In one night, pro wrestling's future changed forever.
November 18, 2012 marked the arrival of Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Jon Moxley (formerly known as Dean Ambrose) on the prime-time wrestling scene at Survivor Series.
The black-clad trio emerged from the audience during the WWE Championship main event to lay waste to everything and everyone in sight, and thus The Shield was born.
They were unknown to the average viewer, with only Rollins and Moxley having cut their teeth on the independent scene prior to signing with the company. Reigns, on the other hand, was a product of WWE's revamped developmental system, NXT.
Little did the three of them–and everyone else watching around the world–know they would all be holding gold across the industry's three biggest brands 10 years later.
Roman Reigns currently carries the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship, Seth Rollins is the United States champion, and until Saturday's Full Gear pay-per-view, Moxley was the AEW world champion.
Believing in The Shield
There was no guarantee they would reach that ultimate level of success in the years that followed their shocking debut. However, their pristine presentation, exemplary booking and incredible work ethic cemented them as a unit that was both unstoppable and undeniable.
Moxley, Reigns and Rollins knew from the get-go that The Shield wasn't their ceiling. Each of them had every tool necessary to be a perennial main event player, and sure enough, they shattered that glass ceiling and never looked back.
"Our expectations upon our debut were that we were going to take over the business and we were going to reimagine it in our own vision," Rollins told B/R. "That was goal No. 1 from day No. 1. And I think without that aspiration, without dreaming that big, we would've never gotten here."
Rollins referenced The Nexus and how, unlike that group of renegades, The Shield managed to follow up their unforgettable introduction with an equally hot run and not once took their foot off the gas.
The Shield could have easily suffered the same fate had anyone else been involved, but those three individuals weren't willing to accept anything other than greatness.
"I know it sounds a little crazy, but where we're at is pretty much where we envisioned ourselves 10 years ago," Rollins said.
Moxley shared those same sentiments.
“Nobody can ever expect exactly how things are going to play out," Moxley told B/R days before defending the AEW World Championship in the main event of Saturday's Full Gear PPV against MJF. "The Shield was never the endgame for us. It was more about, 'Let's get together and kick this door down and take what's ours.' Now, we're all sitting pretty much exactly where we wanted to sit. You never know exactly how the future's going to go, but more or less, yeah, this was exactly the plan from that day at Survivor Series."
A decade ago, All Elite Wrestling didn't exist. WWE was the only game in town and had been since WCW closed its doors for good in 2001. This stage was where they had to be in order to become household names.
It was a different wrestling landscape back then, and attempting to accurately predict what their forthcoming years would look like would have worked out as well for them as it did for Marty McFly in Back to the Future 2.
Despite that, the talent the three of them had even when The Shield got started was clear as day. It was more a matter of how their singles careers would take off once they inevitably went their separate ways.
Regrets and Reflections
The dreaded split transpired in June 2014 when Rollins betrayed Moxley and Reigns to join The Authority.
Although the move was criticized at the time by fans for being too abrupt (especially coming off their monumental in over Evolution the night before), Rollins argues that it ended up playing out perfectly.
"You can look back at the breakup and say I wish we would've done that and be more prepared, but being forced to swim in the deep water as individuals was what helped us," Rollins said. "We had to learn and grow and just figure it out. That learning process was important in its own way."
The only thing he would change about The Shield, though, is their many reunions and how they were handled.
"I guess one regret would've been managing some of the reunions a little bit better and some of that was out of our control and there was nothing we could do," he said. "It's not ideal to have Kurt Angle in a Shield costume, but desperate times call for desperate measures, so we made the best of it and there's something to be said for putting people in that role and being able to have the equity to do that."
Moxley, meanwhile, always envisioned himself as an antagonist in the long term, with that being the role he was most comfortable in. Instead, save for a botched heel run in late 2018, he has largely been a beloved fan favorite for the better part of the past eight years.
He and the rest of The Shield were portrayed as villains early on but eventually won over the audience because of how hard they worked to steal the show night after night.
“When the people started to really like us, it was because they could see how hard we worked," Moxley said. "It was very organic... I still carry that attitude and work ethic today. That competitive mindset is very valuable to have."
Through his tenure in WWE, Moxley earned the reputation of being a workhorse, wrestling more matches than anyone else on the roster in 2015 and 2016. He has maintained that mentality in AEW and hasn't slowed down in the slightest.
From high-profile PPV main events to electric openers on Dynamite to the occasional indie spot, he has thrived in every situation since departing WWE in 2019.
Rollins has remained with WWE and has been prominently featured on Raw throughout 2022. His popularity as of late has also been too much to ignore, causing him to gradually turn babyface earlier this month.
Ironically, for a faction in which everyone was presented as equals, Rollins and Moxley have both been locker room leaders for their respective companies in recent years, along with Reigns on SmackDown.
Better yet, all three men have become fathers along the way as well and now share that bond with each other.
Moxley and his wife, Renee Paquette, welcomed daughter Nora into the world in June 2021. That, and everything else he has experienced since The Shield both inside the squared circle and out of it, has given his life new meaning.
