You know the story of the Shield. At the very least, you know parts of it, know you should know it, know it’s where three of the biggest stars in WWE cut their main roster teeth. November of 2012, Survivor Series, three shadows move through the crowd and into the center of the story. Ryback is pulled from the ring, unable to pin John Cena, both men unable to defeat CM Punk with the perceived help of these three men, but why?
They could’ve been anyone. They could’ve been guys plucked at random from developmental to add edge to Punk’s story, could’ve never been seen again after that moment, could’ve remained shadows, under Punk’s wing, learning what they could as they remained nameless, faceless, just another plot device.
But they didn’t.
On December 3, 2012, three men deliver a sermon on the reckoning of injustice and favoritism from an undisclosed location, presumably backstage at Monday Night Raw. It is Dean Ambrose who picks the discarded or stolen camera up from the floor.
“What do we know about injustice?”
And with that the Shield is a stable that makes the men in it and begins to weave a narrative thread through every story in the men’s division for years to come. There was a quiet power to the Shield and an unspoken permanence to each individual performer. Dean Ambrose was the most comfortable delivering the almost Shakespearean monologues and Batman-esque mantras of the Shield, doing so with impressive breadth and passion.
Each member of the Shield brought something different to the story but no one could play on possibilities with a look in their eye, a growl balanced on the edge of their voice, a physicality that begs a question like Ambrose. Of the three who was decidedly the most “pro wrestling” about it but with the weight of a performer he knows and acknowledges that wrestling is more theatre than sport.
Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, who would go on to the hold the tag team titles, occupied familiar spaces in wrestling, both in power and style. Even in the confines of justice, self motivation, and partnered accountability they offered up silhouettes not unlike Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart or any number of partnerships where an adaptable high flyer met a grounded powerhouse. Even in this way, Dean Ambrose was a bit apart.
Ambrose drew early parallels to CM Punk, originally the guy they were simply mercenaries for, catching the eye of wrestling fans who wanted more fire and more edge in their performers.
In those early days there were already rumblings that Ambrose could be the next Stone Cold Steve Austin, the next Brian Pillman, some renaissance for bad boys, defiant bruisers, and mad men. I was drawn in because his performance was reminiscent of all of these things but it was decidedly his own. And the Shield hadn’t even been handed clear opponents yet. It was the Shield versus everyone, versus the entire roster, versus the history of WWE, versus the tropes we know and love (and hate). It would’ve been easy for any member of the Shield to get himself over by leaning into any of the ideals we were already projecting onto them, but no one did.
They told a story. This is as high art as wrestling gets, this is theatre, and Dean Ambrose is one hell of an actor. While we were all writing little poems in our diaries about the next wish-fulfillment, anti authority bad boy, we all forgot to actually book the Shield split.
The Shield is absolutely some of the best booking WWE has ever done, but that would’ve been meaningless with lesser actors. Ambrose’s commitment to his strife, his frustration, his tangles with Bray Wyatt, let us all rest on tradition, even when nothing about the Shield had been traditional. When Roman steps forward first, it’s enough for us to forget that Seth Rollins might be a traitor completely, because Dean Ambrose is stood between them.
After the split, in pursuit of Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose is the man who keeps the theme of honor alive.
The Shield vs Ryback & Team Hell No, TLC 2012
Dean Ambrose vs The Undertaker, Smackdown 4/26/13
Dean Ambrose vs Randy Orton, Smackdown 5/30/13
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The Shield vs Dolph Ziggler, Raw 8/19/13
The Shield vs CM Punk & Daniel Bryan, 11/11/13
Dean Ambrose vs CM Punk, Raw 12/9/13
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