Doctor's Orders: December 19-23, 2016 - WWE Roadblock: End of the Line Review, Roman Reigns Leading The Charge To Mania 33, and Celebrating The Awesome Resurgence of The Miz in 2016
By The Doc
Dec 22, 2016 - 12:34:35 PM
”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE's top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.
Celebrating The Awesome Resurgence of The Miz in 2016
Roman Reigns Set To Carry The Universal Title Into WrestleMania 33
WWE Roadblock: End of the Line Review (w/ Doc's star ratings)
QUESTION OF THE DAY: What do you think Miz should be doing at WrestleMania 33? What is your biggest wish for Miz in 2017?
Two weeks ago, in response to the proclamation that AJ Styles was the 2016 WWE Wrestler of the Year, many issued passionate retorts that The Miz was the most deserving recipient of the award and, though his last-third-of-the-calendar resurgence to near main-event level was not enough to push him ahead of The Phenomenal One, the wrestling world needs as many year-end Miz celebration columns as it can stand because, frankly, the current Intercontinental Champion has just been that good.
Comeback Wrestler of the Year is not a category often talked or written about, but certainly Miz has had an outstanding enough 2016 to utilize it on his behalf. To be fair, Miz had admirable years in 2014 and 2015 as one of the best utility players in the WWE mid-card, excelling in whatever role he was asked to play, be it the faux-A-list movie star or the other half of a surprise hit tag team with Damien Sandow; in the ring, he had developed into a dependable hand that LOP’s Samuel ‘Plan has often referenced as a “master of the ten-minute match.” However, the strides that Miz has taken over the course of 2016 are re-writing the narrative on his career and have given him a new lease on life as a top-tier talent.
The Miz, and others of his late 2000s to early 2010s generation, had – prior to just a few months ago – become a punchline in many a comedy regarding the failure of his era’s stars to sustain the headlining opportunities that they were given. When the likes of Jeff Hardy, Mr. Kennedy, Bobby Lashley, and MVP never materialized as main-eventers to compliment the famed OVW Class of 2002 in the latter part of last decade, WWE was essentially handcuffed into creative sterility. Not to discount the role of poor booking choices along the way, but without a fresh cycle of sustainable new stars, WWE had to force many a square, not-so-ready peg into many a round, not-so-inviting hole. A few who debuted in WWE between 2005 and 2010 were able to make the most of their chances, putting together respectable runs of consistent World Championship contention; most flopped hard and never recovered.
With a decorated 15 month run from mid-2010 to late 2011, during which he won the US Title, Money in the Bank, and the WWE Championship, headlined several pay-per-views, and achieved the Holy Grail of main-eventing WrestleMania, The Miz was, on paper, one of the exceptional few. The fact that he fell off of a cliff in 2012, with a nary a single meaningful moment on TV, and that he fell further into a black hole of irrelevance in 2013 told a different story. His charisma was never in question, but there has developed over the past twenty years a very high standard of in-ring ability for an upper echelon WWE Superstar and it could easily be argued that Miz, up until recently, was just not capable of excelling in a feature-length match; and perhaps that hurt his credibility during his initial foray at the top of the card, both with an increasingly demanding fanbase and with peers and management alike. Whatever the reasoning, WWE did not see fit to maintain its considerable two-year investment in Miz.
After WWE altered its talent acquisition strategy a few years ago following a near decade-long run of unsuccessfully trying to turn jacked up gym rats into well-rounded pro wrestlers, we began to see an influx of fantastic, seasoned wrestlers from all over the world. Though, in similar fashion to CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, they lacked some of the previously-thought-to-be requisite WWE Superstar-qualities, they knew how to get over and they consequently raised the bar for what WWE should expect from fresh main-event players. The Shield, The Wyatt Family, and the NXT-as-we-know-it era stepped right over The Miz and his generation en route to superstardom, calling into question whether or not Miz and Co. would have ever made it to the level that they did if WWE had been following their modern recruitment and booking philosophy all along.
The Miz has spent the last four months, in particular, erasing the doubts about the top wrestlers from his era and eliminating any notion of still having holes in his game. This version of Miz could hang with any of the more respected independent darlings turned WWE stalwarts; you could confidently plop this version into any era and he would excel.
