Let's get this out first: I've had some very negative things to say about Jerry Lawler's on-screen role in WWE the past few weeks, but I was just as shocked and dismayed as anyone when he suddenly had a heart attack live on Raw this week. I'm glad that there has been nothing but good news about his condition since the incident, and I hope he makes a full recovery soon.
Now, let's get down to business. All six championships are set to be defended at Night of Champions, and it's possible - though far from likely - that the championships will change hands a total of eight times. The current card is as follows:
WWE Championship - CM Punk defends against John Cena
World Heavyweight Championship - Sheamus defends against Alberto Del Rio (If Sheamus uses the Brogue Kick at any time, he will forfeit the title)
Intercontinental Championship - The Miz defends against Cody Rhodes, Rey Mysterio, and Sin Cara in a Fatal Four-Way match
United States Championship - Antonio Cesaro defends against an opponent to be determined
Tag Team Championship - Kofi Kingston and R-Truth defend against Daniel Bryan and Kane
Divas Championship - Layla defends against Kaitlyn
Dolph Ziggler vs. Randy Orton (If Ziggler cashes in his Money in the Bank contract and wins the World Heavyweight Championship, he will defend it against Orton)
Youtube Pre-Show: Battle Royal to determine the number one contender to the United States Championship
Although I've been incredibly frustrated with how the Punk-Cena feud paints Punk as a weak champion, over the past few weeks just about everything else about it has clicked incredibly well. Punk's performance has been golden and his recently revealed alliance with Paul Heyman has managed to leave an impact on audiences despite their not having really done much of anything together. The two clearly have something in the works and I cannot for the life of me see Punk losing the championship and falling out of the title picture immediately. Cena delivered an incredibly good promo on the go-home episode of Raw that lambasted Punk for his hypocrisy, arrogance, and dishonesty, even turning around the oft-repeated complaints of the WWE Championship not being defended in the main events of pay-per-views and using them as an additional dig against Punk. I still don't like the way the segment ended, considering Bret Hart physically got the better of Punk, but the look on Punk's face after it was all over was incredibly telling. You could tell that Cena's words had cut him deep, and really unsettled him. For once, he looked absolutely terrified that he was going to lose his title (which means there's something like a 95% chance that he won't come Sunday). Punk's character has reached a point where's he's at once incredibly easy to hate, but if you look a little deeper, it's not all that difficult to sympathize with him. Last year, Punk expressed a dissatisfaction with how he was being treated, rebelled against the establishment, and ended up becoming one of its greatest heroes who was widely beloved. A year later, he comes to the epiphany that in spite of everything he's accomplished, all the battles he's won, he's not really being treated any differently by the people that matter. Eventually the frustration boils over and he goes back to his villainous ways, and lashes out. Punk's gone to a place dark enough that, from an audience perspective, you can't defend his actions, but you can understand how he got there and why he chose to go there - he's the best kind of villain. Cena is working in this storyline very well, too, but it's mostly just in how he works as a foil to Punk. The plot has been centered on Punk throughout his evolution, even after he was officially a heel, and it's been very effective as a result.
Kane and Daniel Bryan have turned some absolutely stupid ideas into pure gold, and the only real problem I have going into their match for the Tag Team Championships (which I expect them to win) is the fact that they've had no chance to build a feud with their actual opponents. Kofi and Truth have gotten incredibly dull in their time as the champions, largely because they've never really had a storyline going with any of the opponents they've faced. I hope that Kane and Bryan can get a feud over the titles with some actual substance to it before they inevitably break up and go their separate ways, because it's incredibly easy to overlook the tag team division in the WWE right now.
The fatal four-way match for the Intercontinental Championship may have been announced late, but the setup makes a lot of sense and, although I suspect the decision was made recently, you could probably convince me that it had been in the works for a while. Miz and Cody have teamed up against Mysterio and Sin Cara on a few different occasions in the past few weeks, and Cody has been feuding with both masked opponents pretty much ever since Mysterio returned from injury. Throw in the IC championship that we have every reason to believe Cody still covets, and it's a simple, logical set-up for what I anticipate will be a very entertaining match. Just so long as Sin Cara doesn't dive over the ropes into Miz, in which case I think the entire arena might implode.
People are calling Dolph vs. Orton to steal the show, and I have to admit, the build-up of their rivalry had been pretty solid. It didn't take a lot to set things in motion - Orton got pissed over losing a match, he RKO'd Ziggler, Ziggler lost his chance to cash in on Sheamus. Ziggler is angry at Orton because he lost a shot at the title, while Orton is angry at Ziggler because he's a raging psychopath and no-one is trying to stop him. I don't really expect this match to be for the championship, although it does seem like it would be a letdown to announce that particular stipulation without it coming up. The one way I could see it unfolding is that Sheamus is so worn down after his match with Del Rio that he resorts to the Brogue Kick when Ziggler cashes in, thus forfeiting the title to Ziggler. If that does happen, I'll be pissed if the title immediately jumps to Orton. Again, I don't expect it to happen.
