Welcome to another DVD-packaged PPV review on Wrestling's Last Hope, this time December 2016's Roadblock: End of the Line, a RAW exclusive event. The main story-lines from the Monday night brand coming into this event involve a mess of nepotism behind Universal champion Kevin Owens' reign, a see-saw battle for the RAW Women's title between Charlotte's PPV dominance and Sasha Banks' TV glory, and The New Day's record tag-title run.
The DVD 'Special Feature' is the pre-show match, so I shall tackle that first, as it makes chronological sense.
Big Cass (w/Enzo Amore) vs Rusev (w/Lana) - Special Feature
An unfortunate recent clothing and communication mix-up between Enzo Amore and Lana in a hotel has led to this match, where Big Cass and Rusev are essentially fighting as seconds for their partners' honour. A typically long entrance promo speech from Enzo and Cass, with plenty of audience participation, preceded the lock-up. The fight quickly spilled over the barrier and into the crowd with Big Cass in the ascendancy, but as the Referee's count approached double-digits Lana shoved Enzo. Cass showed his inexperience by checking on his team-mate, allowing the Bulgarian brute to roll in the ring with a second to go and claim the count-out victory. Good ruse to claim a spurious victory, however the pre-match promo was longer than the fight. It was a good promo though.
RAW Tag Team Champions The New Day (Kofi Kingston & Big E w/Xavier Woods) vs Sheamus & Cesaro
After recently surpassing the record for longest tag team title reign, which now stands at 483 days, The New Day come to the ring crowing and dismissive of their squabbling odd-couple opponents. "Pride comes before a fall," as the saying goes, and New Day's complacency is evident by their reliance on the usual numbers-game tactics. The extra man is neutralised by the ingenious tactics of the European team though, as Sheamus patrols the ringside area in an enforcer role while Cesaro makes long imperious stands in the ring, more often than not against Kofi Kingston.
The New Day are successful in distracting the ref from a Kofi tap-out, but that is just a portent of the result. In one last blast of tactical genius, the Swiss Superman feigned a tag and allowed himself to be taken down by the resurgent Kingston. A beautiful move that leaves the surprised Kofi susceptible to Sheamus' roll-up. This match had everything, action, pace, tactics, psychology... except a particularly surprising result. How they got there was slick though.
10 Minute Survival Match - Sami Zayn vs Braun Strowman
Whilst I accept the might and prowess of Strowman, I don't entirely understand how Sami Zayn has gone from a hair's-breadth rivalry with the now Universal Champion Kevin Owens to being a squash-match whipping-boy in the space of six months. Rather than engendering my sympathy, it made me feel rather more pitiful. Whether this conveys a genuine sense of "David and Goliath" or not, Zayn must fulfil the stipulation and survive ten minutes to win.
The first six and a half minutes is pretty much filled with Braun beating down and grandstanding above the hapless Zayn, turning down multiple pin opportunities before GM Mick Foley intercedes carrying a towel - the corner-man’s traditional method of signifying submission. Sami rejects this token of weakness and dodges Strowman's charge, sending the giant into the corner-post. With only a couple of minutes left, we get what this match should have been from the get-go: Sami using his speed, skill and experience as an effective foil to Strowman's size and strength. Unsurprisingly, Zayn sees out the 10 minutes to claim 'victory'.
Seth Rollins vs Chris Jericho
The usual highlight reel conveys the basis of this grudge: Rollins jilted as the 'favoured face' of WWE by Triple H in favour of Jericho's friend Owens Universal Champion, Jericho's interference in their follow-up bouts, and Seth's subsequent parking lot ambush. Some good, old-school, alliance-based feuding.
The match opens with some good mat work and striking from Rollins, but as soon as Jericho gains a foothold he begins to take control. When Rollins starts to look bright again, Jericho drops down to ringside to slow him back down. Rollins uses one of his favourite barricade attacks, so Jericho rolls back in and utilises a traditionally nefarious thumb in the eye. Quite literally, he uses his current low morals and canny knowledge to stop any Rollins' momentum in classic Y2J style.
Seth recovers only to be kicked off the ring apron, but beats the Ref's count out. Chris continues grinding work on the mat and ropes, Rollins only making his comeback when he painfully foils Jericho's Bulldog, and starts building toward a finish. That's when the inevitable Kevin Owens appearance and interference occurs, despite 'BFF' Jericho's previous pleading, but spectacularly backfires. The disoriented Jericho succumbs to a pedigree and a pin-fall. I suspect that this breach of trust will have an effect on the Main Event.
