To say that WWE fans were less than optimistic when it came to The Shield's chances at Elimination Chamber wouldn't do the overwhelming sentiment justice. The promising trio managed to defeat the all-star team of John Cena, Ryback and Sheamus fair and square, however, making it clear that WWE learned from the mistakes it made with Nexus.
Just as The Shield did at Survivor Series, Nexus made an instant impact when it burst onto the scene in the summer of 2010. Nexus crashed a match between Cena and CM Punk on Raw and left everything in shambles. Each of the group's eight members took turns dismantling Cena. Daniel Bryan famously choked announcer Justin Roberts with a necktie, and the rookies even destroyed the ring.
Although The Shield's debut wasn't quite as shocking and chaotic, it was eye-opening to say the least.
The Shield interfered during a triple-threat match for the WWE Championship between Punk, Cena and Ryback when Ryback was seemingly en route to victory. Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns triple-powerbombed Ryback through the announce table, allowing Punk to pin Cena and retain his title.
On the surface, there are a lot of similarities between the two groups. They targeted some of WWE's biggest stars right from the start, they are both made up of young superstars looking to make a name for themselves and they both have utilized a pack-of-dogs mentality in decimating opponents.
One major difference, however, is WWE's level of commitment.
I had all the hope in the world for Nexus, and that was likely a feeling that the majority of wrestling fans shared. The concept of eight unproven rookies essentially taking over WWE was both new and exciting. The writers succeeded in making the group look strong early in its tenure as it targeted the company's top stars, but a fatal error was made just a couple months after Nexus took the wrestling world by storm.
Nexus was booked to face Team WWE in a seven-on-seven elimination tag match at SummerSlam. The WWE team was led by Cena and included Edge, Chris Jericho, Bret Hart, R-Truth, John Morrison and a returning Bryan, who was previously fired for the incident involving Roberts. Anyone could plainly see that Cena's team had more established talent and experience, but that simply wasn't the point.
The Nexus was a cohesive unit that had worked together for a couple months to humble some of the biggest superstars WWE had to offer. What Nexus lacked in credibility as individuals should have been covered up by their comfort level as a team. The WWE team had never worked together and had a mixture of faces and heels, yet they were able to overcome their differences to vanquish Nexus.
Despite the fact that Nexus would last for four more months in its original state and another six months after Punk seized power from Wade Barrett, it lost much of its steam at SummerSlam. WWE tried to save it by having Barrett defeat Cena, which then resulted in Cena having to join the group, but Cena inevitably defied the odds and was able to basically destroy the group from the inside.
The Shield was faced with a similar defining moment at Elimination Chamber when Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns took on the team of Cena, Sheamus and Ryback, who was coincidentally a member of the original Nexus.
With WrestleMania coming up, the general consensus was that WWE would give the victory to the face team in order to give them momentum heading into the biggest show of the year.
I like to think of myself as a fairly optimistic fan, but even I had a hard time believing that The Shield could conceivably beat Cena, Sheamus and Ryback. It wasn't because I didn't buy The Shield as a legitimate threat, but rather because I had little confidence in WWE making such a drastic decision. The best I was hoping for was a disqualification loss for The Shield, as it would have allowed the faces to win but also would have protected The Shield and allowed it to stand tall.
Even in the unlikely event of a win for The Shield, I figured it would be due to involvement from Brock Lesnar, Brad Maddox or some type of outside force. A clean win for The Shield barely even crossed my mind, but that is precisely how things played out.
The Shield appeared to be equal to the face team due to their impeccable synergy as a unit. The Shield's awareness ultimately led to victory as Reigns stopped Ryback's Shell Shocked attempt with a spear and Rollins proceeded to pin the ravenous beast.
When The Shield emerged victorious, it almost seemed as though the air had been taken out of the arena. That isn't an indictment of the creative team's decision, though. There was simply a huge feeling of surprise and I'm not sure fans knew how to react to the situation. With that said, WWE obviously understands that it blew a golden opportunity with Nexus and it isn't willing to allow the same thing to happen with The Shield.
Having Cena, Sheamus and Ryback win would have been conventional, but the conventional choice isn't always the right one. Truth be told, Cena, Sheamus and Ryback are such big stars that they were going to be fine win or lose. The Shield, on the other hand, had a ton riding on the match at Elimination Chamber and could have easily spiraled in the wrong direction in the event of a loss.
There was already some negative energy from the WWE fanbase toward The Shield ahead of Elimination Chamber, as some were growing tired of their constant attacks and were disillusioned by the fact that Paul Heyman had paid the group off to preserve Punk's WWE Championship reign.
I have still been entertained by the group, however, and I'm ecstatic about their victory as it all but guarantees that the triumvirate will remain intact for the foreseeable future.
I can't say with certainty that WWE will continue to book The Shield properly and develop the group into a stable that rivals the likes of D-Generation X and Evolution, but at least the possibility remains. Nexus was destroyed before it truly had a chance to get off the ground; however, new life was breathed into The Shield on Sunday night and that is certainly an exciting prospect.