|Above was not just a trios match, but a fundamental change in the way WWE presents matches|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
It’s been said The Shield vs. The Wyatts is a perfect match. I’ve watched it four times since the Elimination Chamber. It’s more than that. This is a match that could very well change the narrative structure of wrestling forever.
This match was a three act play, as a few epic matches given nearly 30 minutes are structured. And each of those three acts built upon each other marvelously well until the final ending, with all sorts of wonderful callbacks intertwined. Only a handful of match in history have been worked so well. But what set this match apart from anything else, and what could foretell the future of the WWE, was the emphasis of characterization held throughout the entire story.
The match begins with a stand-off, just like we’ve seen for the past two weeks since the build-up – an incredibly simple “You cost us a match!” that’s been done thousands of times – to the feud started. It gets a “This Is Awesome” chant. These six have been so incredible in their brief runs (The Wyatts have been around since roughly SummerSlam) that we can count on this being a war.
The key to the build is the little set-up for later on. In a lesser match, after a staredown, all six men would start brawling until the ref regained order. But even this has a build-and-payoff based around character. Dean Ambrose, the “lunatic fringe” who has become the wildcard hothead of The Shield, is yelling at Bray, who is yelling right back. Of course Dean is – he speaks first in Shield promos (“Ohhhhhhh, we’re so scared of you!”). Rollins and Reigns are holding him back and trying to get him to settle down. The two groups circle each other. And then Dean spins around to go after Bray and it’s on. Their initial stand-off back in the fall started in a really similar way, prompted by Ambrose’s mania after things were cooling down.
The Shield win this little skirmish. But now it begins. It’s largely a back-and-forth affair, with each guy playing their role marvelously well. The first elevation of this becomes when Rollins goes on his hot streak. He counters a German Suplex from the top rope. There’s anticipation in this, as Daniel Bryan actually hit this move on Rollins in their singles match. This is a spot that has actually happened before. Instead, it launches a flurry of action that leads to Rollins – the architect and glue guy of the unit posed as the greatest in the history of the WWE– winning the exchange and getting fired up.
There are all sorts of other touches. Bray doesn’t tag in unless the advantage is built in for him. Preachers are nothing if not opportunists – he sees weaknesses in others and exploits that for his own personal gain. He and Reigns enter in the ring at the same time and get a huge pop. These are the two leaders. This is what we ultimately want. We get it for a little bit. It’s just a tease.
Bray hits a running senton on Rollins on the floor. He’s dangerous out there. He beat Daniel Bryan because he caught the hero in his web and hit Sister Abigail into the railing. This prompts another stare-down with Reigns, with the added benefit of Ambrose in the corner going crazy.
Ambrose is fired up in this. He’s a wild man. But when he has a shot against Harper and Rowan, he uses actual moves. But against Bray? It’s just punches. He wants to beat Harper and Rowan. But he wants to destroy Bray with his fists.
The violence in this match is clear from the start, but it’s subtle. Anytime someone is trapped in the opposite corner, they toss an elbow. People pull hair and rake eyes before tagging in with the advantage, as opposed to just tagging in and out. Would we expect less? They want to hurt each other at all costs and at all times.
At one point, Bray charges Rollins in the corner. Rollins sees it coming – Bray hit a splash earlier – and gets his foot up. He goes to the top, but Bray catches him and spikes him with a chokeslam. He goes for the cover. Ambrose breaks it up and is manic. Harper, the number two in command who does anything to appease his master, crushes his jaw with a stiff boot. Even pin breakups have an air of violence.
Reigns, who changes everything in his matches as the ultimate equalizer, gets the hot tag from Rollins. He goes nuts. Rowan gets hit with a move and is struggling to his feet, using the ropes. Harper tosses Reigns to the floor. Reigns lands on his feet and sees Rowan in the ropes. Without hesitation, the runs and does his corner dropkick. The great ones see the play before it develops. Reigns is the next great star.
Act 1 concludes with an awesome dive sequence. Dean gets in the ring. He dropkicks Harper and then starts clubbing at Bray – no moves, just punches, since that’s all he wants. They end up on the floor. Harper sacrifices himself again for his patron, hitting his dive, which works because Ambrose is so focused on hurting Bray. But then Rollins, the cocky aerialist who holds this whole thing together, hits a flipping plancha to once again sacrifice himself for the benefits of his allies.
