How do you follow up an all-time PPV like the 2013 version of SummerSlam? No idea, but WWE has to give it a go this Sunday with the seventh installment of Night of Champions. The Night of Champions concept first popped up in 2007 as a subtitle for the Vengeance PPV. The next year it became a standalone venture and has remained that way ever since. The concept is simple: it is the one night of the WWE year that all championship must be defended. Unless of course, they aren’t. As of right now, the United States Title will not be on the line, but as is always the case with WWE PPVs, things are fluid. Also, while the Intercontinental Title is not up for grabs, the champion is competing on the card. Here is how the slate is shaping up so far.
Real Americans vs. Tons of Funk vs. The Usos vs. Three Man Band vs. Prime Time Players – Number One Contenders Match
On the YouTube pre-show, these four teams will clash to earn the right to challenge the Shield for the tag team strap later in the night. The Usos have been booked the strongest over the last few months and even took the Shield to the limit at Money in the Bank and have tussled with the champs on a few occasions since. The Usos clearly have a connection with the fans and are well liked by the company brass, so they are always considered to be a legitimate threat to pick up wins in matches like this. However, in my mind if they receive another PPV title shot, they would likely have to take the straps, and I don’t think we are to that point yet. The Real Americans, on the other hand, have seen their stock swiftly plummet. It is mindblowing to think Jack Swagger challenged for the World Heavyweight Title at Wrestlemania this year when you look at how far he has fallen since. Antonio Cesaro has also been treated poorly, dropping matches to Santino Marella and Kofi Kingston this week alone. I don’t understand what the issue is, but WWE seems to be missing the boat on a very talented team. Not even Zeb Colter has been able to save them. Three Man Band is filler here, nothing more. They are admirable in their role, a necessary one, but I would be most shocked to see them pick up the win. Same goes for Tons of Funk, a team comprised of two guys that were once pegged as menacing upper card monsters are now playing the role of the modern day Bushwhackers. There is still talent in there, but the company seems fine to let them play to the kids and work their shtick. There is a slight chance they could win here just because of their tangential association to Total Divas and because they are on the face side of the ledger and provide easy fodder for the champs. So, this leaves just one team as the prohibitive favorite: The Prime Time Players. Cynical or not, the PTP have been hot ever since Darren Young came out. In recent weeks they have picked up steam on Raw, knocking off the Real Americans in singles and tag matches and also picking up a victory over 3MB. And, just in case you weren’t aware, Darren Young just happens to be on Ellen this Friday to discuss his decision to come out. If that doesn’t set up for him to get some PPV exposure a couple of days later, I am not sure what will. To their credit, WWE has handled this very well and I hope they keep it up. Push the guy based on his talent and likeability and avoid making him any sort of antiquated stereotype or storyline fodder. JR Prediction: Prime Time Players
The Shield (c) vs. TBD – WWE Tag Team Championship
As outlined above, the Shield will take on the winners of the YouTube match. Even though they have lost a bit of their identity, the Shield are as high profile as ever, thanks to their role as Triple H’s personal security unit. The tag titles have taken a back seat to that angle, but regardless I do not see them coming off the waists of Reigns & Rollins just yet. I look for them to retain and eventually drop to a pair of wrestlers that are in serious beef with the King of Kings and his new evil corporate regime. JR Prediction: Reigns & Rollins
AJ Lee (c) vs. Brie Bella vs. Naomi vs. Natalya – WWE Divas Championship
Total Divas explodes on PPV! A few weeks ago on Raw, AJ Lee delivered the promo of a lifetime, trashing the other women on the roster and defending those who wrestle against those looking to just be reality stars. Distressingly since then, the booking and announcers have been portraying AJ as the heel here, effectively burying the title in favor of a reality show. As sad as it is for fans of the in ring product, it is is hard to fault the company since just one of those things is currently a money maker for WWE. It doesn’t have to be that way, though, and they currently have a transcendent Diva that is the total package in AJ Lee. She loves the business, can wrestle, talk, carry herself very well in public appearances, is very attractive and is a nerd. She checks off every mainstream box you could hope for in the 2013 pop culture landscape. Brie, Naomi and Natalya have all been focused on very heavily on Total Divas, with Natalya playing the role of den mother to the others. Brie, along with her sister Nikki, is one of the breakout stars of TD. Thanks to her role as a star on the show and her relationship with Daniel Bryan, Brie’s stock is on the rise. Naomi is there to round out the field and represent the Funkadactyls in the match. If you want more Diva dirt, take a visit with our resident PTBN Total Divas. This is a match that could go any way, but I think AJ will retain the gold here to continue pushing this storyline into the second half of the Total Divas season, which kicks off in November. If AJ were to lose, I think Brie is the one that would knock her off. JR Prediction: AJ Lee
