The Shield are back together again. And hopefully, not for much longer. A year ago, this would have been interesting, but that ship has sailed.
On the August 20 episode of Raw, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose hit the ring dressed all in black, old music pumping over the speakers, and saved Roman Reigns. Braun Strowman was about to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase. It was a guaranteed title shot that, given Reigns’ weakened state, would have almost certainly succeeded. Instead, The Shield–Ambrose, Rollins, and Reigns–ganged up on Strowman, putting him through the announcer table with their patented Triple Power Bomb.
The following week, there was another Shield reunion, and this time, it was less successful. Rollins and Ambrose helped Reigns again, but this time, they came out individually, wearing their personalized gear and accompanied by no music. It was very brave and very, very dumb.
Just from the way this segment was shot and edited, it seems WWE is making a point: The Shield only works when Ambrose, Rollins, and Reigns are working together, communicating, and cooperating. If they hope to protect Reigns’ Universal Championship reign, they’ll have to put aside their individual concerns for the sake of the brotherhood. All three members, Reigns included, have better things to do and bigger problems to worry about.
Reigns was proclaimed WWE Universal Champion at Summerslam in August, when he beat Brock Lesnar to win the title. This should have happened at Wrestlemania 34, the natural place to conclude Reigns’ character arc. It was long overdue, but apparently, that was the price of getting fans to cheer for Reigns.
Was WWE dragging out Lesnar’s title reign to deliberately bore and anger the fans? It seemed that the company was willing to damage their flagship show to get Reigns over; even the biggest Reigns hater would cheer for Reigns to win, if only to get it over with.
So much effort–too much effort–has gone into making this happen. And now that Reigns is the top guy, both literally and figuratively, he needs to stand on his own and win on his own. Reigns needs gritty, stiff, and clean fights. Strowman is an excellent opponent; these two have a high profile history together. But if Reigns doesn’t take down Strowman by himself, without the help of his friends, no one will respect it. Reigns is supposed to be a babyface, after all.
The WWE Universal Championship deserves better treatment. Its lineage, thus far, has been a mess. The first guy to win it, Finn Balor, dropped it after less than 24 hours due to injury. The second guy to win it, Kevin Owens, was literally handed the belt by Triple H, and then cheated to retain it. Then Goldberg won it, thanks to a Chris Jericho musical cue that distracted Owens. That set up a marquee match between Goldberg and Lesnar at Wrestlemania 33. And then, Lesnar held the title for over a year while making part-time appearances on television. Eleven title defenses in 500 days is inexcusable.
The belt only matters as much as the people who hold it and how they hold it. And right now, the Universal title doesn’t mean much. There needs to be one guy who can hold the belt full-time, without any drama or screwjob finishes. Reigns would be an excellent candidate to give the belt some gravitas. But if he needs to cheat 3-on-1 to do so, it will remain meaningless.
One can see the appeal of putting Reigns with The Shield; it’s a guaranteed, positive audience response. But it’s a short-term gain for a long-term loss. Reigns doesn’t have a natural “gift of gab” like The Rock, even though his back-and-forth exchange with John Cena last year proved he has untapped potential. It’ll be harder for him to reach that tipping point when his buddies are compensating for his weaknesses. The motivating factor to raise his game is gone; instead, he reverts to his comfort zone and to a character he once was.
Meanwhile, Rollins puts his singles push on hold, even though he’s hotter now than he’s been in years and is arguably the most popular babyface on Raw. And Ambrose just came back from injury; is he just going to be Reigns’ snarling bodyguard for the next month?
All three men are reliving their past glories, and at this rate, they’ll never move past them. Three unique personalities, all subjugated under a single monotonous identity, was fine when they first debuted on the main roster, and their characters still needed to grow. Now, it’s just arrested development.
WWE builds it own mythology. Young fans delve into the extensive history of the company, now readily available on the WWE Network. Adult fans reminisce about their now legendary childhood heroes. But this new Shield reunion is too much too soon. They broke less than five years ago; fans can’t be this nostalgic for something so recent. Ironically, this stable needs to go away, and stay away, for it to matter again.