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Building an Empire Pt 2: Unbeatable

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Back in May of 2013, just after Roman Reigns and his Shield brother Seth Rollins had won tag team gold at Extreme Rules, I returned to watching professional wrestling after an eight year hiatus. I had no idea what was going on with the storylines or who most of the people on the roster were, but after just a few episodes of Monday Night RAW, I was quickly hooked on all three members of The Shield. But I was also quickly hooked on a quickly emerging story, which was that of The Authority vs. Daniel Bryan.

As I mentioned in part one, The Shield started out as hired bodyguards for CM Punk, brought up from NXT by Paul Heyman to protect the then-WWE champion. By the time they were sporting gold, they had managed to lay waste to much of the babyfaces on the roster and became major players in some of WWE’s top storylines. In fact, Reigns and Rollins winning the tag team championships off of Team Hell No helped set the ball rolling on what became Bryan’s skyrocket over the next year. Without the tag belts, Daniel Bryan was free to separate himself from Kane and move back into single’s competition.

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However, this is not a series of articles on Daniel Bryan. This is about Roman Reigns, and since we’re talking May through October of 2013, we’re still talking about The Shield. During this five month period, the Hounds of Justice serve a very specific purpose, and it’s not to get themselves over. After Extreme Rules, they continue feuding with Team Hell No until they split up, and Daniel Bryan teams with Randy Orton to face Reigns and Rollins at Payback. Before we get to the Pay-Per-View, though, we do get Reigns (with Rollins in his corner) in his very first singles match against Randy Orton (with Daniel Bryan) on the June 10th episode of RAW. There is no sign yet of the Reigns who will one day be a three-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion. A large part of this match is Randy Orton stomping a mud hole, and after a brief rally from Reigns, the match ends in a no contest as both Rollins and Bryan get involved. The match at Payback, a tag title defense, is far better for the younger men, as they are clearly a team unlike Bryan and Orton who are individuals paired together. The match itself is quick-paced and fun, until Reigns eats an RKO, Rollins throws Orton out of the ring and curb-stomps Bryan to retain.

What becomes of Reigns and Rollins after their storyline involving Team Hell No officially comes to a close is probably one of the most frustrating and also wildly interesting sections of this entire retrospective. In fact, I’m going to call the time between early June 2013 and SummerSlam of the same year “The Means to an End” for The Shield. Much of the in-ring storytelling after Payback is focused on Dean Ambrose’s feud with Christian instead of The Shield as a whole. This fluctuates, as the tag champs get new number one contenders in The Usos. For everyone playing along at home, the Usos would go on to be two-time Tag Team champions in their own right, with both reigns coming to them in 2014. But at the moment, the Usos aren’t doing much to elevate The Shield. They are, however, the most formidable team Reigns and Rollins have faced up to this point, as twins Jimmy and Jey function even more as a well-oiled machine than Seth and Roman do. The Usos are strong at the opening of their championship match on the pre-show of Money in the Bank, but eventually their number is up when the champs show they, too, can anticipate the spot-heavy move sets of Rikishi’s sons. Eventually, Rollins tosses Jimmy Uso into the corner, he bounces out and straight into a spear before Roman picks up the win. One piece of information to note is that at no point during any of this feuding does the commentary team mention that Roman Reigns and The Usos are cousins.

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One thing the commentary team is doing during this period of time is using Shield matches, which are often first or second on the card, to give shout outs to both the USA or SyFy networks (on which RAW and SmackDown, respectively, were shown at the time) as well as all of the foreign networks carrying the program. What they were NOT doing was calling the matches. It’s hard to imagine all of the greatness that is in the future for The Shield when they aren’t being treated as important or integral. Taking time away from calling the action of a match to shill to the network or sponsors lets the viewer know that what’s happening in-ring is not of a high-caliber, which seems pretty counter-intuitive considering the heights to which ever member of The Shield has since risen.

