Ringside Shadows #174: The Tag Scene
Probably one of the most unique aspects professional wrestling has going for it will always be the Tag Team division. Merging the brutality of solitary conflict sports like Boxing and the Martial Arts with the strategy and necessary trust of team cooperation sports like Baseball or Basketball, the tag team is certainly a unique device.
To say things would have become stale in the scene without the introduction of this style of wrestling is quite the understatement. Imagine legends like Andre the Giant or Dick the Bruiser quickly losing their notereity and long-term importance thanks to continually eroding skills on their own. Both these world-renowned grapplers fell back on tag team wrestling when they were starting to slow down in the singles scene. Imagine smaller guys like Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart never getting a chance to show what they could do in the big leagues. Both were restricted to the tag ranks until crowd support for their individual performances became too much to ignore.
As I mentioned above, the tag team is a variation of sporting unique to the wrestling world, and as such has a long and speckled history. From teams like the Rockers reinventing the way North American wrestling was played to psychologically brilliant tandems like the Minnesota Wrecking Crew of Arn and Ole Anderson to talent decades ahead of their time in the original British Bulldogs, there's a wealth of past marks left by this incredible division. Even today there are innovators, original spins on an old game, making their impact in the wealthy tag team arena of the WWF and WCW / ECW. Unfortunately, this historically important aspect of the business is quickly becoming nothing more than a device to introduce and launch new singles stars. Teams like Edge and Christian, however historically important they might be, seem to have been created and maintained solely for the high profile angle their imminent breakup is sure to produce. While teams like the Midnight Express or the Hart Foundation survived on their strength as a unit, today's teams are beginning to live off of the tension between members.
Still, despite the change in the status quo, most agree that today's tag scene is one of the strongest in recent memory. Sure, there are a few dogs and sometimes matches between two great teams don't amount to much, but for the most part things have been very competitive and very, very entertaining. So, without further ado, here's what I think of the current crop...
The Hardy Boyz
In my opinion, the most solid tag team in years. With Matt working a sound, psychological style and Jeff hitting the fast-paced high spots and near suicidal bumps, you've got almost all the bases covered with these two. Put plainly, Jeff's the flash and Matt's the substance. Add to that their original, hip look and expansive moveset, and you've got a winner. The only thing these two could possibly add to their assault is a presence on the microphone. With Edge and Christian running vocal circles around them, Matt and Jeff sometimes come off as lame ducks in the buildup for big matches.
Edge & Christian
Right up there with the Hardys in terms of overall value and staying power. Edge and Christian really hit all the bases possible as heels, and with a breakup seemingly on the horizon, have opened up whole new worlds of possibility as faces. Crowds have been warming up to them for quite some time now, thanks to their clever work on the mic and dependable performance in the ring. Their characters are well defined, almost to the point where you know what they'll say even before they say it, but their ingenuity and originality always keeps us surprised and entertained regardless. Unfortunately, their notable ringwork is often outshined by the competition. Though neither work as distinguished a style as Matt or Jeff Hardy, Edge and Christian are slowly carving out niches for themselves under the cover of their tandem offense. With Christian working a surprisingly powerful style for a smaller man and Edge echoing that sentiment, they aren't often as well rounded as their opposition. Probably the only flaw you'll ever find in this combination.
You know, I may catch a bit of flack for this, but I actually enjoy watching the APA. Granted, neither man is as strong a worker as they were years ago, (Bradshaw as a member of the new Blackjacks, Faarooq as former NWA World Champion Ron Simmons) but with age also comes experience. These two know their roles, to borrow a phrase, and play them to perfection. You'll never see Faarooq attempting a Flying Space Tiger Drop, but that's got just as much to do with his character's development as it does with Simmons's inability to land it. These guys are power wrestlers, plain and simple, and they work every match as such. While they could do to sell a bit more and need to shake up their ringwork a bit, an APA match is still something I'm happy seeing on my television set every Monday night.
The Big Show & Billy Gunn
The designated amount of "suck" for any given division. Despite all the celebration and promotion surrounding his arrival and subsequent impact in the WWF, the Big Show has done very little, if anything, to justify the amount of money it took to sign him. Between a reign as the most forgettable WWF Champion since Sergeant Slaughter and his constant absences from the roster for various reasons, I see no reason why Paul Wight was brought back so quickly from his recent stay in OVW. Teaming him with Billy Gunn only serves to pour salt into that open wound. For all the talk we've heard about Gunn's natural athleticism behind the scenes, he's blown more chances at the spotlight than anyone on the roster will ever be worth. Now granted, these two have similar characters at the moment, and that would naturally lead to a coalition. But putting them into the current tag team division is like pushing Mantaur into a big return feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin. It just won't work, for more reasons than one.
God, how I want to like these guys. If there's any one talent on the WWF roster deserving of a big shot at glory right now, it's D'Lo Brown. Be it his willingness to work just about any angle, (as his run under the turban has proven) his excellent moveset or his unprecedented learning curve, he's got all the tools to make himself a prime player in today's WWF. Unfortunately, somebody seems to have it in for him, and he's stuck in nowhere teams like the one you see now. Instead of flying alongside team WWF in this big invasion, Brown's in Puerto Rico, (last I heard) suffering alongside a dead weight partner and an unenthusiastic mouthpiece. However hard he tries, no amount of brilliance from D'Lo can overcome the odds stacked against him here. And, for somebody that should've slingshotted over the ruins of his tag team with Mark Henry all those years ago, that really sucks.
