WWE: Is the Tag Team Division Dead? Who Can Save It and How

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WWE: Is the Tag Team Division Dead? Who Can Save It and How

On yesterday's edition of Smackdown, the World Heavyweight Champion Kane held a “funeral” for The Undertaker following the Buried Alive encounter at Bragging Rights.

I am now going to consider whether or not the funeral would have been more appropriate for the WWE tag team division.

The current deficiency of credible tag teams in the WWE has been a major talking point for a long time. I am not convinced that the WWE is particularly concerned with the rapid decline of a once-important part of its product.

But why?

First and foremost, you have to look at the individual wrestlers. The business has changed an awful lot since the '80s and '90s. No longer do we see proper tag teams starting out together and forcing their way into the mainstream. Those that do are few and far between. There is just no incentive for an old fashioned tag team to make it in the WWE of 2010.

WWE Superstars are looking out for number one. They are in a cut-throat business where it is kill or be killed. Ask any young professional wrestler to name his goal and you won’t hear him reply “To become a tag team champion." Rather, he is motivated by the prospect of headlining Wrestlemania or obtaining the WWE Championship.

How many legitimate tag teams have entered the WWE over the past few years and achieved success?

So it is understandable that young performers are not willing to risk establishing themselves as tag team, because how are they going to make an impact with the WWE? Currently it is a vicious cycle. The teams in the WWE are not pushed, and usually end up broken up within a matter of months. Frankly, there is no division to speak of.

Young superstars will see that there is limited competition and will not endeavour to break through as a team. This means that the WWE won’t push any new teams, and we slowly witness the death of tag team wrestling as we know it.

Legion of Doom, Demolition, The Texas Outlaws, Natural Disasters, Hardy Boyz, The Midnight Express, The British Bulldogs, Team 3D, Hart Foundation, The Rockers, Power & Glory, The Freebirds, The New Age Outlaws, APA, The Von Erichs, Rock’n’Roll Express, Motor City Machine Guns, The Steiner Brothers, The Outsiders, Americas Most Wanted, The Bushwackers, The Nasty Boys, Harlem Heat, The Four Horsemen, The Midnight Express, Edge & Christian, The Killer Bees, The Mega Powers, Money Inc, The Fabulous Ones, The Powers of Pain, The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, The Freebirds.

Some of the greatest superstars in wrestling history have come from those teams. It goes to show that the skills groomed by tag team wrestling can enable big stars to realise their true potential.

In my opinion, the best-functioning teams are those that have fun together--friends who decide to start wrestling together from an early age and develop together. They have trust and loyalty in each other's ability and commitment to really make it. Creating a successful tag team takes a long time and requires dedication from both parties.

The trend over the last few years has been to team up a couple of individual wrestlers and have them win tag team gold. While this can be very good entertainment when done correctly (Rated RKO, ShowMiz, JeriShow), it can be awful when done incorrectly (THE CHOSEN ONES).

Drew McIntyre and “Dashing” Cody Rhodes AKA The Chosen Ones were suddenly thrust together when creative came up short finding opponents for The Hart Dynasty (Tyson Kidd and David Hart Smith). At the time, The Hart Dynasty was the closest thing to a proper tag team that the WWE had.

I would have had no problem if McIntyre & Rhodes had good reason to team up, e.g. to prove their excellence before each demanding a world title shot. However, we were given no explanation to why these two singles competitors were suddenly forced down our throats as a team.

Were we just supposed to take them as a serious threat because they are both destined for a main event push at some stage in their careers? They only announced a team name on the night of their separation.  How could the then-tag team champions not have a unique entrance? I don’t mind if they continue to use an individual’s music, but more often than not it does not relate to the purpose of the team.

Also, why can’t they produce a quick little background for the entrance, similar to those which Rey Mysterio and The Big Show currently have? I am a massive fan of getting rid of the old entrance videos in favour of having the new style themes. It would at least give you the impression that the WWE takes the team seriously as a collective.

The WWE universe is not stupid. The potential of McIntyre and Rhodes as singles competitors is great. But as a team, they had no experience or understanding to speak of. Technically their teamwork and cohesion should pale in comparison to an established outfit like The Hart Dynasty.

