Squared-Circle Science: WWE’s Tag Team Revival

Something special happened at the SmackDown! taping on October 29th. It wasn’t a major title change, and there wasn’t a surprise appearance of a WWE superstar. No, it was better than that.

Every match on the two-hour program was a tag team encounter.

Some involved established pairings like the Usos, the Shield, and the Wyatt Family (Erick Rowan & Luke Harper). But you also had a red hot six-man tag main event pitting tag champs Cody Rhodes & Goldust and newly minted World Champion John Cena against The Real Americans (Antonio Cesaro & Jack Swagger) and “The Intellectual Savior of the (Unwashed) Masses” Damien Sandow.

Such a rare occurrence indeed, it made this writer recollect about tag team wrestling and why it has been a hot-and-cold affair in the climate of World Wrestling Entertainment.

In the ‘80s you couldn’t turn on a wrestling program – be it WWF or NWA – and not expect to see tag team wrestling. Both promotions loaded its undercard with tag team matches. It also wasn’t surprising to see a tag team main event due to all the house shows taking place, with promotions having one or more events on the same day in different parts of a territory. NWA had a slight edge in tag team talent because there you had The Midnight Express, The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, The Road Warriors, and The Steiners. In WWF, while it was thriving with tag teams (close to 20 teams), the standouts from the decade were The Hart Foundation, British Bulldogs, The Dream Team (Greg “The Hammer” Valentine & Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake) and Demolition.

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Interestingly enough, Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard would see action in both promotions as part of the Four Horsemen in NWA and as The Brainbusters in WWF.

For all of the pomp and circumstance that goes along with all of the pay-per-view events World Wrestling Entertainment puts on every year, you can’t ignore the fact that for the company’s first WrestleMania event the main event was a tag team match pitting then-current WWF Champion Hulk Hogan and Mr. T (aka Rocky III‘s Clubber Lang) against Paul Orndorff and Roddy Piper. The match had tons of crossover entertainment appeal with Mr. T stepping inside the squared circle against the likes Piper, a former Golden Gloves boxing champ and a man who knows how to wield a coconut as a weapon when aggravated. In the years that followed tag team main events were rare but did occur on such cards as SummerSlam ’88: The Mega Powers (Hulk Hogan & Randy Savage) vs. The Mega Bucks (“The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiasie & Andre the Giant), and SummerSlam ’89: Hulk Hogan & Brutus Beefcake vs. Randy Savage & Zeus (which tied into the film release No Holds Barred). Since the ‘80s, other notable WWF/E PPV tag team main events include:

King of the Ring 1995:
Diesel & Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Psycho Sid & Tatanka – Main event helped to build the Diesel/Sid feud heading into In Your House, while BBB was feuding with Ted DiBiasie’s Million Dollar Corporation as the result of being labeled an “embarrassment” after losing to Lawrence Taylor at WrestleMania XI.

In Your House #3:
Two Dudes With Attitude (WWF Champion Diesel & WWF Intercontinental Champion Shawn Michaels) vs. WWF Tag Team Champions Yokozuna & The British Bulldog (subbing for Owen Hart) – All titles on the line.

Backlash 2001:
The Two-Man Power Trip (WWF Champion Steve Austin & WWF Intercontinental Champion Triple H) vs. WWF Tag Team Champions the Brothers of Destruction (Kane & The Undertaker) – All titles on the line.

Armageddon 2006: World Champion Batista & WWF Champion John Cena vs. King Booker & Finlay – A rare PPV event (and main event match, for that matter) in which neither championship title was defended.

No Way Out 2007: Shawn Michaels & John Cena vs. Batista & The Undertaker – Special attraction on the Road to WrestleMania where WM opponents tag together.

There have been other PPVs that featured tag team main events, but I’m looking more at 2-on-2 encounters instead of massive team matches (i.e., Steve Austin/Goldust/Ken Shamrock/Legion of Doom vs. The Hart Foundation from IYH: International Incident).

The common trend is that all of these main events feature singles stars pairing up, not actual tag teams like what we normally associate a tag team as being. That’s not to say that singles stars paired together can’t become a good to great tag team. As much as I would have liked to have seen Chris Hero (aka WWE’s Kassius Ohno) make it to the main WWE roster and re-establish the Kings of Wrestling team with Claudio Castagnoli (aka WWE’s Antonio Cesaro), I’ve been impressed with the teamwork Cesaro has been doing with Jack Swagger – especially watching the smart tags the two were making in a handicap match against John Cena on the Veterans Day edition of Monday Night Raw.

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The pairing of Dustin Rhodes (performing as Goldust) and his half-brother Cody Rhodes has shown me a few things. The first is that Cody Rhodes is this much closer to breaking out and becoming a major player (read: upper mid-card to eventual main event). The second is that both Cody and Dustin are wrestlers you could classify as those that are able to gel as part of different tag teams. Sort of like Arn Anderson, who went from being the steely enforcer of The Four Horseman in NWA/WCW, to having a modicum of success as a singles star (winning the Television Championship four times) before navigating back to the tag team ranks.