I thought it was really funny, how even after the WWF propaganda machine got behind X-Pac in his match against Kidman at Invasion, even after the bookers listened to the crowds and put the WWF into the role as the face of this big feud, X-Pac was nearly booed out of the arena. If you're a longtime reader of my columns, you'll know I'm a vocal supporter of X-Pac and his work. Always have been, probably always will be. But as the leader of a faction, X-Pac is out of his league. He lacks the voice, he lacks the look, he lacks the physical presence. He's best as the annoying little mosquito heel, the lightweight that can kill the big boys with a little luck, not the intellectual opportunist. On that same page, a tandem with Albert really doesn't work. While it could be argued that, like the Hardys, Albert and X-Pac cover a lot of ground by mixing heavyweight power and lightweight speed, the comparison is here unjustified. Instead of adding up to a well rounded tag team like the Hardys, Albert and X-Pac would quickly fall into a repetitive rut in their matches, with X-Pac doing all the selling and Albert doing all the offense. Now, with Justin Credible gone to play for the other team, X-Factor's even drier than before.
Where the formula goes awry with X-Factor, it mixes just right with the Hollys. Taking a look at X-Pac next to Albert is almost comical, with Albert such a gigantic man and Waltman almost sickly in comparison. That's why it's so hard to take the smaller guy seriously. Setting Hardcore Holly next to his cousin Crash gives us a much more believable tandem. Actually, with the way this team was developed and given their credibility, it comes as a major surprise that they aren't right in the thick of things around those tag straps. Think about it; you had Hardcore for all those months, going out and getting his ass handed to him but always coming back for more. Finally, he gets the respect he's desired and morphs into a genuine hardass just in time for his little cousin Crash to come in on the ground floor, starting the process all over again. It's classic. Really a shame they're MIA in the current scene, as I'd imagine now would be their big chance to start making waves with things beginning to dry up a bit.
I'm never the type to say "I told you so", but...
Well, I feared from day one that Dean and Perry wouldn't make it in the WWF's current run, and almost a year and a half later it looks like I was right. Dean is too technically sound and not marketable enough to establish himself today, especially when the common fan can't tell what he does in the ring apart from what The Rock does. Meanwhile, Perry's in the midst of one of the most nonsensical angles of the past few years with his "You're Welcome" gimmick. I don't think much of it, especially since they already did the "moron" angle in WCW, and actually did it a lot better. But anything that gives Saturn a chance to shine can't be all bad, right? Yeah, well... I still don't see his face on very many episodes of Raw. I love the workers, but my fears came true when they were cast aside by the WWF.
Similar to Saturn above, Taka and Funaki are two guys that were struggling to grab attention in today's WWF, before a silly gimmick and delightfully stupid catchphrase made them overnight sensations for many fans. Once again, WCW did this gimmick much better in the past, and once again I'm not seeing much "evil" on my TV most Monday nights. Taka's the breakaway star of this teaming, and appears much more in control and comfortable leading Funaki than X-Pac does bossing Albert. Even with that stupid overdubbed voice controlling their actions, there's a world of unexplored possibilities with these two. They've proven time and again they can make things constantly interesting in the ring, and now that the common fan sees them as more than just "two Japanese guys," they've got staying power. So why did the floor drop out all of a sudden?
The Dudley Boyz
The Dudleys have the bizarre ability to turn just as I'm starting to grow tired of their current characters and the status quo therein. Both know what they're in the ring to do, both are equally adept at playing a face or playing a heel and can jump between the two with relative ease, and both work extremely well with their partner. These guys are so smooth as a unit, you could often confuse them for a single worker. They double team with but a glance between each other as communication. They really seem to work together like brothers, and it's great. It's been a fun ride, watching them develop from the tie dyed, stuttering inbred boys to the camo-wearing, table-toting, psychotic thugs they play today. I'm often wondering where that next step will take them.
Chuck Palumbo & Sean O'Haire
I'll be honest, when we caught our first glimpse of the Natural Born Thrillers on Nitro all those months ago, I was hardly impressed. What I saw was a giant group of nameless faces, hurried Power Plant graduates and unproven rookies, stealing time away from the faces I'd grown used to seeing. What I didn't see was WCW, doing what we'd been begging them to do all along; pushing new talent, developing their own brands and slowly phasing out the old guys. As Waranhayt pointed out to perfection in his recent column, the Thrillers were more cleanly defined every day they existed, and when that big break finally occurred, WCW was much richer than they'd been before the five had come together in the first place. As the head of their graduating class, Palumbo and O'Haire nabbed the tag straps early in the year and have yet to look back. They've begun functioning amazingly well as a tag team, with O'Haire working as the powerhouse and ol' Chuck playing the heavyweight in charge. Both are still very green, but with the kind of experience they're gaining alongside the APA, the Hardys and Edge & Christian, it won't be long before they round that corner and arrive in the big leagues.
And that does it. Upon closer examination, I think you'll agree that the current tag scene is quite a far cry from the lineup of just a few short years ago. The arrival and performance of teams like the Hardys, the Dudleys and Edge & Christian, as well as the constant competition over the titles, is something we'll no doubt remember for years down the line. What we're quietly enjoying right now is something of a renaissance in mainstream Tag Team wrestling. Sorta snuck up on us, didn't it?
until next time, i remain...