November 18, 2018 will mark the exact six-year anniversary of The Shield, a WWE faction that appeared like a supernova and ended up creating three top-flight main event talents. Fittingly, there will be a WWE pay-per-view on this anniversary — Survivor Series, the same annual event where the Shield first appeared. It’s kind of hard to believe that the WWE Universe at large has only been familiar with these three men for six years, but a year in pro wrestling isn’t like any other in sports … or in real life.
There has been a lot of triumph, tragedy, heartbreak, history, and expectations spread out over those six years. On Sunday, only one of the three members of the Shield will officially be in a match, although a second will almost certainly appear. And the third … well, we’ll get to that.
At Survivor Series 2012, three men in all-black tactical attire ran into the ring from the crowd and attacked Ryback, who seemed about to pin John Cena in a Triple Threat Match for the WWE Championship. The three men triple-powerbombed Ryback through an announcer’s table, allowing CM Punk to pin Cena and retain his world title. The three men were identified as being from WWE’s developmental brand, NXT. Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and Roman Reigns had officially arrived on the main roster.
There’s some dispute over the specifics of the behind-the-scenes formation of the Shield. Punk claims that he came up with the concept of three mercenaries who would help him keep his title, and according to him, he hand-selected Ambrose, Rollins, and Kassius Ohno, who had a long history with Punk on the independent scene under the name Chris Hero. Also according to Punk, Triple H nixed Ohno being in the group and made the call to include Reigns as the muscle of the stable instead. (The Shield themselves haven’t really commented on Punk’s version of events, but they do credit longtime WWE producer Joey Mercury with coming up with a lot of the nuts and bolts of what made the unit successful in the ring and on camera. There are also stories about the Shield originally being conceived to carry actual, literal riot shields, and the universe is all the richer for that not happening, but also for us knowing that was on the table.)
Regardless of the story behind the scenes, within WWE storylines the Shield were mercenaries and self-proclaimed “Hounds of Justice.” They spent months attacking people, seemingly in league with Punk and his manager Paul Heyman, although neither side being willing to admit it. According to the Shield, they were standing up for unfairness and injustice as it pertained to WWE’s treatment of its top dogs.
The group had its first official match at TLC in December of 2012 against Ryback, Daniel Bryan and Kane, and even in hindsight, it’s amazing how completely the team functioned as a unit. They moved with urgency and ruthless efficiency, and worked smart. They were all also — every one of them — excellent at this whole pro wrestling business. That they were amazing performers was no surprise to hardcore fans, as Seth Rollins was a former Ring of Honor World Champion under the name of Tyler Black, and Dean Ambrose had previously been an independent scene darling as Jon Moxley, a sometimes-death match wrestler who stood out among his peers for his exceptional promos and microphone work that drew constant comparisons to “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.
Reigns, however, was a pretty unknown entity even to diehard fans. A cousin of the Rock and member of the legendary Anoa’i family, the former Georgia Tech defensive tackle debuted for WWE’s FCW developmental territory under the ring name Leakee. (No, it’s not pronounced like it’s spelled.) After FCW rebranded itself as NXT, the “Roman Reigns” name was established, but Reigns only wrestled in NXT for a couple of months under that name before the Shield was called up.