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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business presents #102: Chapter 9.2 ~ The Shield: Leaders of an Era
By Samuel 'Plan
Aug 11, 2017 - 9:03:12 PM

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Just Business presents #102: Chapter 9.2 ~ The Shield: Leaders of an Era

There are those that would tell you the careers of the three former Shield members have peaked. I have certainly seen it posited that Dean Ambrose has failed in proving to be a top star with any kind of longevity. So too have I seen it stated that Seth Rollins has been on a gradual downward slide for some time. There are even fans who maintain Roman Reigns has gotten to be as successful as he can ever hope, and from here it’s downhill.

While I try not to be harsh on those with a divergent opinion to my own, I must say that I consider these claims an absolute nonsense.

Not only are all three only in their earlier thirties, meaning they have another ten to fifteen years ahead of them if they remain healthy, but they have become, undeniably, the top stars of their generation, and will remain so for some time to come.

I can, however, understand if there is a feeling among some fans of disappointment towards how the solo careers of each have unfolded. Many remain far from enamoured with Rollins as a hero, disenchanted with Reigns as a top star and disappointed that Ambrose spends most of his time chasing the Intercontinental Championship than any other. At the same time, when shiny new stars like AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman come along, novelty comes with them. With three years under their belts as singles stars, The Shield boys are going to feel like anything but novel now; especially considering how central they’ve been to events.

That’s precisely the point, though. Like it or not, The Shield are here to stay at the top of WWE’s roster. Not only does their ascent through the ranks, as documented in the last half of this chapter, indicate the company has nothing but the utmost faith in all three of them to play their roles for years to come, events have continued to unfold that have only further cemented my argument that they are the iconic trio of their generation. We had Hogan, Warrior and Savage; we had Hart, Michaels and Nash; we had Austin, The Rock and Triple H; we had Cena, Batista and Orton; now, we have Reigns, Rollins and Ambrose.

They have all spent time away from the spotlight of the top tier in WWE, of course. All three, as a matter of fact, have been both WWE World Heavyweight and United States Champions. Soon enough, I have a feeling all three will have also been a Tag Team Champion too. Reigns and Rollins only several months ago despatched cleanly The Undertaker and Triple H on WWE’s biggest stage; if that’s not an indicator of faith, I don’t know what is. While Ambrose has undoubtedly spent more time lower down the card, his contributions are equally as important. He has played a pivotal role in solidifying the renewed status of mid card championships, has anchored the product with quality ring work and has proven himself capable of floating up and down wherever he is needed. All three have been World Champion; all three will be World Champion again. Though there are those who claim The Shield have peaked, the truth is that they’re only just getting started.

Perhaps part of the misleading picture here is how quickly they have become iconic. That is a word I do not throw around lightly, either. Here, it fits, though. In years to come, when people think back to this current Era – what I refer to as the Renaissance Era – the names of Reigns, Rollins and Ambrose will be as synonymous as any of the trios mentioned earlier are with their own Eras. How do I know this? Well, frankly, because it’s already happened. Just as we can trace a tangible shift in WWE’s roster priorities throughout the three men’s ascent in 2014 and 2015, so too can we trace how it is they moved from the rising stars of Reality to the leading stars of the Renaissance; how they went from being renowned to becoming iconic.

It is a phenomenon you can trace back as far as Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins on the 4/5/15 edition of Monday Night Raw (MNR); a match where, if Ambrose won, he would get inserted into the title bout at Payback some weeks thereafter. It is in how this match is presented and plays out that you can see how the Ambrose / Rollins rivalry specifically has become the myth of its age.

As Rollins enters, Ambrose paces back and forth like a caged animal, not unlike the animated manner in which he had always interacted with Rollins throughout the preceding summer. His facial expressions betray his continued anguish too. Further, the commentary team almost immediately launch into a recounting of the history between the two of them, with references to the cinder blocks and the Cell. This is a match that might have been put together to simply build toward a pay-per-view title bout, but the history underpinning it, the mythos it is now steeped in, ensures it feels singularly special despite its incidental nature. When a feud hits that point, you know it’s something singular; something iconic.

What follows helps, of course. This might be the forgotten classic of the Ambrose / Rollins saga. It transforms into a truly epic bout, as the two engage, in their uniquely effortless way, in rollercoaster storytelling, brimming with their respective vitriol felt toward one another bred by the continuity they here embrace. It truly is a classic piece of work.

