By Will Pruett, ProWrestling.net Co-Senior Staffer (@itswilltime)
Note from Will: This was written before AEW Full Gear, but Jon Moxley being AEW Champion at the anniversary of The Shield still counts.
Standing at my seat, fans pressed in around me, phones out, silence mixing with anticipatory cheers. The familiar opening rang out: “Sierra Hotel India Echo Lima Delta Shield!” The crowd jostled and cheered. As three men walked down the aisle right next to us, the energy was palpable. It was 2017 and The Shield was on their reunion tour. It was the reason to attend this house show in Anaheim and I could not have been more excited to see these three together live one more time.
Ten years ago, the WWE main roster debut of Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, and Jon Moxley (then known as Dean Ambrose) was not just a story or a neat moment. It was a tone shift in professional wrestling delineating the past and the present. The Shield changed professional wrestling and ushered in the modern era.
It all started with Ryback for some reason. This very hungry man was too over with the crowd to fully beat, but also too much of a headache to trust with a title run when The Rock was around the corner. What was WWE to do? At Survivor Series 2012 the lights went out, John Cena and Ryback were put through a table, and the era of The Shield began.
This wasn’t WWE’s first big faction to debut like this. Just two years earlier The Nexus debuted with a ton of promise, but was quickly squandered and squashed. While The Shield shared a debut style and NXT origin story, they could not have been more different from The Nexus.
The anticipation for The Shield’s first match grew. It would be a TLC match main eventing the TLC pay-per-view and WWE’s first TLC match without an object to claim hanging over the ring. Their opponents that night were Ryback, Kane, and Daniel Bryan. You’d be pressed to find a more enjoyable and chaotic match in WWE before this one.
Reigns, Rollins, and Moxley demonstrated in one match what would make them special for years to come. They brought chaos with them to the ring, but it wasn’t all out anarchy. The timing these three men shared with their opponents and with each other made these matches special. For the next year and a half, a Shield trios match would highlight any show it was on (and often made the early three hour Raws watchable). There was a special chemistry between these three men.
This chemistry didn’t just benefit the three of them. Daniel Bryan’s rise to WWE’s World Championship scene can easily be attributed to his performances in these Shield trios matches. Ask someone about their favorite Bray Wyatt memory and you’re virtually guaranteed to hear about The Wyatts vs. The Shield at Elimination Chamber 2014. Even the last match of their original run together gave us the legend that is Blue-tista and the story that redeemed the booking failure of Batista’s return in 2014.
Time moved on and the decision was made to break The Shield up. Seth Rollins was chosen as the unlovable heel. Roman Reigns was tasked (and mis-cast) with being the heir-apparent to John Cena’s lead babyface throne. Dean Ambrose was left somewhere in-between. Was he Roman Reigns’ little buddy? Was he some other kind of outcast? WWE never quite figured this out.
While The Shield had ended, their style would live on. The flag bearer for the style would become the odd man out. Jon Moxley continued to exude the charisma and mystique of The Shield’s early days, even as he was often in the least important stories of the three.
All three of these men would end up holding WWE’s most important championship and, notably, at Money in the Bank 2016 they all held this title on the same night. For WWE, the story of Reigns, Rollins, and Moxley became their core narrative. Whenever they strayed to a part time star like Brock Lesnar or John Cena, they always gravitated back to these three.
The Shield was the rare faction without a weak link. Each man could hold his own in the ring. Each man had his own personality on the mic. Each man had a unique energy the others could not bring. And all three of them together mixed perfectly. It was magic and, even when it was rekindled (as it was in 2017 and again in 2019), that magic was still there. I remember fans aching for a fist bump between Rollins and Moxley in 2017, then screaming when it finally happened.
When did The Shield stop being WWE’s narrative and become all of wrestling’s? It was the day Dean Ambrose became Jon Moxley. When he left WWE (to much fanfare and a final Shield reunion that was a beautiful bit of fan service) and debuted in All Elite Wrestling, Moxley did not seem like a man removed from The Shield. In fact much of what he did felt right out of The Shield’s playbook. Moxley came through the audience when he entered. Moxley was more chaotic than ever. Moxley was both his own man and an extension of The Shield’s governing ethos.
Jon Moxley has gone on to be the best AEW World Champion in history and their stabilizing force in a tumultuous year.
Roman Reigns, upon returning to wrestling in 2020, brought his own updated version of himself. Now a stoic leader of his own faction, not the stoic muscle for someone else, Reigns has been able to craft stories in and around The Bloodline deeper than anything we’ve seen outside of The Shield. Reigns has become the star WWE craved, but not in the way they originally intended. He’s the absolute biggest star in the wrestling world in 2022 and the biggest success story in wrestling in the last two years.
Seth Rollins, the only man of these three not celebrating a decade of The Shield holding his own World Championship (Roman is hogging two), has also proven to be the most versatile. WWE has used him as a Swiss Army knife. Sometimes Rollins is the dastardly heel. Sometimes Rollins is the fiery babyface. Whatever he’s tasked with, Rollins approaches with everything he has. It’s rare to see a subpar performance from him, even when he’s given horrid material to work with. Now freshly turned babyface and part of the revival of the United States Championship, Rollins is being asked to elevate those around him again.
While I doubt we will ever see Rollins, Reigns, and Moxley together again in the ring, this group continues to leave its mark all over wrestling. Before The Shield, the assumption was WWE could and would get it wrong with any new act. Factions were doomed to fail before they started. The Shield redefined what a faction could be, proving there were no weak links. They dominate all of wrestling, not just as a trio, but as individuals.
I’ve been lucky, as a fan and critic, to experience The Shield live as it happened. It was something special each and every time they were in the ring together and even WWE’s callbacks to it, like the Rollins vs. Reigns match at the 2021 Royal Rumble, continue to delight.
From November 2012 to the day I write this, the story of The Shield is the narrative of professional wrestling. Roman Reigns, Jon Moxley, and Seth Rollins have changed the game and they’re not finished.
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of particular interest to him is wrestling as a theatrical art form. To see his video content subscribe to his YouTube channel. To contact, check him out on Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email him at email@example.com.