Cody Rhodes has won tag team gold five times with four different partners (Hardcore Holly, Drew McIntyre, Ted DiBiasie, Jr., and Goldust), and he probably would have won another tag title with then-partner Damien Sandow (when they were collectively known as Team Rhodes Scholars) if WWE brass would have made the switch from Team Hell No (Daniel Bryan & Kane) prior to the Shield tearing up the tag team division Freebirds-style. But that’s fantasy booking on my part. Dustin Rhodes has had an interesting career trajectory as far as tag teams go. He made his PPV debut at WWF’s Royal Rumble 1990 tagging with his father, Dusty Rhodes, against Ted DiBiasie and Virgil. In WCW, he would win tag team gold twice with two different partners (Ricky Steamboat and Barry Windham). In WWE, he would win his first tag title with Booker T at Armageddon 2002. Their reign would be short-lived, however – just 22 days. It would be nearly eleven years before ‘Dust would add “Gold” around his waist again.

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So what’s with the rejuvenated tag team division?

My guess is the recent flourish of tag teams on television is due to Triple H. For all the grief we levy at “The Game,” he does have an old-school mentality about him. While singles stars dominate in terms of box office and merchandise sales, he at least knows that a good undercard needs some diversity and not just one-on-one matches. Pushing for tag teams on PPVs allows for more wrestlers to appear on the card, and it brings with it a nice mix of hero and heel factions.

Take the last PPV, for instance. Hell in a Cell had two tag team matches on the undercard. One was for championship gold, while the other actually had some heat leading into the match (read: it wasn’t a thrown together encounter like what we got at Battleground with The Real Americans vs. The Great Khali & Santino Morella). Still, during this year there have been at least four PPVs where the tag titles were not defended. This includes one of the “Big Four” events: SummerSlam. That’s unacceptable in my book. There should always be an attempt to have all titles defended on a PPV card, and not only at an event known as Night of Champions.

I’m seriously liking where this revival in tag team wrestling is taking us. The division hasn’t been this much fun since the late ‘90s and early 2000s when you had teams like The Hardy Boyz, Edge & Christian, The Dudley Boyz, then the short-lived thrown together pairings of Chris Benoit & Kurt Angle, Edge & Rey Mysterio, and Los Guerreros (Eddie & Chavo Guerrero) – collectively known as the “SmackDown! Six.”

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Daniel Bryan’s recent demotion to mid-card status along with CM Punk offers a new avenue for the two superstars. They can elevate talent around them by going out and having the best match on the card. In all honesty, I’m more intrigued about CM Punk and Daniel Bryan’s feud with the Wyatt Family than I am about seeing Randy Orton and the Big Show at Survivor Series. (Did I mention these two already faced each other back at this year’s Extreme Rules? I believe it was the once-great – maybe just okay – orator Tony Schiavone who once said, “that’ll sure put some butts in the seats.”)

Though, if World Wrestling Entertainment wanted to entertain the traditions of its annual Survivor Series they wouldn’t have CM Punk & Daniel Bryan take on the Wyatt Family (Erick Rowan & Luke Harper) in a tag team match. The manner in which the Veterans Day Monday Night Raw telecast ended, WWE would be foolish to not push for a Super Survivor Series elimination match with CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Cody Rhodes, Goldust, and the Usos against The Shield and the Wyatt Family (including Bray Wyatt). We’ve had 3-on-3, 4-on-4, 5-on-5, and even 5-on-3 elimination matches at the annual PPV, but we’ve never had a 6-on-6 elimination match.

Just imagine the number of stories that could be told:

1) The Shield breaking up, one year after they assisted in CM Punk being victorious at Survivor Series 2012.

2) CM Punk & Daniel Bryan’s first test as a team on a pay-per-view.

3) The potential of a feud between the Wyatt Family and the Shield.

4) The Usos making its mark as the “also ran” team that is out to prove something.

Okay, this is my fantasy booking getting ahead of me. Though, considering how the first two Survivor Series PPVs included elimination-style matches pitting five face tag teams against five heel tag teams, the time seems right to put all the current WWE tag team pairings in an elimination style match. Have the surviving tag team get a #1 contenders contract.

That’s my two cents (more like a quarter) about the current state of tag team wrestling in World Wrestling Entertainment. Feel free to share your thoughts on the recent revival of tag team wrestling on television and whether or not it will be a passing fad.

Before I go, here’s some beautiful bean footage of a good vintage tag team wrestling bout pitting Greg Valentine & Brutus Beefcake against Tito Santana & Ricky Steamboat.

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