I dislike that the number one contender to the US Championship will decided by a battle royal on the Youtube Pre-Show, but I appreciate that said battle royal has at least been announced, unlike the match that kicked off Over the Limit and set up Christian's brief Intercontinental Championship run. I also understand the reason it's being employed: it's been made clear that Santino's chance at getting the United States Championship back has long passed. Cesaro has moved past him and is awaiting his next challenge. That said, the fact that his next challenge hasn't arrived yet really highlights just how little focus the title gets. Cesaro has gotten a bit more tv time since winning the title, but his character has done nothing to develop beyond bragging in five different languages. The guy needs to have more material beyond the repetitive "[word in English]" "[word in French] "[word in Italian]" "[word in Swiss]" "Yes, I, Antonio Cesaro, embody...[word in English]." Seriously, if you work Babelfish fast enough you can recite everything the guy says as he says it. And I'm not blaming Cesaro, I'm blaming whoever it was that thought that was all he needed to get over as a heel. Hopefully his situation will improve soon.
I don't have a prediction for who's going to win the battle royal. I would say Ryback, but he's primarily been a Raw guy for the past few months, and the US Championship is mostly a Smackdown title now.
I went back and forth on whether or not I felt the build-up to the Divas Championship match was merely bad or downright terrible a few times, but I've come to the conclusion that I can't ignore how incredibly uninspired the storyline has been. In the WWE writers' defense, they weren't expecting to have to build up to a championship match featuring Kaitlyn, who was reportedly supposed to be the last eliminated in the divas battle royal to determine the number one contender to the title. But botches happen, and the writers have had a couple weeks' worth of opportunities to work themselves out of the situation, but have instead stuck behind the outcome of that match. I'm glad someone is getting their first big taste of the spotlight, especially considering Kaitlyn was only marginally at fault for the botch - Eve Torres didn't jump high enough on the first clothesline, so Kaitlyn had to hit her again to push her over the top. Again, mistakes happen, and since I have so little interest in the divas division anyway, I don't care that Kaitlyn wasn't originally supposed to be here.
I also don't mind that most of the build-up has been built around someone who isn't even booked for the match yet. My problem comes with the writing behind Eve's character in the past few weeks. It makes sense for her to endear herself to her co-workers in order to work her way into a position of power and to have a shot at the title again. The thing is, she did this already. Twice. To the same guy. And everyone around her is falling for the nice girl act (except Layla, who is clearly too clever and sassy to fall for such a ploy because she's a standard all-powerful babyface) despite her having this track record. Are we just going to see this happen in a cycle, where Eve fools all the faces in the least convincing way possible, turns into the bitchiest creature alive at the time of her "shocking" reveal, and then goes back to being a falsely angelic face two months later? Once was surprising, twice was tolerable, three times is ridiculous.
That said, it's not as ridiculous as the storyline leading into Sheamus' fourth title defense against Alberto Del Rio in five pay-per-views - which would have been five in five if not for Del Rio's unexpected injury before No Way Out. This time around David Otunga has produced indisputable evidence that the Brogue Kick is too dangerous for Sheamus to employ, and General Manager of Smackdown Booker T has banned the maneuver. Meanwhile, Alberto Del Rio has been on a winning streak heading into the match, having in recent weeks defeated Randy Orton, John Cena, and...Tyson Kidd. Maybe the order of those should've been switched around some. Various Superstars have been talking up this match as if Del Rio has a much greater chance of winning, as if Sheamus can't win without the advantage of the Brogue Kick. However, the writers have gone out of their way to demonstrate that Sheamus is just fine without it. Just take a look at all the finishing moves the guy has in his arsenal - he still has White Noise, he recently started pulling out the Cloverleaf submission (even defeating Daniel Bryan with it), and in their last match, Sheamus actually defeated Del Rio with the Irish Curse Backbreaker.
The whole point of banning the Brogue Kick should be to give viewers a reason to think Sheamus is in danger of losing the title, but we've been given no reason to think he NEEDS the Brogue Kick to defeat Del Rio. He hasn't lost a match since the kick was banned. Del Rio has been incredibly uninteresting in the past month, and Sheamus has looked like a massive jerk. We're supposed to hate Del Rio for lobbying for the Brogue Kick to be banned, but David Otunga and Ricardo Rodriguez have been at the focal point of that whole debate. We're supposed to root for Sheamus to overcome the nonexistent obstacle even despite a face - Christian - coming out in favor of the maneuver remaining banned. Meanwhile Sheamus hasn't shown an ounce of emotion, least of all concern, that indicates the situation is affecting him in any way. He continues to walk around with that big stupid grin beating the crap out of whoever gets in his way. He doesn't seem like a real person, he seems like a Looney Tunes character who knows he's destined to win. The entire situation is just dumb, and this absolutely has to be the end of this feud because it ran out of gas long ago.
There are a few dull spots, but overall I'm really looking forward to seeing the show play out. It's rare that I head into a pay-per-view with so many matches booked and I'm looking forward to more than half of them. I'm thinking all championships will be retained except for the Tag Team Championships, and that Ziggler will defeat Orton by hook or by crook. Be sure to offer your own thoughts in the comments section and to check back in a few days for the fallout article.