It’s been long said that Vince McMahon is not a huge fan of Tag Team Wrestling. Following the conclusion of the TLC Era in WWE, it was more than a full decade before any teams would come along that could be talked about in an all-time sense. 2017 was the culmination of the groundwork being laid not only in NXT in 2016 by teams like DIY, The Revival and The Authors of Pain as many would rightfully claim, but WWE from 2013-15 when The Usos started their march to relevancy and squared off with several sets of opponents including Harper & Rowan, The Shield (Reigns & Rollins) & Cesaro and Tyson Kidd. The Usos rode their in-ring ability, and unique presence to establish themselves as the cornerstone for the tag division.
An injury would derail The Usos, but allow The New Day to rise from a push gone wrong. Fully unleashing their true personas as heels, they were unearthing blackness in a way WWE never presented. They weren’t militants, nor stereotypes, but they were unapologetic the entire time. A random team couldn’t have just become The New Day, these guys are 1 of 1’s. Being themselves allowed them to turn into one of the best Tag Team acts of all time, and the longest reigning champions ever.
Sheamus and Cesaro were guys who were selected lower than they thought they should have been in the 2016 Draft and had an incredible 7 match series, with their final match being an absolute WAR where neither man established themselves as the better man. Then GM Mick Foley stuck them together to give them their earned “title opportunity”, and every month that has passed, they’ve blended their talents to create one of the best working big-man tag teams we’ve ever seen.
The final team that would round out this renaissance was Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose formerly of The Shield. Their reunion was one of the central stories on Raw this past summer, and their chemistry as rivals was as great as their team ended up being the perfect foes for The Bar as they engaged in a feud that saw them blend what made Tag Team wrestling great before, and what will define it going forward.
These four teams were able to come through time after time as they were insulated from the chaos surrounding almost everything else in WWE. Their responsibility in WWE seemed to be, “Have as many great matches as possible and change them up enough for fans to not get bored.” While I preferred The New Day vs Usos rivalry for their ability to top themselves every single time out, and keep us on the edge of our seats, The Bar vs The Shield is not far behind at all, as they took a more cerebral approach, with 3 of them being former World Champions, and the other being Cesaro. It is naturally going to be done at a different pace. New Day vs Usos was a rivalry among themselves to settle who’s the greatest among them, from their personalities to physical performance. I saw Bar/Shield as 4 singles wrestlers doing a thinking man’s version of a chaotic rivalry that had to operate within Monday Night Raw parameters.
So Why Did They Flourish So Much?
For one, both sets of belts were free from the grasps of part-timers. This allowed a constant challenge to whoever was holding the titles. Without the politics of the titles being unseen for months, and the belts seemingly reserved for people to win by the time next Wrestlemania comes, the unpredictability helped those titles immensely. None of the finishes were telegraphed, we literally had to watch and not know what was about to happen. It actually seemed as competitive as a pre-determined sport could be. The tag titles were also hidden from experimentation. We didn’t have to worry about Enzo Amore walking in and taking over from Neville and unleashing god awful wrestling in the process. The tag team titles weren’t given to anyone as an experiment to break into a foreign market that already gets WWE TV for free. Freed of these albatrosses, what became important were the matches and the moments both sets of teams were able to create. Like the rap battle, or the reconciliation of Rollins and Ambrose.
Most of WWE’s best matches this year came from the tag divisions where the creative team didn’t saddle them with a McMahon (take your pick) to factor into the finishes. Hell, they barely factored into making the matches. Stephanie McMahon wasn’t attempting to humble any of these teams, and none of them were forced to sell the devastating offensive arsenal of Shane McMahon. If only AJ Styles and Kevin Owens had that luxury.
Most importantly, on one side it was the two most important tag team acts of this era in The New Day and Usos, each reaching character peaks, and squaring off in the ring to show what the new standard will be for those who will follow them. On the other side Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, two of the top wrestlers of this time, were forced to turn to each other when a common enemy forced them back into partnership. The knock on The New Day always was that they didn’t have the wrestling to back everything else up. Conversely, for The Usos it was the opposite. Marrying them for months forced them to compete in perceived areas of weakness.
They took the slap in the face that was being put on the pre-show of Summerslam and turned it into the best match of the night. Never again should they be disrespected like that. I gave one 5 star match out in WWE this year, and it was to the Hell in a Cell opener that showed innovation, violence, and a sense of finality. It was so good The Usos became faces again.
Both rivalries benefitted from a hands-off approach that crippled other titles and left it up to the wrestlers to thrill the audience. When it comes down to it, I just trust some of the best guys in the world over creative at this point. Hopefully, we don’t celebrate the successes too loudly or else they might have to come fix it.
Rich Latta is a writer for LordsofPain.net & host of the One Nation Radio Podcast on www.SocialSuplex.com He appears monthly on Chad Matthews’ podcast The Doc Says after Raw PPVs.GFX by @SirMikeFergus Give him a follow on Twitter, @RichLatta32 or drop him a comment below. If you like hip-hop, check out his music here. www.Soundcloud.com/RichLatta
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