The Footnotes of Wrestling – Those Damn Dudleys

I don’t particularly want to talk about “Turning Point,” because a) almost no points were turned, and b) TNA felt like moving their plot forward was something we weren’t interested in so they didn’t do anything. Except one thing.

Team 3D, otherwise known as the Dudlez, otherwise known as the Dudley Brothers Buh-Buh Ray and Devon, retired. They weren’t forced to retire. They weren’t too old to keep going. They weren’t about to jump ship to another company. Last month, they openly declared they had done everything they had ever wanted to do in the business, and they would put over one more team before finally hanging up the boots. Then, in a fashion completely unseen in TNA, they actually went ahead and did just that. The Motor City Machine Guns looked like world class performers tonight. Do you remember when they first fought several years ago, back when the Dudleys were bad guys taking on the X Division and the Guns were a fresh tag team? Seems like eons ago.

Wrestling is based on promises. Interviews promise bloodshed. Match decisions promise rematches. Rematches promise escalation of violence, and so on. The Dudley Boys’ greatest strength and weakness was in almost universally delivering on their promises. They didn’t have the best fight of the night unless they promised it. They didn’t win the gold unless they guaranteed it. And they didn’t retire unless they sadly admitted it. Their greatest weakness was in their self-awareness: they knew they were incapable of always delivering the best performance, so they rarely promised anything.

To my mind, the Dudley Boys encapsulate two of the major problems in wrestling: habitual repetition, and the failure of mainstream commodification. First off, the repetition thing. Yes, most Dudley matches are pretty much all the same, with the violence quotient turned up or down depending on the year, the promotion, and whether or not the crowd was changing E-C-DUB. But can you really falter two guys for falling back on something that works after they tried numerous times to change it up without success?

The second issue is more serious, and is perhaps the subject of a larger argument. Vince McMahon’s dream was to have mainstream America accept the carnivalesque sideshow of “praw rasslin,” and he did his best to change it into something corporate and safe and easy to digest. The Dudleys simply don’t fit into that model, as they are too ugly, too violent, and too honest. Vince McMahon employed the Dudleys from late 1999 to mid-2005, and in that time, did he change the Dudleys at all? No. All he did was put a “z” on the end of their name. The Dudleys, for a time, completely altered the WWE tag scene, ushering in show-stealing gimmick matches and a healthy division that lasted years. All Vince McMahon did was threaten to sue them if they used their trademarked name. So, we got Team 3D, which wasn’t bad, but never stuck. Google “Team 3D” and the first thing you get is “Dudley Boys.”

So the Dudleys came to TNA to, I don’t know, retire, I guess. They did help build a solid tag division, but they only aided the belief that TNA is a retirement home for war horses. Interestingly during their tenure, they won the IWGP tag championships, and those titles meant more to TNA than their own tag straps, so they unified the two sets for a small spell. It was kind of cool, and I admit to cheering on the Dudleys during the Global Impact special, where if you watch the tape you can really see the team in their element: regarded as veterans, respected by their peers, friends and enemies alike. Because in this crazy art, even your enemies want you to get through it, to retire with dignity, to live long lives and enjoy the fruits of your performances. Buh-Buh Ray and Devon Dudley won tag gold in every major promotion in the world more times than any other team likely will ever do (the Steiners were the last team to hold that position), and they leave behind a strong legacy that requires many footnotes.

Of course, the flip side of that argument was that the Dudleys won gold so many times in the tag division because they weren’t good enough to win any on their own. To that argument, I say that I doubt they ever seriously wanted singles careers. Unlike almost every other Tag Team, the Dudleys never really broke up. That’s what really sets them apart. They honed in on one specific kind of professional wrestling, and they excelled in that field. To that end, they won more titles than any other act, single or team. You can’t take that away from them. Nor can you sanely try to beat it.

The natural position for them at this point are as educators. The Dudleys were always more valuable as basins of wrestling knowledge than in-ring performances, much in the same way William Regal and Fit Finlay are in WWE. I honestly hope the Dudleys return to New York, not because it would be nice to see them inducted in the hall of fame or because their tape libraries could come out of hibernation, but because much like America’s schools, WWE’s development territories need more teachers.

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