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Night of Champions: Punk loses title, but keeps star performer tag
By BRIAN ELLIOTT -- SLAM! Wrestling


Jeff Hardy is the new World Heavyweight champion. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea


When the WWE Night of Champions pay-per-view opened on thousands of television screens across the world, there was an irony about its question "Whose moment has come?"

That was because a moment of a different type could come for Jeff Hardy, who faced CM Punk for the World Heavyweight Title in one of the evening’s marquee match-ups. For with his contract expiring and his body aching, Hardy has seemed to suggest recently that he’d be taking a sabbatical from ring wars. Only time would tell if this would come to pass, but it certainly added an extra level of intrigue to those who had knowledge of the real-life situation.

Match #1 - Unified Tag Team Championship: Chris Jericho & Mystery Partner ( c ) vs Ted DiBiase & Cody Rhodes

The Wachovia Centre in Philadelphia was jammed full with 17,774 fans, seemingly all of whom were waving signs prior to the first bout, in which Legacy challenged Chris Jericho & a mystery partner for the Unified Tag Team Titles.

Prior to the bout, a video package was shown with Edge declaring that he would return to the ring from his torn Achilles tendon. It was a pure babyface promo, if you will, setting him up for a return feud against Jericho, who complained that Edge was "selfish" for getting injured while they were a championship team. He then introduced a partner "worthy of being a champion", and worthy of standing next to Chris Jericho in this ring: The Big Show.

There was some interesting team-work between the new Championship alliance in this opening contest, as Show Irish-whipped Jericho into DiBiase, and press-slammed him onto the same man. But it was Jericho who was soon isolated by Legacy, cutting off the ring to ensure that he didn’t make the tag to the giant on the outside.

Rhodes then hit a moonsault press that Yoshihiro Asai would have been proud of, and DiBiase struck with a powerslam that was eerily reminiscent of his father "The Million Dollar Man." Just when Jericho made a strong comeback with a Boston crab, though, Rhodes struck with a DDT, but when Jericho was Irish-whipped a little too close to Big Show, the crowd-favourite reached out for the tag, and the 500lber tagged in. Jericho quickly re-entered the ring from behind DiBiase, striking with the Codebreaker, which allowed Show to lock on the Colossal Clutch (basic form of The Original Sheik’s camel clutch) for the immediate tapout.

Winners: Chris Jericho & The Big Show

Match rating: 4.5 / 10

Backstage, Josh Matthews attempted to interview CM Punk, but Punk was more interested in asking a question of his own to the audience, asking them if they still supported Jeff Hardy after all the "truths" that he had told about him over the last several weeks. When they reacted positively for the man from Cameron, North Carolina, Punk bizarrely blamed it on single-parent families not teaching their kids a good code of ethics. Even more oddly, he labelled those parents "enablers," who would soon see their kids as drug-takers and thieves. He ended by saying that the only salvation was to "say yes to the (ways of the) World Heavyweight champion."


Christian lays a kick into Tommy Dreamer. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea
Match #2 – ECW Championship: Tommy Dreamer ( c ) vs Christian

Tommy Dreamer was back in Philadelphia as the only original ECW wrestler remaining on the “WWECW” roster, although it was clear that the Wachovia Centre was no ECW Arena, given the relative silence that Dreamer entered to. The reaction for Christian, mind you, was not a great deal better.

Somewhat surprisingly, there was quite a bit of high-flying action in the first few minutes of the bout, as Christian hit a baseball slide, before missing a springboard bodypress from inside to out, and then also taking a cannonball press before, back in the ring, just kicking out on two.

Dreamer then countered a retaliatory sleeperhold by throwing himself, and consequently his opponent, over the top rope to the floor. This allowed him to score a near-fall with a flapjack, a baseball-slide dropkick, and a Sky High powerbomb, and to nearly squeeze a submission with a Texas Cloverleaf.

Christian quickly countered with a missile dropkick from the top rope, however, and then hit the Killswitch for the win.

Winner: Christian

Match rating: 4.5 / 10

Match #3 – U.S Championship: Kofi Kingston ( c ) vs Jack Swagger vs Carlito Colon vs The Miz vs Primo Colon vs MVP

After Chris Jericho claimed that he and Big Show would be a better tag team than The Hart Foundation, The British Bulldogs, and The Road Warriors, it was time for the “Six-Pack Challenge” for the U.S Title. The rules stated that all six men would be in the ring at the same time, with the first person to score a pinfall or submission, on any opponent, would be declared the champion.

