I feel like I always use some variation of “What I love about the Shield is…” as a lead-in whenever I talk about them, so it seems appropriate here. Ever since their debut it seems that every time the Shield performs there is something new to love about them. This week’s Raw is no different.
So far I have been mainly impressed with their performance as a group – the way that they perfectly portray their gimmick in the ring and structure all of their matches and segments around the ‘divide and conquer’ strategy. All three guys are working so well, individually and collectively, in this unit, and they have not yet had anything close to a bad match. But this week what impressed me, and what I want to go into here, is the booking and storytelling of the Shield since it’s inception.
In a world where wins and losses have never mattered less, the importance of the Shield’s unbeaten streak to their story is staggering. If the story of their matches is ‘divide and conquer’, then the story of their angle is simply ‘Who can stop the Shield?’ The Shield cannot be stopped. Many have tried, many have failed, and many more will keep trying until they finally succeed in stopping them. That is the entirety of the angle, aside from the ‘justice’ rhetoric, but as simple a premise as it is, it has been utterly compelling at every turn.
The key to the Shield’s dominance is numbers – the ability to swarm on a single guy and take him out. And with three of them as a unit, they always have a numerical advantage against any individual wrestler, or even any tag team. So the first step taken against them was for their victims – Ryback and Hell No – to band together as a trio to compete with even numbers. How would they fare in not only a fair fight, but also an actual match? But at TLC, with it’s tornado, anything-goes rules, the Shield were able to employ their usual attack in a match setting and win. The next step was an even bigger group of guys, including WWE ace John Cena, challenging them to a normal six-man tag. Tagging in and out, proper rules, no weapons…was this where their tactics finally failed them? No, as it turned out, the Shield seamlessly transferred their chaos theory into straight-up wrestling matches by cutting off the ring, taking guys outside, just doing whatever it took to divide and conquer, like they have done ever since.
This progression of challenges hasn’t always been linear either – their opponents haven’t been getting steadily tougher in a line, but rather have posed varying levels of difficulty to the heels depending on their strength as a team. Team Hell No have had many chances against them, and have got very close on occasion, because they are themselves a functioning team, albeit only as a pair against the trio. The Shield’s victory at Wrestlemania seems inevitable in hindsight, given they were up against two faces and a heel, and the almost-certainty of one of them turning on the rest. How could that kind of misfit bunch beat such a well-oiled machine as the Shield? On the other hand, every now and then they face a true test – Cena and his Superfriends, the Undertaker, even Kane on a kamikaze mission – and have to use every trick they have to pull out a victory. But they do always pull out a victory.
At the same time, while the Shield keeps winning, you can see the tiny spectre of their eventual defeat slowly but surely growing on the horizon. Little things point to it. Firstly, they are simply working more and more often. As the specialness of their appearance in a ring wears off, and as they have more matches, the law of averages tells us that at some point the time will come. They wont stay undefeated forever. Secondly, after six months in the company wreaking havoc, the list of their victims is ever-growing, and with almost every one of them attempting revenge so far, there will come a time when the Shield have simply pissed too many people off, and it catches up to them. Thirdly, there is a danger of them losing their group-orientated focus with each individual now chasing singles and tag team titles. These things pile up.
Which brings me to this week’s Raw. You would think an elimination match would be a perfect forum for the Shield to implement their isolation tactics. And they did this for parts of this match when they worked over Bryan, and then Cena. But when it got down to 3-on-1 something occurred that has never happened before: the Shield got sloppy. For the first time ever their ‘multiple points of attack’ diversion failed to save Rollins from being pinned. Reigns got himself needlessly DQ’d right when they needed to press their 2-on-1 advantage. And with Ambrose caught in the STF there was nothing they could do but eat the DQ and get the hell out of the match. The Shield has never looked so…desperate. They were *this* close to being caught napping. As it was, they technically lost the match but still obviously avoided a real defeat. All the same, it is coming. The signs are there. This latest chink in the armor is the biggest yet, and they are only going to be tested even more, as more guys step up to the ultimate challenge in current-day WWE: stopping the Shield.
Not that even their first real defeat in competition will necessarily stop them. The Shield in protecting their ascendancy have constantly evolved to overcome obstacles. They pulled out their first 3-on-3 fight. They figured out ways to use chaos in the ring when cornered into proper matches with rules. They adapted to their members having singles matches and recovered from losing in these matches. And presumably they will soon have to handle defending two different championships on top of everything else. So the ultimate test for the Shield will eventually be how they react to their first loss. Will it be the beginning of the end for them, or will it just spur them on to evolve again?
People talk constantly about “how well the Shield has been booked”, but I think a lot those people think that purely because the heels havent lost yet. If you don’t believe me, wait for the inevitable backlash that will ensue with their first proper loss, no matter the circumstances. But frankly the effectiveness of the Shield angle goes beyond their win-loss record. It is a story that you can see developing right from the beginning, with logical, believable outcomes at every step of the way. It is not just that the cool group of heels keeps winning, but that it makes perfect sense for them to keep winning. And possibly the best part is that we don’t know how it ends. It is impossible to predict right now who will finally defeat the Shield. Or when, or where, or how. All we know is that it WILL happen eventually. So for now we just get to enjoy the ride, enjoy the suspense, and enjoy the matches.