One of the biggest areas of intrigue going into WWE Night of Champions was how WWE would handle the booking of Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. In his first match since breaking The Undertaker's iconic undefeated streak at Wrestlemania 30 in April, Lesnar was booked to destroy John Cena on the way to winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at SummerSlam in August. The match was completely one-sided but far more than a squash, considering the beating that John Cena took at the biggest event of the summer.
Cena was held off television for a week to sell the beating but was carelessly booked over Bray Wyatt on Raw the next week, a sign I took as Vince McMahon panicking/regretting the way the SummerSlam main event was booked. Almost reluctantly, WWE decided to have Cena "invoke his rematch clause" at Night of Champions. The idea was Cena never gives up and he's like anyone else -- even The Undertaker -- because he wanted to go against Lesnar again.
Given Lesnar's part-time status, much of the build was left up to the mic work of Paul Heyman. He had to do most of the talking to build the SummerSlam main event so it was of no surprise to see him handle it for the less significant B-level show in Night of Champions. While I was critical of the build to Cena vs. Lesnar for SummerSlam, most will agree it had a "big fight feel." It was unlikely to be replicated at Night of Champions but the intrigue remained - how would WWE handle it?
I don't have to tell anyone here that WWE creative has been in a deep rut. In fact, Mike Mooneyham gave it a far more insightful look in a piece earlier this month. I want to focus on the future because I believe WWE dug their creative rut deeper at Night of Champions, all when they had an opportunity to get out of it.
Already plagued with a lack of talent depth, WWE suffered another blow on Saturday when Roman Reignsunderwent emergency surgery and could be out a "number of months." At a time when they couldn't afford to lose another talent, especially another possible top talent, they did just that. Going into Night of Champions, it was clear this was going to be a problem and a problem that will have to be addressed in some fashion.
Fast-forwarding to the Night of Champions main event - Cena vs. Lesnar: The rematch - the bout was booked much more competitive than at SummerSlam. The idea was Cena has had another month to get ready and was going to avenge his loss in the name of hustle, loyalty and respect. After nearly making Lesnar tap in the STF and hitting a fourth Attitude Adjustment, Seth Rollins came out with the MITB briefcase. The match was thrown out and the stage was set for Rollins to "cash in" and win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
If you watched the show or read our results, you know what happened next. Cena made sure Rollins didn't cash in but only to take the F-5 and see the pay-per-view end with Lesnar still strapped as the face of the WWE.
In Richard Reacts To WWE Night Of Champions 2014, I explained why I didn't like the outcome. I didn't like how Cena stopped the cash-in attempt and felt he should have waited until after Rollins successfully cashed in before attacking. By pulling Rollins out of the ring, Cena in essence, helped Lesnar and set himself up for another F-5. My point was shouldn't Cena want to chase Rollins for the title -- a first-time not as physical imposing threat -- rather than Lesnar that dismantled him just over a month ago?
Critics were quick to point out that's not the Cena character. John doesn't want to take the easy way because after all, it's about hustle, loyalty and respect. Rather than being an opportunist -- like we'd see from a cunning heel -- Cena was simply doing what he does and that is reacting. Reacting to Rollins costing him his shot at redemption and making sure his hard work on Lesnar didn't go to making Rollins champion. After all, is it that hard of a concept to fathom? That's what one commentator in Monday's installment of Ask WNW said.
Those critics are right. Cena isn't an opportunist that cares about the right opportunity and his character is all about hustle, loyalty and respect. But by giving Rollins an extra few seconds to win the title -- after Cena's hard work -- multiple creative issues are solved. Opportunities are created and WWE is released of the burden of booking a part-time champion.
