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The Maniac

The Shield’s five-tool player is clearly Seth Rollins, who possesses both Ambrose’s ingenuity and Reigns’ fury with the athleticism of 10 men and the self-preservation instincts of none. The former WWE Tag Team Champion — trained in the hardscrabble halls of the independent scene — typically puts his body on the line in a way his fellow Shield-mates don’t, and he reaps great rewards as a result. He also has the tendency to get into his opponents’ heads, mimicking their signature maneuvers and taunts during moments of dominance (check The Shield’s match against The Undertaker & Team Hell No; Rollins mocks The Deadman’s throat-cut gesture and the former WWE Champion nearly blows a gasket on the apron).

As for Harper, the guy is crazy like a fox. Bray will convulse and yell in between atom-bomb maneuvers and Rowan will blindly pulverize anything he’s pointed at, but Harper thinks while he competes. You can see the creaky wheels turning in what might otherwise be an empty head, and the result is unsettling. His wild “YeahYeahYeahYeah” lolling suggests pure lunacy, but the heartless efficiency with which he executes the discus clothesline shows that Harper’s the member of The Wyatts who’s most likely to counter a coordinated attack by someone like Rollins, and the most likely to do something truly, terribly unexpected himself.

ADVANTAGE: LUKE HARPER

THE SHIELD

Forget the fact that the self-styled Hounds of Justice wrestle all their matches in riot gear, or that Dean Ambrose seems like the kind of skeezy, crooked detective who stumbled fully-formed out of an Elmore Leonard novel (for the record, Seth Rollins is the loose-cannon beat cop, and Roman Reigns is the terrifying rookie). This trio’s MO from day one has been “justice,” which they have dispensed in uncompromising, brutal and — yes — machine-like fashion. They’re already the collective future of WWE. Why not the future of the law as well?

For a company that most recognize from the climactic scene in the Oscar-nominated “The Wrestler,” Ring of Honor has developed a hardcore fanbase by cultivating a unique mat style and an impressive rolodex of in-ring talent. Bryan and Noble aren’t the only two competitors to come from the scrappy Pennsylvania-based organization. Since ROH’s inception in 2002, several of its stars have found their way to the WWE roster. Most have won major championship gold, and others are waiting in the wings down in Florida at NXT. Even one of NXT’s top trainers, Sara Amato, was a major star in Ring of Honor.

Over the past 10 years, as more and more Ring of Honor alumni have found their way to the broad spotlight of Raw and SmackDown, there has been a noticeable shift in the wrestling style and type of stars that have risen to the top of WWE. But how did one company that never even aired on basic cable change sports-entertainment? We spoke with many of the men responsible to find out.

*SETH ROLLINS – The Shield wasn’t Rollins’ first stable. He joined Ring of Honor in 2007 as a member of The Age of Fall, won the Tag Team Championships twice and held the World Title for seven months just before arriving in WWE.

WWE.COM: How did Ring of Honor start?

SETH ROLLINS: When Ring of Honor first started, I was a teenager. The Internet had just kind of blown up as far as online videos and stuff like that. They were my first exposure to indie wrestling and I fell in love with the athleticism. There were guys like Daniel Bryan, Low Ki, AJ Styles, The Amazing Red, these were guys who were doing stuff I had never seen anywhere in professional wrestling. It was blowing my mind.

WWE.COM: Were you trying to recreate ECW with Ring of Honor, or was it going to be its own thing?

ROLLINS: There were so many similarities. With Gabe running the ship, it was the same sort of vibe, clamoring for something new. But the cool thing about it was Gabe went in the complete opposite direction. ECW was blood and guts and craziness, but Ring of Honor was pure wrestling, respect, athleticism and a code of honor — and the fans were just as passionate about it. A spiritual successor to ECW is a perfect way to put it, because it had that same underground, guttural vibe to it that ECW did when it first started.

WWE.COM: How did you end up in Ring of Honor?

ROLLINS: I sought out their training facility and moved out to Pennsylvania, but I had no idea how much money I needed to live out there on my own [laughs]. I was like, “Oh jeez, I’m 18 and I don’t know what I’m doing.” So I had to go home. I just couldn’t do it. I did the tryout class and I passed. It was a grueling two-hour workout that I was put us through – hundreds of squats, sprints and mile-runs. They were trying to get us to puke and quit. It was pretty brutal. I remember it was the week of Sept. 11, 2004, and it was so hot. I thought I was going to die, but I got through it. [The trainer] said we had a lot of potential so that got me all fired up. Ring of Honor was the place I still aspired to work, because I idolized what was going on there. I had done MTV’s Wrestling Society X with Jimmy Jacobs. He told Ring of Honor founder Gabe Sapolsky about me and Gabe brought me to the Ring of Honor sister company in Florida [Full Impact Pro]. I wrestled Jay Briscoe in a singles match and Gabe took me outside and he said, “I love ya and I want to bring you in to Ring of Honor, so I want to offer you a three-year deal.” I was 21-years-old and as soon as he left I did the air-fist pump. I was just psyched out of my mind. Read the rest of this entry »

Roman Reigns was the MVP of the Royal Rumble Match, breaking Kane’s single-bout record of eliminations by tossing12 Superstars… Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins among them. Given that Ambrose also tried to give Reigns the heave-ho only to be chastised by Rollins, it would appear that The Shield’s unity is in question for the first time in their collective history. Can The Hounds of Justice keep from mauling one another before WrestleMania?

The Shield

May: Every member of The Shield captured title gold at May’s Extreme Rules, making it impossible not to believe in The Shield.

EDITOR’S NOTE: When we tried to present The Shield with their trophy, we were a bit nervous. Everything was going fine — they even showed up for the shoot on time. That’s when things went off the rails: They wanted no part of the trophy, and almost destroyed the set. But while they refused any on-the-record comments, they did leave us with a cryptic video you can view on the digital version of WWE Magazine. Head to iTunes, the Android shop or the Kindle store to download it now!

Seth Rollins

The hierarchy of The Hounds of Justice may not involve ranking its members, but it can feel at times that Seth Rollins gets short shrift. United States Champion Dean Ambrose offers more unpredictable moments. Roman Reigns intimidates the opposition by stomping on anyone who dares to question him.

And Rollins? The smallest Shield member carries his weight as the workhorse of the trio, the relentless warrior of the group. He speaks in the measured tones that often elude his cohorts, and backs up a natural swagger with an arsenal of maneuvers designed to grind down any grappler’s ability to endure.

This strategy already paid dividends in singles competition against everyone from Jey Uso to Goldust, let alone all the pairings that Rollins & Reigns dominated during their reign as WWE Tag Team Champions. It also draws inevitable comparisons to CM Punk and Jeff Hardy, two competitors who overcame criticisms about their size and talent to reach unprecedented heights in WWE.

The Shield cast a large shadow over the WWE Universe, and that shade often obstructs what Rollins has achieved compared to his fellow Hounds. Those measuring success in championships point out Ambrose’s eight-month possession of the U.S. Title, then fail to mention that Rollins was the first NXT Champion in history. Critics may coo for camera-ready moves like Reigns’ spear, but forget the captivating sight of the “Black Out” stomp kick by the black-clad Superstar with the blond streak in his hair.

Seth Rollins can already boast accomplishments in one year in WWE that some Superstars never experience in their entire career. Ignore him at your own peril. — MATTHEW ARTUS