Brand Split 2.0 has been a source of controversy, but even its greatest detractors cannot deny what it has afforded wrestlers like Miz and Dolph Ziggler, himself a wonderful example of redemption in 2016. Miz’s body of work with Ziggler, all feature length matches across both Smackdown Live and PPV, was impressive enough to be in the thick of the Feud of the Year race and has certainly become the leading candidate for best Intercontinental Championship rivalry of a rather mundane decade for WWE’s 2nd longest-tenured singles title. Sure, you might say “Don’t call it a comeback, [he’s been here for years],” but the clear advantage of the brand split has been that, quite frankly, this version of Miz has been hidden. He was quietly rounding into form as one of the preeminent big promo-big match guys on the roster and nobody knew it; and he appeared to be the furthest thing from any sort of return to the main-event scene before the draft.
As we prepare to enter 2017, nobody has more momentum than Miz and nobody on either roster seems more appropriate to push into the main-event scene. I, personally, cannot help but wonder if this would have been the natural course of things had he been allowed to work his way up the card in an older school fashion and perhaps reached his apex like John “Bradshaw” Layfield did a decade or so ago, putting in ample time as a mid-carder and learning full well the extent of what he was expected to do once he reached the top in order to maximize his opportunity once he received it. Nevertheless, he stands on the brink of another shot and it would surprise very few, I would imagine, if he spent the next couple of years penning a near-unprecedented chapter of his career.
This will be an important WrestleMania cycle for Miz. To see him wind up in a multi-man cluster Ladder match or anything else that does not provide him the pre-match-hype-video-caliber spotlight would be a disservice to his recent achievements. His currently developing story with Dean Ambrose is seemingly poised to capitalize on the success of his previous rivalry with Ziggler, but what comes next as we head further down the Road to Mania could be telling for him. Enthusiasts galore are hoping that Daniel Bryan, the promo against whom Miz sparked his awesome revival, can come out of retirement for one final match; that would indeed be a huge deal for both parties. However, anything that gave Miz a chance to be showcased would be a big step in the right direction for him.
The Miz needs to keep this going. WWE gave him the proverbial ball and he has proven his considerable worth in the last four months; how far he can run with it will be one of the most intriguing stories of 2017.
Perhaps the most noteworthy happening from a decent, fairly run-of-the-mill Monday Night Raw was General Manager Mick Foley booking a rematch between Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens for the Universal Championship at the Royal Rumble, this time with the added stipulation of Chris Jericho being suspended above the ring in a shark cage. Though it remains to be seen how WWE will extend a feud that, despite its short duration, already feels like it is on creative life support, the match itself seemingly gives us a peek inside the minds of WWE officials regarding the prospective WrestleMania 33 plan.
The top four regular roster members on the Raw brand are Reigns, Owens, Jericho, and Seth Rollins. The Architect’s destiny has already begun manifesting; he will be facing Triple H in April’s Orlando-based spectacular. Owens and Jericho are seemingly on a collision course with each other for “The Show of Shows.” It has been a point of curiosity in recent weeks, as hypothetical Mania cards have been scattered across column pages and podcasts, to try and gauge where Reigns fits into the grandest stage scheme. Might his placement in the Universal Title match on the night that kicks off the Road to Mania give us a clue?
Reigns has spent the past two WrestleMania cycles being set up as a leader for his generation and, though questions persist among the wrestling media regarding his punishment for a summer Wellness Policy violation, the fact that he has rounded into main-event form again in time for the calendar to flip to 2017 suggests that his sentence has already been served. It would therefore be very surprising to see him anywhere but right back in the thick of things as a standard-bearer for the red team during the most important months of the New Year. Reigns wearing the Universal Championship into Mania makes sense from the WWE point-of-view and it would be a logical culmination of the Owens title reign, with all its interference-laden PPV matches, if the Roman Empire were to resume by ending the KO Show at the Rumble.
Of course, that would also mean that another WrestleMania is coming our way that features the most controversial talent on the roster in one of the top matches – a candidate for THE top match. Reigns is a fantastic in-ring performer who has had as many great matches over the past two years as anyone else in WWE, but one thing he is not is an engaging character that inspires excitement – out of the diehard fanbase especially – on the road to the biggest event of the year. WWE creatively married itself to the idea of Reigns as the conquering hero two straight years and the result was two of the most mundane, apathy-inducing builds to WrestleMania ever presented. With no desire from anyone to see a repeat of that kind of creative humdrum, Reigns cannot be shoe-horned into another year of playing the God amongst ordinaries taking down historic titans of the industry.
The role for which Reigns is least suited is that of the antagonist ending tyrannical periods; to a huge part of the WWE audience, Roman is the tyranny. Personally, I have no problem with him beating Owens at the Rumble and going into Mania as the Universal Champion; he is one of the pillars of the WWE Renaissance and he does have the reputation born of these past two Mania cycles to step into a considerable spotlight and be expected to help draw another record weekend for WWE. However, if Reigns as champion is the route that they take, WWE absolutely must put him in a position to succeed that will, as a by-product, put enthusiasts in a position to take a stance not defiantly against the storyline that WWE lays out, as has been the case in 2015 and 2016, but rather a stance that fits within the storyline. In other words, make sure that Roman is set-up to be the default-bad guy at least or the outright heel at most.
