When The Road To WrestleMania 30 took a service station stop at The Elimination Chamber in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a match in the middle of the seven-match card would be a forensic look at the direction that the WWE wanted to take and why it was doomed to fail.
As the calendar turned from 2013 to 2014, two trio teams were dominant in WWE. The Shield, comprised of Roman Reigns, a star on the Georgia Tech college football team from 2005-2007, Dean Ambrose, who had wrestled on the independent circuit under the name of Jon Moxley, and Seth Rollins, who had been the ROH World Champion under the name of Tyler Black, had run roughshod in 2013, winning tag team and US singles gold. The Wyatt Family débuted at SummerSlam 2013, and had gained rave reviews from fans in the latter part of the year. Bray Wyatt (Windham Rotunda, the son of Mike, the man know as Irwin R. Schyster in early 90's WWF) had pummelled Kane on his debut. With Bray was Luke Harper, who as Brodie Lee had made a name for himself on the same indy promotions as Jon Moxley, and Erick Rowan, who had spent time in Pro Wrestling NOAH, training in their dojo, and then working the Midwest territory, before getting the call like his teammates and eventual adversaries.
The two trios, both on the heel side of the roster, had not encountered each other on television until the 2014 Royal Rumble, when Harper and Rowan faced off with the three members of The Shield with the soundtrack of a crowd anticipating that something special was on the horizon accompanying the stare down. The next night, The Shield were in a 6-man tag match against Sheamus, John Cena and Daniel Bryan with the winners qualifying for the Elimination Chamber match that World Champion Randy Orton would defend his belt in. After twenty minutes, The Wyatts interfered, attacking Cena, Bryan and Sheamus to cause the DQ, giving the attacked trio the berths in the Chamber. The Shield were aghast and would issue a challenge to the Wyatts for the Elimination Chamber PPV.
THE SHIELD VS THE WYATT FAMILY- 23/2/2014
One of the most interesting facets of this match is the crowd. The moment Bray blew out the light in his lantern that was a signature of his entrance and the light in the arena comes back on, the fans came to life. "This is awesome" chants were heard even before the two teams would touch. This match felt big. It was a product of what happens when you push wrestlers to be dominant. It doesn't matter what sport it is, when you have two teams/sportsmen who are better than everyone else and they are about face off, people will stop to pay attention.
The two trios brawled for a couple of minutes until order was restored. The crowd was still molten, only dying down when the bell rang and a traditional tag broke out. What is noticeable is that the crowd loved Roman Reigns. Chants for Roman could be heard; it's inconceivable that this guy would be booed twelve months from this point, and for the rest of his time as a babyface. That's what a Suffering Succotash can do to a man's popularity! Also what is obvious is that WWE wanted you to think that Roman Reigns was the future of WWE. The announcers referred to Roman as the leader of The Shield, even though Ambrose wore singles gold in the shape of the United States Title at this time. His performance when he dominated the Survivor Series elimination match he competed in is mentioned, as well as his performance at the Rumble, when he finished second, lasting 33 minutes from the 15th entrant position, eliminating 12 wrestlers in the process. In a business that relies on subliminal messaging, the message was obvious. Roman Reigns was going to be the guy.
After an early period of success for The Shield, the Wyatts took control after Harper hit a dropkick on Rollins, establishing control of the match. A hot tag to Ambrose gave respite to his team but then Harper would drop Ambrose for another period of control. The saviour for The Shield would be Reigns as he got the hot tag, starting the third stanza of this match with all six men brawling. Wyatt and Ambrose went off into the crowd, prompting Jerry Lawler on commentary to get out of autopilot, channelling legendary Memphis wrestling announcer Lance Russell, shouting down the mic for the crowd to watch out as the pair were going wild off into the distance.
The announcers table would come into play as a returning Wyatt with no Ambrose in sight led to Wyatt Family domination in the numbers game and Rollins was double-choke-slammed through the Spanish Announce Table. Then Reigns was surrounded in the manner that The Shield had surrounded many a foe in the prior year. Reigns would fight back, breaking out of Sister Abigail to hit a Samoan Drop, then clearing house. Reigns set up for his version of the Spear, but hit a trespassing Harper with the move, leaving an opportunity for Wyatt to hit his finisher for the win.
VERDICT- This match is a lot of fun. The crowd help this out a lot with their participation but the performances of all involved make this, all of them playing their roles to perfection. Roman being a brooding menace while waiting for a tag whilst his teammates are in peril sets him out as a potential future star. Rollins's aerial attacks would make him a popular figure in this match. His escape from an attempted superplex from Harper, landing on his feet, looks spectacular. Rollins's only problem is that he works light especially when he hits a tope on Harper later on. Ambrose's top qualities aren't on show on this evening which is by design as the match is laid out. He enters the match at the 3:47 mark, the last of the six in the match to do so. He's the legal man for 4:11, the least amount of time of the six. His biggest contribution would be at the end when he went "missing" towards the end of the match.
