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Why Tag-Team Wrestling is Slowly Evaporating

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I think that it is a safe assumption that most of us that regularly visit this site have been watching wrestling for quite a few years. I will be 30 in a few months and started watching wrestling in the early 1990's when the tag-team division was dominated by the likes of Demolition, the Hart Foundation, the Rockers, the Legion of Doom, the Nasty Boys and the Steiners. I vaguely remember the Freebirds, Rock n Roll Express, Midnight Express and the Armstrongs; however, regional coverage in Indiana did not cover the territories they regularly competed in and my memories of those teams is only from the old PPV videos that my dad would rent for me from Blockbuster. Regardless, I was familiar with those teams and knew they were well respected even at a young age. Anyways, as a young wrestling fan, I thoroughly enjoyed tag-team wrestling and it seemed that most shows, especially the PPVs, had multiple tag matches on the card. Over the next 10 years, not much changed in regards to the tag division as the APA, Hardys, E+C, Dudleys, Outlaws, Outsiders and Harlem Heat dominated the scene.

Unfortunately, over the past 10 years, I think most of you will agree that tag-team wrestling has slowly evaporated. I believe the division hit rock bottom in 2010 when Wade Barrett forced Cena and David Otunga (who at the time were part of the Nexus) to drop the titles to fellow Nexus members Heath Slater and Justin Gabriel. While the division has improved over the last year or two, I don’t ever see it becoming a major part of the show again. Here is why:

1. Tag-teams are always temporary nowadays. The days of two guys teaming for 5+ years is a thing of the past in WWE. Instead, the team competes until they become stale and then have the classic breakup when one guy turns face (or heel) and turns on his partner. This leads me to my second point….

2. There is recurring formula that when a tag-team breaks up, one guy goes on to greener pastures and the other gets stuck in the mid-card. For example, HBK instead of Janetty, Bret instead of the Anvil, Big Poppa Pump instead of the Dog Face Gremlin, Jeff instead of Matt, Edge instead of Christian, Miz instead of Morrison, Booker instead of Stevie Ray and Bully instead of Devon. History has shown us that one guy will go on to be a main event championship star while the other will remain in the mid-card. That being said, why would a mid-card talent want to begin teaming with a young, rising star in WWE. For example, put yourself in Kofi’s shoes for a moment. If you were a guy like Kofi would you really want to be on a tag-team with another young wrestler? On one hand, Kofi may say to himself, my gimmick is stale and no longer over. I need a change and this looks like an opportunity for me to get on TV more often and really get over with the crowd. However, what if Kofi’s partner is going to be a guy with future star potential like Dean Ambrose, Big E Langston or Seth Rollins? History suggests the team will have a 6 month run and then break up. 3 months after the breakup (9 months from the origination of the team), will Kofi be in a better spot than he is now or just stuck in limbo? Probably the latter. Meanwhile, his former partner is on a fast track to the top.

3. The territory days are over. Tag-teams can no longer travel with their partner from place to place. Wrestlers are no longer able maintain the same gimmick for their entire careers because the fans get sick of repetition and the same shtick every week. As a result, the successful wrestlers that have long careers are constantly changing their character and reinventing themselves so they do not go stale. Jericho is a perfect example of this. Regardless, it is much easier to reinvent yourself opposed to BOTH yourself and your partner. Having two guys on the same team both reinvent themselves simultaneously while trying to maintain organic chemistry is going to be very difficult.

4. Televised matches are very short. It seems that most matches on Raw are about 4 to 5 minutes with the exception of the main event or if there is a commercial break in the middle of the match. Therefore, if you are in a tag-team, you will only get about 2 minutes of actual in-ring time when on the air since your partner is wrestling half the match. Young, hungry wrestlers will want to get as much in-ring time as possible to show their skills and earn a push. In theory, a tag-team wrestler will have his minutes cut in half compared to a singles competitor.

5. The in-ring wrestling is no longer the WWE’s primary focus to drive revenue. The days of a team working together, having similar move sets and using a finisher involving both men are pretty much over. For example, the days of quick tags and 2 on 1 moves are rarely seen. The Rockers would literally get in the ring and be doing the exact same move back in the day. Meanwhile, tag-teams are no longer using a traditional 2 man finish (where both men are involved in the move) such as the Dudley Deathdrop. For example, Hell No is Kane with the chokeslam or Bryan with the No Lock. If Cody gets the pin for the Rhodes Scholars he uses the Crossroads opposed to a traditional 2 man finishing move with the aid of Sandow. All finishing moves by tag-team wrestlers in the WWE are strictly the finisher of one of the competitors. (On a sidenote, youtube Paul Roma and Hercules to see “Power and Glory” execute my favorite tag-team finisher of all time.)