In a year full of WWE World or Universal Championship reigns featuring great matches, the most emotionally engaging reign was Roman’s from April to June. More than anything, fans just want to boo “The Guy.” Frankly, Roman himself seems most comfortable when he can embrace the organic crowd dynamic instead of fight against it; and we are the same, happy to follow the WWE-driven narrative so long as we are given the green light to boo “The Guy” and cheer for the man opposing him. Arguably, Roman’s three PPV title defenses, in which he assumed the old John Cena arc in WWE’s latest editions of “Golden Boy vs. The Internet Darling,” were the three best title matches of the year; Reigns vs. Styles is a leading Match of the Year candidate and Reigns vs. Rollins is the best match of 2016 that nobody is talking about (but should be) in the MOTY discussion. For 2017, put Reigns back in the role that allows him to shine and the rest pretty much takes care of itself.
It would probably be too presumptuous to think that WWE might call-up someone like Shinsuke Nakamura to fight Reigns for the title at Mania 33, but it certainly does not feel off when suggesting that maybe they would call-up Samoa Joe to play that part; there could be some real intrigue in a Joe vs. Reigns match. The most likely option would obviously be a returning Finn Balor, who is on schedule to be 100% ready to go by the month or so prior to “The Showcase.” Recall that Reigns, in a post-match interview following a loss to Balor on the first Raw post-draft, said that he respected Finn and would look forward to seeing him again someday; maybe that “someday” will be WrestleMania 33, with Roman going with the natural flow of getting booed and “The Demon King” rising up to end his oppressive run as champion.
Conventional IWC-wisdom would be to put Balor against the man who replaced him as champion (KO) should he be ready by Mania, but conventional WWE-wisdom would be to put Balor, crowned as the leader of the New Era as the first Universal Champion at what many have come to refer to as “Smark WrestleMania” (aka Summerslam), against “The Guy” who was crowned leader of the New Era at the actual WrestleMania.
Intrigue can certainly be found in Owens vs. Reigns at the Rumble; that much is clear. WWE could continue the budding Owens vs. Jericho storyline split, intent on it culminating in a Universal Championship match at WrestleMania, but do not be surprised if Roman reigns again; and do not write it off as a terrible thing straight away if it happens. As outlined above, the most engaging stories to be told in this day and age are the ones that dare to put presumed WWE “chosen ones” like Reigns against the true men of the people.
The three month game of WWE pay-per-view roulette has finally come to an end; we can all breathe now. By and large, I have enjoyed very much the special event offerings since September – Roadblock: End of the Line was no exception – so, exhaustion aside, I will rest between now and Royal Rumble a satisfied wrestling fan.
Surely New Day is satisfied with what they accomplished over the last 16 months as the longest reigning Tag Team Champions of all-time. ‘Tis a shame that they did not wrestle more matches of the quality seen last night, though, as the historical impression left on the modern fan base by their championship run would have been more substantial had they reinforced their entertaining antics with consistently better in-ring performances. Good news: all participants in Roadblock’s title bout seemed inspired to create something that would stand out. After a title change failed to materialize over the summer, the title reign became an albatross for the Raw division as a whole, but with the monkey of Demolition’s record off of the division’s back, the type of drama that one might expect from unpredictable, rapid-fire tag team action resumed. The frenetic pace gave the vibe that a finish could come at any moment, sparking several legitimate near falls; and the climax featuring a faux-tag from Sheamus to Cesaro was quite innovative. Part of me wishes that New Day’s reign would have continued for a bit longer to make a bigger deal of their eventual loss, but the division has long needed a reset (*** ¼).
Sami Zayn definitely needed a reset after completing his story with Kevin Owens over the summer and his on-going story with Braun Strowman has certainly provided him that. The stipulation of having Zayn survive ten minutes with WWE’s newest monster was unique and added a dynamic to the mid-card of Roadblock that a simple match could not have necessarily replicated. It turned out to be more of an angle than a match (n/a on the rating accordingly), but it served its purpose well, furthering the emotionally-investing issue between Zayn and Mick Foley, allowing Zayn a spotlight character-building moment that could prove more beneficial for him in the long-term than just a good match would have, and confirming Strowman’s status as a giant with a mean streak without making him suffer a true loss.