Let's get one thing straight. A part-time champion hasn't worked in WWE's favor. It would be one thing if WWE was on fire after Lesnar won the title. If a tremendous wave of momentum had been created and people were tuning in to Raw in respectable numbers, I would argue it's far too soon to take the title off Brock Lesnar. I would explain that longer title reigns are key to creating prestige and part of the reason why I didn't like the WWE Divas and WWE Intercontinental titles changing hands at Night of Champions. I would point to viewership and prestige and explain that Brock Lesnar is someone the company can really build around. But none of that is the case.
Interest in WWE has plummeted since SummerSlam. Raw viewership has slid with the start of the competitive fall season and it would be putting it mildly to describe the product in recent weeks as mundane. Lesnar's "here sometimes but gone most of the time" status has worn out the audience and his "returns" -- even advertised for halftime of Monday Night Football -- can't spark viewership. Further and perhaps most importantly, Lesnar is not a guy WWE can build around.
Brock is back under a massive contract that includes limited dates and appearances. He's not even on Raw every week, let alone Smackdown and live events. Now that WWE only has one world champion, they're left promoting shows without a top guy with the title and reliant on the likes of John Cena vs. Kane in gimmick matches to sell tickets to live events. Paul Heyman is left with the task of keeping Brock fresh and while he's a genius on the mic, there's only so much a guy that can't wrestle can do.
The feeling from most is that Brock will somehow hold the WWE World Heavyweight Championship until Wrestlemania 31, providing one hot up and coming talent with the opportunity of a lifetime to take the burning torch and carry the next generation of superstars. The problems with that scenario are endless. First, what's next for Brock Lesnar? Does WWE figure out a way to do Cena vs. Lesnar at third time at Hell in a Cell next month? How would that be booked? Is Paul Heyman going to have to build his third pay-per-view main event in as many months? Even if that's the direction they go -- and Cena doesn't move on -- what happens then? After Cena, who is capable of being programmed with Brock Lesnar?
Anyone that works Lesnar from now until Wrestlemania has to go under if they're going to have Brock defend at Wrestlemania. A company that's already devoid of any depth at the top of the card now must find a way to provide sacrificial lambs to hopefully keep Brock hot until next spring. I can't think of a single name capable of being a believable threat to Lesnar, let alone knowing they must "do the honors." Even if we get there, I've been told for months that Vince McMahon has been pushing to do Brock vs. The Rock at Wrestlemania 31 next year. Roman Reigns is a name many in the IWC want to see defeat Lesnar at Wrestlemania 31, with it being a preferred name of Triple H. That match could have been hurt with Reigns' health now being a concern and the fact WWE doesn't know when he'll be back, much less if he'll be perceived a credible threat to Brock Lesnar when he does.
If I had booked Night of Champions, I would have used Rollins' "cash in" attempt to go over Lesnar and win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. This would have given the company a program that could have lasted until the end of the year for the title in Rollins vs. Cena. They could have built it on television and at a live events, all while leaving Dean Ambrose, who returned on Sunday, looming in the background. Brock wouldn't have looked weak because Cena proved hustle, loyalty and respect by doing the heavy lifting and Rollins would have a shot to help give WWE depth at the top of the card. Brock could have went back on hiatus until Wrestlemania season and they could have promoted "one last hurrah" for him next year, before his contract expires next spring.
With Brock retaining, the creative rut is only deeper. I am hoping there is some masterful creative plan that I'm just failing to see and all will work out in the end but I've seen nothing in recent weeks to indicate that such a plan exists. It seemed like at Night of Champions that WWE wanted their cake and to eat it too. Rollins to be a factor, all while rebuilding Cena and keeping the belt on Lesnar. The problems are countless and there the same issues that started the moment Lesnar destroyed Cena at SummerSlam.
It looked good on paper and seemed OK at the time but after a month of a part-time champion, it hasn't worked. Every show that doesn't include a WWE World Heavyweight Champion seems like a show that's missing something. Perhaps it would have worked in the day when there were two world titles but now that there is only one, that one must be there. Without him, it will be a difficult road forward and it's going to be extremely complicated to continue booking Lesnar as a dominant monster without destroying someone else.