Rowan and Reigns are left in the ring. Rowan, the slugging behemoth who serves as The Wyatt’s relatively weak link, charges with a corner splash. Reigns dodges and hits a quick roll-up. It gets a two-count. The crowd counts along in unison. There has been such a build to the moment, and we know Roman Reigns gained four pinfalls at Survivor Series and set the record at the Rumble. If anyone can beat The Wyatts, it’s he.
Reigns and Rowan then club each other at once. There’s a bit of a breather – a comedown for the audience, who have just watched greatness. All six men are out. The first act has concluded. This is war. No one has won yet. Something needs to change.
Rollins, the architect, knows it will take something more to defeat these guys. He moves towards the tables. The crowd chanted for that earlier. We’ve been conditioned to understand matches like this – any match with a slight hint of being out-of-control – will have a table broken.
Naturally, he gets caught. In lesser matches, he gets put through the table immediately. But this requires a build and pay-off. Bray sets him up as Harper puts the thumbs up, Reigns’ signal, that they’re going to put him through.
Instead, Ambrose comes. He shoves Harper out of the way and slugs at Bray some more. That’s been his focus the entire match. Bray and Ambrose take it to the crowd. There’s even more heightening. We’ve had crowd brawls. But this late in a match?
Rollins takes out more TV sets. He uses one as a weapon on Harper. When has that happened? Inside, Rowan FINALLY wins an exchange against Reigns. He clocks him from behind and then hits him with a fallaway slam, sending Reigns to the floor.
Bray appears from the crowd without Dean – the plot point for RAW. He takes out Rollins. He then sees Rowan and orders him to the floor.
They get on the table. They then chokeslam Rollins through the Spanish table. It elicits a giant Holy Shit chant. This is nowhere near the craziest bump Rollins ever took. It’s also far from the most insane table bump. Sabu, New Jack, Foley, Shawn Michaels – all of them have flown through tables from crazier positions. Tension needs a payoff. We got it.
Bray looks on with this 40-yard-stare. He didn’t directly cause the destruction of Rollins. But he’s the responsible party. Their broken bones will be used to pave his kingdom. This is the end.
Reigns crawls back into the ring. The Wyatts slowly and coldly enter. Reigns stares at them. He’s been against the odds several times in his brief career. But this is something else. He has to fight. He’s a soldier. But now he has to climb that beautiful hill to reach the top of the mountain. He says it all with his face, like no one has before.
In a lesser match, his comeback would start right away. Not in this. It builds to it. The Wyatts get control. Harper and Rowan annihilate Reigns with corner splashes. Harper kneels before Bray. Cole describes this as an “offering.” Now the Eater of Worlds gets to put a skull on a pike, with the opportunity all his.
He has Reigns set up for Sister Abigail's Kiss. Instead, Reigns powers free. That’s when this whole thing started. Reigns was powering out of Cena’s STF like no one ever had before right when the lights went out and we saw the lamb’s mask.
Wyatt’s face is amazing. It’s a mixture of fear and awe and respect. (As he says the following night, “You’re an interesting creature.”) Instead of Reigns powering out, Bray throws some headbutts. Even this has a build and pay-off.
Reigns hits a Samoan Drop on Bray. He dispatches Rowan and Harper to the floor. He hits his awesome Superman Punch and goes to the corner. We’ve seen this so many times. Can he make his greatest comeback victory yet?
Harper charges and sacrifices himself one final time for his God. The preacher sees the opportunity and crossblocks Reigns. Then there’s a quick Sister Abigail – no dramatic set-up, just a flash move, as he’s used the past few weeks – and ultimate victory.
All of this also ties into The Shield’s first major win. Someone’s eliminated on the floor. Someone goes through a table. And the hero almost makes a comeback before succumbing to the odds.
Everyone holds true to form in this match. Characters are established early and advance throughout. We see the effects of battle through their eyes and faces and deeds and actions. This isn’t someone just selling an injured limb or physical pain.
This is the next step in wrestling storytelling.
This is not the end.
This is the beginning.