AEW's Dax Harwood and Cash Wheeler on What Makes FTR and Other Tag Teams Special
When it comes to tag team wrestling, it's hard to find two guys who have done more in the past few years than Dax Harwood and Cash Wheeler.
Known collectively as FTR, Harwood and Wheeler currently hold the AAA, ROH and IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships.
In addition to being the holders of three sets of titles from three promotions, FTR has held the tag belts for AEW, NXT, Raw and SmackDown. You would be hard-pressed to find another team with that kind of resume, especially in today's landscape.
With eight years as a pair under their belts, Harwood and Wheeler not only represent one of the longest-running teams in AEW, but they are a bit of a throwback to teams of the past who used to stay together for long stretches.
Their reputation as amazing technical wrestlers has allowed them to put on some of the best matches in recent years, but it's their chemistry as a duo that sets them apart from other teams. Right now, many would argue that FTR is the best tag team in the world.
We had a chance to sit down with both men to discuss their upcoming rematch against The Briscoes in ROH, their legacy as a tag team, turning babyface and much more.
These interviews were conducted separately, but when you see how similar their answers are for certain topics, you will see how these two share a brain and make the perfect partners.
Rematch with the Briscoes
At ROH Supercard of Honor on April 1, Harwood and Wheeler battled Jay and Mark Briscoe for the ROH Tag Team Championships in what many people would call a shoo-in for the Match of the Year.
Now, the two teams will lock horns once again at the Death Before Dishonor PPV on July 23 in a rematch for the same belts. However, there was actually a possibility that this bout would not take place.
"I had a talk with Tony and he pitched the match with Briscoes. And I said, 'Man, I don't know if I want to go back to that.' Because in my mind, that moment on April 1 was the perfect moment for me and Cash." Harwood said. "I could have retired right after that. Because that match to me was so different than any structured wrestling match you see today. And I think that's why it's my favorite."
FTR is currently signed to AEW, but since ROH is also owned by Tony Khan, the team has been able to work in multiple places. For Harwood, giving Ring of Honor a boost to get it back on the right track is a priority.
"Man, Ring of Honor needs a spark, and what better spark would there be than the rematch of Briscoes vs. FTR?" Harwood continued. "And then I started thinking my anxiety is gonna kick in worrying about this. And then on top of that, I started thinking that's what I want, I want the anxiety of trying to top that [first] match, I want the anxiety of trying to have a better FTR match than we had at Supercard of Honor. And so now, that's my goal. To have a better match."
The bout with the Briscoes received rave reviews from fans and critics, but for both men, it ended up being one of the most important.
"I would say, our first match against the Briscoes is my favorite match of our career." Wheeler said. "It just was something that I'll never forget from the moment we went out there. Like, we just felt the energy from the crowd. And the crowd has been the missing ingredient, I think, for making all these things work the way they have.
"I'm not going to try to compare it to the first match, I'm not going to try to live up to the expectations that I feel like are gonna be put on us. I just know we want to go out there and we want to have a great tag team wrestling fight. And we want it to be a big fight feel. I want to make those tag team titles need more than ever. So we take this very seriously."
Creating a Legacy
Tag team wrestling used to be featured more heavily in the past, but in recent decades, the division was deemphasized in certain promotions, and that meant we had fewer long-term tag teams.
Duos like the Dudleys and Hardy Boyz have been around for a long time but have also had periods where they did not work together. There are some teams with long uninterrupted partnerships like The Young Bucks or The Usos, but the familial relationships they share make it easier to keep the team together.
For FTR, being able to say they have been a team for eight solid years is something they are proud of, and they want to continue building upon the legacy they have already created together.
"I'm very, very particular about our career." Harwood said. "And I've said it a million times to the point of acknowledging we're very proud of the legacy we've written. And we've only got a few more years left in wrestling. We want to continue to write that legacy and make it mean something."
"I was actually talking to Brody King and we were talking about how we wish young guys would approach William Regal and Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson more often, and pick their brains because we always do.
"And I told him that the reason that I annoy those guys, and the reason that I call and text Bret Hart, or I go out to coffee with Edge, is because I want to be the best. And if at the end of the day when Cash and I are done, if we cannot be considered one of the best tag teams of all time, then I've done wrestling a disservice, you know?"
