When it comes to breaking down professional wrestling, it is extremely difficult to find a solid starting point. This is because not only has wrestling had the same canon across every promotion in every country for the better part of seventy-ish years, but also because wrestling is a train that never moves backward, has never had a reboot, and never truly stops. Almost anyone who has ever been a wrestling fan has had to jump on that moving train with little to no context for what they’re watching, and somehow, still fall in love with it.

Vince McMahon said some time ago that “to those who believe in the beauty of professional wrestling, nothing needs to be said. For those who don’t appreciate wrestling, nothing could be said to change their minds.” As controversial as the man is, he has a point; wrestling seems to have had a love-it-or-hate it kind of public perception until extremely recently. There is a middle ground somewhere in there: people who understand that wrestling is some sort of theatrical art form mixed with genuine athleticism, even if they don’t quite get it. Those are the people I want to talk to.

I’ve somehow conned my way into getting a periodical column to analyze wrestling storylines on this, the comics news center of the Internet, so I want to do what wrestling doesn’t lend itself to doing but what comics finds itself doing constantly: breaking down the most important “lore” to help explain this ridiculous art form as simply as possible to anyone with a modicum of interest.

Maybe the best place to start in the modern day is to go over a trio who broke onto television together and have since become three of the pillars on which the modern craft sits: Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Jon Moxley/Dean Ambrose – known collectively as The Shield. No, not the Archie Comics superhero. Or the Marvel Comics government agency. Or that one mid-2000s cop drama.

What exactly was The Shield?

Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Jon Moxley – then going by the ring name Dean Amborse – debuted as a mysterious turtleneck-clad group that immediately made an impact by interrupting the main event of WWE’s Survivor Series back in November 2012. Over the next 18 months, the trio would run into and over every major player in the WWE and get fans from all demographics behind them. But how exactly was The Shield formed and what was their motivation for even being together?

Several ideas were kicked around backstage for who exactly would be in the group., but it was always seemingly supposed to be a vehicle for getting talents from WWE’s developmental system, NXT, over with the audience very quickly. Oddly enough, CM Punk had a hand in helping form the group, seeing as how they would be attached to him in story for at least the beginning of their run. Reportedly, one of the first pitched trios consisted of Bryan Danielson – then performing under the hilarious ring name Daniel Bryan – The Big Show, and then current NXT Champion Seth Rollins. Danielson and Show had been established already, but Rollins hadn’t been introduced to the main roster yet.

After more iterations and ideas of using pure NXT folk, Punk reportedly pitched back the squad of Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and Kassius Ohno, who Punk had been great friends with and performed many times on the indies back when he was known as Chris Hero. It was Vince McMahon who had the final say, apparently only agreeing to green light the idea if Roman Reigns, known in NXT as Leakee, would replace Ohno.

On TV, The Shield adopted SWAT vests and riot gear as their signature attire, almost immediately after debuting. According to Seth Rollins, they were originally supposed to be wielding actual riot shields, which makes more sense given the name. However, since The Shield adopted the entrance of coming through the arena crowds, they couldn’t find a way to safely navigate with the shields so they were nixed.

The group debuted by Triple Powerboming the meathead Ryback through a table. In the following weeks, they would affirm just who they were and that was “shields from injustice”, seeking to bring down the hammer of justice on whoever they pleased. They didn’t seek to take over the company like the NWO or hold shows hostage like The Nexus, but they were clearly mercenaries of some kind. In due time, it would be revealed that they were hired by CM Punk’s manager, Paul Heyman, making him the storyline reason the three even formed in the first place.

As far as group dynamics, they were easily a team of three leaders; they all seemed relatively equal. Ambrose was the stringy haired, unstable brawler who many touted as the wrestling equivalent of Heath Ledger’s iconic portrayal of The Joker, especially in Ambrose’s promo delivery. Seth Rollins was the high-flying tactician and the most supremely athletically gifted of the group. Roman Reigns was the silent muscle, overpowering nearly every foe they faced. Together, they all played off of one another and helped overcome each other’s weaknesses. There really were no holes in their game from a craft or in-universe perspective.

To reinforce their “three leaders” triumvirate, they all shared the title of group leader at some point. At the beginning of their run, Ambrose was seen as more of a leader than the other two, usually being the first to actually lock horns with their victims and also being the first of the three to win individual gold when the other two won tag team gold. Somewhere around their final months together, Roman Reigns was somewhat egregiously pushed as the leader when it became obvious the WWE had tagged him as the next big breakout star even though there wasn’t much evidence to show Rollins and Amborse taking point from him. Finally, Rollins took credit for being the leader after the group’s breakup, saying he was the reason they even formed in the first place and it was his plans and tactics that kept them on the same page.

What exactly did The Shield do?

Following their crashing of Survivor Series, The Shield made their in-ring debut that same December at the TLC pay-per-view in a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match against Daniel Bryan, Kane, and Ryback. The Shield won in a chaotic match that solidified them as something to be feared and showcased that they saw each other as brothers, showing immaculate trust in one another.