CM Punk vs. Curtis Axel & Paul Heyman – Handicap Elimination Match
This is the longest running feud on the card and it has been a perfectly woven tale from the start. Paul Heyman was CM Punk’s confidant. Punk was loyal to his friend and adviser. Then, the shit hit the fan. Heyman became a bit disenfranchised with Punk’s wishes to take care of business on his own, so he brought in his client Brock Lesnar to destroy Punk. Initially denying he was behind the assault, Heyman did his best to break Punk mentally and bring him back to the fold, but Punk stayed strong and officially severed ties. After Punk fell to Lesnar in an all time classic at Summerslam, the heat has been turned up with Punk desperate to eradicate Heyman from the company. Enter Curtis Axel, Heyman’s third, youngest and most inexperienced, charge. Axel is the Intercontinental Champion and been dragged to relevance thanks to this feud and his alignment with Heyman. Axel is talented, but this is the first time WWE audiences have been given a reason to care for him. This is his golden opportunity to make an impression and improve his game while working alongside two of the greatest talents in the history of the business. This feud is far from over, and I would speculate that Punk eliminates Axel but a new Heyman client gets involved and costs Punk his chance at revenge. That will buy some more time and allow the tremendous chase to continue on into the fall. Did I mention how awesome these guys are? JR Prediction: Curtis Axel & Paul Heyman, Sole Survivor: Heyman
Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Rob Van Dam – World Heavyweight Championship
This is the match many of us thought we may see at Summerslam, but the feud was held back and kicked off later that week. Rob Van Dam returned to the company in July and has had an Alfonso Sorianoesque rejuvenation. After looking worn out and beaten down at the end of his TNA tenure, Van Dam is moving around the ring like it is 2001 again. Van Dam has had three televised non title matches with Del Rio and picked up wins in two of them, instantly making him a credible threat to the gold. Another piece of this story has deeper roots and actually kicked off way back in July when Ricardo Rodriguez, Del Rio’s personal ring announcer and toady, failed a wellness test that forced him to the sidelines for a month. On screen, Ricardo was written off at the hands of Dolph Ziggler on the 6/28 Smackdown. Rodriguez returned to TV on the 8/5 Raw, inadvertently costing Del Rio one of his non title bouts with Van Dam. After the match, Del Rio snapped and brutally assaulted Ricardo, ending their relationship for good. Or did they? Since that time, Ricardo has befriended RVD, acted as his ring announcer and assisted him in matches. It is an odd fit, but there is some level of chemistry in there. But not as much as there was with Del Rio. As much as it would pop the crowd to see RVD win, I think Ricardo turns on his new buddy and saves Del Rio’s title for him. RVD will get the DQ win to set up a rematch at the next PPV, but Ricardo returns home where he fits in the best. This has a chance to steal the show if everything clicks. JR Prediction: Rob Van Dam (DQ)
Randy Orton (c) vs. Daniel Bryan – WWE Championship
The company’s hottest and brightest feud caps off this PPV as the new corporate puppet Champion Randy Orton attempts to fight back the challenge of the beloved underdog Daniel Bryan. Since Summerslam, Orton & Triple H have wreaked havoc on the company, ruling with an iron fist and not a care in the world for the whims of the fans or wrestlers. Orton is a beautiful fit in the slot, the prick heel that mercilessly abuses his enemies at the behest of his boss. And that boss, The Game, has also had a career resurgence in the role he is best suited for. After spending the last two years as a tepid face COO, Triple H is back where he belongs, making fans miserable, but by design. Bryan has been beaten down and left laid out week after week before finally landing a blow to the boss and the champ to close this past week’s Raw. This story is just beginning and has plenty of gas in the tank and shouldn’t surprise anybody if it edges along on to Wrestlemania. Therefore, and especially considering Bryan finally stood tall this past week, I fully expect the numbers game to overwhelm Bryan and cost him his crack at the gold. Fans shouldn’t take this as a negative though as it definitely does not mean Bryan is being buried or forgotten. He is clearly a made man at this point and will be a major part of this angle until the bitter end. Right now, though, he is the means to an end. Orton retains and the Corporate Power Trip rolls on. JR Prediction: Randy Orton
Also, be sure to join us Sunday night for our PTBN Night of Champions live blog!