anyone's interest here.

Worth buying? Hmm. My head says no, my heart can't help thinking that tag title match might be interesting. I'll probably wait to hear the results, and then buy the replay if it's a winner.