Bray Wyatt is just magnificent. A lot of people love the lore of The Fiend but this is the best Bray was in his time in WWE. He plays his cult leader gimmick to perfection, dictating to his family during the three control segments laying back when he needed to in the last six minutes when Harper and Rowan run riot. Harper is a lot of fun in this match, hitting big moves that someone his size shouldn't. He understands his character well, too, as sidekick to Wyatt. Rowan's aggressiveness is underrated. He holds his own with such esteemed company in this great match, playing the big man role well, bumping for Rollins when needed.
There would be three more matches between the trios in the next 71 days. The purpose of all three matches to help build ideas and stories for WWE
On the 3/3/14 edition of Monday Night Raw. The Shield and The Wyatts faced off in a rematch. The week before, Dean Ambrose had returned to help even the numbers when Reigns and Wyatt faced off in a singles match. Ambrose's recklessness cost his teammate the match via DQ when he attacked Wyatt, annoying Reigns in the process.
The 6-man tag would be the host for the escalation of the tension among the Shield. Rollins went on a plancha spree early, hitting all three opponents with his aerial attack. The Wyatts would take control with Rollins taking the brunt of the punishment. When Seth tried to get the tag he was met with an empty corner as the Wyatts had distracted Roman and Dean. Eventually, a tag was made; Ambrose, the recipient of the tag, was chaotic as he cleared house, his more focused role in this match saw him live up to the "Lunatic Fringe" nickname that he had been given, especially at this moment. Dean applied a Figure-4-Leglock on Rowan—bridging at one point, possibly making him the inventor of the Figure-8?
Ambrose ended up in peril, but got back into the match with a Les Kellett Clothesline. He inched for a tag with a solitary Seth Rollins on the apron with Roman taken out on the ramp. But as he got nearer to Seth, Seth jumped down and walked off. He would tell a disbelieving Reigns that he is "sick of being the glue of the team" and tell Roman to fix it. Roman went on to do his best, clearing the ring of the Wyatts, but the numbers game was too much, and Wyatt hit Sister Abigail on Ambrose for the 3-count. While the Wyatts won for the second straight time with Bray getting his second consecutive pinfall on a Shield member, setting him up for his eventual clash with John Cena at WrestleMania, the big story out of the match was the deepening cracks in the Shield.
On April 8, the two teams faced off again. The Shield were back in cohesive form and now 100% faces after helping Daniel Bryan retain his WWE World Heavyweight Title against Triple H, evening the odds when the Authority were outnumbering Bryan. The match would take place on Main Event, a show that originated on Ion Television but was now exclusively on the WWE Network, and this match would be part of a push for subscribers for the service that had started 6 weeks before, and to get more eyeballs for the Main Event show and network.
This was a house show match in all terms and purposes. The structure of this match was the most basic of the four matches in this rivalry. This match would have the longest control segment by either team at around 10 minutes with Ambrose taking the punishment from the Wyatts. Rollins got the hot tag, showcasing his offence to pops throughout. The announcer table would become a prop just like the first match, this time as a device to make the topes—still light like in previous matches—more devastating, as Rollins and Reigns would push their opponents over the table with their topes. Ambrose would win the match for his team, hitting a headlock DDT on Rowan for the 3-count.
The final match of the four would take place on 5/5/14 on RAW. Bray Wyatt had beaten John Cena in a Steel Cage Match the previous night at Extreme Rules, while The Shield beat Evolution in the main event. As punishment for beating Evolution, its leader and COO Triple H put The Shield against The Wyatts. The match follows the same characteristics as the previous three. One of Ambrose and Rollins were victims of a control segment. Just like the match on The Main Event, the Wyatts gaining control happened during the advertisement break, Reigns got the hot tag, the announce table was used as a prop, this time to the extent that it must have been a rib on Michael Cole, JBL and Jerry Lawler they used it that often. Again, topes were light on impact with Ambrose catching "slight contact tope syndrome" on his attempt at an aerial assault. One really cool spot saw Rollins try to get back control of the match by flipping up when Luke Harper tried to pick him up just like in the first match but Luke hit a lariat, in what was a very rare callback to a previous event in an earlier match. The other similar trait this match had to 2 of the other matches was that Bray got the pinfall win with Sister Abigail being the decisive move. The events that brought about the win for The Wyatt Family saw Evolution coming out to distract their rivals leading to Wyatt hitting his finisher on Reigns for the win.
Watching the four Shield-Wyatt matches in an afternoon, the first conclusion you come to is, everything is quite samey isn't it.
In match 3 and 4, it's hard to determine the amount of time each team are in control because the Wyatts would take the initiative of the match during the commercial break. However on a rough estimate, in the Main Event match, the Wyatts took 68% of the match to Shield's 25% with 7% of the match seeing neither team having any advantage and in the final match the Wyatts have 57% of the control to Shield's 38
It's very apparent that the "modern WWE style" is in play when watching these matches. It feels like wrestling's version of fast food. I like McDonalds once in awhile but a daily diet really isn't good for you and by the end of the fourth match of my binge watch, I was ready for some Dynamite later in the night.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT
The split of The Shield that had been teased months before happened a month after the final match against The Wyatt Family. But instead of Dean Ambrose, the hot favourite of the internet wrestling community to turn when the eventual betrayal would happen, it was Seth Rollins that was the backstabber, hitting Roman Reigns with a steel chair to the back the night after they had "clean-sweep"ed Evolution in an elimination match at Payback.
