Three years ago, tag team wrestling in WWE was dead.
Sure, there were champions and the title were traded from one duo to the next, but the art form that teams such as the Midnight Express, the Rock and Roll Express, the Road Warriors, the Rockers, the Hart Foundation and the British Bulldogs had revolutionized and made one of the most popular aspects of the sport had essentially died a slow and miserable death.
Vince McMahon had decided that there was greater value in singles stars and that the pursuit of the next Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan or John Cena was far more important than getting the most out of the talented Superstars he had at his disposal.
Rather than remembering the positive effect tag teams had on his promotion during the late 1980s, McMahon would simply throw together two recognizable stars with nothing else better to do and put the titles on them for no real rhyme or reason.
That style of booking should be referred to as the "Kane and Big Show Solution" in honor of the two Superstars most typically stuck in that scenario.
So many stars with the potential to achieve success in the industry were left to waste away on the undercard or were outright released from their contracts because "creative didn't have anything for them."
Then, in 2012, along came a trio that shook wrestling to its core and completely changed the way Vince McMahon approached his business.
Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns were three extremely talented individuals who had enjoyed varied degrees of success in WWE's development system.
Reigns' raw strength and impressive athleticism caught the eye of management, as did his pedigree. His father, Wild Samoan Sika, had been one of the greatest tag team wrestlers in company history and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007.
Rollins had a long history of success in the independents, rising to notoriety as Tyler Black in Ring of Honor and winning that promotion's heavyweight title. He would continue to add to his championship resume, capturing the NXT title before being called up to the main roster.
It was his dynamic offense and frenetic pace that helped him stand out among his peers.
Finally, there was Ambrose. He was an enigmatic performer whose ring work was rarely pretty but always effective. His promos were above average and there was something about the way he carried himself that separated him from the rest of the pack. Though he never won the FCW or NXT titles, he feuded with respected veteran William Regal and wrestled the accomplished Brit in a memorable match on FCW television.
All three certainly had the ability and tools necessary to succeed at the next level, but had they debuted on WWE television separately they likely would have gone the way of other competitors who got lost in the shuffle of talented, young midcarders.
When they debuted as The Shield, however, fans sat up and took notice. It was fresh and exciting. Here were three guys whose different styles meshed so well between the ropes and made for far better matches than anything the boring and tired tag teams of that time were doing.
When those teams made it onto television in any meaningful way, of course.
The Shield opened the eyes of fans and management to the wild, exciting and explosive nature of tag team wrestling. It reminded management that there was so much more that could be done in a tag team setting that simply could not be achieved in a basic singles match. The storytelling, the psychology and the action created more heat and led to better matches.
For months, WWE booked the Shield and other trios in Raw and SmackDown main events because they knew it was an easy way to produce a hot main event that the people would be talking about on their way out of the arenas.
The Wyatt Family would join the Hounds of Justice as a headlining trio on WWE television while the creative team began placing a greater emphasis on duos.
Goldust and Cody Rhodes, RybAxel, the Real Americans, Los Matadores, 3MB and the Usos all gained greater television exposure because not only could they be counted on to utilize the tag formula to deliver outstanding matches, it also gave those Superstars something to do.
For the first time in years, WWE got the most out of its roster by pairing guys up in tag teams and returning the popular match style to prominence.
Sunday night, the new era of tag team wrestling will reach its zenith when a six-man tag headlines the very popular Extreme Rules pay-per-view. The Shield, arguably the hottest act in professional wrestling, takes on Evolution, itself a faction that produced quite a number of outstanding matches and ignited a small renaissance in tag wrestling a decade ago.
Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista are three of the biggest singles stars the industry has ever seen. They have amassed dozens of championships between them and will all one day take their places among the immortals in the WWE Hall of Fame.
It is a testament to the work of The Shield and management's willingness to reintegrate tag team wrestling back into the sports-entertainment landscape that creative feels comfortable enough to take those three men, pair them back up and headline one of its premiere events with a tag team match.
For those fans who grew up watching the Four Horsemen work tag matches against the likes of Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff and Magnum TA or cheered with great excitement as the Rockers, Barbarian and Haku tore the house down to kick off WrestleMania VII, Sunday's main event will be a joyous return to the days when tag team wrestling reigned supreme.
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