Yet, they claimed the tag team gold in their first attempt, during the Tag Team Turmoil match at Night of Champions. WWE obviously thought we would not mind as long as The Hart Dynasty had to go through a number of other teams first.

But that did not happen. Jimmy & Jey Uso defeated The Hart Dynasty in the first fall of the Turmoil match. The only two real tag teams in the match had been feuding over the previous few months. This followed an extremely impressive debut by the Uso’s on Raw, where they destroyed The Hart Dynasty. This led to a number of entertaining encounters that I thought improved every time they locked horns.

The disappointing thing about the Usos finally defeating The Hart Dynasty in tag-team competition was that they did not become the champions. Instead, the WWE sent out a clear message to all young wrestlers looking to establish a tag team with credibility: don’t bother. It’s not worth it, as they’ll just end your feud and give the titles to a couple of singles competitors who have nothing better to do.

It is disgusting treatment of not only the individuals involved but of a historic division. Let’s not forget that the WWE has killed off divisions before, see Light Heavyweight  & Hardcore.

Now, where do we see the Usos? Not on Raw, that’s for sure. They had a really good introduction to the WWE, had the added history of family ties to the business, and real potential to be a cornerstone of a new drive for tag team wrestling.

I truly believe that the WWE is missing a trick here. The Usos could have continued to progress by becoming embroiled in another feud after the Tag Team Turmoil match. There’s a novel thought! Actually have a tag team involved in a feud that is not based around the titles! Unfortunately, it seems that both the women and tag teams are only granted a storyline as long as it navigates around the respective titles.

The Hart Dynasty has been treated no better by the WWE. Yet, early signs were good. Real spotlight was put on the fact they are the son of the British Bulldog, daughter of Jim Neidhart and the last graduate of the Hart Family Dungeon. They were given the tag team championships, too early in my opinion, establishing them as the top dogs. Yet, after their loss, the WWE have been keen to split them up as a team.

Can the WWE explain its logic behind this one? The WWE could have built a new era around The Hart Dynasty and The Usos. Now, we will likely see Kidd & Smith face off on Superstars. I don’t want The Hart Dynasty split up after one title reign and no one really caring about a feud between the two. How can the fans be expected to invest in these teams if this is the ongoing treatment?

Tyson Kidd and David Hart Smith should have experienced a real lengthy run with the tag team championship gold. They could have even headlined a PPV main event and become involved in important storylines. I believe this would have better prepared them for singles careers in the long run.

Cryme Tyme are yet another example of the WWE underestimating the importance of tag team wrestling. JTG and Shad Gaspard were a breath of fresh air, but were unceremoniously split up before they had a chance to face off against the Hart Dynasty and The Usos. It is quite unbelievable that Shad and JTG never tasted tag team gold. Not only that, but they have both disappeared off the face of the earth since parting.

Their strap match at Extreme Rules was bland, however this was expected with such an awful stipulation. It was the direction the two took afterwards that left the more bitter taste in the mouth. Prior to Extreme Rules, Shad received a nice little mini push and it was surprising to see him lose against JTG. But for the angle to be literally dropped straight after this event was most disappointing. Shad should have gone on the rampage and defeated JTG at the next PPV.

Gaspard looked to have a bright future in the WWE, due mainly to his look and size. He’s currently honing his skills at FCW, whilst JTG is still officially a member of the Smackdown roster. Why Cryme Tyme are not still active as a team, I’ll never know. The only shining light here is that both are relatively young with a lot of time ahead of them. I honestly believe we will see Cryme Tyme again one day, though I hope the next incarnation is more serious and successful.

NXT was a great example of how new superstars can be introduced to the WWE and serve a real important purpose. To become one of the best in the WWE, you have to prove your worth by going through the roster. This means that you need talent on the roster to lose on a regular basis. No one starts off their career expecting to become the next Brooklyn Brawler, but sometimes you have to face reality.

Why tag teams can’t be used in this role, I don’t know. It does not really hurt the team if one of the members is destroyed by a Sheamus or a Randy Orton to give them momentum. More often than not, you can make the tag team stronger by involving them with the bigger names and showing that they deserve just as much attention.

