Monday, June 13, 2016

One-on-One: Top Five Tag Teams of All Time

Welcome to another edition of One-on-One!

Today the topic is the Top Five Greatest Tag Teams of all time.  For this edition my NXT-obsessed colleague Landon Wayne will be joining me to give his picks.  But first, mine....

Justin: As with great singles wrestlers, for me a great tag team has to be the perfect combination of several attributes - workrate, presence, chemistry both with each other and with a variety of opponents, a long-term commitment to the tag team division, and the ability to draw just as well as the singles guys.  These days tag team wrestling is unfortunately nowhere near the art form it used to be.  While WWE has recently put more of a focus on the tag division than they had in several years, gone are the days of 8-10 full-time tag teams being featured on television, all vying for those elusive straps.  Invariably you can gauge the overall commercial success of the major North American wrestling promotions by looking at the strength of their tag team divisions.  During the 80s boom period, both the WWF and NWA had deep tag rosters; in the WWF's case, enough for a 20-man Tag Team Elimination match at the first two Survivor Series PPVs.  Then in the early 90s most of the good duos either left or split up, resulting in an anemic division, and coincidentally the company's revenue dropped sharply.  Are these two things related?  I dunno.  But during the wildly successful Attitude era the tag division flourished once again, only to become virtually non-existent from 2004 until 2012.

I miss the days when the World Tag Team Championship was treated as just a notch below the World Title.  For tag team wrestlers it was the highest accolade they could hope to receive, short of splitting up with their tag partner and going alone.  Many teams back in the day had no interest in singles success - their purpose in the business was to be the world's best team.  In some cases one member of a team just wasn't the same without the other.  Try to imagine Smash from Demolition as a singles star.  It doesn't work - the magic came when he and Ax appeared together.  Pairings like that tended to make the best teams, though obviously there have been exceptions.  But regardless, great tag teams have always been one of the major attractions on the card, and when presented properly a Tag Title Match can be the main event of the show any day of the week. 

My top five tag teams all have some things in common - they all had undeniable chemistry as partners, they could all work a show-stealing match, they all reached the pinnacle of at least one major tag team division, and they were all major box office attractions.

5. Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard

Anderson & Blanchard were one of those teams that as a kid I absolutely HATED.  They weren't flashy, they didn't look like movie stars or superheroes, and onscreen they were great big a-holes.  But when they were in the ring I wanted to see them get beat up, and that's the mark of a great heel duo.  I actually resented the fact that they were the top team in the company.  It was fitting that they were part of Ric Flair's stable, because like Flair they didn't appear to be the toughest team and their moveset didn't feature any fancy crowd-pleasing maneuvers.  Instead their deal was great wrestling matches full of psychology where they made their opponents look amazing and still managed to squeak by with a cheap, heat-magnifying win.  In other words they were the quintessential heel tag team.  Their extensive resume included fantastic matches with power-centric teams like The Road Warriors and Demolition, aerial teams like The Rock n' Roll Express and The Rockers, or equally well-rounded teams like The Hart Foundation.  Arn and Tully were one of those teams that would absolutely crush it no matter who you put 'em in there with.  And on top of everything, both guys could cut killer promos.  Ric Flair may have been the leader of The Four Horsemen, but Arn & Tully were the backbone.

4. The Hardy Boyz

Matt & Jeff Hardy are probably the antithesis of Anderson & Blanchard.  The Hardys built their reputation on flashy, dangerous, high-impact spot wrestling, and along with Edge & Christian and The Dudley Boyz, reinvented the Ladder Match for the new millennium.  Matt and Jeff started out as WWF jobbers who just happened to take a beating better than anyone else on TV.  In 1998 I can recall being excited any time one of the featured tag teams would be facing the Hardys in a squash match, because it meant one of the most entertaining squashes I'd ever see.  Eventually the Hardys developed such a following they were repackaged as a real, full-time tag team on the main roster.  With their Hot Topic-inspired wardrobe and innovative combination moves, they evolved into the 2000s version of The Rock n' Roll Express or The Rockers - two undersized babyfaces who bumped and sold like crazy, and whose offense consisted of wild aerial tactics.  Eventually they became the team you knew would push the envelope every night, in terms of what crazy risks they were willing to take (Jeff especially).  These days such dangerous spots can no longer be performed, but at the height of the Attitude Era The Hardy Boyz became one of the WWF's premier attractions, and are now regarded as one of the most exciting teams of all time.