As expected, the match was all together too crowded to really take any shape, especially in its formative minutes. That was emphasized by a horrible-looking moment what Swagger was too late to break up a pinfall attempt by Primo on The Miz, which resulted in Primo inexplicably not capturing the title, even when Miz’s shoulders were on the canvas.

With the action on the outside, Swagger was also in the mix when he allowed Carlito to hit a devastating cannonball press on MVP, although the contact with his opponent was minimal, and Carlito took a bad landing on the arena floor.

After a Tower of Doom that involved everyone but MVP and Carlito, Swagger took both Colons and Kingston out with big clotheslines, and Miz hit MVP with a facebuster as MVP was connecting with the Playmaker on Swagger. After encouraging him to work with him, Carlito turned his aggressive attention on Primo once again, hitting the Backstabber, after which Kingston hit the Trouble in Paradise enzugiri for the pinfall.

Winner: Kofi Kingston

Match rating: 5.0 / 10

Backstage, Randy Orton claimed that the egos of John Cena and Triple-H would be his key to victory in an otherwise unpredictable Triple Threat match for the WWE Championship.

Match #4 – WWE Women’s Championship: Michelle McCool ( c ) vs Melina

Things got off to a fabulous start in this Smackdown encounter (which saw Todd Grisham and Jim Ross on commentary for the first time), as McCool took advantage of being in the ring first to wipe out Melina with a baseball slide dropkick as the challenger was performing her split-legged ring entrance. It looked a devastating fall, but Melina was soon back on her feet, striking the champion with various kicks of her own.

On the outside, the combatants somehow found themselves both standing on the security wall, on which McCool delivered yet another dangerous manoeuvre, a DDT. The champion then also struck with a standing belly-to-belly suplex, but when Melina looked to be on the road to victory with a sit-down press from the second rope, McCool was able to counter into her own pinning position for the 1-2-3.

Winner: Michelle McCool

Match rating: 5.5 / 10

Match #5 – WWE Championship: Randy Orton ( c ) vs Triple-H vs John Cena

There was an interesting dynamic to the WWE Championship match, as John Cena garnered a mixture of cheers and boos, Triple-H received mostly cheers, and there were a few cheers interspersed between the hatred for Randy Orton.

The match itself began an in interesting fashion, too, as Randy Orton slithered out of the ring, hoping that Cena and Triple-H would beat each other down while he stood on the outside. The others were wise to that plan, however, and they instead double-teamed him on the outside and the inside.

That was until Orton knocked Cena into Triple-H, and began to work on Cena inside the squared circle, until Cena hit a shoulderblock, a powerbomb, and the Five Knuckle Shuffle, a move which interestingly hasn’t been renamed while his other finisher, the F.U., has.

Triple-H stormed the ring as Cena looked to hit the “Attitude Adjuster”, however, throwing him to the outside to begin his own battle with the champion. But it was Orton that took the advantage with a beautiful standing dropkick and a powerslam, although the WWE’s heir apparent hit a DDT before Cena returned and scored a two-person legdrop off the top rope.

Soon, with Orton temporarily relieved of in-ring duty by his opponents, Cena and Triple-H went at it, with the former connecting with a blockbuster neckbreaker, before going for the Attitude Adjuster. It was back and forth with counters to both that and Triple-H’s pedigree, before Triple-H finally struck with a spinebuster and the Pedigree. Orton saved the day, however, and threw Triple-H into the steps, and then began dismantling the Smackdown announce table in the hope of hitting the RKO from it.

Cena arrived on the outside to throw Orton over the security wall, and then when Triple-H went for the Pedigree on said table, Cena actually locked in an STF right there, even though this was not a Falls Count Anywhere match.

Back in the ring, Cena worked his way out of an RKO, before slingshotting Triple-H into Orton, who then fell from the top rope. Cena then applied the STF, and when Orton missed a Concussion Kick, nearly got a pinfall on the champion with a schoolboy.

Triple-H then applied a Scorpion Deathlock to Orton, but before he could garner the submission, Cena used a Crippler Crossface, applying double the pressure to Orton’s predicament. Indeed, the champion was forced to tap out, but referee Mike Chioda seemed confused as to what decision to render, and did not immediately call for the bell. Seeing the danger, Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes then entered the fray, taking out Cena and “The Game”. When Cena then went to rid the ring of Rhodes, Orton popped up and hit the RKO for the pinfall.

Winner: Randy Orton

Match rating: 7.0 / 10

Match #6 – Divas Championship: Maryse ( c ) vs Mickie James

After a head-scratching segment in which The Miz reprimanded Maryse for being “a tease”, and an advertisement for Raw indicated that basketball star Shaquille O’Neal would be the guest General Manager on tomorrow night’s show, it was time for the latter to defend the Divas title against Mickie James.

