First impressions matter a lot, especially in pro-wrestling. How the audience reacts to a wrestler or team at first can make or break careers. And few debuts, at least in WWE, are as momentous as this one.
Today we look back at the first official match involving three of the most famous WWE superstars of the past decade. Though they made their main roster debut earlier, this match marked the first time that anyone would see them in the ring together. They managed to turn some heads with their regular match interference and beat-downs, but were they just as good in the ring as they were outside it? There was only one way to find out.
Today we look back at the Shield’s debut match at TLC 2012 against Daniel Bryan, Kane and Ryback.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
One month earlier, Ambrose, Rollins, and Reigns interfered in a triple threat match involving CM Punk, John Cena, and Ryback. Though they denied it, they were revealed to be hired mercenaries for Punk in his quest to retain his WWE Championship whenever possible and by any means necessary. The Shield tried to mask their motives for attacking supposedly random targets as going after ‘injustices’, but it soon became apparent that they were actually going after anyone perceived to be a threat to Punk.
Ryback was one of the Shield’s first victims and naturally he wanted revenge for them costing him the WWE title. But as strong as he was, he was still outnumbered and thus needed allies to even the odds. So, he enlisted the then-WWE Tag Team Champions Daniel Bryan and Kane, who, despite acting as an oddball pairing that didn’t always get along, had enough cohesion as a team to be able to challenge the Shield.
But could they really? Could this team of a Goldberg-inspired monster and strange bedfellow tag champions work together as well as The Shield? Or would they get picked apart and fall just like all of the Shield’s victims thus far?
This match originally took place on December 16th, 2012 at WWE TLC. It was rated ****1/2 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. The match was also rated ****1/2 by TJRWrestling’s John Canton in his review of the show.
This is the Shield’s first-ever match. The only way to win is via pinfall or submission in the ring. Rollins and Ambrose enter from one side of the arena and Reigns enters alone from another. Team Hello No and Ryback are already in the ring and they take the opportunity to go to the floor. A brawl begins right away. The ‘established guys’ score an early advantage as Reigns and Ambrose get knocked back into the crowd. Rollins brawls with Bryan until Bryan takes over with Kawada kicks. Ambrose makes it into the ring and chops Ryback but Ryback no-sells and drops Ambrose with chops of his own. Ambrose escapes a press slam and kicks Ryback down to a knee as the crowd chants ‘Goldberg’ at him.
Ryback lands a Thesz Press but is soon triple-teamed by the rest of the Shield. “Goldberg” roars and pushes all of them back and knocks Rollins to the floor, but Ambrose follows up with a dropkick that sends Ryback down as well. Rollins sees Kane grabbing a ladder and lands a sliding dropkick. Bryan enters the ring but gets triple-teamed as well. Why he’d enter alone against three opponents I have no idea. Reigns launches Bryan face-first into a ladder held up by Ambrose & Rollins. Suddenly, Ryback gets up, boots Reigns and then sends the ladder into both Rollins and Ambrose. He smashes said ladder into them several times until Reigns hits him with a chair. But before he can bring it down again, Kane grabs that chair and punches Reigns into a corner. Bryan comes in and lands multiple kicks to Reigns’ chest. The crowd chant ‘yes’ as Bryan yells ‘no’. He and Kane whip Reigns into the ladder set up in the opposite corner. Kane follows by sending Bryan into Reigns and Bryan lands a running dropkick. Kane pins but Reigns kicks out.
