Saturday 23 November 2013

A Year of Belief

This weekend's Survivor Series marks one year of The Shield. Well, sort of. The trio debuted at the 2012 edition of the event and the anniversary for that was actually on Monday. The Survivor Series event feels like the more natural time to mention their first year on the roster though, even if it's not entirely accurate.

Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose had a remarkable first few months on the roster. They started off strong by sharing screen time with John Cena, CM Punk and Ryback. The first two were the company's biggest names and at that point 'The Big Guy' looked like he was going to amount to something.

Their in-ring debut match came at the TLC pay-per-view in a winning effort against Team Hell No and Rybers, which was big for several reasons. Not only were the trio winning their first match but it was happening on pay-per-view against the de facto number two face and the tag team champions, who were one of the most popular acts in the company. It was a big vote of confidence from WWE and set them up as a dominant force. It gave the three men the chance to win fans over and that’s exactly what they did.

Outside of the kayfabe world of wins and losses The Shield were helped in other ways. JBL came up with the evocative 'Hounds of Justice' moniker, which has stuck and been embraced by fans and the group themselves. They were given the enigmatic crowd entrance routine, which had lain dormant long enough to feel fresh and special. And they got ring gear which helped them stand out. The protective vests and army boots combo has given The Shield an identity and contributed to them creating a connection with fans.

As 2013 began they involved themselves with The Rock at Royal Rumble (never a bad way to get guys over) and won six man tag matches, one of which saw them opposite the ring from megastar John Cena, at Elimination Chamber and WrestleMania XXIX. The April 22nd RAW saw them defeat The Undertaker, Kane, and Daniel Bryan and the following week they dropped Team Hell No and Cena. They would remain undefeated in six man outings until May 13th, when they lost by DQ to Cena and Team Hell No.

These three would tear it up in the King of Trios
The important thing to take away from these various six man tag mentions is that there were no bad performances amongst them. The Shield established themselves as guys who could face any three guys on the roster and have a great match. Their winning helped but it was the high quality that caused fans to take them seriously and therefore view them as stars.

The spring and summer saw the trio succeeding in areas other than multi-man bouts. Ambrose had a very enjoyable singles debut on the April 26th SmackDown in which he lost to The Undertaker by disqualification. At Extreme Rules he dethroned US champion Kofi Kingston (and still holds the championship now). And when Money in the Bank rolled around in July it was Ambrose who represented his gang in the battle for the blue briefcase.

With treatment like this it's no wonder Ambrose was and is viewed as the group's leader (although to the best of my knowledge this has never been stated as the case by The Shield themselves). WWE have indirectly acknowledged he's the best of the bunch by making him the member who most frequently wrestles solo. His status as the group's main promo man has furthered the image.

This is not to say that Rollins and Reigns have been left in Ambrose's shadow. The pair unseated Team Hell No in an exciting tussle at Payback and won a sort-of-rematch with Bryan and Randy Orton at Payback. While they were relegated to the pre-show to tangle with the Uso brothers at Money in the Bank they did sneak in a run-in on the main stage. And the battle they had with Jimmy and Jey was enjoyable.

The autumn months saw them do some of their finest work as far as making the tag team titles mean something is concerned. At Night of Champions they downed the popular Prime Time Players in what was probably the finest match of the latters’ collective career. Battleground saw them lose a non-title bout, a pre-cursor to their championship-losing effort a week later on Monday Night RAW. They’d carried the belts with pride and given us such worthwhile matches that the belts changing hands meant something.

On top of all of this the three were routinely drafted in to tangle with various popular faces, most often Daniel Bryan, throughout the year. This role has become particularly prevalent since they were promoted on-screen security for the McMahons. Matches such as Ambrose v Daniel Bryan from the September 9th RAW, Reigns v Bryan on September 16th, Rollins v Goldust on the October 23rd Main Event are all particularly enjoyable, and the three had a cracking showing in a gauntlet match against Bryan on August 26th. The trio have done excellent work establishing themselves as exciting wrestlers with bright futures who produce great work no matter who they're facing.

The popular question seems to be what's in the future of Rollins, Ambrose and Reigns. I can imagine all three will crack the main event at some point because they're all talented enough. Reigns, though currently fine as a heel, seems like a natural WWE babyface. He's good looking and has a large physique. That's what the promotion looks for. I can imagine him working well as a good guy.

Ambrose is one of the most natural heels WWE has. His sneering face and jerky, eccentric body language are made for the role. What really cements it is his promos. Ambrose is one of the most effective bad guys on the roster when equipped with a microphone. He'll be invaluable when it comes to furthering stories and encouraging people to rally behind good guys as a solo bad boy.

Of the three Rollins has the most work to do. A year ago he was clearly better in the ring than the hesitant Reigns, but they've become equals across the course of 2013. Not having the kind of look WWE equates it main event status means Rollins will have to rely on wrestling's famed intangible qualities and promos to progress. The latter has never been his strength but he could get better, and I think he's got enough "it factor" to succeed. I just don't think his rise will be as quick as those of his pals but I do think he’ll get to the top.

The success of The Shield in their debut year shows how well audiences can take to newcomers when they're presented correctly. I hope WWE knows and understands what they've achieved and replicates the approach in the future.

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