Why a Tag Team Division is Needed
by, 08-04-2012 at 07:01 PM (4144 Views)
In my previous entry I discussed why a successfully promoted tag team division is no longer found in pro-wrestling today - the WWE in particular. I posited that tag teams, and having a tag team division can, does and will act as cornerstones to power blocks in locker room politics when it comes to booking. Consequently, the McMahon family has no use for them any longer as they have taken a "why-ferment-a-faction-that-may-question-your-absolute-authority in the future" approach.
After the disaster that was the Minnesota Wrecking Crew's arrival into the old WWF as the Beverly Bros., the break up of The Rockers, Hart Foundation, Demolition, and exclamated by the departure of L.O.D., the WWF's once vaunted tag team division hit a wall.
Teams like the Steiners, Money Inc., The Quebecers, M.O.M. and The Smoking' Gunns (to name a few) emerged - but it was not the same. The tag team titles seemed less important than they had ever been before. Not because the quality in the wrestlers was lacking, but more so because the tag teams weren't promoted in the same way. There were a few reasons for this, First of all, a lot of the new in-coming tag-teams were comprised of wrestlers who were unknown and lacked any kind of pedigree in the eyes of the fans. This certainly wasn't the case with Money Inc. or The Steiners of course, but they suffered themselves due to a lack of heat in terms of their competition, so mainly they just feuded with themselves for the most part. This brings me to another huge reason why the tag-team division in the WWF from 1992-97 was so flat: A lack of managers. Men like Bobby Heenan, Jimmy Hart, Johnny Valiant & Mr. Fuji just had a knack for making any match their wrestlers were in that much more interesting. Often this meant spicing up the tag team matches. By 1993 none were heel managers of tag teams anymore. Valiant was long gone, Heenan was following his 'broadcast journalism' career, Hart turned babyface and managed Hulk Hogan and we only saw Fuji when Yokozuna was around. The WWF did at that time have Jim E. Cornette, as a good a heel manager the industry has ever seen outside of anyone named Bobby Heenan, so the opportunity did exist for a new heel stable to form under Cornette's watch. He was featuring The Heavenly Bodies in 1993 - a team that had some potential on the surface. Ultimately they went nowhere and Cornette, now the company's top heel manager at the time, wound up being incorporated into programs involving the main-eventers who were already established. Poor long-term booking strategy.
This was a telling turn of events. It showed that the WWF was suffering from a lack of direction in terms of its entire roster, something they excelled in during the Hulkamania era. Now they seemed to devote most of their efforts to programs involving Hart family members and Kliq members. Jim E. Cornette and The Heavenly Bodies could have been the start of something interesting (I will refrain from saying 'something great') if it had been allowed to persist and had more talent folded into their mix. For example, instead of the ridiculous Double-J gimmick Jeff Jarrett was given - how much better would his WWF career had been if he was given Cornette as his manager with the Heavenly Bodies as his cohorts? Well, we'll never know - nobody in the WWF at the time was thinking on this level. 90% of the energy seemed to be focused on programs and power blocks surrounding the Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels camps...Hart and his staged feuds with either his brother or an uncompelling heel champion Yokozuna & Shawn and his staged feuds involving his fellow locker room Kliq members.
Remember, this is also the era in which we were 'treated' to the fake Undertaker, The Bodydonnas, Duke "The Dumpster" Droese, Adam Bomb, a top-billed Wrestlemania match featuring Lawrence Taylor, the Wrestlemania prior to that featuring two Bret Hart matches - where he loses one only to win the championship in the second, among other a great deal of other abominations and nonsense. All this while top talents who had admirably performed on under cards during the Hogan-Savage-Warrior era, like Mr. Perfect, Rick Martel, Jake The Snake and Jacques Rougeau (to name a few) were ignored and unceremoniously phased out. Including Savage himself, who still had a lot more tread on his tires.
That was all a result of a lack of vision regarding the whole picture in terms of booking while an overt amount of attention was paid to the Hart - Michaels camps. This harmed the company immeasurably as it produced top-heavy cards and a stagnant product. At the same time WCW seemed to have a better idea of how to make their entire cards interesting... a pattern which wasn't truly recognized until after Nash & Hall's arrival and would continue on until the arrival of Bret Hart (which in my estimation marked the beginning of the end for WCW).