3. The British Bulldogs

Before I get to the Davey Boy Smith-Dynamite Kid tandem, a note about Mr. Smith: He was in not one, but two hugely successful tag teams, both of which enjoyed lengthy WWF Tag Championship reigns.  Had his partnership with Owen Hart lasted another year it's likely Davey Boy would be featured on this list twice.

The British Bulldogs were incredibly innovative, creating tandem offensive moves no one had ever seen.  They had a myriad of finishers including Davey gorilla pressing Dynamite onto an opponent, Dynamite jumping off Davey's shoulders for a diving headbutt, and of course Davey ramming an opponent's head into Dynamite's for a knockout blow.  Both Englishmen came up in the Stampede territory and over time developed into ultra-stiff workers sporting incredibly muscular physiques.  Both of these guys looked like they could beat the crap out of people and while freakishly strong, could also hang with the industry's best high fliers.  I'm not sure there's ever been a team as well-rounded as Davey and Dynamite.  Their WWF run was infamously cut short due to a backstage altercation with the Rougeau Brothers and it's a shame we never got to see a Bulldogs vs. Brainbusters feud.  Still the British Bulldogs carved out a place for themselves as one of the very best tandems in history.

2. The Hart Foundation

Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart might be the most respected team on this list.  Whenever the subject of classic tag team wrestling is brought up, invariably someone mentions The Hart Foundation.  Thrown together basically as an afterthought to give two midcard heels something to do, Bret and Jim created a dynamite little man-big man combination of serious wrestling acumen and raw power.  These two possibly had the best pure chemistry of any pairing in the industry.  Bret would wear down and tie up opponents with dazzling mat skill, then tag in "The Anvil" to lower the boom.  Their heel antics were perfectly executed; in terms of utilizing the "five-count," distracting the referee, and putting together seemingly effortless tandem offense, no one did it better than the Harts.  Even as babyfaces they would throw in a cheapshot from the ring apron or occasionally steal a victory with a foreign object, and the fans still loved them.  I remember when I first started watching wrestling in 1986 I immediately recognized on some level how mechanically sound Hart and Neidhart were, and despite rooting exclusively for babyfaces I couldn't help but respect their work.  At a time when most tag teams consisted of two guys with similar builds and movesets, the Hart Foundation were a pair of opposites who thoroughly complemented each other and could therefore match up with virtually any tag team.  Need to outwrestle the Rougeaus?  Tag in Bret.  Need to hold your own in a slugfest with Demolition?  Neidhart's your man.  The Hart Foundation were unique, and well-suited for any opponents in any kind of match.

1. The Road Warriors

When it comes to the most influential, groundbreaking tag team combination, no one has had more imitators or lasting impact than Animal and Hawk.  Demolition, The Powers of Pain, The Headbangers, The Blade Runners, The Dudley Boyz, The Eliminators, The Briscoe Brothers (ROH, not NWA), hell even guys like Goldberg, whose mystique and terrifying appearance made up 90 per cent of his box office appeal - all these men owe a debt to the Legion of Doom. 

Animal and Hawk were legitimate tough guys tempered by the streets of Minneapolis and Chicago, who lived in the gym and looked like they were forged from slabs of concrete.  There was no pair more intimidating or unpredictable, no two wrestlers with more natural physical presence. 
Their matches more often than not were wild, chaotic melees designed to smash opponents into submission within the first three minutes.  But when paired with an accomplished duo, the Warriors could hang in a wrestling match too.  Both Animal and Hawk, though freakishly strong, could throw a dropkick or a flying tackle with ease.  Their tandem finishers were unlike anything fans had ever seen (The Doomsday Device is still my favorite tag team move of all time).