Bryan sees Ambrose and Rollins double-teaming Ryback ringside and goes to help but gets tripped and hits the apron hard. The fans chant ‘we want tables’ as Ambrose smashes Bryan into the ringpost and Rollins does a diving…something…only to eat an uppercut from Kane. Kane grabs another chair following a Rollins kickout, opens a ladder, places Rollins in between the ladder’s legs, and hits the ladder with the chair. Okay, makes perfect sense. Suddenly Ambrose comes in and DDTs Kane into a chair. Ryback comes in and smashes both Rollins and Ambrose into different corners but they cut him off. Rollins smashes the ladder into Ryback’s chest and then he and Ambrose try to throw Ryback into a ladder. Except Ryback’s too strong and he smashes both of them to the mat instead. Body blocks for each of them. Both of them end up in a corner perched against a ladder. Ryback runs into them and they go down hard. But he’s not done unleashing mayhem. Ryback suplexes both Rollins and Ambrose onto a ladder at the same time. He goes for Double Shellshocked. Reigns breaks it up and saves his teammates. They triple team Ryback with whatever weapons they can find. Ryback escapes to ringside but the Shield stay on him. Triple Powerbomb through the Spanish announce table! Suddenly, Bryan appears out of nowhere and lands a suicide dive through the ropes. But then he gets triple-teamed. It’s hard to follow with the annoying shaky cam going on.
Bedlam ensues as Kane brawls with Reigns ringside and Bryan tries taking control from the other two with a chair. Ambrose pick up both Bryan and a chair and scoop slams Bryan so that he hits the chair on his way down. The Shield keep mangling Bryan with chairs as they set up a table upright in the corner. Bryan gets Irish whipped…and hits the edge of the table with his chin. The Shield continue their onslaught by placing Bryan on top of the table and land a two-man superplex. One, two, Kane makes the save.
Reigns charges Kane but gets dumped to the floor. But soon he too gets double-teamed by Ambrose and Rollins, who wreck him with chairs and throw him chin-first into the table as was done to Bryan. They attempt the same superplex spot again but Kane fights out. Rollins gets thrown to the floor. Kane unloads with clotheslines on Reigns and lands a sidewalk slam. Ambrose breaks up the pin and then opens up a chair for a DDT. But Kane counters with a chokeslam. Ambrose gets chokeslammed not onto a chair but through it. Kane pins but Reigns breaks it up.
Kane clotheslines Ambrose to the floor and brawls with him but Reigns knocks him down from behind. Why no one has gone to pin Ryback after all this time I have no idea. Just thought I’d point that out. Anyway, Reigns pulls a Goldberg and spears Kane through the barricade wall. The fans chant ‘this is awesome’ as they literally bury him in debris and random objects (instead of, you know, pinning the guy). Rollins and reigns are so caught up in their little celebration that they don’t notice what’s happening in the ring. Bryan catches Ambrose and locks him in the crossface. He sees Rollins coming, releases Ambrose, and locks it onto Rollins. But that doesn’t make sense since Reigns is right behind him and he starts hammering away on Bryan seconds later. Reigns goes for a back suplex. Bryan counters and locks in the crossface on Reigns. Ambrose breaks it up and sets up another chair for a double suplex. Bryan fights out by kicking both of them as hard as he can. He charges but Ambrose cuts him off. That allows Rollins to land a curb stomp into the chair. Ambrose goes for a pin. But here comes Ryback, back from the dead, to pull Ambrose off.
Ryback gets a second wind out of nowhere and starts landing big power moves on Reigns and Rollins. Rollins gets press-slammed over the rope onto Ambrose down on the floor. Both of them go down. Spinebuster by Ryback onto Reigns. Ryback attempts a powerbomb onto a chair. Ambrose breaks it up but gets speared on a charge. Ryback drops him with a Meat Hook clothesline and teases the end. He drops Ambrose with his Shellshocked finisher. The referee counts one, two, no, both Reigns and Rollins break it up.
Ryback brawls up the entrance ramp with Rollins and Reigns. He gets the upper hand and teases a powerbomb when Ambrose hits him from behind with a chair. They smash any object they can find on him and then drag him onto a conveniently-placed table. Rollins sends his teammates back to the ring to deal with Bryan as he climbs a freakishly-tall ladder. He’s halfway up when Ryback gets up and walks towards him. Rollins has nowhere to go. He tries to climb onto another ladder but Ryback catches him and throws him down. Rollins goes through two other tables magically setup nearby. But instead of pinning the guy, Ryback starts crawling back to the ring where Reigns and Ambrose have successfully double-teamed Bryan. Bryan’s completely helpless as his opponents set up another table. Ambrose lifts Bryan up onto Reigns’ shoulders as he puts Bryan in the powerbomb position. Reigns powerbombs Bryan from the corner through a table. Ryback’s coming up the entranceway as Reigns pins. One, two, three! The Shield trio has won. Ryback sinks down in defeat.
