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Never say never: Adapt or perish, that is evolution

The Shield debuted at Survior Series 2012, where they triple powerbombed Ryback through a table to help CM Punk retain his WWE Championship. Their first 6-man tag team match at TLC 2012 against Team Hell No and Ryback was absolutely thrilling from start to finish, and probably WWE’s best pay-per-view match of the year. Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns were doing awesome things right out of the gate, including triple powerbombing Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson multiple times in January 2013.

It was evident that the members of The Shield were going to be top stars in WWE for a real long time. In fact fans already began rampant speculation about which member of The Shield would eventually break off and become the face of WWE; a great case could be made for every single member.

The Hounds of Justice dominate WWE

Raw changed to a regular 3-hour format in July 2012, which meant there would be longer matches each week on television. The Shield were the workhorses who stepped right in and filled that void with a ton of exciting tag team matches throughout 2013. Nobody could hang with these guys. Everybody felt their wrath, including John Cena, Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Undertaker, the Usos, Sheamus, the Big Show, and the Rhodes brothers.

Towards the end of 2013, The Shield members were revealed to be hired guns by Triple H to protect The Authority and keep Daniel Bryan from achieving his dreams. They proved their mettle time and time again, always getting the dirtiest jobs done. However, they ran into some problems with Corporate Kane in March 2014, when they stepped in to defiantly protect Jerry Lawler from an unfair annihilation at Kane’s hand. A whole bunch of mid-card heels then destroyed The Shield on SmackDown later that week. The Shield eventually squashed Kane and the New Age Outlaws at WrestleMania 30 in a match that seemed like a glaring waste of The Shield’s immense talents on the biggest stage in wrestling. Couldn’t WWE find more suitable opponents to take on one of the most dominant stables of all-time?

Line in the sand

WrestleMania 30 was the same night where Daniel Bryan defeated Randy Orton and Batista to become the WWE Champion. The following night on Raw, Triple H set up an elaborate trap that involved giving himself a WWE Championship match against Bryan in the main event. Orton, Batista, and Kane all showed up right before the match began and incapacitated Bryan with all of their devastating signature moves. Triple H then made his entrance to challenge an unconscious Bryan for the WWE Championship.

Everything was going according to plan until...

Sierra. Hotel. India. Echo. Lima. Delta. Shield!

Earlier that night, Kane’s frustration with The Shield’s insubordination caused him to slip up and admit that Triple H was the one who ordered their assault on SmackDown a few weeks prior. The Shield realized that their brand of justice didn’t really align with The Authority anymore, and so they stormed the ring and got in everyone’s face. Roman Reigns speared Triple H while Ambrose and Rollins took out everyone else. Triple H tucked tail screaming that The Shield just started a war.

The stars aligned for that epic war to come in the form of a dream match between The Shield and Evolution. Evolution originally consisted of Triple H, Randy Orton, Batista, and Ric Flair. This cross-generational stable dominated Raw in 2003 and 2004, much in the same way that The Shield did from late 2012 through mid 2014. Evolution disbanded by early 2005, so it was nearly a decade since we last heard their memorable entrance music.

Batista returned to WWE earlier in 2014 by winning the Royal Rumble match, but the fans weren’t buying him as the all-conquering babyface hero. The jeers were so thunderous that he was eventually slapped with the “Boo-tista” moniker. He was a full-fledged heel by the time WrestleMania 30 came around. So the fact that Randy Orton and Triple H were also heels opened the door for Evolution to finally reunite, minus Ric Flair.

And that’s exactly what happened. The Shield defied Triple H’s authority and crossed that line in the sand, so Triple H turned to Batista and Orton in order to put The Shield down. Evolution was back together, and Batista immediately reminded everyone of their dominance by stating that there were “31 world titles between the three of us.” If any trio could eradicate The Shield, it would be these three legends. Or as Triple H put it, “In life you either adapt or you perish, that is evolution.” The limos and fancy suits were back; these main event stars walked around like only past kings of WWE can, sneering down on mere soldiers like Ambrose, Rollins, and Reigns.

Kings don’t win wars, soldiers do

This dream match between two all-time great WWE stables took place at Extreme Rules 2014.