Their unparalleled power and smash-mouth offense was so credible that both men were occasionally seen as serious threats to Ric Flair's NWA World Title - a feat unheard of at the time.  Tag team wrestlers rarely if ever challenged the company's top dog to a Title bout, but in the case of the Warriors, exceptions were made.  Invariably if the Warriors were on the card their match was either top-billed or placed just below the main event.  For a tag team to be that kind of perennial draw is unthinkable in today's wrestling climate, but with Animal and Hawk this was simply a given.

At the time of their formation in 1983 most teams in the business consisted of two singles wrestlers forming an alliance, and in fact few tag teams even had a collective name at that point.  But The Road Warriors were presented as an inseparable unit.  They were in the business of tag team wrestling, pure and simple, and strived to be the best wherever they went.  No tag team in the history of the industry has been more decorated.  AWA Tag Champions?  Check.  NWA Tag Champions?  Check.  AJPW Tag Champions?  Check.  WWF Tag Champions?  Check (incidentally no other team ever won the AWA, NWA, and WWF Titles).  Pro Wrestling Illustrated's Tag Team of the Year?  Four times.  No big deal.

The Road Warriors leave behind a legacy that will likely never been duplicated.  They are the measuring stick by which all other tag team combinations will forever be judged.  Animal and Hawk were the greatest tag team in wrestling history.

Now for Landon's picks....

Landon: I have the belief that a tag team match, when done right, will almost always be better than a singles match. There can still be the usual singles spots, but with a much larger playbook to use with twice as many men, or women. It’s why I love the G1 World Tag League so much, bringing me a month of gloriously good tag contests.

What makes a good tag team? I guess it matters what era you’re in. The qualifications of a good tag team in the 80s isn’t the same for teams in the 90s, or today. But overall, I guess it takes workrate, and longevity. It takes acceptance over multiple fanbases, and the ability to have a good match under any circumstance, or have a really good singles kind of match as we will see later. Title reigns and number of titles does somewhat sway some teams, but it comes off more as a tiebreaker in most cases.

Some Honorable Mentions:

-In a few years, I’m sure that The Revival and American Alpha will be in a lot of people’s top 10s, even top 5s. Present day, however, they remain two really good tag teams that have consistently great matches with a variety of opponents. They as teams are still too young and relatively inexperienced in the grand scheme to put on this list. Ask me again if WWE doesn’t mess them up entirely.

-If Shinsuke Nakamura and Tomohiro Ishii weren’t almost exclusively G1 World Tag League partners (2012-2015 partners specifically) they would easily be on the list. The combination of Nakamura’s flair and Ishii’s thick-as-a-steak offense is always fun to watch, no matter the opponents. They never won the tag tournament, but they always provide great matches. The same can be said with Meiyu Tag (Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata), who have proven to be more successful than the CHAOS partners. But despite a tag title run to their names, they too only tag sparingly.

-The Motor City Machineguns get an unofficial 6th placing this list, and keeping them off the list hurts me a lot. The reason they aren’t here is a matter of pedigree. The only major titles to their names are TNA tag titles, once, and the IWGP junior belts, once. While a good team doesn’t necessarily have to have extensive title reigns, here it does hinder them. I have to put my personal favoritism aside and not list them.

5. The World’s Greatest Tag Team

The old theory, which dates back to the olden days of Gotch and Hackenshmidt, was to take amateur wrestlers who could legitimately work, and make them smart to the business and send them out to wrestle. Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin are two of the greatest examples of this mentality, as both were accomplished amateur wrestlers before coming into the professional world. While their initial run in 2002-2004 was fairly lackluster, aside from two Tag Team Title wins in ’03, their best work came after they reunited in 2006. A series of great matches in WWE was followed by an even greater run in Ring of Honor, culminating in an early Tag Title win, with a turn later down the road into fantastic heels that the ROH crowds loved to hate. While separate now, the pair could come back together at any point in the future, and it would be a surefire big draw when they’re put up against your company’s top tag team.