Watching The Shield in the months before Seth's heel turn, turning who they did really feels like it was a bad idea. Seth is the perfect babyface in the The Shield's run as a face team, with his fast offence and his parkour influence, something his time as a heel would take away.
Seth's time as a heel would actually be a success in terms of victories and championships. In July 2014, Seth won Money In The Bank and would cash in at WrestleMania 31, and in the next six years, Seth would be a top level talent for WWE, winning the Universal Title at Mania 34 as well. In the constant-speculation news cycle that has engulfed the wrestling media in the last few years since the prominence of AEW, it feels like Seth Rollins is one the WWE-for-life talents in "New York".
One of the other "WWE for life" guys is Roman Reigns. He is now the company's biggest male star having main-evented 5 of the last 7 WrestleManias and held on to the Universal Title since August 2020. As mentioned earlier, it's quite striking how popular Roman was at this time, it would have had to be the biggest botch of botches to mess up the popularity of Roman Reigns but a bunch of bad scripted promos with references to Looney Tunes characters did just that. Roman also changed from a brooding menacing kick ass machine to a boring, petulant attitude filled dullard and the fans would turn on Roman booing him at the Royal Rumble, 12 months after he was cheered by so many.
Dean Ambrose would spend 5 more years in WWE in the upper mid card, main-eventing on occasion while holding the WWE Championship in 2016. But after becoming disillusioned by the way his career was going, Dean would see out his contract that would expire in April 2019 moving to AEW, appearing on their first PPV, Double Or Nothing, a month later. Returning to his name from his indie days, Jon Moxley, his career in AEW has had rave reviews with his AEW World Title reign starting in February 2020 but the rest of the reign happening during the pandemic. Jon would win The Wrestling Observer Award for Wrestler of The Year for his efforts in making the best of a horrible situation. There is a case to make that Jon is the most important wrestler of the past decade. While The Elite did help set up AEW with their ambitions and their ideas, Jon showed the wrestling world that the grass was potentially greener outside WWE.
One of those wrestlers that tried their luck in AEW was Brodie Lee. TAFKA Luke Harper joined AEW on the first Dynamite of the Pandemic Era as the Exalted One of The Dark Order. At the next PPV, Double or Nothing 2020, Brodie received a title match against Moxley in what was a fun match. Then, three months later, in arguably one of the best moments in Dynamite history, Brodie demolished Cody Rhodes to win the TNT Title, later losing the belt back to Cody in a brutal, bloody Dog Collar Chain Match which would end up being Brodie's final match. On December 26th, Brodie passed away from Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. What followed was an unprecedented outpouring of emotion and love which would continue for months after his death.
Erick Rowan would go on to win the Smackdown Tag Team Titles with Luke Harper/Brodie Lee post Wyatt Family under the team name of The Bludgeon Brothers. Afterwards, Erick would be Daniel Bryan's sidekick in his heel run in 2019 as an eco-warrior. Erick would end up being one of the victim of the mass round of releases at the the start of the pandemic. Rarely seen post-release, it was his appearance at The Brodie Lee Celebration Of Life show held on Dynamite that people would say was Erick's greatest moment when he appeared to help John Silver, Alex Reynolds and Hangman Page beat MJF and Santana & Ortiz with the emotional scenes afterwards living long in the memory.
Bray Wyatt would end up being the fourth guy from the Shield/Wyatts rivalry to leave WWE on the final day of July 2021. After suffering an injury in 2018, Bray returned in a series of vignettes that would end in The Fiend character coming onto WWE screens. The character would end up dividing fans. The uniqueness of the character would include a lack of selling and dominant performances set in an environment that saw the lights in the arena taken out with a red glow highlighting the action. WWE's booking that saw the Universal Champ, Seth Rollins, now a babyface, cower in fear when in the ring with The Fiend on occasion saw the WWE fans heckling Seth forcing a heel turn upon Rollins. The Pandemic Era saw Bray take advantage of the empty arenas that were necessary with his participation in Cinematic Matches, again dividing opinion amongst fans.
Bray's release from WWE would cause more division in opinion. Some fans want him to be All Elite, some don't want him anywhere near AEW in their current recruitment drive post the mass of releases WWE have executed in the past four months. Bray's future is very much undecided as I write this article but in watching the four matches that comprised the Shield/Wyatt-Family feud, it is clear that WWE thought of Bray as potentially a massive star. He is the guy who gets the pin fall in all of his team's victories. Bray's charisma outshines everyone in the ring in the tetralogy of matches. You end up wondering how seven years later he is no longer at WWE, seen as expendable by those who feel that WWE needs to have their budget cut. But WWE's self-inflicted loss could be someone else's gain should he want to wrestle again. But maybe Windham Rotunda will make the transition from wrestling into acting like many others. Personal opinion here, but they ought to make a decent remake of The Wicker Man after that awful Nicholas Cage version a decade ago. Just saying.