Let’s face it, the sequel is just never as good as the original. Sure, there are still some that are pretty fantastic: Aliens, Blade Runner 2049, Debbie Does Dallas Again (kidding on that last one…I think?), but you can only be introduced to a new experience once, and recapturing the magic of that first discovery is nigh-impossible. And for a wrestling fan, The Shield’s first run from 2012-2014 was nothing short of magical.
A little bit of personal information for context, before anyone labels me a hater: a rabid wrestling fan during the early 2000s, my fandom started to wane in the mid-aughts with the industry as a whole entering some dark times (between the deaths of Benoit and Guerrero, the retirement of Austin, and the departures of The Rock, Jericho, and Angle, all of my favorites were now gone) and my interests shifting more towards music, gaming, and dating as I entered college. I would still occasionally watch with friends here and there, but I really didn’t consider myself a fan anymore. Flash forward to 2013: my buddy Matt starts sending me videos and convinces me to start watching the PPVs with him again. I’m entertained enough to give it a shot, and I immediately find myself captivated by three acts: Daniel Bryan, The Wyatt Family (remember when they were super over?), and The Shield.
Admittedly, I came in during the latter half of their run together, so I missed quite a bit. But I still returned in time to catch the period where all three members held a title simultaneously (Ambrose as US champ, Rollins and Reigns as tag champs), their incredible match with the Wyatts at No Way Out 2014 (where the Wyatts won decisively by pinning Reigns clean, which is insane to think about now), and their sudden face turn and total dominance of the reunited Evolution. I was enraptured by it all, and it was as big a shock to me as it was to everyone else when Rollins turned on his brothers. Everything that the trio had done up to that point had been fantastic, and I couldn’t wait to see what was in store for the singles careers of all three going forward.
So began my first major disappointment since returning to my fandom. Well, the first was Daniel Bryan’s injury in 2014, but I can’t hold the WWE accountable for that. What I still hold against them, however, is not just screwing up three of the best characters in the company, but losing the essence of what made The Shield so special in the first place. Yes, they have their military alphabet intro back, they’re wearing the kevlar vests again, and they’re back to laying waste to their enemies the same way they used to, but I’m afraid that the x-factor that made them such a unique unit has already long since vanished. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, take a look at the trajectory of all three guys’ careers after the split.
Things were immediately off to a rocky start creatively with one of the more baffling decisions in recent years. For some reason, Ambrose and Rollins began feuding and Reigns was…nowhere to be found, as he had already been inserted into the WWE title picture. Huh? Why was one of their top babyfaces abandoning his brother after they had both been stabbed in the back? Kayfabe, it made him look incredibly selfish and opportunistic, as if he was just waiting for the Shield to splinter so he could move up the card. Further, the booking discrepancies between the three became clear quickly, with Roman getting multiple title shots and Rollins winning Money in the Bank while Ambrose began his descent, losing nearly every match he had against Rollins before transitioning into a lackluster feud with Bray Wyatt.
2015 would look very similar to 2014 for the trio, with Roman winning the Royal Rumble and main-eventing Wrestlemania against Brock Lesnar while Rollins cashed in his briefcase during said main event to begin his first world title reign, one that would last for most of the remainder of the year. Meanwhile, Dean was stuck in various Intercontinental title matches. Though he did get a few matches against Rollins for the belt, he was once again beaten every time. After Rollins blew out his knee and was forced to vacate the WWE title, Ambrose and Reigns did face each other in a tournament final at Survivor Series to fill the vacancy, but Roman won decisively, to the surprise of absolutely no one. Though Sheamus did cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase immediately after the match to steal the belt from Reigns, he was merely a speed bump in the continued efforts to position Roman as the new face of the company. Ambrose did manage to win the Intercontinental title for the first time in December, but while it was the highlight of his career up to that point, it paled in comparison to the accomplishments of his brethren.
Rollins would miss the first half of 2016, and though it started off strong for Reigns with yet another Wrestlemania main event, this year would be the best one yet for Ambrose. Getting a high-profile match with Brock Lesnar at Mania (which sadly wasn’t that great), Ambrose won Money in the Bank. In Seth’s return later that night, he would defeat Roman for the WWE title only to have Ambrose immediately cash in on him and win, with each former member of The Shield holding the belt over the course of the night (one of the few phenomenal pieces of booking they had since the split). Ambrose would successfully defend the title against Rollins and Reigns individually before beating each of them again in a final triple threat match to determine whether the title would stay on Smackdown (if Dean retained) or if it would go to Raw (should Seth or Roman have won) post-brand split. Much to my surprise, Rollins and Reigns saw their stars begin to fall a bit, as they would both put over Finn Balor on his path to becoming the first-ever Universal champion, and Reigns in particular had a rough summer after violating the company’s wellness policy for the first time. Ambrose would go on to lose the title to AJ Styles, but would also pin John Cena on TV, the first time that had happened in years. Despite this strong booking, Ambrose would fall back down to the midcard by the end of the year, with Reigns also closing out the year as the US champion over on Raw as Rollins began gearing up for a battle with Triple H at the next year’s Wrestlemania.
Which brings us to 2017. Ambrose would hold onto the IC title for a while as Rollins and Reigns received prominent Mania bouts against HHH and The Undertaker respectively, Reigns would have a pretty stellar feud against Braun Strowman, and the angle that set up The Shield reunion began with Rollins and Ambrose reuniting and winning the Raw tag team titles. But if you’ve been following along with all of this, it’s clear that the three men have all been the victims of uneven booking. I’m sure you noticed that I didn’t even bother going into the fan rejection of Roman as the WWE’s top babyface, and that was intentional; if you’re reading this, you don’t need anyone to recount how badly those plans went awry.
The point is, despite each man having a world title reign in the interim (and Reigns having several), it feels like the trio lacks the momentum they once had. People are still cheering for them, and they still resemble the men they were back when they were setting the world on fire, but this isn’t the epic reunion I had hoped for. And the biggest reason for it is because they now lack the one thing that made them so special: that there was never a leader. All three stood as equals, with their own unique strengths, and that both fed into their appeal and their mystique as this unstoppable force. I have no doubt that they will steamroll all competition placed in front of them until the next breakup (and if they don’t it’ll be an absolute travesty), but it’s clear as day that this is yet another attempt to prop Reigns up as the top guy. Where once you had Reigns as the muscle, Rollins as the athletic high flier, and Ambrose as the tactical brawler, you now have Reigns as the de facto leader and the other two essentially serving as his lackeys. Given the booking of the three up to this point, what else are we supposed to believe?
I believe this won’t last. I believe Reigns will main event next year’s Wrestlemania. I believe Ambrose and Rollins will still have decent careers. But sadly, I DON’T believe in The Shield.