SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, December 21, 2001

Tag team scene critical to WWF's success

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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The WWF is at something of a nexus right now. On one hand, they're in a slump, with television ratings several points lower than their highs a couple of years back. Pay-per-view buys and house show attendance is similarly down. No WWF storyline is currently setting the world on fire, and in fact they're right on the heels of the Alliance debacle. At the same time, though, they've got some fresh storylines with Chris Jericho winning the undisputed title at Vengeance, the return of Ric Flair, and the impending return of Triple H. With Wrestlemania on the horizon, things go could either way. One thing that won't help the WWF get back on track, unfortunately, is their derailed tag team division.

If you don't agree or don't believe me when I say that the WWF tag team division is a mess, then let's go over the offerings from that division since the last pay-per-view. On Smackdown! last night, there wasn't a single tag team match. I can't remember the last time that was so. On Raw this week, The Dudleyz defeated Albert and Scotty Too Hotty, and that was for the tag team titles. Also, Chuck Palumbo and Billy Gunn defeated The Big Show and Tajiri.

The Dudley Boys drop Albert through a table at a WWF Toronto house show. (Sun photo: CRAIG ROBERTSON).
Last week on those same two shows, Rikishi and Edge took on Kurt Angle and William Regal, The Rock and Rob Van Dam wrestled Undertaker and Chris Jericho, and The Dudleys wrestled The Rock and Trish Stratus. That's all.

At the Vengeance pay-per-view, Albert and Scotty Too Hotty took on Christian and Test and The Dudleys beat The Big Show and Kane.

Looking over the past few weeks of shows, there are a few observations we can make about the WWF's tag team division. For one, it would appear that there are only about two actual full-time teams in the division, The Dudleys and Albert/Scotty Too Hotty. That's it. No other team has wrestled more than once. The Big Show and The Rock each wrestled in multiple tag team matches, but both with different partners. For their own reasons, we know that neither will ever contribute to a successful tag team division (The Rock's above it, and Big Show wouldn't help). That's not much of a division. None of the up-and-coming teams, like Chuck Palumbo and Billy Gunn or The Big Show and Whomever, look very promising either.

For the past several years, there have always been three tiers of tag teams in the WWF. The first tier represents the full-timers: two wrestlers who have wrestled together for a long time, often under one name. This tier is usually the core of the division. Examples include The Dudleys, The Hardy Boys, and Edge and Christian, or if you want to go further back, The British Bulldogs or The Hart Foundation, and so on. This group wrestles most of the matches in the division, sometimes becoming repetitive but at least guaranteeing a decent match on a given pay-per-view. These are the teams who are most desperate for those titles, and usually the teams who wrestle the gimmick matches.

The second tier represents temporary alliances, brought in to freshen up the tag team division and give rest to one of the above feuds. The team of X-Pac and Kane is a good example of a fairly long-lasting second tier tag team, in my opinion. You had the idea, as soon as they got together, that they would break up sooner than later, but they were a fixture in the division for some time.

The third tier is a minor portion of the division, consisting of short-term highly volatile celebrity teams consisting mostly of main eventers. When Steve Austin and someone team up briefly and win the tag team titles, you know the team won't last much longer than a few weeks. These teams sometimes breathe new life into an ailing tag team division and often add some prestige back to the titles.

An ideal tag team division has a good mix of all three tiers in rotation. The current division has few of any of them. Tag team matches seem like last-minute afterthoughts, few of the tag teams seem even semi-permanent, and the matches aren't even very good. There just doesn't seem to be much point to it, other than to fill up space. It feels like filler before a main event, like most of the undercard at the last pay-per-view.

The WWF tag team division has the saving grace of many a pay-per-view over the past months and years. Granted, its first tier of teams had been getting stale, and breaking up Edge and Christian or The Hardys was a good idea. Breaking up both teams and not doing much with the single wrestlers doesn't seem like as good an idea, though. Also, it's generally a good idea to use teams on their way out of the division to build up new teams before they go.

There was a similar situation a few years ago. The WWF tag team division was a joke. I mean that almost literally, in that their tag teams were largely comical. The Legion of Doom, Disciples of Apocalypse, and any two guys from The Nation of Domination were very hard to take seriously. They threw together two rejects, Billy Gunn and Road Dogg, who totally rejuvenated the division with their style. They built a new tag team division around those two and were very successful.

Unfortunately, booker and writer attention often seems to linger with the top stars, and the tag team division began to ail. Seven tag team titles for Dogg and Gunn later, and fans were beginning to yawn. They broke up, no one was on deck to replace them, and the division was in disarray for awhile. Eventually, the triad of teams who have dominated between 1999 and 2001 stepped up and delivered, but there was a long lag during which fans were unsatisfied with tag team action.

The tag team division is important and it's critical that it be allowed to retain its momentum. Teams should be rotated most consistently and situations like today's, where there are far too few branded tag teams, are unacceptable. Hopefully, the WWF will realize the value that a good doubles match adds to its cards, and when tag team business picks up again, it will for good.

Here's the mailbag: writes:
"Just wanted to say that you were one of the people that said Cris Jericho could never do it or wasn't going to do it. You said that he would not be crediable. The same thing you said about HHH a few years back. I don't seem to recall u admitting that you were wrong, that you were one of those people that didn't think that Y2J could do it, guess what you were wrong. You were wrong about HHH, and now your wrong about Y2J. After HHH became what you call a crediable title holder, you decided to jump on the bandwagon, and started to say that yes HHH did desearve it. History repeats itself."

One quick note: There's a difference between:

  • (1) Gauging someone's abilities and making your best educated guess that he won't make a credible main eventer, vs.
  • (2) Being happy for a person when he does make it.
If you read my column, you noticed I never suggested that "I said Jericho could do it" or "I always supported Jericho". All I said and all I meant was that Jericho worked hard for what he got, he was questioned along the way (by me among others), and I'm happy for him.

I have always been a fan of Jericho's. Go even further back in the archives where I talk about him in WCW. I loved him. When he got to the WWF, I didn't think he'd make the main event; that was an opinion, not a desire or a hatred for him. So there's nothing contradictory about then congratulating him when he gets there. If there's a bandwagon at all, I didn't jump on it. I'm still surprised that Jericho did it. I'm just happy for him.

There's a difference.

SLAM! regular Robert Vollman, from, writes:

"First of all, there are some Canadians without titles, most notably Test.

Secondly, I won't toast to Chris Jericho. I don't know about WCW, but in WWF he has received considerable opportunities for elevation, perhaps only Kurt Angle has received more. He's very small and, unlike wrestlers his size, he's not a particularly great wrestler. His charisma is sometimes excellent, but usually inconsistent and sometimes uninspired. The first unified champion is a big deal, and there is a long list of wrestlers who are more deserving. There is also a list of wrestlers more deserving of this type of "push" and "elevation". So now, I won't raise my glass with you.

Then again, I didn't toast Triple-H when he first received what was probably the biggest push of all-time 2-3 years ago either."

Point taken on Test, Robert, but I don't think I ever really think of him as Canadian. To do so would injure my civic pride.

I agree with you in that my first instinct when I heard that Jericho was the first unified champion was that it seemed like a Ďleapfrogí, almost as if he hadnít earned the underlying status of being a mainstay main eventer yet. At the same time, I canít deny that it was a great way to push him quickly and solidly. Perhaps there are wrestlers more deserving, but the unified title, in my view, isnít so much a reward as a tool to push wrestlers.

That's all for this week. Have a fantastic holiday weekend, happy holidays, and merry Christmas. Iíll see you next week.

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