The first significant move of the match-up was a high kick by Maryse, which forced James outside the ring, and caused her to nearly miss the 10-count. Later, she went for a hairspray bottle outside the ring, presumably filled with the same substance that was sprayed in the eyes of James by the champion on Raw on Monday.

James was able to disarm Maryse before she was able to use the canister, however, and James instead used forearms, clotheslines, and a Rude Awakening neckbreaker for a near-fall. She then struck a jumping DDT for the win and the championship.

Winner: Mickie James

Match rating: 4.0 / 10

Backstage once again, Legacy spoke of their “great sense of accomplishment” at helping Randy Orton retain the WWE Championship, even though they lost the opening Unified Tag Team Title contest.

Match #7 – Intercontinental Championship: Rey Mysterio ( c ) vs Dolph Ziggler

Similarly to previous WWE PPV The Bash last month, there were only 45 minutes left of three hours by the time the bell rang for this penultimate match, for which challenger Ziggler was accompanied by WWE Diva Maria.

But this was far from a quickie contest, with it largely beginning as Ziggler powerbombed Mysterio into the turnbuckles. Mysterio changed the momentum of the contest by striking with a springboard senton, a twisting springboard crossbody, and another senton from the apron to the floor. But when he went for a 619, Ziggler moved and threw Mysterio out of the ring and into the Raw announce table. When Rey later came off the top rope for a crossbody, Ziggler caught him in the stomach with a painful-looking dropkick, and he copied a move from the old Dean Malenko playbook, dropping Mysterio ribs-first into his knee while both stood on the top rope.

Despite all that, it was not to be Ziggler’s night, though, as Mysterio used an enzugiri to place Ziggler on the ropes, thereafter connecting with the 619 and a springboard splash for the pin.

Winner: Rey Mysterio

Match rating: 6.0 / 10

Match #8 – World Heavyweight Championship: CM Punk ( c ) vs Jeff Hardy

The champion seemed particularly vocal in this rematch from The Bash, rhetorically and sarcastically asking his challenger “What are you going to do to me?” in the early going. And it did indeed seem that Punk was one step quicker than Hardy, as he avoided a crossbody which sent Hardy careering to the floor, and then also avoided a top rope to floor version of the move, which saw Hardy strike the security wall.

WHAT YOU THINK
What did you think of WWE Night of Champions?
It was great - 14%
It was okay - 27%
It sucked - 16%
Didn't see it - 43%
Punk then used an old-school bow-and-arrow hold to try and get the submission, and when Hardy mounted some brief offense, crotched him on the top turnbuckle. But Hardy retaliated with a Whisper In The Wind bodyblock and a sit-out front suplex, before immediately locking for the Swanton Bomb, which he missed.

Punk then cranked on the Tatsumi Fujinami favourite, the Dragon Sleeper, before once again countering the Swanton, this time by raising the knees as Hardy flew through the air. He then managed to hit the Go To Sleep, but Hardy was able to kick out, much to the disbelief of the champion, who attempted a further two pins to try and take the victory.

Deciding that leaving was then in his best interests, Punk took the title belt from ringside and began to walk away from the contest, but Hardy chased him back to the ring, and hit the Twist of Fate. For the third time, he then attempted the Swanton Bomb, with which he captured the pinfall, and the championship.

Winner: Jeff Hardy

Match rating: 7.0 / 10

There was an interesting line from Todd Grisham at the end of the match, when he said “No contracts will be cashed in tonight”, which may have been a veiled reference to Hardy’s actual contractual status, rather than anything to do with Money In The Bank.

Final thoughts: Though there was nothing of ill-note at Night of Champions (no, not even the Divas Championship match), and it was a fine overall pay-per-view, there was no outstanding match on the show, which would have made it one of the best WWE pay-per-views of the year.

Match of the night honours to go CM Punk and Jeff Hardy, with particular plaudits to the former, who is playing his role as the cowardly heel to a T. One would assume that this is not the end of their feud, a fact which should continue to make for good Smackdown television. Unlike the John Cena-Triple-H-Randy Orton triangle, this is a series of bouts which has not yet out-stayed its welcome.

RELATED LINKS

  • Photo gallery from WWE Night of Champions
  • Countdown to Night of Champions

    NIGHT OF CHAMPIONS / VENGEANCE HISTORY

    Brian Elliott is a British journalist covering soccer, mixed martial arts (MMA), and professional wrestling, who has recently written for the likes of the Daily Mirror newspaper, the Associated Press, and Sports Illustrated.