Over the course of a couple of weeks, WWE saw some interesting developments on the main roster. With debuts and returns being featured as part of the superstar shakeup, not to mention the switching of brands by main roster talent. The initial reaction among many fans was to make immediate statements that one brand came out better than the other after the moves were done. Many, perhaps most, praised the Smackdown Live roster, hailing not just its strength, but most importantly its depth. However, upon reflection, there is one area where the Raw roster appears quite deep.
If there was an area on the Raw roster that needed further options, it was their tag team division. It would be simple to dismiss where that division is now. However, this could, in fact, be a time when Raw has a very competitive and compelling tag team scene. The first example of new blood to enliven the division is the alliance of ‘Woken’ Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt. They came together after the conclusion of their prolonged feud, and the result has been a reincarnated Bray Wyatt that feels more alive than ever before. This pairing, as unlikely as it seems, represents a merging of darkness and light. They seem like the least likely of pairings, but their experience and character nuances have made them quite the spectacle in the ring. Could additional matches happen on the Hardy Compound, and could there be a further inclusion of ‘Woken’ Matt’s family? Over the course of 2018, it will be interesting to see how far this duo will go.
They already defeated all challengers to capture the vacant Raw Tag Team Championship at the Greatest Royal Rumble, and thus are the duo that leads the division in the post-Wrestlemania period in 2018. Who could be built as adversaries for them moving forward? When looking at the depth on the roster, we won’t spend much time considering less threatening teams. Rhyno and Heath Slater, The Ascension, Titus Worldwide and Breezango, will not be a focus, but rather the other potential teams to arrive. Each of these teams obviously has talent, or they wouldn’t be with the promotion. However, these teams’ primary purpose is to ensure that others look strong. Let’s assess the overall value different featured teams bring to the Raw tag team division.
The first tandem that should be considered would have to be the duo that had a rather challenging 2017, with injuries plaguing each of the members at one time or another. The Revival was set for great things and even appeared to be threats for the championship last year. As was already stated, injuries really hurt their chances to develop feuds and storylines. They teased having programs with the Hardys and Anderson and Gallows, but unfortunately, those never materialized. However, in the revitalized Raw tag team division championship gold appears to be in the sights of the duo that doesn’t profess flips, and simply use their fists. Many fans have seen what this tandem is capable of. They had a match of the year against Tomasso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano for the NXT Tag Team Championship. Whether it is in victory or defeat, The Revival has never held back in any of their matches. If provided the opportunity they would doubtless display that same effort in the Raw tag team division.
A tag team that came in with a menacing look and feel reminiscent of a former WWE Tag Team Champions, is the Authors of Pain. Formerly managed by Paul Ellering, Rezar and Akam could easily be considered a Road Warriors for a new generation, with an imposing smash and bash nature about them. However, unlike the Road Warriors, these two have a background in Grecco Roman wrestling and mixed martial arts. Their pedigree makes them an even more formidable duo, beyond just their size and strength. From the moment they walked into NXT and wiped out American Alpha, they were either a threat for the NXT tag team championships or the co-holders of those belts. Their addition to Raw made them an immediate threat for the Tag Team Championships.
While these two aforementioned teams have received acclaim because of their past accomplishments, and they plus Breezango, Titus Worldwide, and The Ascension are recognizable because of their look and their established names. However, there are other singles wrestlers that have been used in the tag team division, which goes to show how much attention is being paid to this division. While being a good singles wrestler doesn’t always equate to being a good tag team wrestler. In these cases of the rather different pairings that are on Raw, they added numbers to an area of weakness. It appears that now it has created an area of depth and strength. While we aren’t talking the tag team wrestling scene of the 1980s that made that form of wrestling popular, many have worked to improve the division overall.
One team that doesn’t necessarily present themselves as a team, even though it is impossible not to see them that way, is the tandem of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Their return to friendship occurred in the latter half of 2017 on Smackdown. Their alliance was peculiar, as it was a case of Zayn wanting to be appreciated. To do so discover that the person that he hated was also the person that he loved the most. Meanwhile, Owens went from being the guy that Zayn would ‘fight forever’ to remember that they are brothers and that he would do anything to help him. Their friendship and backstory before they came to WWE were well documented, and a discussion point in their rivalry. These men followed each other from Raw to Smackdown Live, where they were later ‘fired,’ and returned together to Raw.
They were never been put in a position where they competed for a Tag Team Championship on Smackdown Live. However, with a rather deep singles roster competing for either the Universal, Intercontinental championships, the Raw tag team championship is something worth keeping in sight. It could achieve a couple of things. It would be Sami Zayn’s first championship as part of either Raw or Smackdown Live, and it would make Kevin Owens a grand slam champion in his short tenure with the company since has captured the Universal, Intercontinental, and United States Championships prior to this. Their chemistry is undeniable, and they were tag champions outside the WWE in Pro Wrestling Guerilla and Ring of Honor. Owens and Zayn are an immediate threat to compete for and even capture the Raw tag team championship.
Another duo that has emerged, one that features highly talented wrestlers that have captured singles championships and are now a pair. The combination of Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler is truly remarkable. Both are determined to change how they are seen, and in doing so have formed a very talented combination. The Claymore/Zig Zag blended finishing move is a great way to combine both men’s individual finisher while still recognizing them individually. Ziggler appeared on Raw and said he ‘didn’t come alone,’ and fans witnessed the return of McIntyre, whose presence certainly caught the attention of those in attendance the night after Wrestlemania. Since coming together, fans have seen them wipe out the combination of Apollo Crews and Titus O’Neil. They hadn’t previously teamed together, but are familiar with one another since both were young upstarts with WWE a decade earlier. Both veterans have evolved, and time has been good to them. In the case of McIntyre, his time away from WWE allowed him to reinvent himself, as he moved around the world returned a better and fiercer competitor. For Ziggler, he has changed from being the one that steals the show to being one half of ‘the show’. Their alliance brings a fresh and new dynamic, and these men are respected performers and past champions that bring credibility to the division regardless of whether they weren’t a tag team prior.
A final tag team that may have simply been a one-off, or could develop into something more, is the powerful combination of Bobby Lashley and Braun Strowman. Fans will recall that Strowman captured the Raw tag team championships at Wrestlemania, but relinquished the belts the following day. However, it seems as though any direction for him as a singles wrestler may be on hold, at least temporarily. Instead, we could see a coalition between himself and returning former ECW champion Bobby Lashley. Much like the duo of McIntyre and Ziggler, these two don’t have any experience tagging together. However, what they do have is a presence. Imagine what a match against the Authors of Pain could be like? They are a combination that clearly adds to the growing number of tag teams on the Raw roster.
Upon further review, it was easy to suggest that Smackdown Live came out victorious after the Superstar Shakeup, but when looking at the teams that are part of the Raw tag team division, it is easy to see that that area is now one of strength.
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