The part of the show where Sami might have wrestled the PPV-enhancing mid-card bout was given to Seth Rollins and Chris Jericho, who to be critical probably could have had a more enthralling 14-minute affair than the near 18-minute clash that they actually had. Their performance was really good, one of the cleaner matches that Y2J has wrestled this year in terms of timing and one that was anchored by a couple of very strong sequences (including the finish). Unfortunately, it lacked a fundamental hook that locked at least this viewer into the fiction. Rollins and Jericho are characters in transition, one still trying to find his way after a rather inorganic babyface turn and the other veering from the established antagonistic role that he has played so well throughout the year into an organic return to protagonistic form. That said, there are undoubtedly worse things than a good mid-card match (*** ¼).
Maybe now that Neville is part of the Cruiserweight division, Raw might be more likely to afford the sub-205 guys the creative attention that they need to get over, which would then allow them to have good mid-card matches on PPV instead of the bland, largely ineffective mental-breaks-for-the-audience that they have performed to date. After Rich Swann and Brian Kendrick botched a sequence less than a minute into their six-minute triple threat with TJ Perkins, the trio tried admirably to recover with exciting action, but nobody cared and then the match ended (* ½). Neville’s heel turn was a glimmer of hope that the division can replicate on Raw and its PPVs what it has shown capable of doing on 205 Live; just as importantly, it gives a very dynamic athlete who has had some outstanding matches down in NXT a chance to do something rather than sit on the sidelines wondering why he has not been utilized.
The women in WWE can sympathize with the cruisers. It was not long ago that they were considered the potty break division. Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte Flair has been a rivalry responsible for changing the Women’s Revolution from a main roster tagline to a reality and, last night, the first book of their WWE proper storyline reached its conclusion. It should have been the main-event frankly, as they put on a performance that, all things considered, nobody else on the card could equal; it was neither a classic nor was it on the level of their Hell in a Cell match, but it was comfortably the most engaging bout of the evening and the only match that really felt like it should have been happening on PPV.
What makes Sasha Banks so good in her role as the underdog is that she is totally believable as the resourceful, highly-skilled grappler who just was not born with the same innate physical tools as Charlotte. When she hit her face on the ring steps, she sold incapacitation and it worked; so few can do that. Later, when Flair attacked her knee, it was so much easier to buy her in the wounded hero role than it is so many of her peers in similar circumstances; that she tapped with seconds to spare was an awesome reversal of formula, making her like a Cinderella team in a major soccer tournament holding a one goal lead, only to give up the tying goal with seconds to spare and lose to the superior team in extra time.
The lack of in-person enthusiasm was detrimental to just about everything at Roadblock, but it affected the Ironman match for the Women’s Championship most of all. Say what you will about the role of a hot crowd in rating pro wrestling matches; a hot crowd, though, can hide a lot of issues that are otherwise more noticeable when an audience is quieter. Things like a lack of crisp execution become far more evident in front an indifferent crowd, as was the case in Pittsburgh, where Sasha and Charlotte gave a wrestling lesson in selling and psychology, all the while struggling to execute to the extent necessary to call their season finale a classic. The WWE Feud of the Year, thus, ended by doing some things incredibly well and other things just plain old fine (*** ¾).
Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns did not feel like a PPV main-event when all was said and done, such is the reason for the above suggestion that Banks vs. Charlotte should have again gone on last. Eventually, the fact that WWE Raw offers so many PPV-caliber matches was going to catch up to them; I think it caught up to them in Reigns vs. Owens at Roadblock. We had already seen Reigns and Owens have several strong matches on free TV. PPV bouts are supposed to be a natural escalation in atmosphere and stakes, but that did not prove to be the case in Pittsburgh; essentially, Reigns and Owens wrestled the same kind of match that they had already wrestled a couple of previous times. A lot of TV matches in the modern era come across as exhibitions, glorified house show bouts that see all the wrestlers’ signature offense without the compelling drama to compliment it; that was what Owens-Reigns felt like. That Rollins and Reigns then reunited for Shield-like powerbombs on Jeri-KO – very Raw fades to black-type material –only amplified that feeling. Compared to the Women’s Title match, they nailed the execution and put together some nice spots, but had only a fraction of the storytelling and psychology. As such, theirs was a really good TV match that just so happened to take place in the main-event of a PPV (*** ½).
To conclude, Roadblock was a good show very similar to Clash of Champions three months ago. The opener did its job quite well and gave us new Tag Team Champions, each division ended the night in as good or better a place than it started, and all three marquee matches were good but not great. PPV quality has been so strong in recent years that one might struggle to find reason to call last night’s up-to-snuff, but I think it was a perfectly acceptable show worth the time spent watching it.