A strong reason for this was WCW had cultivated and properly booked some strong factions - and knew how to dissect its rosters and properly employ its talent in a way where everyone was given a chance to shine relative to their spot in the hierarchy. The foundation of strong factions is a successful tag-team division.
To have a successful tag-team division teams that can legitimately main event a card need to be employed. As I mentioned in the previous blog entry, in their prime teams like The Von Erichs, the Freebirds, The Midnight Express, the Rock N' Roll Express, The 4-Horseman and L.O.D. were some of a number of teams that could main event virtually any card they were on. The reason for this: they were often part of a compelling factions or they had compelling manager. In RN'R Express' case, they benefited from the fact that they were as talented as they were and competed in an era of tag-team wrestling that warranted our attention for reasons previously mentioned in regards to the other teams. Everyone worthy of benefiting benefitted.
The WWF, while never really using tag-teams in any main events (why would they need to? They had Hogan-Andre-Savage & Warrior) still had teams that could if necessary. Demolition was huge in their time. Strike Force was as hot a babyface team the WWF ever had, the Hart Foundation was outstanding - and of course L.O.D. was brought in later. Post 1992 the WWF developed no teams that could even approach main event status... unless they sandwiched pre-existing main-event calibur wrestlers together (i.e. Shawn & Nash or Owen & Davey).
When the WCW was running away with the ratings war Vince had to pull out all the stops. As a result - beginning with the emergence of DX and a reformatted Hart Foundations (again, factions being the key point) the WWF for the first time in two years was once again the more interesting show. The WWF was intent on forming a brand, a brand that came to be known as the Attitude Era, as its means of salvation. Steve Austin' emergence was the centerpiece of this branding - but a great deal of that brand's success had to do with the fact that for the first time in a long time the tag team ranks were worth keeping an eye on. The New Age Outlaws emerged at the end of '97 as peripheral DX-faction cohorts and were put over by Animal of L.O.D., who allowed DX and the Outlawz to shave off his trademark mohawk to close a late-December edition of RAW that year. There was also the formation of other factions predicated on tag teams: Los Boricuas, the Disciples of Apocalypse and of course the Nation of Domination. At the time these factions seemed contrived, and they were, but it didn't matter because the WWF struck gol. Out of this 3-faction-formation gamble The Rock found his footing and emerged. And of course, later on in the attitude era we were treated to the wars that the Dudleys, Edge & Christian (thanks to Taker's faction The Ministry) & The Hardy BoyZ waged against each other.
In early 2001 the Attitude Era initiative was successful and the Monday Night Wars were officially over. Vince now owned everyone. Never again would he allow the development of power blocks to emerge. As a result we no longer have any titles that mean anything outside of the World Titles, of which the reigns are doled out very methodically - like pieces of pie everyone feels entitled to. Bradshaw & Simmons formed the last truly great tag-team we've seen in the company, emerging in a graveyeard of what was a dying aspect of the industry. Since their break up nothing much of note has developed.
At the end of 2003 the Evolution faction was formed, yes, but this was the most contrived faction in the history of WWE. The leader, Triple-H, was essentially management himself, Flair was just happy to be involved in storylines that mattered, while Orton and Batista were just noobz and were handpicked as two that had a long term future in the company's eyes that needed their hands held to keep them under control. Contrived as that faction was, it still worked. Look what it did for Orton and Batista.
Today a lot of waves are made over the WWE management's displeasure with the young talent on their roster. No one is emerging. Well for decades young talent would cut their teeth in tag-team ranks. That's how we got an Edge, Jeff Hardy, and a Christian (one of the most underrated and under-utilized talents I think I've ever seen). We can go back even further and mention Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart of course as well as the late great Mr. Perfect, Ultimate Warrior, Ricky Steamboat and Harley Race - all some of the biggest names the industry has ever known - and all who were able to succeed because early in their careers they were part of tag teams in a time and place when that division mattered - be it within the WWF or outside of it.
