On Night of Champions

Night of Champions didn’t bore me once. Every match was solid, interesting, worthwhile to watch and played an important role in its narrative thread. (Except maybe Randy Orton vs. Chris Jericho— that conflict seemed like a last minute idea somebody had and figured we wouldn’t notice it came out of nowhere because they called RAW last week a “season premiere”. But it was still a good match to watch.) Most impressively for me, though, was the way the main event both helped resolved and further complicated the Cena problem, becoming as much about Lesnar as it was about Cena.

The Cena vs. Lesnar rematch was impressively plotted – slow and methodical, much more fighting than wrestling, but compelling and original at the entire time. I was concerned about how they were going to sell this one, but I think they did, even as cynical as so many of us tend to be. The question of the match was, what can a guy do to beat Brock Lesnar? Does “the one behind 21 and 1” have any weaknesses at all? It turned out in fact that Lesnar was human, not god; Cena to his great credit was able to plot a narrative of moves and holds that realistically compromised Lesnar somewhat. Rather genuine blows to the head softened him up, the Attitude Adjuster took his strength meter down a couple pegs, and then submission holds were the thing Cena finally found that could level the playing field, perhaps even giving him a chance to eke out a win against all odds. Even though Lesnar getting pinned or submitting was not at all a done deal when the match ended in a DQ, it was impressive to see Cena methodically chipping away at him and in fact making progress. Even the Cena haters must have wondered what we were all going to do if Lesnar was completely unbeatable. Wouldn’t that get boring eventually? Especially considering the fact that Lesnar only comes around sometimes. What then would be the fate of our championship belt if absentee Lesnar were to hog it indefinitely?

So there was a certain catharsis when Cena finally started to turn the tables on Lesnar, a catharsis having more to do with Lesnar’s role as champion than Cena’s loss or win. In this way I think Cena demonstrated his worth as WWE’s premier babyface – he is not only a merchandise mogul and a tireless worker, he is a generous player in other wrestlers’ narrative threads. (Recall, for example, how Cena’s existential crisis put Bray Wyatt over in a truly epic way.) While Lesnar began as a wrestler, he has since become an other – an ultimate fighter who only wrestles occasionally. In some ways Lesnar’s presence threatens the entire premise of professional wrestling, and at the same time he helps to legitimize it. But either which way, when he comes around he is formidable, cataclysmic, even mildly apocalyptic. John Cena has allowed his own story to become a vehicle for Lesnar to continue telling this story. No matter how you feel about all his branding and merchandise, this kind of generosity is the mark of a truly fine wrestler.

Even though it was obvious and telegraphed as can be, Seth Rollins’ intrusion into the match was a powerful turning point, robbing us of a clean resolution and stealing a possible victory from John Cena. This is what we needed in this match – a sharp and complex divide between the moral victory (Cena’s breaking down of Lesnar) and the split of the actual victory (John Cena winning the DQ, but Lesnar maintaining the belt). It was the perfect complication for the Cena problem. Cena thrives as a character when the rug is pulled out from under him and when he finds himself, in the eyes of the crowd, the embattled underdog. And Seth Rollins has become a masterful buffoon with his Money in the Bank briefcase — he just can’t seem to get his act together, and flubbed his opportunity to cash in the briefcase. It did require a suspension of disbelief to buy that a paltry curb stomp might be the nail in Lesnar’s coffin, but even then we were left without resolution — it very well may not have been, as Cena refused to allow Rollins to make the pin. In the end, everything stands as it was, and at the same time everything has changed completely.

Speaking of obvious and telegraphed, raise your hand if you didn’t know Dean Ambrose would be running in when Seth Rollins made an open offer for anyone to take him on after Roman Reigns was unable to compete! Anyone? I think there was simply no way for Dean Ambrose to enter with an element of surprise, so they just went ahead and made it a good old fashioned Ambrose slobberknocker. It did not disappoint —I particularly loved it when Ambrose jumped on that whole crowd of suits from the back and knocked them down like dominoes. Is knocking down a big crowd like that strictly a Dean Ambrose move? I don’t recall seeing it before his match with Rollins at Summer Slam. He knocks them all down and yet lands on his feet. I am so grateful that Ambrose is back.

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