What it would eventually lead to, following on from a Fatal 4 Way at Payback 2015, was the first ever all-Shield WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match to take place on pay-per-view. Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins at Elimination Chamber 2015 is perhaps one of their slower encounters, but proves just as effortlessly immersive as any other, with a finish that not only comes with a sense of cathartic justice but serves to lay groundwork for the two to continue furthering their iconic rivalry in the months that would follow. It’s most important aspect, however, is the thematic hype package that comes before the bout begins; just another element to transform their story into iconography.

Delivering a haunting monologue to a monochromatic lens, Dean Ambrose is framed as the forever nemesis to Seth Rollins. As the Lunatic Fringe himself states, “The world needs someone like Dean Ambrose to make sure a guy like Seth Rollins doesn’t get too comfortable.” As if the two weren’t already linked to one another for the rest of their careers…. Furthering that fateful vibe, references are made to one bad decision following a man’s life forever, ensuring this rivalry, while functioning as its own closed ended chapter, remains an extension of the unresolved 2014 revenge arc and a prelude to then unwritten chapters to come. During the action, there then come references to cinder blocks and run-ins, and Seth screaming at Dean that “it was never about you!” This match takes the MNR match’s embrace of continuity and immerses itself unashamedly even deeper within it.

Remarkably, this is not just a case of a feud being so memorable, so well performed, so marvellously compiled that it attains a status not often seen in the industry. So too is it about where that feud, and the others related to it, have taken place. If there are those who doubt the notion that the Shield are the leaders of their generation, consider that their encounters have rarely strayed too far away from World Championship gold.

Consider Survivor Series 2015. Seth Rollins had been WWE World Heavyweight Champion and went down with an injury. Roman Reigns was already number one contender at that time. WWE then instigated a tournament of sixteen singles stars to crown a new champion and Roman was one of them. So was Dean Ambrose. And of those sixteen solo stars, the final came down to two members of the same group the departing champion had so infamously destroyed. Roman Reigns vs. Dean Ambrose at Survivor Series 2015 might not be a favourite of many people but, for the purpose of this column, it is a perfect example to demonstrate my point.

Just as many today claim the Shield stars have all already peaked, there were many in 2015 that claimed the tournament final to be a disappointment. This is likely because of a whole myriad of reasons; I wonder if one of them is the lack of any sense of occasion behind the first purely competitive one on one meeting of Reigns and Ambrose, whose story together remains still a largely untapped creative well for WWE. Regardless, disappointing or not, it cannot be ignored that they were the two men WWE decided to have go all the way in vying for World title gold. That counts for something.

What’s more, I don’t especially think of the match as a disappointment. On revisiting it for this series, in fact, I found it to be a classic sub-10 minute match, and as brilliant a piece of short form storytelling as you can hope to find in WWE’s entire library. The vocal crowd is split; both men possess equal intensity; and the action is performed with an identifiable sense of familiarity, as the two brothers would undoubtedly possess. The post-match hug between them only lends greater emotional heft to what both these brothers – who had suffered betrayal in the foxhole together – had just been through.

And again, in years to come, when people talk about WWE World Heavyweight Championship tournaments through the years, and when they talk about Savage vs. DiBiase and Rock vs. Mankind, now they’ll talk about Reigns vs. Ambrose too. Regardless of what they might say, the point is they’ll be saying something. That’s an iconic achievement, folks.

Then there’s the big one. If Ambrose vs. Rollins isn’t an iconic enough feud in its own right, and if Reigns vs. Ambrose did nothing for you, there’s still Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins to consider; especially their all time classic encounter at Money in the Bank 2016, that has no qualms in presenting it as, yep, you guessed it, iconic.

There is a natural sense of Event about Rollins and Reigns meeting. They were first meant to meet at Night of Champions 2014; then Reigns got injured. They were next meant to meet at Survivor Series 2015; then Rollins got injured. Both had won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and now, at long last, they finally did meet. Destiny is the theme that another of WWE’s memorable pre-match hype packages returns to time and again, and it fits the situation perfectly; for if Ambrose vs. Rollins is the refrain, Reigns vs. Rollins is the headline.

The status of their star power should be accounted for here as well. This is no longer subversive, like main eventing Hell in a Cell 2014 was. Nor was it affirming, like main eventing Payback or Elimination Chamber 2015 was. This was a match presented openly and consciously by WWE as being WrestleMania main event worthy. Indeed, it is only a matter of time before the pairing occupies that very spot.

