We’ve covered all the members of the Shield previously, in one fell swoop almost two years ago, and spent last week talking about the glory of Seth Rollins. Roman Reigns will get his spotlight eventually, but unlike Seth or Dean, he is almost entirely a construction of the WWE as a wrestler and doesn’t have much of a history to speak of. That isn’t a knock against Roman, but creates a very different overarching narrative than his two Shield brethren. And the nature of what it is we do here in the Palace of Wisdom: we talk not just about what performers can be — if you are lucky enough to be invited into the Palace, you’ll notice ceilings and floors in each of our #WotW rooms covered with pictures of wrestlers from bygone eras — but how they got to where they are now.
And while they took somewhat similar paths to the promised land of Tampa-by-way-of-Stamford, even Seth and Dean ended up having wildly different journeys: Seth, as the Emo Golden Boy of Ring of Honor Tyler Black and Dean, with his reign as the King of the CZW Deathmatch Jon Moxley. Of course, in that difference lies the entire gulf between Seth, along with nearly every other person on the roster, and Dean. Because while others have been informed by their past, Dean Ambrose seems to still be living it, trying as he might to move past it all to become something else.
From the scars that require him to wear a tanktop to the ring, to the reckless abandon with which he attacks not just every match but every move, Ambrose exists as a connection to previous version of himself and, more importantly to fans, the world that came before him. It’s what made him work so well with fans, but it may also be what eventually holds him back from reaching his full potential.
It’s not just time that will tell that story, though, but the direction the company decides the stories will go in a post-Cena world and who will be ready, willing and able to join him on screen. And the position of his hairline, the development of his peers, along with the whim of his bosses and his ability to continue to sell more merchandise to the disenfranchised and angst-ridden fans who haven’t already bought the third Kevin Owens shirt to come out this month.
Because, in a company that strives to have “something for everyone” Dean Ambrose carries on the spirit not just of places like ECW and FMW, but the torch from the Attitude Era. He’s a PG version of nearly every anti-hero that’s come before him. He drinks beers with Roman after wins and losses, but never on camera. He’s made a bed of nails and been powerbombed through it, but covers the battle scars up with clothing available on WWEShop.com. There’s nothing wrong with this, but like a band getting back together, the nostalgic value of the Attitude is both simultaneously breathes a bit of life into the character and slowly pulls that energy away as we move farther and farther from professional wrestling’s most culturally significant era.
Which, ultimately, will be the test for Dean Ambrose: can he transcend his bio and the symbolic role he has as the ambassador to a time that professional wrestling is desperately trying to distance itself on one hand, while depositing check from it on the other. This isn’t a concern just limited to Dean Ambrose, of course, but as the most prominent member of the roster to be so tied so strong to the aesthetics of the previous one he must be able to do which has been heretofore impossible for anyone but timelords: representing both the future and past, all while existing with significance in the present.