The biggest obstacle (thought I was gonna make a "roadblock" joke, there, didn't you?) for Saturday night's WWE Network special from Toronto's Ricoh Coliseum was the impression that nothing which happened there would matter.
Those doubts weren't swayed when there was no pre-show for the event on the streaming service, or when the broadcast began and it looked like every house show you've ever been to, but with better lighting. Throughout the evening, fans online debated whether or not the fact that the action played out like a non-televised live show was a good or bad thing, and the Canadians in attendance often reacted as if they weren't sure of what was being presented to them.
At times, WWE itself seemed to fall into that trap. Was this a pay-per-view (PPV)? A loaded edition of Raw? A regular Saturday night?
Probably, as my friend and your usual main roster weekend show recapper Geno Mrosko would say, we shouldn't get too caught up in all that. Looking at the stories which were told and/or advanced, nothing Earth-shaking happened. For all Michael Cole, JBL & Byron Saxton's (mostly inane) talk about Roadblock changing WrestleMania 32, everything on that card is as it was.
But that doesn't mean nothing mattered, and some of what did might be tied into how this show was put together.
Let's pull it all apart and see.
Roadblock's main selling point, and the angle which is going to cause the most discussion coming out of the show, was the main event. That despite the fact that it, as much as anything, was seen as a foregone conclusion.
Triple H is still the WWE World Heavyweight champ, and he's still headed to Texas for a showdown with Roman Reigns on April 3. The 46 year old proved something to any critics who might have questioned his stamina by going 25 minutes, but he's still the same Authority guy and arrogant all-time great he's always been.
Dean Ambrose, on the other hand, seemed to turn a corner as a character. Despite Cole, et al blathering on about what a crazy man he is, the psychology of the match told a different story. And when it became apparent that Ambrose approached his latest WWE title shot with a clear-cut strategy, the announcers were forced to recognize it.
From the opening where he went hold-for-hold with the Game, to his targeting legs for submissions, the challenger controlled the action for most of the bout. Hunter got offense in, of course, but he was caught off-guard by this not-so-crazy version of the Lunatic Fringe. Ambrose was presented as a threat; he looked like championship material. And when Trips, weary from fighting off a Sharpshooter, walked into a Dirty Deeds and John Cone slapped the mat three times, you wondered for a second if Vince McMahon didn't finally see Dean that way too.
Of course, referee Cone immediately waved off his own count, realizing Ambrose's feet were under the ropes. And at that point, the unhinged character we'd known before showed back up. He flew from the top rope to the floor, crotch-chopping like D-X Shawn Michaels to celebrate. He went too far in trying for the announce table flying elbow, and then after Triple H dodged it, beat the ten count to run right into a Pedigree which cost him the title.
But as Cagesider Casey Fiore pointed out on Twitter, a smart, strategic Ambrose who succumbs to his wild instincts is more interesting than the crazy man we've been given for the past couple years. Reverting to old habits after he'd had his dream yanked away from his is a flaw, but it's an interesting, relateable one. We don't want Dean to be unbeatable; we're pulling for him because he's human, and this match made him more capable while retaining the clay feet we love.
I don't know if WWE will build on this. It could be business as usual, "he's CRAZY, Maggle" come Monday night.
But he's not getting shuffled to the side. He's in one of Mania's three biggest matches, and he can say he's pinned not only the champion, but one of the greatest champions of all-time in Triple H. Even as a heel (which is even more debatable after Roadblock - getting cheered against Roman is one thing, getting dueling chants while working against a guy as over as Dean is another - and does not paint a pretty picture for Vince's top face on the remainder of the road to WrestleMania), Trips is the kind of character who will respectfully acknowledge that. Ambrose comes out of this a more established, and more interesting, main event player.
It would have been very easy to shuffle him to the side after Fastlane. But they kept his feud with Brock Lesnar going, and then they made a point of not only making this match, but then booking him this way in it. I'll give them all kinds of hell if they disregard what happened here, but I'll wait until they do to freak out.
With the late addition of Charlotte & Natalya to the card - and the later addition of a championship stipulation - there were four title bouts at Roadblock, and zero title changes. Probably the retention which most disappointed was the NXT tag match.
As Cageside's NXT guy, I can tell you that the failure of Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady to win the belts is one of the most mystifying things about the brand. They've been among the top five most popular performers for the last two years, but it doesn't look like they'll ever wear gold. Triple H & Ryan Ward make their top babyfaces struggle for the top, but they've all gotten there except for the Realest Guys.
We have to think that now they won't, after this their latest, and most high profile, setback. Don't cry for the Certified G and the seven footer, though. They, along with tag champs the Revival, delivered one of the night's best matches and won over a tough Toronto crowd who didn't seem too sure who they were when they were announced.
