Why the Tag Team Division is Gone
by, 08-02-2012 at 06:26 AM (7003 Views)
Growing up a fan of pro-wrestling as a kid in the mid-to-late-80s & early-90s one of the added attractions of any arena show, TV program or ppv were tag-team matches. I don't mean the kinds of teams where you take two of a promotions top talents - who otherwise have no chemistry or bond between them other than the fact that they're top attractions, and then in a year forget they were ever a together in the first place type of teams - No, I'm referring to a legit tag-team division where chemistry, shared history and bonds were formed or broken between the partners and teams themselves as they all competed for Tag Team Championship recognition.
With all due respect to teams like The Valiant Bros., the Blackjacks, Fuji & Tanaka and The Wild Samoans during the old territory days of the 60s, 70s and very early 80s the old WWF was always behind the ball when it came to how tag teams could be used. It was the promotions outside of New York that knew how to use tag teams best. Harley Race & Larry Hennig, Dick the Bruiser & The Crusher, Jesse Ventura & Adrian Adonis, LOD, The Midnight Express, the Rock N' Roll Express, The Freebirds, the formation of the 4-Horsemen... etc. These tag-teams were often talents that could main event a card and sell out the house. Around 1983 - just after Vince Jr. bought out his company from his father the WWF got it together when it came to tag-teams.
Teams like Rocky Johnson & Tony Atlas, The U.S. Express, The Dream Team, etc. were adding spice to the cards the WWF was running. By 1985/86 and subsequent years the WWF's tag team division was as vibrant as any other promotion with teams like The British Bulldogs, The Hart Foundation, Strike Force and Demolition. There was a hierarchy to the teams, much like there always was to singles competitors. Beneath the teams mentioned above you often had The Killer Bees, The Islanders, The Rougeau Bros., The Bolsheviks... the WWF was even doing the right thing by bringing in team from other promotions and keeping them in-tact and as is such as The Rockers, Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard, The Nasty Boys and of course L.O.D. - a practice they never really did before and have ceased doing today.
The tag team division gave talents of a superior in-ring level not ready to carry a card with a singles push a light to shine in. I will delve into this more in part 2. But toillustrate my point, in 1989 Shawn Michaels, Marty Jannetty, Jacques Rougeau & Raymond Rougeau were 4 wrestlers who were as good as anyone in the ring the WWF had. That year The Rockers and Rougeau's were engaged a viciously staged feud that never made too many waves on television. The feud was mainly played out in arena shows, where the two teams engaged in a series of 60+ minute marathon matches which would steal each and every house show they'd occur in... Hogan, Warrior, Andre and various other big bulky types were the primary names in the company at the time headlining these cards. They would put the the asses in the seats - but how long could they go? A show needed to be put on, someone had to fill in the time. But were Shawn, Marty, Jacques & Raymond ready to be given the reigns as being the face of a world class pro-wrestling promotion? Of course not. But there was a legit tag team division at this time, so their matches - though ultimately leading to no tag-team gold for either team - merited importance to the audience at the time and helped carve out lasting reputations in the minds of fans.
The beginning of the end for the WWF and its tag-team division can be traced back to when the Vince McMahon raided the all-but-dead AWA of its last team of any merit: The Minnesota Wrecking Crew - Mike Enos & Wayne Bloom. This was a solid team that flew under the radar and could have benn invaluable in keeping the division thriving into the mid-90s if it had been kept in-tact as they were. This had been the company's m.o. for 10 years when it came to tag teams that could have gotten over as they arrived at Titan Towers. But instead, in his infinite wisdom, Vince turned the Minnesota Wrecking Crew into Beau & Blake of the Beverly Bros. It was almost as if he wanted them to fail.
Of course the tag teams still persisted through the mid- to late-90s - but the division was never what it once was. No longer did you have managers like Jimmy Hart and Bobby Heenan helping to put these teams over. No longer was there a structured hierarchy to the way the division was layed out. And if a team of two paired under-performing mid-carders caught fire it was quickly stomped out (perfect example of this was the Godwinns - Henry O. and Phineas, neither wrestler being of any value as a singles competitor - but seemed to have found their niche as a tag team).
So why did this happen?
Why has the number one company in the world completely phased out the tag team division? Well I could say utter stupidity on the part of the promotions/writing department - and as accurate as I believe that to be I feel there is more to it than that.
Despite what happened to The Minnesota Wrecking Crew, I don't think Vince was actively seeking to destroy the tag-team division. But in late-1996 to mid-1997 Vince almost lost his company.
