Let’s be honest, who thought that when Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods first showed up on our TV screens as The New Day, that they would become a must see portion of RAW each week? They are funny and, more importantly, very good workers. One of my favorite things about The New Day is they are bringing back importance and relevance to the vast wasteland known as the WWE Tag Team division. Their impact has been felt on many levels, as due to their popularity and lack of quality opponents, the WWE brought back the Dudley Boys. Besides being opponents for the horn blowing trio the Dudley Boys were also brought in to show the younger teams how to work.
Seeing their success made me reflect on the great tag teams of the past. When I first started watching wrestling I saw teams like the Wild Samoans, The Blackjacks, Chief Jay Strongbow and Billy White Wolf, along with Tony Garea winning about a thousand titles with what seemed to be as many different partners. But when it comes down to it, I believe the two time frames that stick out as the “Golden Ages” of Tag Team wrestling are the mid to late 80’s and the late 90’s into 2001. Both stood out for very different reasons.
Let’s start with the 1980’s. One could argue that the greatest teams of all time came from this era. And I’m not only talking about the WWF at the time. Both the AWA and NWA, with their various territories, had their fair share as well. Tag team wrestling became so big back then that I remember one Saturday morning watching WWF’s “Superstars of Wrestling” and the entire program consisting of nothing but tag team matches. Look at just some of the teams that had major runs in the mid to late 80’s;
The British Bulldogs, The Hart Foundation, Strike Force, Demolition, The Midnight Rockers, The Rock and Roll Express, The Midnight Express, The Road Warriors, The Fantastics, The Fabulous Ones, Jay Youngblood and Ricky Steamboat, The Fabulous Freebirds, Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, The Von Erichs, and The Killer Bees, who amazingly never wore Tag Team gold in the WWF, but would be a multi time champions today.
Wow, quite the list huh? As we look at these teams it’s no wonder that many consider this the golden era for tag teams. It’s also easy to see why some of these teams actually headlined major cards throughout the country, especially in the south. Emotions ran high in the crowd when Robert Gibson or Ricky Morton were getting bludgeoned by one of the The Midnight Express who were managed by James Cornette wielding his ever present tennis racket. Who could forget the screams and tears of young teenage girls in Dallas, Texas as the Von Eric boys battled it out with the hated Freebirds. Both of these feuds are considered two of the greatest, most intense, rivalries (singles or tag team) of all time.
Another thing that pops out to me are the solo careers of some of the guys who were in these teams. Some of the greatest technical wrestlers of all time including The Dynamite Kid, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Ricky Steamboat, Rick Martel, Tito Santana, David Von Erich and Tully Blanchard. All held numerous singles titles around the world including the US Championship, the Intercontinental Championship, the AWA Heavyweight Championship and the WWF Championship, amongst others.
Now while some wrestlers on these teams had great solo careers look at the lengthy time most of these teams were together. Bulldogs – 7 years, Hart Foundation – 6 years, Road Warriors – 20 years, Midnight Express and Rock and Roll Express for over 30 years each! It felt like Kofi Kingston and Tyson Kidd each had about 10 partners over a two year span!
What also could be said about the tag teams of the 80’s was the various styles they offered. The Road Warriors and Demolition were brute force. We would later see spin off teams like the Powers of Pain that tried the war paint big guy look, but the LOD and Demolition were at the top of that heap. You had the high flying fast paced skills of the The Fantastics, The Fabulous Ones, The Midnight Rockers and The Rock and Roll Express. Then the pure grappling hard working skills of the Bulldogs, The Midnight Express, Hart Foundation and Strike Force. Towards the end of the decade The Steiner Brothers showed up in the NWA and brought a combination of wrestling skills and brute strength that would carry them to continued success into the 90’s.
As we turned the decade into the 90’s most of the aforementioned teams hung around for a while, replaced members, or simply faded away. They were replaced with the likes of The Nasty Boys, The Smoking Guns, The Hollywood Blondes and Money Inc. None of these pairings could really be compared to those mentioned above, due to short tenures or lack of quality opponents. Ultimately, it marked an era where we saw tag teams pushed into the background in the booking offices.