The Survivor Series occurs later this month and it is questionable how many tag teams will feature. The original Survivor Series in 1987 boasted a 10 team elimination match pitting Strike Force, The Young Stallions, The Fabulous Rougeaus, The Killer Bees & The British Bulldogs against The Hart Foundation, The Islanders, Demolition, The Bolsheviks & The New Dream Team. This match lasted 37 minutes and I must have watched it a thousand times as a child on VHS!

It would be really refreshing to see the WWE flooded with tag teams once more. This would give the WWE an opportunity to promote one of the teams into the main event and headline a PPV. I’m sure most fans would welcome this change of pace. It also allows young wrestlers the opportunity to taste what it is like at the top of the card, almost giving them a trial to see if they have what it takes.

Tag teams can be used to break up stale main event feuds too. Bring back the days where a tag team would align itself with a singles competitor. This opens up a number of equations and gives us fresh match ups every week. Bring back another wrestling traditional that has been put to bed, the male manager!

The only problem so far is where are these teams going to come from?

Still on the roster are the Usos, Hart Dynasty and Cryme Tyme, as previously mentioned. There are a couple of other teams that could really shake up and rejuvenate this area of the WWE.

Edge & Christian. In one of my first articles on Bleacher Report, I included Edge & Christian back together as a tag team. My reasoning behind this is that both performers are coming to the stage where they will be looking to wind down their careers. Edge & Christian are pure entertainment, both in the ring and out.

Edge has managed to create an outstanding singles career that is still very much on the ascendancy.  He will be facing Kane at Survivor Series for the World Heavyweight Championship. I really would not rule him becoming a 10-time World Champion. After all, the original plans had Undertaker winning the title at Bragging Rights, so I’m sure Edge is in a stronger position than previously expected.

If Edge does win the title one more time, then I could foresee his run coming to an end in conjunction with the return of his buddy Christian. I have seen signs of Edge slowing down somewhat in the ring and looking generally tired. He has suffered some very serious injuries over the years and his body must now be feeling the effects.

Christian has been the less fortunate of the two. His biggest success came in TNA, which unfortunately seems to be the reason why Vince is so unwilling to give Christian a big run at the top of the WWE.

The WWE Universe adores Christian, and I think he would be the number one choice for many people when discussing the most underused superstar on the roster. However, we must be realistic. Vince is looking to the future and he is right to do so. I think we are more likely to see him pushing the likes of Kingston, Morrison, Sheamus, Barrett, Rhodes & McIntyre ahead of Christian.

As much as it pains me to say this, I would be extremely surprised if Christian ever became a WWE World Champion. However, he is on the roster and a much-loved superstar, so they have to utilise him. There is no better way to accomplish this than reuniting him with Edge.

I have no doubt that Edge & Christian would be able to produce some real magic in the ring together and on the microphone. They are the perfect professionals to put at the helm of the new generation of tag team wrestling and help bring new teams to the forefront.

The second team still on the roster is MNM. Okay, so Johnny Nitro is now John Morrison, but that should not make a blind bit of difference in maintaining their old name. The only problem I see with this team returning is the fact that I believe John Morrison is on the verge of a much deserved singles push, as you’ll see from my King of the Ring 2010 article (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/504199-wwe-king-of-the-ring-2010-who-should-win).

Joey Mercury has had his fair share of problems in the past and was unfortunate with his timing when it came to the Straight Edge Society. Melina is not currently in contention for the women’s title, so that automatically rules her out of having a meaningful feud. Those two would benefit tenfold from a return to MNM action, but Mr Morrison is main event standard and is in no position currently to return to the tag ranks.

Currently, we have new champions in Heath Slater and Justin Gabriel. This delighted me as I previously covered in my Bragging Rights article (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/500853-wwe-bragging-rights-2010-in-depth-thoughts-comments-opinion)

Slater and Gabriel are the two members of The Nexus most suited to being a tag-team. I hope that the recent angle involving The Nexus and the tag team championships will lead to a new beginning for the division.

I know that this is just the WWE throwing individuals together again, but this time it is two fresh superstars who are starting at the bottom and need to prove themselves inside the ring. Justin Gabriel has potential in abundance and could make a real name for himself in years to come. However, he is not the finished article and would benefit immensely from regular competition in the tag ranks. Heath Slater appears to be the type of performer who could improve over the years and become more important than you’d expect at the time of writing.