"I had no life to speak of before wrestling," Moxley said. "I just existed, learning and figuring out what the world is. And then my whole identity became wrestling from the time I was a teenager. Everything was wrapped up in this world. I grew up in this world and in WWE in a lot of ways, but wrestling gave me everything: my family, my wife, every tangible asset I have."
Upon re-signing with AEW last month, Moxley told Justin Barrasso of Sports Illustrated last month that his new deal includes coaching, a position he has already been enjoying.
At this stage of his career, it's all about giving back to the business the same way others did the honors for him and The Shield when they were originally on the ascent.
Between being a coach, getting to wrestle regularly and raising his daughter, he firmly believes no one has it better than he does right now.
"Wrestling gave me everything, so if I can help one person just a bit along the way to have everything in life that I have now because of wrestling and bring joy to so many people, it's just such a great job I have," Moxley said. "My mindset is totally different now. I'm just a very fortunate individual.
"I have a great life and I get to fill my day with all these great things that there's no goal, or at least the goals are different. It's just getting a bit better at this and bit better at that. My only competition now is myself.”
The amazing high and happiness he gets out of wrestling is incomparable. For him, it's less about the destination and more about the journey while making the most of every opportunity he has to be in the ring.
Going forward, he wishes to be smarter about not overworking himself physically after going hard in WWE for so many years.
The 36-year-old joked about being jealous of Wheeler Yuta's ability to get up from the mat so easily and that he would kill to have his body from eight years ago.
"I actually think I'm going to be better with my brain over the next 10 years," Moxley said. "I'm always trying to make little changes and coaching helps with that, too, because it keeps your brain engaged.
"My fear is that by the time I'm done or my body gives out or I retire, there will be something I had left to give, or that I never truly reach my maximum of what I could have been. I want to be the best fully formed version of Jon Moxley in the ring there ever was. And I feel I'm still so far away from that."
Debating The Shield's Place in Wrestling History
Whenever the iconic intro to The Shield's entrance music is heard, fans are flooded with memories of their time together.
The song itself has no lyrics other than the opening moments, but it's so synonymous with The Shield that it's impossible to hear it and not get goosebumps thinking about their battles with The Wyatt Family, Evolution, The Usos and the Rhodes family.
"From the moment it clicks in, everybody's head turns trying to find where we're coming out of, the whole nine," Rollins said. "Every time you hear [that intro], it's badass. It's badass walking music, it's badass fighting music, it's just got a big fight feel to it. We never had any input. I believe Jim Johnston crushed it right out of the gate, got it to us, and we were off to the races."
Moxley referred to The Shield as lightning in a bottle, explaining that their rise would be impossible to replicate in modern times due to how perfectly all of the pieces would have to fall into place.
They weren't into doing a million backstage skits. There was no fat to trim off. They were three young guns who did whatever was necessary to etch their names into the history books.
Comparing The Shield to legendary factions such as The Four Horsemen, Evolution and D-Generation X is a tall task, but Moxley is confident in including them in that conversation for a variety of reasons.
"I don't get caught up in comparing things too much because a lot of times it's apples and oranges, but The Shield is mentioned with other factions because of the magic it had to it and it brings back memories of fans," he said. "That's really what this is about: creating magical moments. Wrestling gave me everything, but I think it's pretty cool. I'd put us up with there with anybody as far as how many kickass matches we had. Our thing was that we were going to outwork everyone every single night. And we did."
While still in retrospective mode, Moxley began to reflect on the most important life lesson he's learned on his journey and aims to ensure that the next 10 years don't fly by as quickly.
"Time flies, man, so don't waste it because you always regret wasted opportunities," he said. "I'm looking at the future now, I'm going to go as long as I can. The next 15 years, if I can make it that long, will be even better, because now I have the knowledge and experience that comes with life. I'm looking forward to the future because it can be anything I want it to be."
Rollins' view of The Shield in the grand scheme of things isn't much different than Moxley's. He, too, finds it difficult to compare a stable such as theirs to acts from years past because of the varying impacts they had on their generation.
That said, take nothing away from what The Shield achieved and for as long as they did. The Hounds of Justice not only improved the product whenever they were around but also created three new megastars who now find themselves at the top of the food chain in wrestling where they belong.
"I think comparing them across generations is just too hard," Rollins said. "I think for us, we are a generation-defining group, and you look at the accolades and the longevity of the three of us and where we're at now and what we've been able to accomplish in the last 10 years and probably what we'll look to accomplish in the next decade.
"When it's all said and done, the impact we're going to have on the industry and the future of the industry as far as young guys and girls using us as a template is going to put us up there in conversation with the groups I mentioned a bit ago.
"I think one of our main goals aside from changing the game was to leave the industry better than we found it. We wanted to come and revolutionize the business. WWE pushed the whole thing forward and we've definitely done that and I think the industry as a whole is better for it. I think that's going to be our legacy."
Special thanks to AEW and WWE for arranging the interviews to make this piece possible.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.