That special nature is laid on thick by the commentary team, and the response of the crowd follows suit with a volatile atmosphere akin to a famous John Cena scenario, albeit with a match possessing greater creative merit. The match itself is built like something aware of its own status, in what feels like a conscious choice of methodology. It is a long, nuanced, complex story told in the ring, capable of living up to the expectations of the biggest match of any calendar year. It is an epic, and it knows it is.

But what really caps it off is the post-match course of events. Seth Rollins defeating Roman Reigns, regardless of the reason, was a brilliant move and Dean Ambrose cashing in on Seth Rollins afterwards even better; a moment referred to by commentary as a “ghost of [Seth Rollins’] past” invoking “the ultimate payback.” With a Triple Threat on the horizon thereafter, there can be no denying that this was a match that climaxed the first post-break chapter of the Shield alumni’s solo careers, intertwining the myriad relationships between the three in fitting fashion: all three were WWE World Heavyweight Champion on the same night.

To put the matter simply, no talent gets the kind of treatment the Shield got at Money in the Bank 2016 without being at the absolute top echelon of the company.

It is perhaps in no small part because of that fateful night that many feel the Shield have peaked. Taking a look at what followed, however, only goes to show the exact opposite. Rather than beginning a downward slide, the Shield alumni went from strength to strength.

At the same time as the Shield’s 2016 chapter was climaxing, WWE were instigating the Second Brand Extension, and with it the end of the Reality Era and the beginning of a new Era altogether. If still you remain unconvinced it is the Shield who leads that generation, look at the role played specifically by Rollins and Ambrose in the foremost days of the Second Brand Extension. Look, even more specifically, to the first pay-per-view of that Era; the first Big Four pay-per-view of that Era, no less.

While John Cena and AJ Styles were turning heads in the middle of the card, the Shield alumni had been entrusted with the two World Championships the company had now invoked. The resultant matches were far better than their reception at the time gave them credit for, precisely because the matter of Styles’ novelty in WWE had since quelled enthusiasm for the still extremely talented, still pioneering Hounds of Justice.

Dean Ambrose vs. Dolph Ziggler at Summerslam 2016 is telling for the manner in which Ziggler, ostensibly the WWE veteran, is undoubtedly presented as the junior presence, with a story that consciously makes a point of the man’s stagnancy; a stagnancy shared by his generation, so easily overtaken by the likes of Ambrose and his brothers. A similar atmosphere pervades Seth Rollins vs. Finn Bálor at that very same show. Bálor is presented as the junior star, and essentially as a spin-off of Seth Rollins himself. Rollins’ accomplishments are made a point of this time around, with WWE presenting him as a notable main event level player in a manner reminiscent of the change in how John Cena was presented back in 2007; from new presence to veteran. Indeed, Corey Graves describes the situation as Bálor attempting to follow “in the footsteps of a T-Rex.”

I appreciate many will disagree with my assessment that both matches are better than they are given credit for, but regardless of the match quality think, once again, about status. History will forever remember that at Summerslam 2016, what might possibly have been the first pay-per-view of its Era, it wasn’t John Cena or Randy Orton holding World title gold; it was Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, leading their generation into their Era.

That sense of leadership is why I’ve settled on two television matches as the must see representation of this issue; two matches that, to my mind, function as a single entity and which I named as my 2016 Television Match(es) of the Year. Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins on the 18/7/16 edition of MNR, and again on the 19/7/16 edition of Smackdown Live (SDL) are representative of how the Shield have become the leaders of their generation in WWE lore.

The two bouts work together as a single incredibly told story, not unlike a ‘Mania main event style match in their own right, and so too do they seem typically effortless on the part of the combatants. Switching the role of champion and challenger allows them to feel fresher than ever before, and the adherence to character is as compelling as one might expect. More than content, though, we should think about what they represent. The week of a seminal event like the Second Brand Extension, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose were wrestling over the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, not for the first or last time, and steeped in their own history together; while at the same time, being the first and second overall picks in the Draft, and both the first pick for their now competing brands.

More than anything else, I can think of no better representation of the fact that The Shield have gone on to prove what we always knew. They were more than just another stable. They were a paradigmatic shift. They were the forerunners of their generation. They are the leaders of their Era. They haven’t peaked, they’re just warming up and they’ll be around for a long while yet to come. So get used to it.

This mini-series is a spin-off of my first book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, spawned from the acclaimed LOP column series of the same name. So for more of the same, click below to pick up your paperback or e-book copy today!

Click here to pick up your copy of 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die from Amazon.com

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