Ring Architect 3.2.14: Dearth or Rebirth
Posted by Obi Justice on 03.02.2014
With a recent string of hugely over tag champs, the idea of a WWE tag team renaissance has been thrown around a lot. Maybe we should be a little more skeptical, though. Obi Justice looks into why.
"Ring Architect" is a format I've come up with to break down wrestling topics. The 20' x 20' is the main idea that I'll be talking about in the column. Red Corner/Blue Corner are two opposing takes on it that I see. Of course, it'll just be my thoughts on it, so I'll leave it to you guys in the comments to see how valid they are. And the last bit, the Main Strands, are three key pieces of information that I think should be kept in mind when considering the topic. It'll definitely help me sort out my thoughts and hopefully it makes things easy for you guys to read.
The whole deal, the main idea.
The New Age Outlaws, one of the most popular tag teams of all time, are once again the WWE Tag Team Champions after a 14 year "drought." They're following a succession of extremely popular teams as champions. They beat the Rhodes Brothers for the belt, who were preceded by the Shield and before them Team Hell No. The current popularity of the tag team champions is out of step with how it's been viewed for a long while, when the only notable champions would come from short team-ups. It's only recently that it seemed actual tag teams have gotten the crowd going at the forefront.
Underneath all that is a real thinness, though. The Prime Time Players have recently broken up. Los Matadores have been brawling with 3MB, which makes them equally irrelevant to the title scene. Ryback and Curtis Axel are alright but they're nowhere near being a top team. The two best contenders are the Real Americans and the Usos. I'm guessing that the Usos are going to get the belts at WrestleMania since they didn't at the Chamber, but the longer they're just "So Close Now" the more shine's going to come off them. The Real Americans are very likely going to split, or at least move their focus from tag wrestling, as Cesaro has certainly got a rocket right now.
This is why I find it hard to take seriously when people say there is a tag team renaissance in the WWE. I think the situation is the same as it's always been: if an act catches on, they'll run with it. It just so happens that Team Hell No became a huge success, the Shield was an act that was over from the start, and the Rhodes Brothers came off Goldust's amazing return and a great kickoff feud between the Rhodeses and the McMahons. The actual content of the division is pretty much the same, and as soon as they feel they've got to take the belt off without another fortune-sent act in the wings, they'll be pretty much in the same place as they were before. If WWE really wants to have a rebirth of a tag division, they need to treat it like a division with respect. That means, as a first step, they need to stop breaking up tag teams.
Red corner is pro. Blue corner is con.
RED CORNER: A strong division needs standout members, but there is a nearly complete drought of star teams in WWE. The last notable tag scene in WWE is the TLC era of 2000-2002. The championship was dominated by three top flight teams: the Hardy Boyz, Edge & Christian, and the Dudley Boyz. There were a lot of battles between that group, sure. Anybody watching then can tell you that. By having all those teams working at the same time, WWE was able to have other teams in that orbit like APA, Right to Censor, Test & Albert, and so on. Any one of those teams could build credibility without needing to feud with the champions. You don't have to telegraph the title change by having the champs lose a bunch to build up the program, and you don't risk foreshadowing them retaining by keeping the champs strong.
But what if the Dudley Boyz had been split up after TLC I? What about if Edge & Christian split right after that? You lose all those foils. Without a group of stars there's really nothing to build a "division" on. In any sport, the success or strength of a division/league depends on its star power. Let's take the UFC Welterweight title. Anderson Silva, undoubtedly one of the biggest stars in MMA history. When he got beat by Chris Weidman, did Weidman become a star? Is the welterweight division now a big money division? My ear isn't right on the ground with MMA but I hear some news and that's not where I'm hearing anything exciting these days. There's still a division, but very quickly you see that once there's only one star, you can have the title change but that doesn't mean the division's going to have anywhere near the same shine. Right now, WWE is the same way. Usos and the Rhodes Brothers may stick together, but that's more because of family than anything else, and once they want to push Cody, it'll just be the Usos. Outlaws are on borrowed time. And over the past year or so there have never been more than the challenger and the champion being considered at the top of the division.
BLUE CORNER: The tag belts have never been particularly relevant in WWE and the division's current strength is in how it can launch people. WWE has never been a mecca for tag team wrestling. Even in its golden age of the TLC match, the three teams were arguably more over for being willing to put their bodies on the line in such a spectacle than they were for being great tag teams. The New Age Outlaws, probably the greatest team in the history of the company, were basically the only solid tag team of the Attitude Era and they stayed together because they had a great act. So maybe, in that light, it's not right to see a "strong tag division" in WWE as it would be in another company because WWE doesn't really even want strong tag teams.
The best thing tag teams (as opposed to super-teams of two already-made stars) have done in TLC is get people over. Out of the TLC six, three became world heavyweight champs in WWE, Matt Hardy became the WWECW champion, and Bully Ray and Christian became TNA world champions. Out of the Smackdown Six, the next notable era of tag wrestling, one was a champion walking in (Kurt Angle) and the program produced four others (Edge, Mysterio, Benoit, Eddie). In this recent period, Team Hell No really took Daniel Bryan to the level of popularity he's at now and the Shield are still over, with former tag champ Reigns looking about ready to break out. Cesaro didn't even get the belt but I think his stock has been raised a great deal by his time in the Real Americans. This is the real value of tag teams in WWE and the situation now is about as good as it'll get.
Important lines of thought.
TOP ROPE: Tag teams aren't as well equipped to be actors in the dramatic storylines of WWE. The typical conception of a tag team is of members who are always allied and never fight. In fact, any time a team has an argument or a problem, there's speculation to them breaking up and they usually do. Since they can't be individuals as such it rules them out of a lot of storylines, unless you're just going to have guy tag teams always go out with girl tag teams, or one girl dates both members of a tag team, or something like that. Since most everything in WWE is driven by these sorts of stories, there just isn't a lot of space for permanent teams.
MIDDLE ROPE: A more robust division could prove a good use for lower-card wrestlers. 3MB is a fairly entertaining act and they're not awful in the ring. More than that, they've got an identity. So why are they rarely on Raw? I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that there isn't a really strong tag division, so there's only one team that needs competition. With a better tag division in place, though, there would be more use for some of these guys who are out of the loop and it would freshen up the product some. Plus, you're giving more guys chances to have those breakout matches, and you're pleasing more fans, as everybody's got their die hard fan out there who'll go crazy to see their favorite guy (yeah, even Jinder Mahal).
BOTTOM ROPE: Tag team wrestling has been a big draw in the past and could be again. Teams like the Rock n' Roll Express could change a territory's fortunes by coming to work. The NWA tag team scene curated by Arn Anderson was very exciting and no doubt impacted their bottom line in a great way. Jim Cornette will waste no time telling you how the Midnights gave Texas something they'd never seen before, and the Freebird/Von Erich rivalry characterizes World Class in most retrospectives. Tag wrestling isn't destined to be a lower-card sideshow. It's been more before and, with some effort, it could be more again.