Cruiserweight TJP vs The Brian Kendrick vs Rich Swann (c)
A triple threat is the classic match format for the high-kicking and high-flying cruiser-weights, their fast pace and spectacular counter moves always underlines the 'threat'. This is a superb example of that, the opening minutes flowing excellently between the current and two former title holders demonstrating their pedigree. The exhausting pace quickly takes it's toll, as first Kendrick, then Perkins, attempt to force a submission from the champ.
Swann battles back and takes advantage of his momentary alliance with TJP, dual-kicking a recovering Brian Kendrick to the floor, to quickly roll the CWC winner into a successful pin. This is a solid, action-packed match that establishes Swann's dominance of the division and over his predecessors. The '205-live' colour-commentators provide a quality soundtrack, their lively banter contrasting with the often stayed and steady flow of their Raw counterparts on the other matches.
Neville, Swann's tag-partner of yore, makes a surprise appearance, kicking and beating the living hell out of TJP and Rich, who's face is a picture of pain and betrayal. A shocking about-face from the former fan-favourite. With that mention of betrayal, there's a little back-stage segment involving Kevin Owens ranting at Chris Jericho's locker-room door. It seems like it's a case of 'Sorry, not sorry' from the Universal champion, about the involvement in his friend's match.
30-min Iron-man match - Raw Women's Champion Sasha Banks vs Charlotte Flair
These two have feuded, and traded the title, consistently over the previous few months, with Flair's unbeaten streak at Pay-per-Views always seeing the championship return to her hands. These often brutal matches have established the women at the top of the card, and following October's record-making Hell-in-a-Cell fight, this Iron-man match looks to continue the rivalry.
The first ten minutes are an absolute grapple-fest, trading and chaining holds, strikes, locks and pin attempts, before the match descends into ringside brutality. Sasha can't regain a foothold after she gets bounced, headfirst, off the ring-steps, eventually leading to the first pin-fall. Charlotte nails the 'Natural Selection' from the top turn-buckle to break the deadlock with a third of the match left, and immediately presses her advantage. Banks is dynamite though, with an acrobatic detonation she takes a feint at a rana and comes down in control of Flair's arm, rolling her up to level at eight minutes remaining. Two minutes later, she's in the lead, Charlotte tapping to the Bank Statement.
Flair fixates on Banks' knee, softening it up effectively for a Figure-four leg-lock, pummelling it and laying in her wrenching submission. With seconds to go, Sasha taps, levelling the score. Ref Chad Patton sanctions sudden-death overtime, playing into the hands of the fresher Flair, but it's The Boss who makes a couple of quick pin attempts. That's as far as her rally gets, as she taps, blood streaming from a facial wound, to the bridged Figure-Eight. Flair's PPV run continues, as does the resurgence of female wrestling in the WWE. Bravo to these athletes on such a gruelling rivalry.
WWE US Champion Roman Reigns vs Universal Champion Kevin Owens
Following his earlier appearance and backstage rant, Owens looks to be dealing with this fight without his former 'Best Friend Forever'. He launches into it, and it spills quickly to ringside. Owens seems determined to Frog-Splash the imposing Reigns wherever possible, off the barricade, through an announce table or even in the ring.
As he starts to lose dominance, Kevin becomes increasingly desperate; he grabs the title belt, only to be speared by Roman. It's at this point Jericho runs-in and puts the Code-breaker to his ex-BFF in an apparent attack of spite, handing him the DQ victory. Seconds later the ruse is revealed, Y2J handing Owens the belt. A good twist to keep the narrative going, but one that was far too easy to telegraph.
The action doesn't finish there though, as Seth Rollins follows his earlier opponent out and forms a mini-reunion with former SHIELD team-mate Roman Reigns to dish-out double-power-bombs to Jeri-KO through the remaining announce-tables. This adds a little more intrigue to the mix, and satisfaction for the ending.
This is a very worthy PPV offering from WWE, with the landmark Tag Title and Women's matches living up to their historic significance and the main-event narrative thread providing plenty of amusement, however predictable. The Cruiserweight effort is good support too, though the Zayn-Strowman and Pre-show matches left me distinctly uninspired.
Available now from www.WWEDVD.co.uk