Leaving their mark on the business is important to both men, but they are also focused on making sure tag team wrestling specifically is highlighted and appreciated.
"For us. It's always been about the art of wrestling and making tag team wrestling mean something." Wheeler said. "And making the people care about the people doing these things and not just the reactions to moves. And we've shared that mentality."
Why Is Their Partnership so Special?
Being in a tag team means you are going to spend a lot of time with that person both on and off the road, so finding someone you relate to is important.
Harwood and Wheeler formed their partnership as members of the NXT roster in WWE in 2014, but they knew each other from their days in the independent scene.
Their chemistry as partners comes from not only their shared love of the business but a similar mentality and approach to performing.
"I think [our friendship] began with obviously our love for wrestling," Harwood said. "We've told the story before that we got very close because of our love for Bret Hart, our love for wrestling, and how much wrestling has actually meant to us in our lives, saving our lives, legit giving us hope, as kids and now as adults.
"I think that's the thing that brought us closer initially. And then as soon as we started teaming in NXT, we traveled together every single day. Then we were on the road and we were in the same room together. And so all the traveling together all the love for professional wrestling, his love for his family, and my love for my family.
"It's always been such a, this sounds corny, but such a beautiful friendship and a beautiful relationship. And my daughter even calls him uncle Dan. So it's a friendship that morphed into a kinship."
Their love of wrestling is what brought them together, but it's the way they think about the business that has kept them linked for so long.
"The bond has been so good because we realize we had these things in common beforehand," Wheeler said. "And we're like, 'Man, we have a common goal, we have a common vision, we have all these same ideas, we should do something with this, we can make this work, we can be different.' And when we finally made that happen in NXT, our goal was to be different.
"So we would watch all the other tag matches and say, 'What are these people doing? What can we do differently to stand out?' And I think that's why we're successful. Because it's not about me or him. It's about having the best match possible. If that makes us better in the process, and it makes our team we're facing look better in the process, then that's how it's supposed to be.
"You're supposed to elevate your opponent, they're supposed to elevate you, you're not supposed to just use them to shine yourself. That's what bothers me. And I think that's obviously something that bothers [Dax]. And that's why we're able to get so passionate about it, get fired up about it, but also why we always are on the same wavelength."
Being Forced to Turn Babyface by the Crowd
Pro wrestling fans are trained to boo the bad guys and cheer the good guys. Part of the fun of participating in this wacky form of entertainment is that the crowd is part of the performance, but that doesn't mean fans always give the desired reaction.
Sometimes, a heel act is so good that the crowd can't help but root for it, and that is exactly what has been happening with FTR in recent months. They did not set out to become the heroes, but now that the fans are in their corner, Harwood and Wheeler are going to embrace it.
"It's gonna sound cliche, but honestly, it gets kind of overwhelming at times because we went so long as the guys that you hated," Wheeler said. "And I liked that. I enjoyed that. I felt like I took a lot of pride in the fact that we could still get them to not like us. Or even if they didn't hate us, they would like our babyface opponents more, because we would try to be the dirtiest, nastiest, most underhanded guys for the better part of a decade, which is insane if you think about just the fact that we were almost exclusively bad for eight years."
"A lot of this was never been discussed or planned," Wheeler continued. "There was never this beautiful roadmap that we could follow where maybe we could lean into this. There's no way we could even think about ending this while it's where it's at. I always thought we would just be the guys that made babyfaces even more likable. And you have to appreciate it while it lasts because I know it won't last forever. But while it's going on, I don't want to take that for granted."
While the support from the crowd is something that has been building for quite some time, Harwood recalled how the babyface turn was solidified during a tag team match against Jon Moxley and CM Punk, and during a singles match with Punk that took place later.
"It's been happening for a while, but even now, I get emotional walking out there," Harwood said. "And I can't believe this many people like me. And I don't mean me as Dax Harwood. What I mean is me, they like me. Grumpy Uncle Dax is a shoot. It's not that I'm always grumpy. But I'm not a people person, I guess. Like, I don't like going out in public a lot and things like that. And it's because I'm worried about the perception people have with me.
"We could feel it coming. I knew it whenever we worked with Mox and Punk. And going into that, the week prior, I talked to Cash and I was like, 'Hey, man, I think that it's time for us to maybe turn babyface because these people are respecting us and they like us.' During the match with Mox and Punk, I knew that we had to get these people to start sympathizing with us.
