WWE Roadblock: End of the Line
December 18, 2016
PPG Paints Arena – Pittsburgh, Pa

Watch: WWE Network / PPV

Meet our previewer:

Barry Hess: Voices of Wrestling columnist; he’s still in mourning after Demolition’s record was stolen by The New Day. It’s still real to him, dammit.  Follow him on Twitter @BFHess171.

Kickoff Match
Big Cass vs. Rusev 

Rusev and Lana continue to prove that they are talented enough to turn the sourest creative material into sweet-tasting lemonade. I enjoy Lana’s ability to convincingly use her sexuality as a weapon; it separates her from every other female on the roster and makes her appear just as dangerous outside the ring as her husband is in the ring. Rusev continues to amaze me as a performer, he is proof that you really can make anything work if you approach it with confidence (It’s a fish!). This story is clearly creative filler so analyzing it too much is somewhat silly. I don’t need to see Big Cass without Enzo by his side. Ever. This is the second time Big Cass has been trotted out without his more interesting and capable partner. He’s gotten worse. Big Cass is rapidly approaching Bray Wyatt status in my living room…which means the channel is in danger of changing when I see him sans Enzo. Prediction: Rusev

 WWE RAW Tag Team Championships
The New Day (c) vs. Cesaro & Sheamus 

Well, it finally happened. The New Day has surpassed Demolition (the team that spawned my love of tag team wrestling as a child) and broken the record for the longest tag team title reign in WWE history. Ok, I’ve acknowledged the important plot point and will know ignore it for the rest of this preview as I wallow in the denial stage of the grieving process. If I could be serious for a minute though….New Day has come full circle during this historic run as tag champs, sort of. The team started out as opportunistic heel champions before transitioning to the babyface side of the roster. As the challenge to retain their titles progressively increased so too has the team’s willingness to once again win by less than honest means. Opportunistic babyfaces are somewhat of an oxymoron, and most definitely contradict a century of engrained pro wrestling psychology. Still, forcing myself not to blindly accept the status quo has allowed me to find this unique role intriguing. I find myself rooting  both for and against New Day at different times. That realistic depth to characters is something underappreciated by too many fans these days.

As far as Cesaro and Sheamus are concerned, the evolution of this team has been one of my favorite aspects of Raw’s weekly offerings. The story of rivals transforming into flourishing partners is one that Vince McMahon has told very well since the 1980s; it’s one of the few remaining themes that is both in his creative wheelhouse and in line with modern wrestling storytelling. Furthermore, the chemistry between these two has steadily improved to the point where I am fully invested in their quest to win tag title gold. Cesaro continues to exhibit why he is among the most talented members of the WWE roster, while Sheamus has all but erased the go-away heat associated with his WWE title run around this time last year. Cesaro and Sheamus really need a victory after multiple unsuccessful attempts in a short period of time; if the team is here for the long run then it’s hard to think of a good reason not to put the titles on them. Prediction: Cesaro & Sheamus 

Sami Zayn vs. Braun Strowman (10-Minute Time Limit) 

Months of squash matches have successfully established Braun Strowman as Raw’s new resident monster. Strong booking notwithstanding, the looming question since July has been: what happens when Strowman is paired with someone further up the roster than a James Ellsworth-type (boy did that take an unexpected turn). Put differently, what happens when Strowman is inserted into the 50/50 booking rotation and becomes more of a paper tiger and less of a dangerous beast? Of course this question is largely rhetorical in nature (see Big Show, The Great Khali, Ryback, etc.). I honestly think this program has more to do with Sami Zayn’s creative direction than Strowman’s. Since winning his feud with Kevin Owens earlier this year, Zayn’s character has been wondering aimlessly through the WWE universe; this while his defeated rival has resurrected to new heights eventually leading him to the Universal title. I would have liked to have seen more of that psychology implanted into Zayn’s character as it would have allowed the audience to better understand his state of mind in pushing Mick Foley for this match.

Since becoming Raw’s general manager Foley’s character arch has been one of the more compelling stories to unfold post brand split. I know, I know – nobody cares about the people running the show, they want to care about the wrestlers on the show. Pushing that argument to the side (because a compelling story is a compelling story and I don’t care who’s involved as long as it’s compelling…couldn’t help myself) exploiting the relationship between Zayn and Foley proved to be a clever device to further the respective journeys of each character. As Foley attempts to navigate the arduous role of Stephanie McMahon’s primary subordinate he’s had to manage an internal struggle between maintaining his integrity and executing the vision of WWE’s supreme empress; a struggle that has manifested in moments of extreme naivety as well as moments of reluctant concession made in good faith. Signing Zayn to a match against Strowman because the underdog from the underground failed to bring the Intercontinental title to the flagship program at Survivor Series was an authentic marriage of both sides of that struggle; he enforced McMahon’s desired punishment before showing mercy and stopping the match.

