Saturday 29 March 2014

Shielded From Failure

It seemed obvious a couple of months ago that one of the matches we’d be seeing at WrestleMania would be a triple threat match between the three members of The Shield. The trio had faced every significant tag team on the roster, wrestled names such as John Cena, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Sheamus and Randy Orton in six man tag matches, and would be tangling with The Wyatt Family (the only other three man team of note in the company) at Elimination Chamber. On top of that Roman Reigns would be having a standout performance in the Royal Rumble, designed to prepare him as a singles star.

In short it felt as though ‘The Hounds of Justice’ had accomplished everything they could as a unit. And with WWE not in the habit of giving singles pushes to members of teams without going through the rigmarole of breaking said team up it seemed inevitable that The Shield would be split to give Reigns a memorable moment on the company’s biggest show to begin his shove into main events.

But that hasn’t happened. Instead Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns have stayed together and will be teaming to take on the (slightly peculiar) trio of Kane and The New Age Outlaws. There was a slight wobble shortly after Elimination Chamber but that was quickly forgotten and the split has, it seems, been put on hold.

Which I think is a good thing. With The Shield WWE has the chance to do something they’ve never done before. They can push a threesome of stars as a headline force. If you look at wrestling within its own logic bubble then it seems odd that units so rarely work together to capture singles championships. The numbers advantage seems to be overlooked by practically every wrestler on the planet.

The defensive reasoning is that any singles title is so prestigious and desirable that wrestlers simply cannot trust and rely upon one another in their quest to win. Which makes sense for the most part. Wrestling relies on larger than life figures to attract an audience, and there’s something about a guy going it alone that helps him be perceived as a larger than life figure more easily. Such figures manage to become such large personalities partly because they’re not linked to anyone else.

But The Shield is different. They have routinely been depicted as men who put the success of the team before personal glory. That’s pretty much the antithesis of the average wrestler. Were WWE to keep them together and have the three men support one another in singles and duo endeavours they kept, in theory, stay together as a popular act for years.

Reigns is the obvious guy to break off for a singles run. He has the looks, charisma, signature moves, and brooding promo skills to help him go far, and I’m sure he could make it to the top without his link to Ambrose and Rollins. But keeping the three together would help to provide a safety net and keep his weaknesses masked. Reigns can shine as the power man who comes in on hot tags but he’s unproven when pacing a major singles match. They’re different things and the period in which he adjusts could see him lose some of his shine as people start to see less explosive performances from him.

Ambrose and Rollins are both good enough to go off on their own too. But is WWE’s stagnant mid-card really something anybody would wish on either or both of them? It’s an area of WWE programming with no stories and very little prospects for advancement. With the other two members of The Shield still linked to them both Ambrose and Rollins could stand out should they make forays into the area but remain linked to the act which made them popular in the first place.

Recently Ambrose and Rollins have been working as the main two pairing of the team, with Reigns lurking at ringside as backup. This is a good role for them. Their new status as official babyfaces would allow them to work with a new dynamic, one that greatly benefits Rollins’ preferred big bumping style, and be placed into fresh matches. Tag matches have also proven to be a strength of all three men since their main roster call up and something that fans have shown enthusiasm for watching. WWE should embrace that.

Better together than they would be separate
The positives outweigh the negatives. The Shield are a popular act with an established continuity that people enjoy. They have a different look to everyone else and a unified team is something WWE fans aren’t used to seeing at a high level on the card. Why split them to get three singles acts, or a singles guy and a tag team, that wouldn’t be as popular? All three can be shunted in new directions, including up the card for a singles spot for Reigns, without a split occurring.

Theoretically the trio could move in and out of singles and tag programmes with other members of the roster for years. Ambrose and Rollins could spend some time as a team before being used more as singles guys, then come back together for a tag run. There would also be the option to have the three come together for six man tag matches. If that was something that happened only four or five times a year I think it could be presented and accepted as a big deal.

Their presence at ringside for each other would be something different, especially for the main event babyface Reigns is projected to be. Ringside aid is usually reserved for heel acts. Ambrose and Rollins could simply be there and not interfere, thus not making Reigns a poor sport for cheating. It would be a dynamic that’s not been seen in WWE for years and keep a popular unit together.

This is not to say that the three have to remain linked forever. A split is inevitable. But the longer they’re together the more it will mean when it comes. The Shield has been together for close to eighteen months now and it would be silly to say that a split at this point would get no reaction. It would. People would react strongly to a break because they are invested in the trio emotionally and it would almost certainly be a success. But it would mean so much more if they were together for years. The more the three men accomplish while working under the Shield banner the more impactful it will be when they turn on one another, and the more people will want to see a triple threat and the series of singles matches between them.

The Shield is more than the sum of its parts. I hope it stays that way for a while yet.

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