Just when we thought we had seen the last go round of great tag teams, enter Paul Heyman whose ECW raised the stakes of the tag team division. Soon we saw both WWF and WCW make a concerned effort to improve their teams and it ushered in another era of great tag battles between the late 1990’s into 2001. This era was marked by high flying, dare devil teams that put their bodies at risk in matches never seen before. Whether it was tables, ladders and chairs (oh my!) or white guys rap dancing in the middle of the ring, the tag team world was about to get an injection of excitement it hadn’t seen in almost a decade. Here’s a partial list of some of the top teams of the “Attitude Era”;
Harlem Heat, The Dudley Boyz, Edge & Christian, The Public Enemy, The Steiner Brothers, The Hardy Boyz, The Acolytes/APA, Sabu and Rob Van Dam, The New Age Outlaws, The Eliminators, The Outsiders, Chris Candido and Lance Storm and The Gangstas.
Hard hitting and high impact would best describe the groups above. The emergence of ECW played a major role in how teams became more risk taking and always seemed to be raising the bar no matter what it took to win. I remember the first time I saw RVD and Sabu perform their legendary stereo diving leg drops through tables on their opponents. I remember calling my buddy on the phone the next day and telling him tag team wrestling may never be the same after what I saw last night. Similar high risks maneuvers were seen by fellow ECW teams such as The Dudley’s, The Public Enemy, The Gangstas and the Eliminators
The two most popular cliques of the time frame, the NWO and D-X, each had teams that left an indelible impression on the business. We had the New Age Outlaws, whose ring entrance music and interaction with the fans in the arena was almost cult like. Not to be outdone, the tag duo of the Outsiders (Scott Hall and Kevin Nash) showed complete and utter domination of the WCW tag division. So much so that maybe their most anticipated match during their reign came against maybe the only team who was almost as big and DEFINITELY as tough, The Harlem Heat. I still remember the buzz surrounding their showdown as we approached Halloween Havoc in 1996.
Without a shadow of a doubt though, the highlight of this era’s tag team division was the unforgettable feud between The Hardy Boyz, The Dudley Boyz and Edge and Christian. Three matches that took our breaths away. If you were looking for classic grappling moves by each team, forget it. I don’t think there was a head lock to be found in any of the matches. But if dare devil, high flying and high impact moves are your pleasure, none of these matches disappoint. Each had at least one moment when we said, I never saw that before. My only problem with the trio of matches is that the same team, Edge and Christian, won all three times.
When the tables were cleared, the chairs stacked, and the ladders folded (along with WCW and ECW folding) we bid a fond adieu to a strong tag team division. Now don’t get me wrong we did see some excellent teams over the course of the past 14 years. The WWE has given us the likes of The World’s Greatest Tag Team, MNM and The Miz and Morrison. In TNA we saw America’s Most Wanted and the team of Christopher Daniels and Elix Skipper whose feud culminated in an amazing cage match at the Turning Point PPV in 2004. Ring of Honor has also had their fair share of excellent teams including The Briscoe Brothers, The Kings of Wrestling and arguably the best team since 2001, The American Wolves.
I’m hoping that the New Day will have an impact that someday can be compared to the teams mentioned above. We know that Vince has so many talented wrestlers who are hoping to be pushed to the forefront of the roster and what better way to do so then establishing strong, cohesive teams that will last longer than a pay per view or two. I was happy to hear that there may be a pairing of Wade Barrett and Neville. It would be a throwback to an era when an established wrestler in Barrett (ala Jim Neidhart and Marty Jannetty) would be teamed with a new up and comer in Neville (ala Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels) and hopefully have a memorable run.
I realize I may have forgotten to mention a team or two, and if any of them are your favorite let me who they are and why. Also, you’ll notice I didn’t discuss any forced pairings ala The Rock and Mankind, Hogan and Savage or the Brothers of Destruction. I never considered them pure tag teams. To me those were just two superstars thrown together for the sake of it without any real long lasting cohesion.
What’s your favorite tag team era? Personally mine is the 1980’s. Who’s your favorite team? To me it will always be The British Bulldogs. And who did you think was the most underrated team? Mine are The Killer Bees. Let me know what you think the comment section below.