This story has really come together nicely over the last several weeks as the different threads have been woven into the narrative, culminating in the passionate encounter between Zayn and Foley on this past Monday’s episode of Raw. A predictable finish of Zayn surviving the ten minutes would essentially paint him as the winner of this match, but teasing that accomplishment only to have him come up short would better serve his character’s disposition. Prediction: Draw

 WWE Cruiserweight Championship
Rich Swann (c) vs. T.J. Perkins vs. Brian Kendrick

There are wrestlers who display potential, then there are wrestlers with obvious talent and a healthy command of everything they say and do…and then there is Rich Swann, who has the perfect balance of experience, talent and charisma that forces you to take notice when he appears on the screen. I was originally against dethroning Brian Kendrick as I thought he was the best choice to help establish important babyfaces within the division, but I was wrong. Swann has brought life to the pedestrian Cruiserweight title picture since defeating Kendrick on the debut episode of 205 Live. He’s also served as compelling connective tissue to the dry story between Kendrick and T.J. Perkins.

Unlike his two opponents, Swann’s character has remained true to the man we first met during the CWC. Perkins, who thankfully no longer speaks like a video game enthusiast from an early 90s cartoon, has obvious talent but continues to lack the ability to project any sort of charisma. I find it difficult to care about anything he says or does. Kendrick’s role as the wily heel adds a nice wrinkle into the mix. As this new division continues to take shape it’s difficult to predict which direction the title goes. My guess is this three-way rivalry continues to evolve, most likely by way of the healthy respect between Swann and Perkins devolving into something more contentious, especially after Perkins made the champion tap this past week on 205 Live. Such contention may allow Kendrick to slide in for the opportunistic victory. I don’t think another title change hurts the title here, but I’d rather see Swann retain. Prediction: Rich Swann

WWE RAW Women’s Championship
Sasha Banks (c) vs. Charlotte Flair (Iron Man Match) 

This match doesn’t feel as big as it should to me. Maybe it was the quick turnaround between shows, or maybe it was the choice to run the video package on Raw rather than something involving Sasha and Charlotte live and in person. Either way I’m confident the gravity of this blow-off match will sink in once the bell rings. This has been one of the best stories WWE produced this year and while it’s certainly time to put a ribbon on the feud I’ll be sad to see it end. The recent reinsertion of Ric Flair doesn’t thrill me, but at the same time the exchanges between he and Charlotte are so beautifully uncomfortable that I have to respect the performances.

Sasha has beaten Charlotte three times on Raw. Charlotte has beaten Sasha three times on pay-per view.  30 minutes in Pittsburgh will decide who is likely to enter the WrestleMania season as the title holder. I was not a fan of the Hell in a Cell match; the pacing didn’t click for me personally. The environment created by an Iron Man match suits the strengths of both performers far better. Allowing Charlotte to take an early lead and forcing Sasha to play catch-up for most of the match feels like the best direction in terms of match psychology; it continues the narrative that Charlotte is at her best when the lights shine brightest. It also allows Banks the opportunity to make an intense comeback or fall heartbreakingly short depending on which direction the story goes next. Though the battle between these two females may be coming to an end, the story between Charlotte and her father appears to be just getting started. That’s fine, but I don’t want The Nature Boy involved in this match whatsoever, especially the finish. Prediction: Charlotte 

Seth Rollins vs. Chris Jericho

Seth Rollins is wrestling Triple H at WrestleMania, right? Triple H is showing up in Pittsburgh and interfering in this match, right? My magic 8 Ball says ‘All signs point to, yes’. That’s fine. Without some sort of story advancement on Triple H’s end Rollins is only able to progress but so far; Rollins is less of a tweener’ character than he was a month ago, but we need some fiery exchanges between him and his former mentor to really cement his new babyface role.

Like everyone else, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the split between the best friends, Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho. Now that we’re here I get the feeling that the break-up isn’t going to play out as I originally thought; Jericho may be breaking ties with Owens, but I don’t think he’s going full babyface. I don’t hate that idea. Jericho is in a groove right now and can make anything work, including a heel vs. heel match for the title that I’m hoping is soon to come. These two will have a good match, but we’ll all be waiting for that interference, which is all that really matters anyway. Prediction: No Contest

WWE Universal Championship
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Roman Reigns

I’m looking forward to this match for multiple reasons. These two guys have shown some great chemistry in the ring dating back to the WWE title tournament angle last year; I don’t know why that was surprising to me but it was. Creatively speaking, I’m very interested to see how both performers change in terms of where they begin the show as compared to how they end it. It doesn’t feel like Roman Reigns is headed to his third straight WrestleMania main event; will something tangible occur to make that feeling change as we head toward the Royal Rumble? Maybe.

As I previously said, it’s somewhat of a forgone conclusion that Triple H will be making an appearance. While his primary story is with Seth Rollins there are still some loose ends to address where Owens is concerned. Unlike previous ‘best for business’ choices, Triple H has remained a silent backer to his new protégé; a choice that has provided Owens more of an opportunity to maintain a unique personality as compared to his ill-fated predecessors. Does Triple H find a way to get involved in this match as well? Maybe.

Unlike the Rollins and Jericho match, any involvement from The Game during this match would do more harm than good. Owens needs a strong performance against the top babyface of the promotion; an overused assertion for sure , but one that is accurate in this situation. Once Reigns is defeated (assuming that is the direction we’re going) Triple H’s presence becomes less damaging. I can see the show fading to black with Owens, Reigns, Rollins, Jericho and Triple H in some sort of altercation. That’s cool. Prediction: Kevin Owens