Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Scattered Thoughts on Night of Champions

The Big Guy earned his almost-finisher
Photo Credit: WWE.com
As far as WWE pay-per-view events go, Night of Champions was one of the better recent ones. It wasn't essential - Night of Champions has rarely if ever been essential in its history - but it had decent in-ring action, moved stories forward, and had moments that made the three hours worth absorbing. If this paradigm were the baseline for WWE's Network-events, then the company would be in pretty good shape. To be completely honest, outside of a few shows lately, namely Money in the Bank, WWE has tread close to that baseline, which makes the pessimism towards the pay-per-view product seem out of whack when looking at it in perspective. Then again, RAW has been a chore to sit through at times; even inoffensive episodes can dampen the outlook because of how long they are.

But in a "Network only" diet of viewership, Night of Champions was a perfect transitional episode into Brock Lesnar's "Go to Hell" tour. A prevailing school of thought suggests that watching RAW is a waste of everyone's time since WWE will recap the bullet points on each pay-per-view telecast, and that the fluff is a lot less pervasive in watching only Network-presented material, which at this point contains 12 pay-per-views, various Network-only main roster specials, weekly NXT, and the always-excellent Takeover specials.

Looking at it from that lens, Night of Champions did its job. Some stories were ended and transitioned, like Seth Rollins going from Sting and John Cena back to Kane or Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose appearing to be getting a reprieve from their endless feud against the Wyatt Family into a fresh and potentially interesting issue with Chris Jericho (which didn't bear out because apparently, Jericho only signed on for one more night, pfft). Charlotte finally achieved a zenith for the non-Bella women on the main roster, while Kevin Owens began a new reign of terror by wresting the possibly-cursed Intercontinental Championship from Ryback. The one feud that wasn't close to ending, New Day vs. the Dudley Boys, got a logical continuance as well. If the next couple of events are "as good as" Night of Champions, then WWE will be in a decent place, if you don't watch RAW. But for dopes like me who do watch RAW every week, well, maybe it's just compulsion.

• • •

WWE does this thing where it likes redundancy for certain tropes or match mechanisms or story conceits on a single show. It's not the worst thing the company does, but it can be annoying. It can also be a good exposition on the things it does right and wrong, or things that its individual workers do right or wrong. Said redundancy took the form of extended limb work in both the Intercontinental Championship and Divas Championship matches. In one instance, the trope was carried out well, and in the other, it left a lot to be desired. Kevin Owens worked over Ryback's arm for a majority of his match, while Nikki Bella wore out Charlotte's leg for what seemed like forever.

Both instances ended with the injured wrestler finding it in them to overcome the injury to seemingly get their finisher applied, but Ryback actually showed his work between point A and point B, while Charlotte just glossed it over. The former instance saw Ryback struggle with weakness in his damaged arm (even if at one point during the match, he misidentified which body part was getting worked over), culminating in him failing to get Owens up for Shell-shocked. It was after that point where Ryback had to make a comeback and then show that he was feeling his adrenaline (Hulking up?) and was able to use some other energy to allow himself to pick Owens up despite the damage he incurred. Of course, the match ended with Owens cheaply getting out of that predicament and rolling The Big Guy up, but that's just layering levels of psychology on each other. It's why the opener was my favorite match of the night.

I liked the Divas Title match too, don't get me wrong, but the end was a study in where both women got it wrong. While Charlotte and Bella tried to do the same thing, Charlotte failed because didn't really struggle with her leg, especially at the end applying her finisher that explicitly uses her legs for. She held her leg and hobbled a bit, but it didn't necessarily make her change what she was doing or adversely affect her. She hit her spear counter of Bella's indiscriminate leap into nowhere with the same spring as she might have working over top as a baddie, and she at no point showed any kind of struggle in trying to apply the Figure Eight.

Then again, the problem may not have completely been with Charlotte being inexperienced or "bad" (she's not bad, even if she's not on Sasha Banks' or Bayley's level right now), but with the match being laid out so that Bella was working methodically on offense for so long. Her heat segments for the last few weeks stretching into months have been interminably long. This problem reared its ugly head at SummerSlam as well, and it hurt the three-way Divas trios match as well (Although not as badly as the booking of the Divas "revolution" did).

I get it in some respects. Whoever is laying the matches out wants Bella to seem unbeatable, so she gets really long stretches to work over her opponents so that beating her can seem like an accomplishment. However, the problem arises when she's on heat for so long and the matches don't correlate with the total run-times needed to make it proportionate. Namely, the comebacks from her opponents can end up seeming truncated and hollow without time to breathe or develop into something more worthwhile. IT would be one thing if it were the only time during the show where that conceit happened, but with Ryback pulling it off way better earlier in the show, it just came off even more glaringly.

• • •

Braun Strowman is physically imposing, a walking, talking slab of granite with a barrel chest and an evil set of eyes. He seems to be the kind of guy that makes Vince McMahon react like this:

But WWE has presented that kind of guy before: Mason Ryan, Jackson Andrews, John Heidenreich, Chris Masters (first run, before he got good), Luther Reigns, Kurrgan the Interrogator, Ludvig Borga, so on, so forth. But none of them panned out because they weren't any good in the ring. Well, again, Masters didn't start to get really over until he came back and got good, but then WWE just didn't know what to do with him. But that's another story.

Strowman appears that he can be different. He doesn't move around the ring like a Claymation ogre, but rather like a human being, a largely proportioned human being, but one no less. In addition to his look and relative dexterity, he also possesses some unique spots, especially his hanging bearhug choke, which looks like the baddest submission hold since the Anaconda Vise. He wasn't exposed too much in the six man tag match, which at this point is probably for the best. He may have a leg up on the other big bad body dudes, but he also skipped NXT and may or may not be able to go broadway just yet. But he feels special, like a guy WWE should probably not fuck up with its milquetoast parity booking.

• • •

When Seth Rollins went heel over a year ago, it seemed like a bad, bad idea. He was the one guy in The Shield who looked ready to bust out as a fan favorite. Hell, his dive from the mezzanine level at Payback against Evolution was the crazy-go-nuts kind of spot that mints legends. Jeff Hardy made a career out of it, and while I'm a bigger fan of the Charismatic Enigma than most, Rollins has the potential to dwarf Hardy's impact on the world of wrestling. OF course, when you have a spot guy like that, the best thing to do is let him ball out and dazzle fans with aerial pyrotechnics after taking huge beatings and giant bumps to garner pathos. Of course, what does WWE do? Turn him into a dimestore model of the worst possible version of Triple H.

But when you keep hammering a square peg into a round hole, eventually, the corners will get sheared off and the piece will fit eventually. Rollins' promos are still godawful, but in the ring, he's rounded into a solid prick heel. He went from the same exact match with Dolph Ziggler for three months straight to having vibrant, story-rich battles against guys like Neville. In his match against Sting, he had the kind of performance that top heels should have. He took his beating when he had to (although the circumstances before it were dubious, fuckin' John Cena), and he was merciless when he worked on top. Of course, the whole thing got marred when Sting nearly broke his neck near the end, but that's a whole other issue.

I firmly believe the big money is in Rollins as WWE's top good guy, or at least part of an ensemble cast of heroes. However, one can certainly say something positive about taking to a role that doesn't fit and making it fit. WWE's faith in him as a top guy hasn't been misplaced, even if I'd rather shove capsacin oil-soaked cotton balls in every orifice than hear him open up RAW with a microphone in his hand anymore...