Wednesday, 26 September 2012
It's Alive - WWE brings back tag teams! By Duckman
“From the smallest acorn, the mightiest oak can grow.”
At some point in your life you will have heard that classic saying, or some variation of it. You haven’t? Well, congratulations -you just learned something new! If you’re wondering what the hell acorns and trees have got to do with wrestling, allow me to explain. That little horticultural ditty is my way of describing the current tag team division in WWE. Clever, eh? Ok, not really, but it’s the best I could come up with at short notice.
I’m a huge fan of tag team wrestling. It’s one of my favourite things about watching wrestling. I’m not alone in my love of the wrestling tandem. For as long as men and women have put on their underwear in public and fought in a choreographed fashion, to a predetermined conclusion, there have been fans of tag team wrestling. Down the years tag team wrestling has been one of the fundamental foundations of professional wrestling.
From the old school glory days of Pat Paterson and Ray Stevens; to the insanely over and ridiculously roided up Road Warriors; to the double team majesty of the Midnight Express; all the way to the Hardys/Dudleys/Edge and Christian trifecta of attitude era awesomeness, there can be no argument that tag team wrestling has been a key element to any promotion.
And it used to draw money. Wads of the stuff.
Throughout the years tag team matches have provided fans with heated, entertaining, exciting and must see moments. As the name suggests, tag team wrestling brought a team element to what is essentially an individual focused profession. There are many examples of the team being more than the sum of its parts. Thanks to this some teams were treated like rock stars, while others were hated with the power of a thousand suns. This allowed wrestlers who wouldn’t necessarily have been singles stars to achieve a great level of success as part of a tag team.
Tag Teams have come in a plethora of different combinations, including but not limited to; two high fliers; two big powerhouses; the technician and the powerhouse; the talker and the enforcer; the sneaky double teaming heels and the plucky never-say-die babyfaces. A different combination to suit every taste. With so many different combinations of teams it was easy for fans to connect with their favourite, or their least favourite teams. It must have made life easier for bookers and promoters to put on matches with entirely different in-ring dynamics from week to week, which in turn would keep their product fresh and interesting for their fans.
Tag team wrestling also helped create some of the most successful singles stars of their respective generations. While there’s little doubt Steve Austin, Bret Hart or Shawn Michaels would have eventually broken through as singles stars, it certainly didn’t hurt that they served their apprenticeships in successful tag teams.
So let’s recap: Tag team wrestling creates stars, brings fans exciting, entertaining and innovative matches and draws money. If you were ticking boxes of what wrestling should do, then the tag team division would use up most of your ink. It’s difficult to envision a time when tag team wrestling wouldn’t be important to a promotion, but in recent years that’s exactly what has happened in WWE.
Somewhere around the middle of the last decade tag team wrestling as a feature attraction in WWE was pushed to the side. No one really knows why. Many have asked the question but no one has been able to come up with a satisfactory answer. Only one man can answer that question because it was his decision to ignore tag team wrestling and leave fans feeling like their favourite childhood toy had just been thrown in the trash. Well, that’s how I felt, I don’t know about the rest of you.
Everyone knows that Vince McMahon IS professional wrestling. Well, he’d say he IS sports entertainment but no matter how much he wants to be seen as an all round entertainment svengali, he is the single most successful promoter of wrestling of all time. That’s just one of those facts you can’t argue away. What Vince presents as professional wrestling is what the world considers professional wrestling. Those of us who spend time outside the WWE bubble might not accept that but we’re a tiny minority. To the majority WWE is professional wrestling.
When Vince decided he didn’t like tag team wrestling we saw a division that had been one of the cornerstones of WWE for decades almost completely written off. No longer would teams with great personalities who were tag team specialists be a part of WWE. Instead tag teams became a vehicle to team two guys together for a couple of weeks, then split them up and have them feud.
The intricacies of tag team wrestling were forgotten. The heat and the drama and conflict of tag team wrestling were diluted down until the tag team titles were rendered practically meaningless. I could go months without knowing who the tag team champions were in WWE or who they beat to become champions. Fans were conditioned to accept that tag team wrestling as a centre point of WWE was no longer the norm.
Before too long tag team wrestling was a shadow of its former self in WWE. Fans like me longed for the days of the Survivor Series 1988 that boasted a match with five babyface tag teams against five heel tag teams and every single one of those teams were a legitimate full time team, with a great gimmick, who were over with the crowd. Even the Conquistadores! Instead we got half assed feuds with half assed champions and none of the variety and entertainment that had made the tag team division so important in the past.
Of course I’m talking WWE specific here. In TNA and ROH the tag team division has been given much more focus and attention as an important part of those companies. From the tag division of TNA we’ve seen plenty of great matches in company history. Beer Money, AJ Styles/Christopher Daniels, LAX, Motor City Machine Guns –all these teams been part of some of the best moments in TNA history.
Across in ROH their tag division is given just as much prominence as the World Title and with the likes of The Briscoes, The Kings of Wrestling, Austin Aries/Roderick Strong and Kevin Steen/El Generico ROH has been at the forefront of tag team wrestling for as long as WWE has ignored it.
But in WWE, which for all intents and purposes is professional wrestling, there’s been a serious dearth of credible, over, interesting tag teams in the past 5 years. Thankfully in recent weeks that trend appears to be reversing and the slow rebuild of the WWE tag team division is underway. Surprisingly it’s all thanks to a guy with borderline tourettes syndrome who looks a bit like a goat and a guy in a mask who many thought was past his best, but has shown a skill for comedic timing and delivery that has rejuvenated his career. We used to know them as Daniel Bryan and Kane but from now on, we can call them Hell No.