My only concern is that the two will rarely compete as a team or defend their titles. They have to wrestle as a team every week now, or at least compete on behalf of their team. They won the titles in dubious circumstances and will need to prove their worth as champions.

As they now have the ability to appear on both shows (which I’m slightly surprised they did not do this week), I really feel that this is an opportunity to create real competition. The WWE is half-committed to the Bragging Rights idea, well that is being nice to them, they only care about Bragging Rights a week beforehand.

In reality, both Smackdown and Raw should be prepping teams to challenge for the straps and represent their show as champions. This would be furthering the Bragging Rights continuity angle throughout the year. Although I doubt the WWE are really bothered. As no-one seems to care that Dolph Ziggler and Daniel Bryan respectively showed up on opposition turf just a week after there was apparent all out war at Bragging Rights. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see Ziggler-Bryan every week, but in terms of the Bragging Rights concept, it just stinks.

There are a couple of others superstars who should wake up and smell the coffee. Not everyone can be in the main event, hell not everyone can feature on a show. Goldust and Ted DiBiase put on a pretty respective PPV match at Bragging Rights, then did not even get an appearance on the following Raw.

It’s all about initiative. Guys like Darren Young & Michael Tarver should assess their future in the WWE. The only reason they have been on WWE TV is due to The Nexus angle, which they’ll never trump in their entire careers. If they face the facts, then the reality is they have a genuine chance of being released over the next 6-12 months. If they had any sort of drive or intelligence, they would approach creative and request that they become a legitimate tag team. You never know, it could be the making of them and they could iron out a niche for the next ten years.

They are not the only ones. I honestly believe that The Big Show could be the centrepiece of the tag-team division. He could be paired with literally anyone else, but he is a star name that can help bring interest initially to the tag ranks, so that the other new exciting teams can win over new fans for the future. I am not a big fan of The Big Show occupying a main event position, I accept he has a big role to play in the company and is always going to be an attraction. So why not channel this into something that requires his efforts.

Yoshi Tatsu, Zack Ryder, William Regal, Evan Bourne, Vladimir Kozlov, Ted Dibiase, The Great Khali, Primo, Chris Masters, Chavo Guerrero, Luke Gallows, the list goes on. Most of these individuals have gone through the last six months with very little impact to speak of. There is no reason why they cannot create a few angles to create new teams.

I accept that this would be no better than just throwing upper-card performers together, as there would be no real chemistry. But the WWE does have the option of re-packaging the lower card superstars in such a way that it can re-invent their careers. However, if the individual superstars are not interesting in tagging, then they really should not be forced to. Though there is the argument that The Miz and John Morrison have really benefited from their partnership, even though it is common knowledge that neither party particularly enjoyed the ride.

We just have to remain optimistic that the tag team division can rise up once more like a phoenix from the flame. There is one feud I see in the future that could help. Heather Slater & Justin Gabriel are much more suited to playing the roles of faces. If done correctly, then they should become more determined to hold onto their gold than the overall targets of The Nexus. This could lead to Wade Barrett ordering Michael McGillicutty & Husky Harris to claim the titles off them.

I do like the way McGillicutty & Harris have been promoted as a duo, and could see some very entertaining encounters between these four. Two new and refreshing tag teams to take us into 2011, where the WWE need to take clear strides in regaining a division that is currently dying a slow and painful death.

There is an opportunity at the Tables, Ladders and Chairs PPV in December. This particular match was made famous by Edge & Christian, the Hardys, and the Dudleys. So, I propose that the WWE begins building now toward an actual tag team TLC match. They won’t, but I think it would be an ideal time to make it the main event and highlight some teams they are willing to get behind.

It would not hurt the main event superstars to step aside for one night. The PPV is dedicated to a tag team competition. I do not want to see the usual format whereby the three top singles feuds each have the stipulation of Tables, Ladders or Chairs. It is ridiculous. Push the boat out and try something different. Prove to the world that tag team wrestling is not dead and can be utilised in prominent positions.

The WWE will ultimately decide the direction it takes with this issue. At the moment, there are no clear signs that the WWE is even concerned about the status of tag team wrestling. This is bad news for the WWE fans, who crave diversity and innovation in their viewing. My hope is that the wrestlers will force the WWE’s hand, but the only way for this to happen is for an influx of teams to descend upon the WWE. It may be a while until this happens.

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