It's interesting how we look back on the Monday Night Wars as being something that started because Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage left for WCW. It wasn't that. They were a huge part of it, yes, but their departures were calculated decisions that were made for business reasons. The Monday Night Wars started when Kevin Nash and Scott Hall left for WCW. Their departures had more to do with what was going on in the locker rooms of the WWF than for business reasons. Vince had every intention of keeping Diesal and Razor as top faces of his company. The problem with that however was Diesal and Razor were part of what was perhaps the most powerful wrestling faction to ever exist: The Kliq - led by the previously mentioned Shawn Michaels who had learned the game of backroom politics in the WWF over the 6-7 yrs he had already been with the company. Add to that, on the other side, you had another powerful faction led by Bret Hart. With Hogan, Andre, Savage, Warrior and even Flair now gone, Sid Justice being too nuts, and the Lex Luger experiment having failed - Shawn and Bret waged a war in the back to be the new annointed one in the power vacuum that existed.
Why were they able to wage this war? Because they had factions cultivated over time cushioning them. How did these factions get cultivated in the first place? Well no one single reason can be pointed to but the fact that Shawn and Bret came up via tag-teams is not of minor significance.
When you're competing with someone day after day - city to city - often you travel the road together. Bonds are formed on the road. When you form a team, or even compete against one another for months on end, bonds are then cemented. Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon were never a team - often they squared off against each other - but they were great friends from their time together as low men on the totem in AWA and then as headliners in WWF. As such you become road buddies. When you become road buddies - you instantly form a body politik. Add Kevin Nash to the mix, who Shawn did team with - and all of a sudden you have an instant political entity with massive influence. Add guys like Waltman and a young Triple-H to the mix and all of a sudden a promoter/booker has a nightmare situation on his hands when you consider that on the other side someone like Bret Hart stands with Faction B - forged by similar tag team wars, road bonds and even siblings and marriage - that is diametrically opposed to everything Faction A stands for.
This situation split the company apart and almost ruined it. Nash and Hall had to be let go, because there was no way the company could function with Shawn and his group and Bret and his group on the same talent roster.
Vince continued to use tag-teams as a means of survival to a degree into the late 90s. In March 2001 the war was over when he announced the purchase of WCW. This was pretty much the end of anyone ever being in a position to challenge Vince's authority ever again. This meant a lot of things in how the industry would operate from there on out would change, including a very active no-successful-tag-team-division initiative being put into play.
This is not to say they wouldn't use tag team matches or even tag teams at all. Clearly we have seen tag teams used. We've seen: MNM, Deuce & Domino, The Bashams, London & Kendrick etc., etc. But what do all of those teams have in common? They held tag team championship gold at a time in their career when they never warranted having that gold. They didn't put in any time on the road together. Consequently, when the booking dept. had no more use for the tag team as champions they were scrapped - pretty much ending the careers of the wrestlers who had instant success and then lost it all before any of them had a chance to let their feet hit the ground and get their careers running. When we look at the history, tag team championship gold was a kiss of death to wrestlers like the one's mentioned above.
We've also seen teams like Jericho & Big Show, Cena & Michaels, Kane & Big Show, RVD & Kane, Rey Mysterio & RVD, Kane & Big Show again, etc. etc. - all headliners as singles competitors who have had runs as tag team champions. These reigns defeated the purpose of a tag teams in the first place. None of those names mentioned needed any kind of push in the tag team department. It becomes overkill for them, and deludes their careers. Especially when you know that anyone of the teams mentioned above is essentially over and done with once they lose the titles - similar to how teams like the Bashams and Deuce & Domino were done once they lost the titles. Once again, the tag team championship equals a kiss of death.
It seems the WWE has forgotten that being tag-team champions is supposed to be an honored position - which is why a leather strap is encrusted with gold on it in the first place. It's not supposed to be overkill, deluding or a kiss of death.
The WWF Tag Team Titles have been relegated a joke - Nobody even pretends to covet them. The fact that two championships existed shouldn't have mattered - that only left the opportunity open for there to have been a vibrant tag team division twice as large.
I shake my head and sigh and the wrestling product kids are growing up with today. It's mediocre at best in all of its phases - and yet we applaud it and feed it a billion dollars each year. In terms of tag team wrestling it's a mere husk of what it was in the 80s - when the product was as good as it ever was and was only making a few million dollars a year all-together. The reason for this: power consolidation.
Vince would rather keep his wrestlers compartmentalized - each existing in his own universe - separate and insulated from one another where only he has access he strings that pull on them so that no power ploys can ever be played against how he and his staff want things to happen ever again. As a result we have a lame wrestling product with an aspect of what made the industry what it is today completely gone. It's a sad situation.
In part 2 I'll discuss in more detail why a tag team division is an invaluable asset to any wrestling talent, promotion or fan and why we need it to come back.