RAW Deal: Complete detour on the road to Mania
CHICAGO—Wouldn't you know it: there's something blocking the road (to WrestleMania) this weekend. Can someone get it out of the way?
The Network-only exclusive is in an interesting little place—with this year's buildup to the biggest show of the WWE calendar arguably being the worst in its history (even worse than last year's absolutely lackluster journey) Roadblock has a unique chance to set things right. We're only 3 weeks away from Mania, and even though we've gotten shots in the arm (like Shane McMahon), they feel like band-aid solutions and not the antidote we need.
Because it was a house show bumped up to become a Network-exclusive event, Roadblock only has 4 advertised matches (although that could obviously change). Let's look at the card:
The New Day vs. The League of Nations for the WWE Tag Team Championships
This is a program that began at Fastlane with a baffling segment also involving Edge and Christian, which ultimately ended up accomplishing nothing. There were so many directions WWE could have taken it, but everyone backstage seems to be running around with their heads cut off.
The League of Nations (Sheamus and King Barrett) need to win the titles here if the endgame is a rematch at WrestleMania. Yes, it sucks to beat matchups over the fans' heads, but this is a scenario in which it's necessary. You only have 3 weeks to build up a WrestleMania program and the fans are going to need a reason to care about the rematch, and having the New Day retain is not going to accomplish that. Have the League of Nations finally get a meaningful win, force the New Day to become the good guys they de facto are, and have a nice little midcard program at WrestleMania out of it.
The Revival (Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder) vs. Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady for the NXT Tag Team Championships
This is a match not many are going to care about, especially if they don't watch NXT, but it's likely to be the dark horse match of the night. The Revival are called the Revival because they're trying to bring back the old-school style of wrestling, without all the flips and gizmos and what have you, but in a manner that'll excite the millennial crowd. Meanwhile, Amore and Cassady are the hottest tag team in NXT right now if only for their unmatched charisma.
With rumors of the latter team being called up to RAW right after WrestleMania, it's tough to predict a title win for them here (if it means they'll be dropping it again at NXT TakeOver: Dallas) but if the New Day has to lose their belts, there has to be a feel-good moment. Enzo and Cass for the win it is.
Brock Lesnar vs. Bray Wyatt
Roadblock? More like speed bump. Brock Lesnar is obviously winning, but I'm curious to see just how good (or bad) they'll make Bray Wyatt look in this loss.
Triple H vs. Dean Ambrose for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Here we are. The cherry on top.
When I said Roadblock is in a unique position to completely change the WrestleMania landscape, I'm mainly talking about this match. The Mania main event is in such huge disorder—Roman Reigns has been out of action for the past couple of weeks due to his legitimate nose surgery (and they wouldn't even run recovery vignettes for him, at least), no one wants to cheer Reigns or boo Triple H, the audience is (rightfully) hijacking Dean Ambrose into the main event scene, and they're unintentionally making Ambrose a much better hero than Reigns.
So what's left to do?
If I were Triple H, I would definitely not be blind and deaf to all these reactions. For all we know, the plan still is to have him retain so that Reigns can still have his shot, but he should take matters into his own hands. Agree to a finish backstage, but call a completely different one out in the ring. Chaos will ensue, but it's exactly the shot in the arm WWE needs.
Even though this is a total stab in the dark, I'm calling Dean Ambrose to win the title. It's not the best way, time, or place for him to win, but with WrestleMania looking totally unpalatable, could it be any worse? He'll look like an absolute hero, much like Edge did when he cashed in the Money in the Bank briefcase for the first time back in New Year's Revolution 2006.
You'll worry about how to fix the WrestleMania main event, but there are 3 weeks to figure that out. Go out on a limb, for once.
What else to expect from the show? Probably a match involving Sami Zayn (who just debuted on RAW, presumably also to help save the show) and Kevin Owens, AJ Styles and Chris Jericho, and United States Champion Kalisto in action. No way four matches is going to fill at least two hours.
New Japan Cup 2016
This year's New Japan Cup is ending this weekend, and the tournament for a free shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Champiosnhip is looking very interesting. The 4 men playing in the last two brackets are former IWGP Intercontinental Champion Hirooki Goto, up-and-coming villain Tetsuya Naito, comedic but diabolical heel Toru Yano, and Michael Elgin, beloved gaijin from ROH.
The semifinal brackets are interesting as they're clearly face/face and heel/heel matchups, and I'd like to think they could have been optimized. New Japan doesn't quite hold itself to the same storyline standards as North American wrestling, however, and whether that's a good or bad thing is a little ambiguous.
Goto seems to be the guy they're trying to push into the Roman Reigns spot, but just like Reigns, even though he's certainly good in the ring, he's kind of lacking that one last spark to truly connect with the fans. Elgin is exciting as he seems to be primed to fill the void AJ Styles created in the gaijin part of the NJPW roster, while Naito has proven to be just as wily and charismatically unpredictable as Shinsuke Nakamura. Either of those two seem to be a more preferable choice over the capable Goto, but I'm seeing this as Tetsuya Naito's time to shine. It doesn't necessarily mean an automatic championship win, but it will be a platform for him to step up.
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