Ask yourself this: Is Ric Flair the legend he's regarded as today without the 4-Horseman? Maybe... maybe.
Tag-team ranks offer the audience an opportunity to have an alternative narrative of equal importance to the world title narrative being booked. With skillful booking you can even interweave the two. Remember Hall & Nash as The Outsiders? Did either of them agree to come to WCW for a chance to be champion? No, they signed straight up for the money - now that the WWF had consciously made an effort to cut ties with them - and Hogan was now the main guy there anyway. So how do you keep heat on Hall & Nash - two commodoties now being paid big big dollars? Easy answer: make them the unadulterated tag teams champions. This was flawless booking - and it helped give the NWO angle legs.
When we look at the landscape of the WWE today there is a serious problem. The younger stars have very little to work with. Those who show any promise are given unwarranted runs with a world title (Miz, Swagger, Sheamus, and even Ziggler already has a world title credit), depriving them of special moments in the future. The rest may as well have names like Barry Horowitz, Iron Mike Sharpe and Rikki Attaki - because none of the other titles in the company merit much interest.
Even Randy Orton was given far too much success far too early on. Orton has won the world title so many times I've lost count. Outside of the fact that I know he defeated Benoit for reign #1, I can't remember one of his title victories. Like Cena's reigns, they're all one big nebulous blur. Randy Orton's legacy has been undermined by a watered down product that lacks a tag division with viable factions. In an ideal world, in 2012 a Randy Orton would have a grand total of zero world titles to his name. Not because he isn't talented enough - but because he is. Orton's career would have benefited if after his run with Evolution he had been teamed with someone who looked like his personality comes across... i.e. a Snitsky, Albert or Mike Knox - someone of the 'classic wrestling-ugly type.' With an Orton as the driving force a tag team like this would have been a huge success and eventually Orton would branch out on his own and build his rep in the single ranks where he'd get a special Wrestlemania moment like all of the other previous greats.
A wrestler like Ken Anderson, for example, would have benefited greatly had he been booked as part of a tag team originally. Ken Anderson is nothing to write home about as a singles competitor - he has no 'It' factor, no matter how much he calls fans assholes. But that's not to say he couldn't have developed an 'It' factor if he'd come up the way talent of his caliber should be brought up - which is through the tag-team ranks.
What tag-teams do is help us figure out who is worthy of a singles push and who isn't. For every Bret Hart there is a Jim Nidehart. For every Shawn Michaels there is a Marty Jannetty. Some wrestlers aren't meant to be singles competitors - case closed. Why waste fans' time and money on them? In tag team matches, however, these wrestlers have a place of importance and the cream has a chance to rise to the top.
No hard-core wrestling fan today will get to experience the immense satisfaction of watching someone like Bret Hart, who after over FIVE years as a legendary tag-team wrestler, got to win the Intercontinental Title against Mr. Perfect at Madison Square Garden on a pay-per-view. There are no legendary tag teams wrestlers and the IC title is just about as meaningless as the tag titles. These are all lamentable facts.
Another thing tag team divisions do is provide a place for established stars who no longer have a purpose in the singles ranks, i.e. The Iron Sheik, Ted DiBiase and The Masked Superstar Bill Edie (aka Ax of Demolition).
I guess having a viable dynamic tag-team division complete with managers compelling believable storylines centered around more than one team vying for a coveted tag team championship gold makes too much sense and would be require more effort than the WWE feels the fans are worth. Another sad commentary considering the WWE is the sole hyper-power in the wrestling industry today.
Tyson Kidd and Dolph Ziggler are talents I have some optimism for. They're brimming with talent and both came up the proper way as former tag-team champions (Even if Ziggler's team was a tad unorthodox to say the least) despite a dead tag team circuit. In their cases they are still allowed to have what Pat Riley would call "a slow meteoric rise to greatness." So there's that at least.
I like to think that as Triple-H gains more control over the booking that this will change and he'll go back to the ways that made wrestling what it is today. But now the WWE has even gone and made the tag team titles bronze. I think the point they're making is evidently clear and I've gotten their message. It's just all too bad.