Let’s get this right out of the way: No, Sting did not win the WWE World Heavyweight title at Night of Champions, which was probably the right call, considering the practicalities (and the optics) of a 56-year-old man holding the top belt in the business. But he certainly deserved to, after turning back the clock and putting his body on the line in a thriller against Seth Rollins. The result wasn’t a surprise – especially given the comments Sting made last week to Rolling Stone – but the quality of the match was.
Much like the Undertaker’s surprisingly strong showing against Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam, Sting may have benefitted from lowered expectations last night, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t seem determined to prove he can still hang with the current generation of stars. He took everything Rollins dished out – a seriously painful looking spot through an announcers’ table, sit-out suplexes and turnbuckle powerbombs – and threw himself off the top rope to catch Rollins with a cross-body outside. There was a moment when he seemed to be genuinely dazed (to the point where a ringside medic had to intervene) and he still nearly got the WWE champion to tap, again, to his Scorpion Deathlock. But in the end, it was Rollins who retained…which, like I said, was probably the correct decision.
You can debate whether the same can be said about everything that happened immediately afterward. Sheamus, finally free of his feud with Randy Orton, made good on his numerous threats to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase, Brogue Kicking Rollins and preparing to pin him – only to be interrupted by the returning Kane, in his old red-and-black “Demon” getup (and his old hair, too), who chokeslammed Rollins, did the same to Sheamus, then Tombstoned the champ for good measure. Are you excited by the prospects of no-longer Corporate Kane feuding with Rollins? What if they do it with the constant threat of a twice-thwarted Sheamus looming? It makes sense, given the Big Red Machine’s seemingly endless storyline with Seth, but it seems like a snooze. Then again, we were all thinking the same thing about this Sting match – more proof that, whether you despise him or not, Rollins remains a premiere talent inside the ring, the kind capable of coaxing show-stoppers out of 56 year olds.
It should be mentioned that the Sting match came after Rollins put his U.S. Championship on the line against John Cena – another older star who still seems motivated to compete. He’ll get to do it once again via his U.S. Open Challenges, as the 38-year-old stalwart took back his belt from Rollins in another standout match between the two. It’s clear Cena and Seth have great chemistry, but they pushed it to the limits once again, and the work the Face That Runs the Place puts in (last night, his spots included a version of the Canadian Destroyer, a Hurricanrana reversal, a nasty looking tree-of-woe that ended with him getting double boots to the face and a superplex-rollover courtesy of Rollins) continues to impress. Seth pinballed all over the ring, even with the knowledge he’d be working the last hour of the show, but ultimately ate an A.A. to give up the strap. It’s better around Cena’s waist anyway. This one wasn’t as good as their bout at SummerSlam, but considering it ended without any shenanigans, it was probably a better match.
The rest of Night of Champions was a bit of a blur, to be honest. The revealing of Chris Jericho as Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns’ mystery partner against the Wyatt Family was a dud, in part because Y2J never really seems to leave the WWE Universe, but also because there really was no one they could have put in his place. The Rock was rumored, but that seemed like wishful thinking, as was Daniel Bryan, though apparently he still can’t receive full medical clearance. The returning Erick Rowan? NXT’s Baron Corbin? Cesaro? One of them made sense, but all would have felt like a letdown. Hey, at least it wasn’t Mark Henry. And it’s good to see Bray Wyatt and his flock continue to be built as monster heels, especially Braun Strowman, whose strength is staggering.
Charlotte ended Nikki Bella’s 301-day reign as Divas Champ in a match that was solid, if unspectacular, especially considering it was built almost exclusively around the psychology of Bella repeatedly hammering at Charlotte’s injured leg/knee – which she sold well – but concluded with the former NXT champ apparently forgetting about her grievous injury long enough to lock in her Figure Eight submission, a move that depends on lower-body strength. There’s also something to be said about WWE continuing to build on the actual heel heat Bella got on Raw by having her keep the belt here (it certainly seemed like the first bit of intrigue they’ve managed to create in the so-called “Divas Revolution”), but they decided to give Charlotte her shot. Perhaps this serves as the beginning of a wide-open division where talents like Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks get their crack at the champ – now that’s a way to generate fan interest.
New Day were amazing as always – Big E’s rhythmic headlock and Xavier Woods’ everything (trombone playing, constant chatter and brave decision to do his hair like Rufio) were the highlights last night – but they lost to the Dudley Boyz via DQ. Still, they kept their Tag Team titles, and then got to play dastardly heels in a postmatch beatdown that saw them go back on their “Save the Tables” campaign by breaking out the lumber. Of course, their plans went awry, and it was Woods who ate a 3-D through the table, which made the folks in Houston happy and sets the stage for a totally bonkers rematch between these teams at next month’s Hell in a Cell. The build should be great; fans love the nostalgia of the Dudley Boyz, and it’s becoming increasingly apparent that Kofi, Woods and E are the future of this division.
Just like your new Intercontinental Champion, Kevin Owens, who took the belt from Ryback via a heelish eye-rake and proved that it’s possible to survive a stint in post-Cena purgatory. Conventional wisdom had WWE extending this feud – since it’s only been brewing for a few weeks – but it was the right call to put the IC strap on KO last night. Perhaps he can pick up where the injured Bryan left off, turning it into a prestige title again by working his butt off night after night. Like the path of destruction he left in his wake at NXT, there are already challengers lined up (Cesaro, Orton, perhaps even Rusev – oh, yeah, he took on Dolph Ziggler at NOC, but who cares?) now it’s simply a matter of setting him loose. Will WWE make the right call? The track record isn’t great, but as they showed last night, sometimes, they’re capable of choosing wisely.