6. Established wrestlers are not historically the ones thrown into tag-teams. Instead, most new teams are primarily for younger guys who are getting started in the business. For example, David Otunga & Michael McGillicutty, Jimmy and Jey Uso, Titus O’Neil & Darren Young, etc. As a result, the younger wrestlers (who are typically not established or over with the crowd) in general tend to be less than impressive in the ring and not as good on the mic. Without a manager/mouthpiece or a unique move set, it is going to be very hard for these teams to get over.

7. There are very few alliances nowadays. Back in the day Sting and Luger could wrestle together as could Kane and Taker. Likewise, any 2 guys from the Horsemen, New World Order or another stable could be thrown into a team. However, there are very few on air alliances anymore. For example, there would be minimal interest in seeing makeshift teams such as Cena & Orton or Big Show & Punk. Pretty much all of your singles wrestlers are without “friends/allies” in the current product. As a result, there is less relevancy for tag-team matches to take place.

8. How does the pay structure work? One thing I am not very knowledgeable on is what the pay is like for tag-teams at the indy level. Are tag-teams compensated the same as a singles competitor for independent shows? If not, why would one try to break into the industry with the niche as a good tag-team wrestler? I bring this up because I remember seeing a shoot interview with HBK where he complained about how everybody was getting paid $1,000 after a show with the exception of the Rockers where he and Marty were only paid $500 each. (FYI, I cannot confirm this information is 100% true so please don’t hold it against me if tag-teams are compensated equally or even more at the indy level. However, please do share your knowledge in the comment section as I was not able to find much data on this during my research and am curious to learn more.)

So anyways, I guess that sums it up as to why I think tag-team wrestling will never be as good as it once was. However, I don’t think that tag-team wrestling is completely dead as there are still a few formulas to make a team get over:

1. The bloodline formula: The Uso’s, Colognes, Harlem Heat, Steiners, Hardys, Hart Dynasty, Hart Foundation, etc. When two guys break into the business together (as in go the same wrestling school and begin in the independents) and are related by blood there is going to be a common bond. In a business where it is difficult to have friends, it may be easier to share a common goal with a relative opposed to a random person you get paired up with by the booker to become your tag partner. As a result, there is a better likelihood that you will travel the independent scene together and form ring chemistry over time. Also, the fans can buy into two guys that are family teaming up more so than they can with a makeshift team such as Tensai and Brodus Clay.

2. The old dog helps out the new guy: No example is better than the APA. When Ron Simmons came to WWE, he was a former heavyweight champion in WCW and eventually given the role as stable leader of the Nation. While Farooq had a good run in WWE, his best years were behind him after he left WCW. When the Nation broke up, Farooq was actually stuck in limbo and got thrown into the Undertaker’s Ministry stable where he would be in a tag-team known as the Acolytes with JBL. Before the Acolytes, JBL was wrestling under a terrible gimmick of Justin Hawk Bradshaw so this was actually a great thing for him. As you know, the Acolytes transformed their team and became the APA after the Ministry stable broke up. The APA provided an opportunity where Simmons had one last great run before retiring a few years later. Meanwhile, the APA boosted Bradshaw’s career as it gave him a platform to shine while teaming with Farooq. After the team broke up, he would eventually become a main event talent as JBL. Same thing is going on right now with Team Hell No. Kane does not have too many years left. If all goes well, Bryan will be able to enter (and stay at) the main event level when the team breaks up. Opposed to being lost in the mid-card, Bryan is able to be much more relevant since he is teaming with Kane. Likewise, Kane is having a great run right now despite being well past his prime.

3. Get lucky and strike gold: The New Age Outlaws are the best example I can think of. In short, this is when you throw two random guys together in a team because neither one of them is over with the crowd while hoping they can get over as a team. Unfortunately, this does not work often but every once in a while you strike lightning in a bottle. WWE has tried doing this many times, most recently with Tyson Kidd and Justin Gabriel but it failed miserably.