For the next month, The Shield is moved around like chess pieces. They continue to feud with the Usos, as well as Mark Henry. This series of matches on RAW and SmackDown mark a period in which we begin to hear a new response from the live audience when The Shield hits the ring: the screams of female fans. It seems to have taken the women of the WWE Universe roughly eight months to discover these three men are attractive and respond accordingly. This reaction is most notable in the July 29th episode of RAW. These reactions remain strong through Ambrose’s US title defense against Rob Van Dam at SummerSlam, but start to fall off in the aftermath. It’s likely that, although Reigns, Ambrose, and Rollins retain their good looks, their heel status is put into hyperdrive by their new-found affiliations with The Authority.

Building An Empire Pt 1: The Shield of Injustice

Being heels doesn’t stop the online response to The Shield, and Reigns in particular. His role as the power, the brute strength of the trio seems even more respected as they begin to wrestle more and more matches. It becomes clear that these three individuals are hungry, and are willing to take on any opponent and any opportunity to go further. Their affiliations with The Authority only make them more fun to an older demographic, who seem to get a kick out of rooting for the bad guys while still supporting the up-and-coming talents on the roster.

After Triple H turns on Daniel Bryan during Randy Orton’s Money in the Bank cash-in at SummerSlam, The Shield are mostly utilized to punish Bryan in gauntlet and handicap matches. When they eventually go toe-to-toe with new number one tag team contenders The Primetime Players at Night of Champions, it feels more like WWE forgot who had the tag belts and that they’d have to be defended at the NOC PPV. That this match-up does give us is a new level to Reigns. He’s doing a lot more talking and directing from the apron, which used to be exclusively Rollins’ thing. We also see a new level to the smooth transitions and nuances of this partnership, with the pin coming after Rollins pushing Titus O’Neil into an oncoming spear from Reigns.

Reigns gets to utilize his improved skill set the next night on RAW when he goes one-on-one with Daniel Bryan. While the Reigns/Orton match from back in June is more of an opportunity to set up a tag match, this singles match is the first time Reigns really gets to shine – and he couldn’t possibly have a better opponent than Bryan. Reigns has been touted as “The Powerhouse” of The Shield, but once Bryan gets him down on the ground, it’s anybody’s game. Reigns had some trouble selling in his first few months on the main roster, but now he is demonstrating his full range: he can work, he can sell, and he can tell a story. When Bryan catches him in the Yes Lock, you truly believe he’s going to take his first singles pin – but Randy Orton runs in and Reigns gets disqualified.

Running concurrent to the Daniel Bryan vs. The Authority story is one involving The Authority firing Cody Rhodes and his older brother Goldust, before their father “The American Dream,” Dusty Rhodes comes to their aide. In the end, their jobs (including Dusty’s job down in NXT) can only be salvaged if the Rhodes boys can beat Reigns and Rollins at Battleground. This is going to be my second recommended match in this series: every part of this is straight fire. Goldust and Cody are pumped, and Rollins and Reigns absolutely meet their level of focus, bringing their A games. The story told inside of the ring is so engrossing that even knowing how it ends (and that it happened almost three years ago) I was on the edge of my seat. Reigns and Rollins seem to work the best against brothers because that’s how they function: as two men destined from birth to work as a pair. In the end, Ambrose takes an Atomic Elbow from Dusty, Reigns is taken out by Goldust, and when Rollins attempts to use a distraction roll-up on Cody, finds himself on the receiving end of the Cross Rhodes – and the pinfall.

The crux of this storyline, and a turning point for the Shield, comes two weeks later, though, when Rollins and Reigns are once again pitted against Goldust and Cody Rhodes, this time for the tag team titles. Triple H designated the match to be No DQ, making run-ins from Dean Ambrose and Randy Orton par for the course. Though the Shield looked dominant enough to retain, in the end it was the appearance of the recently-fired Big Show that ended up knocking all three for a loop – quite literally. In succession, Show hit Ambrose, then Rollins, and finally Reigns with his Knockout Punch so Cody could get the pin, winning the tag titles for himself and his brothers. And who was it that Cody pinned in that triumphant moment of good overcoming evil, taking a loss for the very first time ever?

Roman Reigns.

images via WWE.com

The Lady J is bringing her personal brand of internet sass via the US capitol, where she lives with her golden doodle roommate Gizmo and cannot find a good bagel to save her life. While it may not seem very lady-like, she is actually cutting a promo on you right now.

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