Winners after 22:44: The Shield (Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns)
If you like nonsensical demolition derbies or car crash-style matches, you’ll love this match. It was twenty-two minutes of bedlam and weapons-based high-spots, which made for relatively easy viewing. But if you’re looking for a cohesive match that makes sense, you’ve come to the wrong place. This was fine as a guilty pleasure beatdown, but it really isn’t that much of a classic.
Even though the commentators kept calling a three-on-three match, it wasn’t. 90% of the match was three-on-one with the Shield trio picking their opponents apart one after another. They dominated the match and were able to hit some convoluted high-spots knowing they were in control and thus didn’t have to worry about being interrupted. It wasn’t long before the Shield – the supposed villains of the match – became the heroes. Although Bryan, Kane and Ryback came in as the heroes defending their turf against outside invaders, the Shield worked so well together that got cheered long before the match ended.
Moments that were supposed to garner heat for the Shield – Kane getting buried under weapons, the double-team table superplex, the constant pin interruptions – got cheered instead. It was obvious that Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns were quickly become Steve Austin-style ‘tweeners’ that attacked whomever they wanted, much to the crowd’s delight. So if the goal was to get the Shield over as this dangerous cohesive unit, they more than succeeded.
And yet, for all its flashy high-spots and creative moves, some stuff didn’t make sense and it hurt the match as a result. Though the story made sense, the match had some moments that raised more questions than they solved. Why didn’t the Shield drag Ryback’s carcass to the ring and pin him after their Triple Powerbomb through the announce table? That move was sold as some kind of tactical nuke yet they just left him to lay there for a long time. The same thing with Kane not long afterwards; he got speared through the barricade and they literally buried him beneath random debris instead of pinning him when they had the chance. If the goal was to win the match, why didn’t they even try to pin those two opponents, who were clearly unable to get up after taking such huge bumps?
There was also a sense of stupidity from Ryback, Kane and Bryan. Whereas the Shield wrestled as a unit and looked after each other throughout the match, their opponents went after them one by one. Ryback briefly managed to out-power all three opponents and Kane tried to even the odds with weapons. Still, even with those slight advantages, why would either one of them go in alone against a unified front? It was like both Ryback and Kane were asking to be triple-teamed, which is exactly what happened.
Worse still was what Bryan did because he jumped into the lion’s den completely unprepared. He went into the ring against three opponents and got overpowered in seconds. It didn’t come across as bravery but as stupidity; he just saw them dismantle Ryback with ease seconds earlier and attacked them anyway. Why would he fly head-first into battle knowing he’d suffer the exact same fate? And why would he render himself defenseless by locking in a submission hold on Ambrose when he could clearly see Reigns and Rollins sprinting into the ring to save their friend? These were supposed to be three of the best wrestlers on the roster (including two champions), yet they wrestled in a way that defied logic. All three of them tried to make themselves look brave and valiant in defending WWE against the Shield, but when the match was over they actually came across as fodder for this new group instead.
Final Rating: ****
I can’t call this a competitive match because Kane, Ryback and Bryan went into this without a plan and ended up being sacrificial lambs. They just played their own biggest hits, hoping something would work. And while all three of them got fleeting moments to shine, the Shield outshone them. The Shield came across as smarter, tougher, stronger, and more cohesive. The whole pick-them-apart-one-by-one strategy made perfect sense, but it also made the match drag at times. There were a few moments when little to nothing happened, only for those to be balanced out by some creative hardcore moments that were impressive, though not awe-inspiring.
While this might’ve been a great match live it doesn’t really hold up that well over time. It’s got a few great moments thanks to some creativity and a somewhat sound story, but one has to suspend disbelief a bit too much to find it really enjoyable now.