So anyways, those are my thoughts as to why tag-team wrestling will not return to its glory days but will always have a place in pro wrestling. Thanks for reading and please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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Comments

  1. Kilborn's Avatar
    Perfect. The only thing you could add is most great tag teams had great managers to help with promos and to run interference during matches. I miss the days of great managers like Bobby Heenan, Jim Cornett, Jimmy Hart, and Paul Heyman.
  2. Rick Starr's Avatar
    Excellent blog man! I couldn't agree with you more. The biggest problem in the WWE is everybody wants to be World Champion, and you can't do that with a partner tagging along. No pun intended. Also, I don't think Tag Partners split money, I'm pretty sure they got paid individually. -Rick Starr Facebook.com/hardcorewrestlingradio
  3. ToiletBowl's Avatar
    I think #3 is the best point of all. Vince has stated in the past that Tag Teams tend to be bigger expenses... when you have 2 guys with expenses that is... Someone does need to create a new Road Warriors. The Dudleys were probably the closest thing, but after a while, once you've conquered the few major feds, there's no where to go but singles. The Road Warriors were able to do Atlanta, Mid-South, AWA, WWF, WCW, etc. They were continually getting re-written by going to new feds.

    But in today's wrestling business, guys who are successful as singles stars make more money, sell more merchandise and get more perks outside of the business...
  4. ldbryant55's Avatar
    Sorry Guy, but this blog is all over the place and none of the arguments add up to support the title statement. I'll just pick apart a couple of them...

    #1, under your reasons why tag teams are evaporating is not a reason at all. ALL tag teams are temporary. All of the major teams you mentioned above have split at times and battled each other. It's a natural part of the evolution of a long-term pairing. If they have better chemistry together than drawing power as singles, they might eventually reunite, whether they have been together for five years or two years. Oh, and just because they split, and one initially has more success as a singles competitor, does not mean that the other is doomed to be mid-card-for-life. The ones that you mentioned above as having singles success while the other faded away... You can look at each one of them and easily see why they had success. They had charisma and personality on their own, while the other half did not. There are cases where both had these attributes, and both went on to singles success. (Edge and Christian, anyone?) Let's face it, Rick Steiner, Anvil, Stevie Ray, Devon and Jannetty had the collective personality of a three-toed sloth. I'm not seeing how this is an argument for why tag team wrestling is dead...

    Ok, because it's so "out there" let's look at #8. Pay structure? Do you really think pay structure makes or breaks a team, or a tag division? Well, no, it doesn't. Everyone on a roster is paid according to what they bring to the table. Sure, experience is a factor in pay rate, but unless it's a pay-per-appearance structure, the talent signs on at an agreed pay structure for a period of time and is paid accordingly, whether or not they appear as a single, or in a team. When that period is over, they either negotiate a better or worse deal, (depending on whether they put asses in seats), or they leave the organization. While I will give you this: There have been times when two individuals have been able to achieve better deals for themselves by negotiating together, because as a team they are a draw and as individuals, they are not. Having said that, again, this is not an argument for why tag team wrestling is dead or dying...

    Anyway, sorry to pee on your blog, but I'd suggest doing a little more research before trying to make an argument like this, and also learning a little more about the history of the business, pre-1996.
  5. weems's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by ldbryant55
    Sorry Guy, but this blog is all over the place and none of the arguments add up to support the title statement. I'll just pick apart a couple of them...

    #1, under your reasons why tag teams are evaporating is not a reason at all. ALL tag teams are temporary. All of the major teams you mentioned above have split at times and battled each other. It's a natural part of the evolution of a long-term pairing. If they have better chemistry together than drawing power as singles, they might eventually reunite, whether they have been together for five years or two years. Oh, and just because they split, and one initially has more success as a singles competitor, does not mean that the other is doomed to be mid-card-for-life. The ones that you mentioned above as having singles success while the other faded away... You can look at each one of them and easily see why they had success. They had charisma and personality on their own, while the other half did not. There are cases where both had these attributes, and both went on to singles success. (Edge and Christian, anyone?) Let's face it, Rick Steiner, Anvil, Stevie Ray, Devon and Jannetty had the collective personality of a three-toed sloth. I'm not seeing how this is an argument for why tag team wrestling is dead...