A quick brawl broke out in the ring before the bell even rang, and The Shield asserted their strength by swiftly clearing the ring. The match officially began with Seth Rollins versus Triple H. Of course Seth Rollins executed a risky dive through the ropes less than two minutes into the fight. Batista tagged in and isolated Rollins in the corner with power shoulders. Evolution controlled Rollins at this methodical pace until the Architect finally tagged Ambrose in, roughly 6 minutes into the match.

Dean let loose on all the heels and locked Randy into the figure-four leglock. This was paying homage to former Evolution member Ric Flair, who actually showed up on Raw one week earlier to offer his endorsement to The Shield. The match briefly broke down into a brawl around the ringside area. Roman Reigns accidentally speared himself into the steps, so perhaps this is the tape Braun Strowman studied to get a really firm grasp on the bizarre art of running one’s self into large inanimate objects.

Evolution took control again for a while, this time using frequent tags to isolate Ambrose in the corner and away from his partners. Batista was greeted with loud “Boo-tista” and “You can’t wrestle” chants from the audience. They really really hated that guy. Ambrose eventually countered a Pedigree with a DDT and made the much-needed tag to Reigns.

Reigns cleaned house but was eventually caught between Batista’s legs and set up for a Batista Bomb. Seth saved Roman by nailing Batista with a flying knee out of nowhere. One superman punch later, and The Shield then rocked Batista with their signature triple powerbomb. Orton and Triple H dragged Reigns under the ropes to break up the pin. Rollins attempted a wild running dive over the tope rope but he crashed and burned into the barricade with a horrifying thud. Reigns fell victim to both a Pedigree and RKO, but Ambrose and Rollins broke up those respective pin attempts.

This is where things completely broke down around the ringside area while Batista and Reigns laid motionless inside the ring for a while. A cameraman was knocked down at one point while Rollins and Orton exchanged fists on the outside. Ambrose ran across two tables and barreled over Triple H and Orton in the ring announcer’s area. Rollins joined those three men as they brawled into the crowd. Michael Cole explained that those four men could fight wherever they wanted because they’re not the legal men.

They brawled up some stairs into the stands. Orton and Triple H got the advantage and double-teamed Ambrose back down the stairs. They put a good beating on Dean, until madman Seth Rollins seemingly fell out of the sky with a daredevil leap that struck all three men, wiping everyone out.

Roman Reigns and Batista conveniently regained consciousness in the ring, just in time for Roman to withstand a spinebuster and put Batista away with a spear.

The dream match was over. Believe in The Shield!

Clean sweep

The dream match delivered the goods, but it didn’t come close to ending the war. That would require a bit more violence and chaos. That’s exactly what we got one month later at Payback 2014, with a No Holds Barred Elimination Tag Team Match between Evolution and The Shield. This battle was hyped up as the one that would determine which team adapts and which team perishes.

With that stipulation in mind, the match should have been pure chaos from the start. Yet for some reason the teams were actually tagging each other in and out for the first 15 minutes of the fight, despite the No Holds Barred stipulation. The slower pace allowed fans to get creative and chant “Blue-tista”, to ridicule the striking color of Batista’s ring gear.

The inevitable chaos finally erupted for the final 15 minutes of the match. The carnage included loud chairshots, a triple powerbomb through a table, a Pedigree on a steel chair, Reigns stripped down and tortured with kendo sticks, Rollins diving from the Titantron, and Ambrose eating a sledgehammer to the face.

It ended with a surprising clean sweep of Evolution, with all three members of The Shield surviving. The final image of the night was fitting, with all three members of The Shield standing over Triple H’s body while touching fists.

The Aftermath

The bittersweet thing about this match is that even though The Shield decisively vanquished Evolution, both stables actually perished in the immediate aftermath. One night after the Payback match, Batista quit WWE. Seth Rollins then broke everyone’s heart by betraying his brothers to join up with Triple H and Randy Orton. Evolution and The Shield were both gone, just like that.

However everything about their feud was great. Batista fully embraced the heel role and put in the best work of his 2014 run with WWE. All three heels busted their ass to make The Shield look like a million bucks. All three members of The Shield looked cool as hell overcoming adversity and putting the ultimate beatdown on three WWE legends. It was pretty much the ideal scenario - a dream match storyline that delivered two fun matches while putting over the younger generation as hard as possible.

The dream match between The Shield and Evolution laid down the template for how it should be done.

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