Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns are preparing for war. The all-Shield main event that many fans believed would headline a WrestleMania is happening on July 24 at WWE Battleground, and it's arguably the most anticipated bout on the card.
This is the match that could set the tone for the company's direction beyond Tuesday's brand split and draft.
It's what fans have wanted for a long time—and with good reason. WWE has always needed to move forward with fresh main event talent, which is exactly what happened when The Shield first burst onto the scene in 2012.
With one faction, WWE built three powerhouse Superstars and designed them to carry the bulk of the company's main event work.
Had the three come up individually, the process might have taken years to complete. Even then, there would have been no guarantee of success. But Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns have been on WWE's main roster for less than four years and are unquestionably the top stars and future of WWE.
But what will happen when they collide at Battleground?
The booking for the Battleground main event has been mired in controversy thanks to Reigns' suspension over a wellness-policy violation. The anger, frustration and disappointment expressed by many since it was announced in June has had all the drama of a wrestling angle. Fans are divided on this one, which has led to sides being taken, and that's understandable.
Reigns' return on July 24 will solidify that division, as he will almost certainly be booed out of the building. The experiment to elevate him to the top has arguably never worked, but he will come right back into the fray as if he never left.
The question is if he will turn heel in this match.
The fact is that WWE has no other choice. Continuing to book him as the misunderstood hero is not the way to go here, and the only fix is a personality change. It's not to say he can't transition back at a later point, but if WWE wants him to have a chance, he must wear the black hat.
The turn could come at Battleground if he spends the match in defiance of the crowd, throwing hate at the fans the entire time. Upset over the reaction he's getting, The Big Dog could choose to be his own man and leave the fans behind.
The key to making the heel turn work is attacking Ambrose.
It's the only way for Reigns to get over as a heel. Simply being angry won't be enough; he must take out that aggression on the man he calls his brother. In an act that would be reminiscent of Rollins' betrayal in 2014, Reigns could viciously attack Ambrose and leave him for dead in the middle of the ring.
A new champion would be crowned, and a new top heel would be born.
The turn could be much more subtle than this, however, and Reigns does not necessarily need to win the match for the change to be realized. But the fact remains he must turn. And when he does, Rollins could turn as well.
Rollins Comes Full Circle
Rollins is a great heel. He was the top heel before his injury in November. But he will not compare to a heel Reigns who's bent on destroying everyone in his path. If Reigns were to make the change at Battleground, Rollins could find himself in the unlikely role of hero once again.
Fans love him and respect him for his ability in the ring. The more he tries to be hated, the more they pop for him. The crowd knows he's playing a character, and they know WWE wants them to play along, but no one seems to want that.
The Architect is good at what he does, but it's too much fun. He's a top protagonist just waiting to break out, and fans want it to happen.
A double turn is what's needed here. It may not be on the scale of Bret Hart vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13, but it would be huge nonetheless. Rollins would assume the character change that seems inevitable, and Reigns would as well.
But that is not to suggest Rollins will win the WWE Championship on July 24.
Rollins is too effective in the underdog position, and that is where he should stay. A vicious feud with Reigns is unavoidable, but the belt does not need to be in the middle for it to work. Rollins is one of the best hands in the company, and he will get another shot at championship glory before too long.
But Battleground is probably not the night it will happen. Rollins has time, and he's already been there once before. The same can be said of Reigns. However, that's not the case for the champ.
Ambrose Retains the Gold
Lost in all of this is Ambrose. The work he's done to get over as champion has been impressive; he's more focused than he's ever been in the ring and on the mic. He may be the unlikely champion, but he is a deserving one.
Keeping the title on Ambrose would be the right move here—if only because it's unexpected. It's a situation in which he's capable, but there seems to be more than one reason to take it off him. It's similar to Chris Jericho's run as the first undisputed champion because he was also surrounded by talents who could have just as easily been chosen to wear the gold.
But WWE went with Y2J, and as a result, a top guy was born.
Ambrose needs the belt more than Rollins or Reigns right now. The upcoming brand split will bring with it a new day for the company, and the future should be represented on every level. Going the predictable route with the top championship would not be the right move.
Ambrose must be allowed to keep growing and working with the gold. He is just hitting his stride, and interrupting that would be bad for him. Ambrose is just as much a part of the future as Reigns and Rollins, and he should remain as the champion in order to prove it.
Battleground will be the proving ground for all three men, as fans will witness the full impact of The Shield in WWE.
Tom Clark can regularly be seen on Bleacher Report. His podcast, Tom Clark's Main Event, is available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Android, Windows Phone and online here.