4. reDRagon

As I alluded to in my #5 choice, a good recruitment tactic for professional wrestling is to find athletically gifted people who love the business and turn them into professional wrestlers. Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly run in the same theme of realism, as both give off the air of legitimate fighters. The pair almost never waste movement in the ring, and when working together do the most they can for the least effort. The Demolition Drop is the most extreme they get in their exertions. They have the hardware to back it up as well, holding the IWGP Junior Heavyweight belts and the Ring of Honor Tag Team titles several times each, and once holding both at the same time. This team is the youngest on this list, but have a long road to go before they retire. Expect them to be one of the premier tag team units of the future.

3. Beer Money Inc.

I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t not put my favorite tag team of all time on this list. James Storm and Robert Roode were two midcard wrestlers just treading water in TNA when they started teaming in 2008, and their stock immediately went up in an feud over the Tag Titles. The team would remain a fixture in the tag team title scene throughout their entire run in TNA. Today, they hold the record for longest title reign in their fourth run, with 212 days, and are tied for most title reigns with 5. What puts them so high on their list is their accomplishments as they are in the context of their careers. The two men became the biggest homebrewed tag team in the company, consistently over the years. With great feuds with The Latin American Exchange, Team 3-D, and a historic best of five series with the Motor City Machine Guns, Beer Money took chicken shit from a chicken farm of a company, and turned it into that chicken salad you had one time that was really freakin’ good, and it had that really great dressing you still haven’t found yet in that grocery store down the street….anyway, moving on.

2. The Road Warriors

Hawk and Animal are the forefathers of an entire genre of tag teams we see today. The powerhouses that don’t give a damn who you are, whose side you’re on. The Ascensions, the War Machines, to an extent even your Dudley Boyz and Public Enemies. The Road Warriors became the most dominant and most successful team of their generation. Rarely ever apart, they had success in all of America’s big federations; WCW, AWA, and the WWF. Part of many iconic feuds of their day, teaming with Dusty Rhodes against the Horsemen, or going up against Jim Cornette and the Midnight Express. Road Warrior Hawk and Animal may be the most famous and popular tag team of all time. But not the greatest. The reason I don’t have them at number one has to do with their longevity. While I feel like the act was awesome in the 80s and early 90s, by the Attitude Era the gimmick had gotten dated, along with the aging of the men involved. While the two could still work, the magic that had surrounded the men in the era before TV had left them.

1. The Dudley Boyz/Team 3-D

Glory. Heat. Work. Success. All these things should go into considering the greatest tag team. Bubba Ray and D-Von have these. The most successful tag team of the 90s and the 00s, with gold all over the map. The most reigns in ECW as a tag team, part of the great tag team trilogy of the WWF’s Attitude era, the “final” WCW tag team champions. They, like Beer Money, were a great tag team in TNA’s vacuum. TNA Tag Titles and belts from New Japan round out a grand slam of title reigns. What makes them different from The Road Warriors, was their drawing ability, or specifically their ability to draw. The Road Warriors had, for most of their time, Paul Ellering to talk for them, to build up events and get people to pay attention. When they didn’t, their shouting, blood and guts promos were a valid substitute on Crockett’s TV. The Dudley Boyz had a style of their own in their promos. In ECW, and to extents in WWF and TNA, berated and insulted not only other wrestlers but the fans as well. They have remained some of the most hated wrestlers in their era, prompting fights with the crowd occasionally in ECW, and roaring ovations from crowds when they finally got their asses kicked. Finally, to round out their repertoire, the workrate of the two men can speak volumes. Not the most technically gifted or the strongest, the Dudley’s roughhouse style combined with their great selling throughout the years (Special kudos to Bubba’s horribly awesome Flair flops) made for entertaining matches that had great crowd reactions wherever they went. This may be personal bias, but I would say the Dudley Boys, Bubba Ray and D-Von, are the greatest tag team in professional wrestling history.

Did we miss any of your favorites?  Comment below!

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