They didn’t have to main event Roadblock with a WWE World Heavyweight Title match. Hell, they didn’t have to call it Roadblock. They didn’t have to air this house show on the WWE Network. And they certainly didn’t need to take two week’s of prime time television space to hype it. Wrestlemania is only a month away, and WWE’s narrative is focused on this little show in Toronto. Why?
They could have headlined it with Brock Lesnar beating Bray Wyatt and it would have been fine. Dean Ambrose could have wrestled Kevin Owens, like he did last week on Smackdown, and it would have been fine. The last two WWE-branded Network special events (we need a better name for these) were essentially televised house shows, both featuring Brock Lesnar in exhibitions. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s one of the things we thought we might get with the Network, and generally they’re nice bonuses.
But WWE Roadblock is not just a bonus. It’s become a plot point.
First off, it’s named like a PPV. It has that sort of generic catch-all feel like Fastlane and Over The Limit. The Beast in the East and Live from Madison Square Garden had “In Your House” titles. But WWE is treating Roadblock like the last PPV before Wrestlemania, with real implications for the main event of the most important show of the year.
Sure, that could be hype. WWE is a hype machine. But it isn’t one that makes unnecessary moves.
If you look at the rest of the card, it seems like fairly standard fare. All the other matches on the show scream “House show special.” Bray Wyatt vs Brock Lesnar is the main event of these matches, and it sorta kinda acts as the finale to Brock’s story at the Royal Rumble. It’s WWE’s attempt to finish a story they started for Wrestlemania but have since changed course.
Sheamus vs Roman Reigns is a fine act but has nothing to do with anything.
The nXt title match is interesting, if only because this isn’t an nXt show. This isn’t the first time they’ve done this, of course. Finn Balor won the nXt Championship at Beast in the East, which was for all intensive purposes a WWE-branded show. But it is the first time they’ve done this with characters who have spent absolutely no time on the main roster. It’s a soft launch for Enzo and Cass, who will likely lose here but get promoted to Raw either any day now or exactly the day after Wrestlemania. It’s nice, but it’s not interesting.
The main event, however, is curious.
Ususally, if WWE decides they don’t like how their Wrestlemania plans are going, they’ll change things up at the midpoint PPV between the Rumble and WM. The February PPV exists more or less as a course correctant. But Fastlane 2016 was an affirmation of the previous Wrestlemania’s story, positioning the indefatigable Roman Reigns as a chosen one.
At least it’s clear storytelling. HHH took the title from Reigns, and now Reigns wants it back. There’s little confusion to this story, and WWE in the 2010s respects “clarity” over “interesting” nine times out of ten. So far, the message here has been “we know we decided to pivot away from Reigns at the very last second last year. Don’t worry, this year is the year we really go through with it.”
So why have HHH defend the title at all? We have a number one contender. We have a simple story. It may leave a lot of fans cold, sure, but since when has WWE cared about pleasing everyone? They seem to be positioning the rest of Wrestlemania to please the hardcore fans with long memories (and a running knowledge of nXt’s history), so surely the main event could be reserved for what WWE thinks is best for business.
And why, in particular, are they having HHH defend against Dean Ambrose, a man who these hardcore fans loudly prefer over Reigns? I’ve heard so many people suggest that this is the main event they wanted for Wrestlemania.
Of course, it makes perfect sense if Dean Ambrose loses the match. HHH goes on to lose to Reigns at WM, WWE runs with him as the franchise character, and they do their best to make a “new” John Cena/Rock/Hogan/Backlund/etc. It seems like that’s their plan and I wish them well with it.
And of course, it doesn’t make any sense for Dean Ambrose to win, since Ambrose would then have to face Reigns at Wrestlemania, and the whole “best friend fight for the gold” is a little Survivor Series. They’ve done it, is what I mean, and they’ve done it recently.
So there’s this theory that’s going around that perhaps this match will end in some way that’ll throw the main event of Wrestlemania into question, and it’ll end up as a four-way match with Reigns, Ambrose, HHH, and Lesnar. This is a popular theory being thrown around by notable people, most notable among them is Ambrose himself.
Here’s Justin Donaldon recapping Ambrose’s monologue from Smackdown last week:
[Ambrose] asks for the mic and a chair, takes a seat in the middle of the ring, and goes about masterfully selling both WrestleMania and Bizarro WrestleMania, Roadblock. He explains his actions of the past few weeks and lays out a future that has him beating Triple H at Roadblock and has him going on to main event WrestleMania. He lays out every scenario of what could happen if he’s the WWE Champion come WrestleMania. Would he end up wrestling Roman Reigns? He said that seems like the right thing to do, but he really wants to wrestle Brock Lesnar. He’s got revenge on his mind and he wants to be the guy who slays The Beast once and for all. He goes on to point out that on the other hand, he might have to have a rematch with Triple H. He lays out several scenarios of wrestling different opponents at Mania, and then suggests that maybe they should just put all four of them in a cage and see what happens. He says that anything can happen right now, and the way he says it makes me want to believe it.
Mushing these two matches together solves a lot of problems. It places Brock Lesnar in the main event of the show, where he belongs. It takes the pressure off an aging HHH to deliver a one on one main event performance. Reigns shines in multi-man matches, and critics may go easier on him when he wins. And finally, it places Ambrose in the main event, where it feels like he belongs.
The question, as it always is with a scripted show, does WWE want to change it up? Or are they happy with the presentation they currently have? And if they are, why have this lowly Torontonian house show act as a place where it all might change? Why put the idea in people’s heads?
If HHH just wins at Roadblock and Wrestlemania goes on as planned, it’ll at best be a cashgrab and another successfully hyped and promoted wrestling show. At worst it’s a bungled set of mismanaged expectations.
If something else happens, it’ll be the third year in a row where WWE’s Wrestlemania main event plans changed midcourse.