Sunday 3 May 2015

The Shield Versus The NXT Five

A few weeks ago I suggested that Finn Bálor be called up to the main roster to team with Adrian Neville against Cesaro and Tyson Kidd at Money in the Bank. I went on to suggest that Nev and Bálor could capture the tag team titles at SummerSlam, giving them a memorable debut at what is traditionally one of WWE's more important events. I stopped short of spelling it out but the implication (or intended implication) was that the two could lose the titles a few months later and then go their separate ways.

This scenario has stuck with me and made me think of a larger scale, longer term booking plan that could create roles for more guys currently working in NXT and help to reinvigorate a variety of championships and the WWE product as a whole. One stone, lots of birds. These are all things WWE needs so being in a position to accomplish all or some of them at once would be ideal.

I'll start by addressing The Shield. At some point they'll reunite. That's just how wrestling works. There are lots of things the group could do together and they would sell merchandise. That's all that's needed to make it a certainty for the future. Based on nothing at all I suspect WWE will bring the group back together at or around WrestleMania 32 next year (the eventful post-'Mania RAW is probably a good prediction to make). By that point it will have been getting on for two years since The Shield was last a unified trio. That's more than enough time for WWE to deem a reunion acceptable.

These lads will be back together eventually.
Truth be told The Shield reuniting at 'Mania 32 wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. It wouldn't be too early to make sense, there's enough time for Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns to be shunted into alignment. It could even work if 'Mania features a Reigns versus Rollins versus Ambrose three-way match, as it may do (because WWE apparently wants to set an attendance record in Dallas, which will require a loaded card). It wouldn't be easy and it would require a swerve to be thrown in, but it wouldn't be impossible to pull off.

Despite their attendance record-smashing aspirations and the timing being decent I think WWE should hold off on putting 'The Hounds of Justice' back together for another year. They could use 'Mania 32 to solidify the three guys as bona fide main event stars. Rollins and Reigns are on their way to that right now while Ambrose is flagging. That's not an issue. There are eleven months before WM32, plenty of time to raise the standing of 'The Lunatic Fringe'. Renewing his rivalry with Rollins would be a good start.

Adrian Neville could also be in a prominent spot by then. As could Finn Bálor, if he gets promoted in the next few months (and it looks like he will). Both lads would likely get a match at WrestleMania, probably some sort of multi-man deal for the IC title if recent years are anything to go by. There's enough time to call up another one of the group dubbed 'The NXT Five' by the geniuses in the company's marketing department. Sami Zayn is the frontrunner for that, with Hideo Itami still acclimatising to WWE and Kevin Owens looking like a long-term fixture in NXT thanks to his current grasp on the league's singles championship.

Were Zayn called up ahead of 'Mania WWE would be in a strong position for 2016, with Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns (plus Cena, Orton and whoever else) working as main event guys and Bálor, Neville and Zayn being key contributors to a meaningful mid-card. They could call up Itami and Owens across the course of the year, getting all members of 'The NXT Five' onto the main roster. They wouldn't all need to be linked with one another nor would the whole 'Five' thing need to be referenced. It would simply be enough to have them around on the roster, being used properly. Not that guys getting handled properly is a particularly safe assumption these days but we can all remain hopeful that extra care will be taken with these particular high profile talents.

By the time WrestleMania 33 was reached WWE would be ready for a fresh angle that would do all the enlivening I mentioned above. And that's where they should reunite The Shield. By holding it off for nearly three years the reunion would mean more and both Reigns and Rollins should both be former multi-time champions, giving the group even more credibility than they had when they split last June. Ambrose may even have had a world title reign or two by then, although I think that's a little optimistic. An IC championship win isn't beyond the realms of possibility though, and there's a slim chance that belt may mean something by 2017.

The perfect opponents for The Shield would be the next golden boys from NXT: Adrian Neville, Finn Bálor, Sami Zayn, Hideo Itami and Kevin Owens. They could be brought together on the RAW after 'Mania in response to a Shield get together on the big show or they could come together across a few weeks to face down the threat the Shield poses to the top of the card. What would be nice about The Five's dynamic would be that conflicts could be created within the group. Zayn and Owens, for example, could be presented as guys who have a history of friendship but no longer like or trust one another but are united by a common cause of opposing The Shield.

Using these two factions would provide WWE with a way to move away from the played out approach of defining heels and babyfaces. It would be enough to pit the two factions against one another and let viewers choose sides on a match by match basis. Rollins, for example, would work well as a heel against guys like Zayn and Bálor but could fight as a valiant underdog babyface against a big lad like Owens.

This would be the greatest faction ever.
There would be plenty of these matches to run through too. By my count (and I'd like to mention at this point that maths isn't really a strength of mine) there are fifteen singles matches, thirty tag matches, and ten six man tag matches to be had using these two groupings. That's a lot of fresh content. The singles matches could be saved for pay-per-views and the wealth of tag and six man combos could be rolled out as audience-grabbing TV main events. Involving the WWE, Intercontinental and tag matches in these matches, in which quality is practically guaranteed to be high, would enhance the status of those belts and make them mean more, which in turn would give a rub to any guys holding them later on.

A Five versus Shield programme could easily last a year if planned out in advance and paced correctly. It could also be used to seed storylines for later. I've already mentioned Zayn and Owens as two guys within The Five who could be presented as not getting on. The faction could implode and they could splinter off into their own thing. The same could be done with any two members of The Shield. Rollins could start the factions rivalry as champion and lose the belt, with Reigns stepping in to reveal that The Shied had agreed amongst themselves that once a member lost a belt another member would get a crack at it. He could win the WWE title. Rollins could be angry. Resentment could build. They could splinter off into their own feud. There are dozens of things that could be done, matching the dozens of matches WWE would be able to book.

The most important thing to note with this approach is that it would be putting talented wrestlers at the centre of the TV product. This is what modern audiences want right now. It's how Lucha Underground has achieved success, why New Japan's popularity continues to grow despite their lack of concessions to a western market, and it's why Ring of Honor is still in business. People want good wrestling, and that doesn't mean WWE could still use the celebrity-heavy approach they've always favoured or that Cena and Orton have to disappear. It just means that in-ring action merits a bit more focus than it's currently getting. This feud could be world class. I'd love it to happen.

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