Enzo was Ricky Morton-good as the undersized face-in-peril, and Cass looked awesome coming in to clean house with big boots and his swinging side slam. Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder were their evil, conniving selves. I laughed out loud when Dawson feigned shock that Carmella tried to slap him after he'd used her as a human shield, but I understand if their subtly cocky charisma isn't your cup of tea. I don't get how you can watch them cut a ring in a half or hit the Shatter Machine (or a Super Shatter Machine, as they finished this match with) and not want to see more.
The five folks who showed up to represent for the Performance Center looked like they belonged and damn near stole the show.
From the pre-match promo on, everything about the WWE tag title opener felt like Raw.
What was different was how clear it's becoming that New Day will be full blown babyfaces before too long. More merch, a speech that - if it didn't extol the virtues of Toronto, didn't knock the 6ix, either. And then Kofi Kingston fighting back from underneath, with Xavier Woods only getting involved only after League of Nations interfered to prevent a tag to Big E while Kingston was in a submission hold really drove the point home.
It was a good match - one scary looking miscue where Kofi landed on his neck and shoulder not withstanding - and we'll probably get more of it, seeing as how King Barrett did have E covered when X gabbed to the ref, and there are two more members of League of Nations who weren't accounted for who've already been complaining on Twitter.
That's all well and good, but this was the one title match which felt skippable to me. And I'm still not sold on New Day becoming good guys instead of smart-ass tweeners.
Like their TakeOver match that was heavily referenced all day leading up to Natalya's impromptu title shot, I didn't love the Queen of Hart's match with Charlotte in Toronto. But it was far and away my favorite execution of the "televised house show" parts of Roadblock's DNA.
With a nod to their history and a lot of leaning on their family names, a pre-match interview gave us a reason to care and two talented performers took it from there. Because of her disappointing face run and tough transition away from NXT booking and match production, a lot of us - myself included - have been slow to recognize how great Charlotte's heel work has been. Now that she's doing it without standing across from a great babyface every night, we're seeing just how much she brought to her feud with Becky Lynch.
And why does it feel like it's been a year since I've seen Natty work for more than three minutes? I'm grateful these women got twelve minutes on the Network here, but why in the world is Brie Bella and Lana the secondary Divas feud taking up Mania minutes while the Anvil's girl's on the bench?
The psychology and selling of Charlotte working the leg could have been more coherent, and I'm all the way over both Ric Flair distractions and roll-up finishes (in a match that featured a sitout powerbomb!), but this was fun, and the kind of match I wouldn't have seen if not for a show like this one.
- What is the world coming to when Brock Lesnar's match ends up in "everything else"? Watching him suplex dudes is always great, and I'm not mad Luke Harper got offense in on the Beast, because it teased a slobberknocker we'll likely never get and Brock ended up destroying him anyway. But why not just announce this as Lesnar vs. Harper? How does it help Bray Wyatt to run his mouth, lose a handicap match and look like a coward who abandons his men? This was straight filler.
- This may be a controversial opinion, but I'm just gonna put it out there. Paul Heyman has go away/shut up heat with me at this point. He hasn't said anything clever or really sold me on something I wasn't already sold on in almost a year, and moving Suplex City around for cheap pop and doing Bruce Buffer-lite isn't helping.
- Heel Jericho is back, baby! I'm gonna save my "I told you so"s on this for their own post, but Y2J looks totally rejuvenated now that he's free to rip into the dirty-mouthed sycophants who doubted he's still the best in the world at what he does.
- Jack Swagger getting cheered and having his Tea Party-inspired slogan chanted in Canada is just the weirdest damn thing. Good to see you, though, Swags, and I enjoyed his match with Jericho. At least they haven't trotted Zeb Colter back out (yet), and I enjoyed this as another house-show-done-right match.
- Sami Zayn vs. Stardust was, sadly, not house-show-done-right. Unlike Y2J/Swagger or Natty/Charlotte, they didn't bother to set anything up and it suffered for it, even in front of Sami's countryfolk. It didn't help that it was structured so neither guy stayed on top long enough to get the audience worked up. Nice to see Cody with something to do, but both men deserved something better than this.
An uneven, but enjoyable night of wrestling. Would I watch televised house shows every week? Probably not. But would I tune in for a monthly hybrid show, with a couple of big angles, a title match or two and some wrestlers we don't get to see in an usual week of Raw and SmackDown? Sure.
They still seem to be working out the kinks in a formula, and it's WWE, so they likely never will - they haven't stumbled upon a consistent recipe for success with Raw, and it's the longest running blabbity-blah in whatever. But I probably enjoyed this slightly more than the average Monday night, and it left me more optimistic about Dean Ambrose as a top guy than I've been since right after the Shield break-up.
What did you think, Cagesiders?
All photos via WWE.com.