By William Math
Another month, another set-up here at TJR and another edition of Tag Team Specialist. Last month we looked at the dark days of the mid 2000s, when the WWE tag team division was arguably at its most hilarious, with such luminaries as The Dicks and Gymini leading the ranks. This month we head to the other end of the quality spectrum and ask the question that sits neatly on the lips of most, clinging to the mouth by only the slightest string of phlegm. Who is the greatest WWF/E tag team of all time?
It’s an impossible question to answer, truth be told. How do you define ‘greatest’ in the madcap world of professional wrestling anyway? You don’t. A world of make believe, of fiction padded out by reality, a non-sport whose DVDs sit proudly in the sport section. By the normal parameters by which you judge competition, The Great Khali is a greater professional wrestler than Jake Roberts because of his World Championship reign, but no one would ever truly entertain such a preposterous idea.
Not only that, but we’re talking about the greatest WWF/E tag team of all time. Not WCW, not NWA, not any team that made their name in a previous promotion. For instance, the Road Warriors/Legion of Doom would be one of the first that comes to mind, but they had been a huge name for nigh on six years before making their debut in the World Wrestling Federation. (Side note: Did you know that the combined days that Legion of Doom were WWF tag champions is less than the Spirit Squads’ singular reign?) Also, in a world where making your opponent credible is a big part we can’t really put Legion of Doom in any sort of ‘great’ category. They rarely lost clean, and even when they lost by nefarious means Hawk or Animal would kick out immediately after the three count and no-sell the entire thing. I was a LoD fan as a child, most were, but I wouldn’t put them as the greatest tag team. Not even close.
But anyway, we’re discounting them because they were built outside of the company. The same goes for the Steiners. The late 1980s and early 1990s were a truly wonderful time for tag team wrestling however. The division in WWF was stacked to say the least, from the Conquistadors through the Fabulous Rougeaus up to Demolition. The Hart Foundation, consisting of Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart and Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart, and the British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith and Dynamite Kid) had arguably the finest tag team feud of the era, and can both lay a strong claim to the title of the WWE’s greatest.
They epitomized everything that is and should be great about tag team wrestling. Both teams had a smaller technical wizard aligned with a violent brute. The smaller more adept worker was able to manipulate the match and crowd until the hot tag which let loose the big man. Some of the most memorable matches of the era involved these two teams, and all four men are held in high esteem by wrestling fans professionally. They also have the title tenures to back it up. The Bulldogs only held the straps once but did so for a whopping 294 days. The Harts, who have a combined 483 days as champions, fourth on the all time list, ended this run. If you built a fantasy all-time tag division, these two tandems would anchor it. The greatest of all time though? I’m not sure.
The years following these golden ones were still pretty great for tag team wrestling, all be it characterized more by the thrusting together of singles competitors as opposed to organic, natural teams. A couple of heel duos from early 90s fit this bill. Money Inc. made great sense gimmick wise. Why wouldn’t the filthy rich ‘Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase want to side with the evil taxman, Irwin R. Schyster? They held the belts for a combined 411 days, which as a child felt like an eternity. You also had the Natural Disasters, Earthquake and Typhoon, who whilst not being wonderful in the ring or having gold to back it up, were immensely intimidating as a child fan. Two big bad men, I genuinely feared for any team who set foot in the squared circle with them. Neither of these teams would be considered the greatest of all time however, although I would certainly call them both great.
What about the more modern era? As the 2000s crept upon us, tag team wrestling starting taking a backseat to the singles world. This didn’t stop arguably the greatest three-team saga in history developing though. The Dudley Boyz, Hardy Boyz and Edge and Christian put on a set of matches that even to this day put most tag matches at a disadvantage. The TLC match made its introduction, and these battles are quite rightly considered the best tag matches in company history. The Dudleyz made their name in ECW though, so can’t be considered in this quest. The Hardyz blazed the trail set out for them by The Rockers, but all of their title reigns had a sense of transition about them, they never seemed to be the biggest deal in the division. Edge and Christian were most definitely the top duo of this trio. In many ways E and C were the Steve Austin of the tag division at the time. Frequent title reigns, immense in the ring and as characters, the onscreen brothers and real-life best friends were genuine cornerstones. They held everything together whilst the Hardyz flew and the Dudleyz crashed. It is them who put the closest claim to the team I write of next.
As the years go by however, one team stands out for me from the annals of WWF/E tag team history. In the same way that E and C were the cornerstone side of the early noughties, Demolition held together the division in the late 80s. They were terrifying as heels, completely badass as faces. Looking back their attire is a little ridiculous, but as a young chap watching they were intimidating as all hell. Supposedly created by Vince McMahon to be his version of the Road Warriors, Demolition for me were far superior in the wacky world of Professional Wrestling. They were big, menacing dudes who were more than capable in the ring. They weren’t afraid to make their opponents look a million dinars either, as their matches with the Harts and the Brain Busters attest to. Hindsight leaves me saddened that a long run with The Rockers didn’t happen.
Ax and Smash came together as a team in 1987, and a team they most definitely were. I’m a boner for matching attire and a shared gimmick, and although all teams at the time had this it was Demolition who truly stood out. Their face paint, pseudo-hockey masks and black gear was different to the bright opponents they would frequently face. They had a great arsenal of double-team offence, and their Demolition Decapitation finisher was effective as hell. Demolition managed to dominate the tag division without suffocating it. They dominated their opponents, but always with clouds of light and hope shining through. They weren’t unbeatable, but you couldn’t see them being beaten. Ax and Smash were perfect for their time.
Their numbers back everything up as well. Their 478-day reign as champions between March 1988 and July 1989 is the best in company history, and will remain so for a long time to come. Demolition’s combined days as champions, 698, are over a hundred more than the next best. All of this when the division was arguably at its strongest as well, make their claim the most compelling. Everyone will have their opinion on this, but the combination of numbers and other factors important in professional wrestling make Demolition number one in my four eyes.
That’ll do for now. What do you think? Who are the greatest WWE tag team of all time? Who did I miss? Do any of the more modern teams have the ability to reach these levels? What about the Bushwackers? Hah. I know the commenting system and everything else is a bit up in the air on here at the moment, but be patient and everything will be beautiful again soon. Drop a comment in the lonely box either way, or failing that tweet me on the twitter box (@pingvinorkestra). I’ve got a week left at work here before my Eastern adventures resume. Have a great weekend.