"And so it started there. And then it went into the [singles] match with Punk. And I knew that if I tapped out, I could break their hearts. I knew I could build the match so beautifully, without cheating."
When you reach a certain point in your career, the way you view the concept of having specific goals can change. FTR has already won just about every important set of tag titles there is to win, so Wheeler is looking at specific milestones he wants to achieve in other ways.
"I still want to wrestle in Japan," Wheeler said. "I still want to wrestle in the Tokyo Dome. I want to defend the IWGP titles there. I want to defend the AAA titles in Mexico. So that's definitely on my list. I would like to go back to the UK. This time, I think it'd be a lot different. I had a lot of fun there every time we went previously.
"There are still teams we want to work with that we haven't gotten a chance to and the top of that list for me is The Motor City Machine Guns. I want to wrestle The Good Brothers in Japan because we wrestled them once in 2019, I want to say in Japan, and was one of my favorite matches ever, and the footage doesn't exist. There's still a lot I want to accomplish."
Harwood has similar goals in mind, especially when it comes to upholding the prestige of the various tag titles they currently possess.
"I want to be recognized as a great IWGP tag team champion," Harwood said. "That's something me and Cash talked about. We wanted to go to Japan and win [the titles] because they're so prestigious. I have a couple of my immediate goals. One is to be great IWGP tag team champions and defend [the titles] against as many guys as we possibly can.
"Ring of Honor has such a rich history too. I want to help rebuild, remodel, bring in some of the older Ring of Honor guys, bring in new guys who are hungry and want to shock the business, and have some of the staple guys to make it a viable promotion.
"And then lastly, another immediate goal is to become the AEW world tag team champions again. Our first tag title reign wasn't anything to write home about. We really were the shortest reigning champions in the history of the company and I think having a great title reigns will cement us as, this makes me feel weird in being this egocentric, but the top tag team of all time."
We always end our AEW interviews with a movie review to give fans a small glimpse into the person behind the character. Harwood discussed two movies, with the first being the Pixar instant classic Inside Out.
"This is a kid movie. Inside Out. We watched that recently. And it's a movie about emotions. And it shows these different emotions that this child goes through. That actually made me realize our generation, especially being a 38-year-old man as well, to me, at least, our parents felt there was either happy or mad. Do you know what I mean? And you were either their good boy, or you're a bad boy. And that's the complete wrong in my opinion. That's the complete wrong way to go about it."
For Harwood, the movie hit home because he has a young daughter who he realized might feel the same way as the character in the movie.
"She was every single emotion except for happy, and I had to approach life and fatherhood at a different angle because of that movie because I had to realize, 'Wait, my daughter's not being bad. She's not lashing out. She just can't understand why she can't handle the emotion.' And so I had to go into again, fatherhood, thinking a different way after watching that movie. I guess it's not a movie review, per se, but it is such a beautiful movie, man."
That was the most recent movie he had seen at the time of the interview, but he also spoke about his favorite film.
"The Exorcist is my favorite movie of all time. I think it's the greatest drama ever. I know, it's a horror movie. But I think it's the greatest drama, good versus evil. You know, I think there are so many lessons that professional wrestlers can get out of that movie. It's obviously the scariest movie of all time, but also what a drama, man."
For Wheeler, a recent Guy Ritchie film called The Gentlemen was the first thing that came to mind
"One movie that I really enjoy, and I don't know if a lot of people even watched it, is The Gentlemen with Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam and Hugh Grant. I really enjoyed that movie. It's a Guy Ritchie film, so I just like the way he weaves the stories together. It's always hard to kind of figure out where it's going to end up, and I'm a fan of the unpredictable stuff like that.
"I wasn't trying to make this a wrestling analogy, but that's one thing we've always wanted to do when we wrestle is to make you think. We're going to take it and then at the last minute, take it in a different direction. So that's the beauty of wrestling is not knowing where it's gonna go, like the movie. There are so many different things where you don't have the full view of what's going on.
"I often wonder where this is going. I wonder what happens here. I don't know. I just like the way he weaves all these different stories together. And then at the end, you kind of get the full view of how it worked. That's just always really cool to see an intricate story like that paid off."
Harwood and Wheeler can be seen every week on AEW programming and will be defending the ROH tag titles against The Briscoes at Death Before Dishonor on July 23.