    Ok, because it's so "out there" let's look at #8. Pay structure? Do you really think pay structure makes or breaks a team, or a tag division? Well, no, it doesn't. Everyone on a roster is paid according to what they bring to the table. Sure, experience is a factor in pay rate, but unless it's a pay-per-appearance structure, the talent signs on at an agreed pay structure for a period of time and is paid accordingly, whether or not they appear as a single, or in a team. When that period is over, they either negotiate a better or worse deal, (depending on whether they put asses in seats), or they leave the organization. While I will give you this: There have been times when two individuals have been able to achieve better deals for themselves by negotiating together, because as a team they are a draw and as individuals, they are not. Having said that, again, this is not an argument for why tag team wrestling is dead or dying...

    Anyway, sorry to pee on your blog, but I'd suggest doing a little more research before trying to make an argument like this, and also learning a little more about the history of the business, pre-1996.
    Thanks for the feedback on #8 regarding the pay structure. Also, thanks for the additional feedback and honesty. However, I am a bit puzzled by your response to section #1. You mention there are cases where both wrestlers of a tag-team had charisma and personality on their own and both went on to singles success. I am not disagreeing with this. I said one half of the team will typically become a main event guy and the other will get stuck in the mid-card. Just because you are stuck in the mid-card does not mean you are not successful. 99% of all wrestlers in the world wish they had Kofi Kingston’s spot. However, your example of Edge and Christian only reiterates my point. Edge is a multi time WWE Champion, Hall of Famer and wrestled the Taker in the main event at Wrestlemania. Meanwhile, Christian is a mid-carder that has never main evented a WWE PPV in a singles match. The most singles success Christian had was in TNA. Christian did have a good run in WWE after Edge’s retirement when he feuded with ADR and Orton for the WHC. However, it was just a stint and Christian was right back in the mid-card where he will be stuck.

    Lastly, your comment about me learning more about the history of the business pre-1996 is odd. In general, tag-team wrestling was much better before 1996 than it has been after. The reason I wrote this blog was to provide a theory as to why the division was slowly evaporating. The majority of the reasons for the evaporation have been after 1996. However, I do not want to assume anything as you are entitled to your opinion. I apologize if you feel tag-team wrestling is better now than ever before or if you just feel that it has been better in general since 1996. If that is the case, sorry for the assumption. If not, please share your thoughts as to why tag-team wrestling is evaporating since you do not agree with mine. (FYI – I am not trying to be an ass, just curious for your feedback as we seem to have opposing views)
  6. ldbryant55's Avatar
    Ok, fair enough, perhaps I got a little too wrapped up in the statements themselves and diluted my point. For the record though, Christian is a two-time world champion for WWE, so it's hard to argue that he hasn't had success as a singles competitor.

    Also for the record, I do not believe that tag team wrestling is better now than ever before. I actually agree with most of what you said about how tag team wrestling has lost its mojo and it has not been better since the late 80's or early 90's. (I was just thinking the other day about how fun it was when NWA/WCW did the "Crockett Cup" tag tournament every year)

    No, the point I meant to make was that the statements made in the blog, put forth as reasons why tag team wrestling was evaporating, while mostly true, did not serve to make the argument as to why tag team wrestling was evaporating.

    One factor that was never mentioned, and is, above all, a major contributor to the decline in tag team popularity, is the conscious decision by WWE not to promote it. If the promotion put time and resources into developing and promoting tag teams, tag storylines, and tag matches, it would go a long way toward reviving the genre.

    I do agree that it is difficult in today's world to do this, because of your point #4. The real "art" of tag matches is telling a story, which takes more than three minutes. If anyone is to blame for this, it's us. We are not the same audience that used to sit on the edge of their seats for a 20 minute tag match without changing the channel. We have the internet where often we can see the results before the matches air on TV. We have hundreds of channels to divert our attention, rather than the 10-20 primary choices we had during the 80's. We are more concerned with who wins and loses than watching the contest itself. Because we read sites like this one and think we know what is going on behind the scenes, we are "smarter" than we were back then, therefore the product is more predictable, which lends itself to our lack of attention, and the product's lack of suspense.

    My point, (as I should have clarified previously), is that while I still feel that your arguments did not adequately support the subject matter "Why tag team wrestling is slowly evaporating", the two biggest culprits are the promotion not pushing it, but more importantly, we, the audience, for our lack of interest and attention span.

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