The ironic thing about Hell No is they started life as exactly what has been hurting the WWE tag team division for so long, namely two singles wrestlers who were paired together in a throw away fashion in an effort to get something else over (in this case it was supposed to be Charlie Sheen’s shitty new ‘sit-com’ Anger Management). However like most things that make it big in WWE they appear to have accidently became the single most entertaining act on WWE TV and certainly the most over with the live audiences.
One thing WWE does better than most is recognising when something is hot and then immediately screwing it up (CM Punk leaves WWE angle, Zac Ryder, Nexus etc). They tend to have a mindset of seeing that the fans are reacting to something in a big way and then trying to run with it and make it a ‘WWE approved’ version. This invariably ends badly as WWE seem determined to remove all the fun and original aspects that got an act over in the first place and replace it with a bland, controlled and corporate friendly clusterfuck. So far, Hell No have been able to avoid this pitfall and we should all keep our fingers crossed that things continue in this vein.
It’s not just been the emergence of the wonderfully entertaining Hell No that has sparked a re-birth of sorts in the WWE tag team division. If it wasn’t for one badly timed Kobe Bryant rape joke, I think there’s a good chance that The Prime Time Players would be the current tag team champions or at least had a run with the Titles after a win at Summerslam. They are still being showcased as a team who are chasing the tag team titles and while their act lost a lot when AW was shit canned, there’s still a ton of potential in PTP to become a focal point of the new WWE tag team scene.
We’ve seen Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara teaming up recently. This is one of those ‘set up a future feud’ teams. There’s no doubt those two (staying free of injuries and off drugs for long enough) will face off at Wrestlemania next year. However for the time being they are a team that is popular with kids, can shift a load of merch (always a driving force behind any push in WWE) and for the most part should have tremendous matches with just about anyone they step into the ring with.
Kofi Kingston and R-Truth have been carrying the ugly ass tag titles for a while without there actually being much of a division for them to be champions of. Both are more effective and useful to WWE as upper mid card babyfaces but if they do stay as a team they’ve shown they have decent chemistry and can work with a variety of opponents. Oh and they also shift merch. That Little Jimmy shit continues to be huge with kids.
The most recent edition of RAW saw the formation of the Rhodes Scholars (what a brilliant name) team with Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow. If this the first set of challengers for Hell No then the revamped tag division is off to a wicked start. Rhodes has floundered since Wrestlemania. Sandow has all the potential to be a top heel in WWE. Putting them together is a great move as it gives Sandow someone to work off in promos, they can come up with some great double team moves and if booked correctly could be seen as a credible threat to Hell No. Hopefully this will avoid them being constantly jobbed out to the likes of Cena, Orton, Big Show etc which is a pitfall nearly all the upper mid card wrestlers befall in WWE these days.
Outside of those main teams there are the likes of Primo and Epico, who despite receiving a pop no louder than a mouse farting in a church, do have a ton of potential to get over in that ‘plucky, never-say-die’ babyface team slot. The Usos are damn talented but pushed inconsistently. And there are plenty of other singles wrestlers with little to no current direction who could be paired up to flesh the division out – Ryder/Santino, McIntyre/Mahal to name but two. Plus a team like The Ascension in NXT are being primed to be big players in the future.
Where Hell No have succeeded and where Rhodes/Sandow will follow suit is they have very well established personalities. The fans can connect with them in a positive or a negative way. The only way I can tell Primo and Epico apart is that they have their names on their gear. I have no clue which Uso is which. That’s not because I’m racist but simply because WWE have given us no reason to care, not just about the teams, but the individuals within those teams.
If the tag team division in WWE is truly going to be revived then every team, from the bottom of the card to the top, has to be given mic time to get their personalities over. The in-ring work is only a small fraction of what gets someone over in WWE. The fans need to be given a reason to care about these guys and if the only way I can tell them apart is by the names on their gear, then I’m not going to emotionally invest in their matches or their pursuit of tag team gold. The PTP are a perfect example of this. They might not change the world with their promo skills but at least we know who they are, what they want and how they’re going to go about getting it. That’s a good start.
Of course it’s not perfect. The whole division could fall apart if the focus is simply on Hell No and their eventual break up. But something feels different this time. The pieces on the board are being very deliberately moved into place. Challengers and potential challengers are being slowly set up. Teams who are very much specialist tag teams are coming to prominence. Someone, somewhere in WWE is gradually bringing tag team wrestling back to the fore and as a WWE fan who has been crying out for a competitive, focused and pushed tag division since the days of the Smackdown 6 under Paul Heyman’s booking, I’m feeling pretty damn positive about the whole thing.
As always with WWE the chances of any of this going anywhere are determined by forces that have very little to do with wrestling. All it will take is Vince to once again decide that tag teams are once again a waste of his time and we’ll be back to where we started. Or maybe this is really the dawn of a new era built on the back of one of the most entertaining and surprising Tag Team Champions of recent years. Tag Team wrestling is alive and well in WWE? Hell No? I say Hell Yes!
That’s a wrap for this time folks. As always thanks for reading and continuing to support Wrestling’s Last Hope. Remember you can follow me on Twitter @MFXDuckman and of course you can hear my WWE and TNA ramblings every week on the MFX Podcast. You can find all the details over at www.mfxpodcast.com
Until next time...