The State of the Shield: Analyzing the WWE Super Team in 5 Quotes
The Shield aren't supposed to be the hottest new WWE act in a decade. Professional wrestling simply doesn't work that way.
Since the dawn of Hulkamania, wrestling stars have been built with performance-enhancing drugs, pedigree and more than a sprinkling of politics.
Wrestling success is traditionally a product of shiny, spray-tanned muscles not suplexes and slams. The kind of physiques that make you snort when someone mentions drug testing with a straight face. Buddy Rose, one of the great talents of his generation, never made a big impact in WWE. The Warlord, a musclebound, immobile and completely underwhelming Road Warriors rip off, got multiple chances to try to get it right.
About 70 pounds of Grade A muscle.
WWE owner Vince McMahon is a fetishist. His addiction? Veins and bulges. Most top WWE stars need to deliver in the weight room. Period.
The path to the top is easier to navigate, too, when you manage to get tight with the right crew. The boys in the back can make you or break you. It didn't hurt to be tight with Hogan or the Klique back in the day. It doesn't hurt to nod your head at the right times around The Undertaker or John Cena now.
If all else fails, you better hope your daddy was wrestling royalty. Outsiders have proved unreliable. Goldberg, Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashley all got big pushes. None of them lasted. The progeny of wrestlers, it is thought, will be better suited than others to sustain the rigors of the road and the pressure of the politics.
Who you are can trump what you can do.
What's interesting about The Shield's success is how poorly they fit the established mold. For the most part, they're lacking in all three categories. They don't have friends in high places like Daniel Bryan. They don't have John Cena's freak musculature. And though one of them descends from wrestling greatness like Randy Orton, the Anoa'i family may not quite count. We've seen islanders with esteemed pedigrees come and go. That alone is not a guarantee of success. And for Roman Reigns, being the son of Sika from the Wild Samoans seems incidental, not central, to his WWE persona.
And yet, here they are—a major cog in the system despite being in their first year with the company. Can that last?
Let's take a look, together, at the most dynamic six-man tag team in 30 years. Five quotes over the last week stood out to me as emblematic of The Shield, both their journey and the path they have yet to walk.
All About Team
"Here's three men that always get along."
There's something special about a six-man tag match. It's been all but abandoned in American wrestling, which is both a shame and also a decision illogical at its core. I understand that the business has changed over the years.
And that change, despite the wailing of curmudgeons and classicists, hasn't always been for the worse.
For example, a match filled with filler, minute upon minute of rest holds and questionable submission maneuvers, all in the name of "psychology," is a thing of the distant past. Dory Funk Jr., master of the overlong, overwrought and overrated 1970s style of wrestling, couldn't make it in today's WWE.
That stuff might have worked when television had three channels and there was nothing better to do on a Friday night than cruise down to the local National Guard Armory to chase fights or women. It isn't cutting it today.
What The Shield does is perfectly suited for today's fan. Having six men allows for a match where the action never stops. Never. Every move has snap. Every bump is taken like it might be their last.
You don't have to save something for later, because the matches aren't marathons. They are sprints. And they are amazing.
Learning to Be Humble
"After six months of being beaten up and embarrassed by The Shield, I'd be mad too."
There comes a time in the life span of any new WWE act when you start trying to figure out how the wheels are going to come off. No one is spared the critical gaze of the booking team or the second guessing of the man himself, Vincent Kennedy McMahon.
That's not cynicism. I prefer to think of it as experience.
It's part of what has made The Shield's run so remarkable. Normally by this point, the humbling process would have begun. It's a cycle that goes something like this:
A. New act gets over.
B. Act is forced to learn humility and "pay dues" by falling down the card. Humbling yourself is key in the wrestling business, and with no territories in which to learn the business, it's a lesson that is being taught on national television.
C. Newly respectful of others and now firmly one of the boys, the act is ready to be pushed again. Unfortunately, whatever made them special in the first place is long gone. Fans no longer see something worth getting excited about. The act is now just part of the middling midcard. Forever.
As yet, The Shield has avoided this fate. But their time is coming. It always comes.
Perception Is Reality
"The Shield is very stoppable."
Could the inevitable process of decline have begun right before our eyes last week on SmackDown? Before that night, The Shield had been toe-to-toe with the biggest names in the industry.
The Rock had fallen before their concentrated energy. The Undertaker wrestled on Raw for the first time in modern memory—and lived to regret it. Even John Cena couldn't withstand the combined power of Reigns, Rollins and Ambrose.
The Shield, despite all that, had never lost a six-man match by pinfall or submission before that fatal night. Yes, it was a great match with Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan and Kane. And much foolishness can be forgiven in service of a great wrestling match.
I once watched Cactus Jack pretend to be a homeless man with amnesia and saw the Stinger's boat blown up in a WCW skit filmed with the same light kits and filters they use for all soft porn movies. It was all worth it because, when it was over, I got to see Vader wrestle. The same theory applies here.
Was it bad booking?
Did it result in a great match?
Those things tend to even out in my mind. Yet, a concern lingers. One one hand, The Shield lost on a random SmackDown. No big deal. Just another match soon to be forgotten.
On the other hand, The Shield lost for the first time on a random SmackDown. It was presented as no big deal. On the B-show, not on a pay-per-view or on Raw. It wasn't worth a major moment or a video package.
Fans notice. Perception becomes reality. And a push can become a plummet. Just like that.
Becoming Enhancement Talent
"Yes, yes, yes, yes!"
—The WWE Universe, Richmond, Va.
Wrestling is a funny business. Plans can change in the blink of an eye and then change back—all in a single night. Tales of the WWE brain trust coming up with angles and matches on the fly, of long-term plans thrown away on a whim, of general chaos erupting on a near-weekly basis are now things of legend.
It's how an angle can start by being all about getting The Shield over and morph into being something else entirely.
It's something that doesn't happen in the movies. No one typically rewrites a stage play or changes a movie script based on how well a bit actor plays his part. Not so in professional wrestling. There, a savvy operator can take a storyline and make it his own.
Witness Daniel Bryan in recent weeks. By the power of sheer will, not to mention charisma and some of the best in-ring work of his entire career, Bryan hijacked the feud between Team Hell No and The Shield.
Rollins, Reigns and Ambrose thought they were being put over. And, technically, they were. But Bryan used them as enhancement talent for his own career. Soon the story was about him, and he did it all by virtue of making his character the most compelling on television.
If Bryan can do that to The Shield, just wait until they match wits with true political sharks like Triple H or Paul Heyman. The learning curve is steeper the higher up the hill you climb. I hope The Shield is ready.
The McMahon Family Feud
"You guys remind me of me."
War is coming in the WWE. Battle lines are being drawn and two generals are firmly in place.
On one side is Triple H. He wasn't born into the McMahon dynasty. He had to work for it. In some ways, that makes him even more dangerous than McMahon family members who get their deviousness via nurture and not nature.
Standing across the way is Mr. McMahon himself. The patriarch of the family, he's a wrestling legend. A god even. He remade the whole business in his own image, for better or worse.
But McMahon is old. All the hair color in the world won't change that fact. He's going to need proxies in this latest round of the classic game of WWE Family Feud. And he teased on Raw that his chosen trio might just be The Shield.
It's exciting for a wrestler to be caught in the McMahon's wake. It means main event time, money and, no mistake, plenty of face time with the boss. It's an honor—but for The Shield a very dangerous one.
Being tied to Vince shattered the reputation and image of the Texas Rattlesnake himself, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. It just doesn't work for counter culture rabble-rousers to bow down to the man. They lose too much of what makes them tick in the process.
It was disastrous for Stone Cold. It will be just as bad for The Shield.