In the following six months or so, the team would solidify their badass air and reputation by defeating the likes of Daniel Bryan, Kane, Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, Sheamus, Big Show, and even John Cena and The Undertaker. That’s over 45 World Championships between all those gentlemen at the time and they were destroyed by a squad of rookies. Their penchant for taking anyone down only increased after leaving Punk and Heyman’s service, when they became free agents to take down who they wanted. In the last third of 2013, they more or less became the hired guns of Triple H and Stephanie McMahon to do their bad guy bidding. In the meantime, Rollins and Reigns became WWE Tag Team Champions while Ambrose would win the WWE United States Championship (and still holds the record for longest reign to this day).

As a group, they were nearly unstoppable, and individually, they were helping put on match of the night almost every night. It helped that they were constantly facing some of the biggest and best names in the company. In fact, Daniel Bryan’s rise to stardom might’ve looked incredibly different if he didn’t have the three members of The Shield to play his foil but match his workrate on a weekly basis. While the group would hit some losses here and there, it was Roman Reigns who was the most protected, not eating a pin at all until late September of 2013, and even then it was an 11-on-3 Handicap Match and the one who wound up pinning him was his own cousin, Jey Uso.

The Shield would continue their dominance going into 2014, and kept their incredible run going by eliminating about half the competition from the Royal Rumble match in January of that year – although nearly all of that was courtesy of Reigns breaking Kane’s long-standing Rumble record and eliminating 12 different people, including Rollins and Ambrose in some unintentional friendly fire. There were cracks beginning to form in their relationship with Triple H and The Authority and the group was now becoming so beloved and just so freakin’ cool, nobody wanted to boo them. Enter their first honest rivals, another trios faction, known as the Wyatt Family. While The Shield considered themselves a brotherhood, the Wyatts were a fanatical cult that served only Bray Wyatt, their leader.

Bray Wyatt, Eric Rowan, and Luke Harper had all debuted in the summer of 2013 and were slowly built as the biggest threat in the company not named The Shield. The two squads finally clashed in February of 2014 with an absolutely phenomenal bout, where The Shield saw their tactics of isolation and overwhelming opponents used against them and they lost their first truly huge match. In the build up to and following this match, cracks started to form in the squad, as Rollins got fed up a couple times with Ambrose and Reigns bickering. But they all seemed to be reasoned with and back at it the next time around. The three had a match at Wrestlemania XXX, where they absolutely thrashed some of Triple H’s best friends in less than 3 minutes.  

The night after Wrestlemania, The Shield officially became good guys. Triple H was so pissed at their insubordination that he reformed an older stable of his, Evolution, by pulling together Randy Orton and just-visiting-between-Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-movies Dave Batista. They wouldn’t clobber the future Hall of Famers once, but twice, scoring absolute victories over Trips and his boys at Backlash and Payback 2014. The next night, on the June 2nd, 2014 episode of Monday Night RAW, Batista quit on the spot. Triple H promised The Shield that he had a “Plan B”. 

The plan turned out to be Seth Rollins turning on his two “brothers” by whacking the daylouts out of them with a steel chair in what’s become one of the most iconic betrayals in the entire medium. He beat them with such ferocity, the chair itself became warped and the rivets on their SWAT gear were coming undone. 

Reigns sold the hit as though he’d been shot in the back and the normally manic Ambrose showed that even he knew what heartbreak felt like. The trust that had made them stars had been abused. Rollins joined The Authority and The Shield as we knew it was dead.

What happened after?

The quick answer is all three members of The Shield went on to main event status and would win almost every major title across the two biggest promotions in North America and even one from Japan. There were a couple of Shield reunions from 2017-2019, but were stopped by injury and then the return of Roman’s leukemia. 2019 saw the last hurrah, as Reigns was in remission and Ambrose let it be known he was not renewing his WWE contract, leading to the three of them wrapping up every thread they had hanging together. 

From 2015 through 2022, the PWI 500 – a ranking of the top wrestlers in the world based on in-universe achievements – has been topped by either Kenny Omega, Kazuchika Okada, or a former member of The Shield.

The Shield arc also had the much less talked about effect of showing just how damn good the NXT system was and the kind of stars that could come through it when given guidance. For Rollins and Ambrose, they weren’t “created” by WWE as they had indie success beforehand, but having time to adjust to the style and bright lights of WWE certainly did wonders for them. It wasn’t long after The Shield’s debut and rise to power did NXT start gaining steam and being seen as not just a development territory, but rather an entire brand in and of itself.

Dean Ambrose now performs as Jon Moxley in All Elite Wrestling, WWE’s chief rival promotion. He is the first ever 3x AEW Champion and is undisputedly the MVP of AEW as not just its most important star, but as the man who when he joined, signaled a definite paradigm shift in the pro wrestling landscape.

Seth Rollins has been one of the top names in WWE since 2014, currently holding the World Heavyweight Championship. He’s won everything you can possibly win in the company, including cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase in the main event of Wrestlemania 31 for his first WWE Championship. After becoming the Authority’s Chosen One, he became an instrument in their destruction, then developed a messiah complex, only to come all the way back around to be beloved for his absurdities and undeniable ring work. 

Roman Reigns did in fact go on to be “The Guy” for the WWE ever since 2015 or so to inherit the role from John Cena, but that whole route met an incredible number of complications. So many complications, it eventually led him to become a paranoid mob boss and the biggest bad guy in the company in decades. But post-Shield Roman Reigns is an entire other analysis that I’ll get to very soon.