The surprise break up of a tag team is a bit of a trope in the world of professional wrestling, and it makes good enough sense from a storyline perspective. A booker starts by pairing two talents who are generally in similar places in their careers—two rookie prospects, or one guy on his way up while the other is heading toward retirement; sometimes a pair of mid card acts who don’t have much to do independently, and so get an opportunity to try making the most of their talents as a tandem. Regardless, the tag team hopefully helps get the guys established or keeps them productively occupied.
The break up, in turn, sets up the former teammates as rivals on more or less equal footing, and they can push one another again through a heated feud with a logical storyline. There are also those times when one member of the team is clearly chosen for greatness, and the heat of splitting off from his partner and then decisively winning the feud to follow can offer an optimal way of kick starting a big singles run.
The proper launch for a story about partners going their separate ways starts with a shocking breakup. Whether it’s a headlining duo, or even one that hasn’t captured gold—and is perhaps using the lack of success as a kayfabe reason to split up—tag team breakups can draw at least momentary attention to acts in need. This article looks back at 10 tag team breakups that shocked the fans, and prognosticates five breakups we might see next.
15 Shocking Break Up: #DIY
After successful runs in the Cruiserweight Classic, Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa formed a tag team in NXT. The pair’s skill, athletic style, and ability to assemble compelling tandem offense made them a hit. They’d go on to have a classic set of matches opposite The Revival whom they unseated for the tag titles. From there, they’d have an excellent rivalry with The Authors of Pain, who proved too physically dominating for the #DIY-branded team of Garagano and Ciampa to overcome.
The latter rivalry came to a head in the main event spot of NXT TakeOver: Chicago, in an excellent ladder match, highlighted by Gargano shoving his partner out of the way to absorb a stiff ladder shot on his behalf. #DIY lost but left the rings with their heads held high after a sensational effort. And then Ciampa turned on Gargano.
The brutal beatdown between partners was a surprise, but all the more so after Gargano’s display of friendship and wrestling such a hard fought match together. It was a shocker that immediately earned Gargano sympathy as a babyface, and set up Ciampa for a huge heel run (though injury unfortunately put that piece on hold).
14 Shocking Break Up: Enzo And Big Cass
Enzo and Big Cass were paired up in NXT. In kayfabe, they made sense enough as a pair of dudes from the streets of New York, who’d wind up bundled with Carmella as a fellow native New Yorker. In reality, the pairing was perfectly reasonable for teaming a guy for the gift of gab with a guy who offered tremendous size so they could compensate for each other’s most obvious shortcomings while WWE hoped each would grow into a reasonable in ring performer.
The team came across well enough, never quite graduating the top tier as in ring performers but each demonstrating some progress and growing into one of the most popular tag teams first in NXT and then on the main roster. Their breakup was preceded by an angle of a mystery attacker beating up Enzo backstage, until it was revealed that Cass himself was behind it the whole time. In retrospect, it made sense enough as the tag team had accomplished about as much as it was likely to. Cass got freshened up a bit with the beginning of his push as a singles star, while Enzo floundered in the beginning, but reinvented himself and the Cruiserweight division at large with his own heel turn.
13 Breaking Up Next: The New Day
The New Day was the quintessential example of WWE throwing guys together in hopes that they’d be better together than their directionless mid card acts were. The results exceeded most fans’ expectations. They went from a hokey face team that fans largely rejected to a wildly entertaining heel trio before their success all but demanded WWE turn them face for a successful run as good guys.
New Day amassed the longest tag title reign ever, hosted WrestleMania 33, and hopped brands to win tag gold on SmackDown, too. The question at this point is what the guys have left to accomplish? While there’s a justifiable fear that Kofi Kingston and especially Xavier Woods would end up lost in the mid-card shuffle if they were to split up now, the trio really does seem to have done it all in its nearly three years together, and you have to suspect that a breakup is the next logical step.
12 Shocking Break Up: American Alpha
The team of Chad Gable and Jason Jordan seemed to redeem a pair of wayward souls in developmental, offering them a focused identity and an opportunity to showcase their skills in a competitive tag team division. The act thrived in NXT, then got off to a reasonable start on SmackDown, before quickly starting to feel lost in the shuffle. Contrary to most of the shocking breakups described in this countdown, American Alpha’s split wasn’t about a brutal beat down or one guy turning heel on the other, but rather a drastic change in creative direction for Jordan.
Kurt Angle became the new general manager of Monday Night Raw, and before long, WWE aimed to capitalize on his popularity by casting Jordan as his estranged son. Given their shared amateur wrestling background and passing resemblance—if you were to assume the mother were a woman of color—the link was believable enough. More importantly, it offered Jordan an opportunity to explode into a singles career in unexpected ways. Gable, meanwhile, was left to his own devices as an unexpected new singles act.
11 Shocking Break Up: The Miz And John Morrison
The Miz and John Morrison were an unlikely tag team. The former reality TV star was still a bit of a joke in the WWE landscape. Morrison was finding his footing after a volatile WWE run that had included playing Eric Bischoff’s sidekick, teaming up with Joey Mercury, and getting the slingshot into the ECW Championship as a last minute replacement for Chris Benoit. They were the quintessential team thrown together for lack of anything better to do with either of them individually. They made the most of the opportunity in an entertaining run.
That Miz and Morrison going their separate ways was logical enough, as they accomplished about all they could in a less than featured tag team division. Drafting them to separate brands was a reasonable enough way to set them on different courses. However, immediately upon being drafted apart, the twosome had a more violent separation as Miz physically attacked his running buddy, establishing him as a villain with more killer instinct than before, while Morrison was unofficially recast as a face.
10 Breaking Up Next: The Iconic Duo
Peyton Royce and Billie Kay have gotten over in NXT as a heel tag team something along the lines of LayCool or The Beautiful People. While neither is cast as a world beater in her own right, they’ve been given good opportunities to be featured and to improve their game working as a tag team with one another.
Royce and Kay are both beautiful women with a similar enough aesthetic so that they make sense as a tandem. Rumors about that one of them might get the call up to the main roster sooner than later, though, and given that there’s not a formal women’s tag team division at any level of WWE, it seems reasonable enough to think the pair has already peaked. While no one would complain about the two extending their run together, given how good it has generally turned out to be for each performer, it still won’t be a shocker if they go their separate ways soon.
9 Shocking Break Up: Batista And Rey Mysterio
Batista and Rey Mysterio were never formally cast as tag team, but more like a super duo of singles performers who allied and often wound up teaming together. Just the same, the kayfabe friendship became central enough to each performer that fans took for granted they’d always have each other’s backs. Mysterio would be there to play sidekick to Batista when he was outnumbered. Batista would offer the muscle behind his little buddy if he got overwhelmed.
This dynamic came to a shocking end at Bragging Rights 2009. The two were a part of a Fatal Fourway for the World Heavyweight Championship. While they didn’t really come to blows in the match, they did have some interactions, including Mysterio breaking up one of Batista’s pin attempts that might have won him the title. The two cut a promo after the match in which Mysterio was his usual optimistic self, saying they’d do better next time, only for Batista’s temper to boil over and lead to a wonderfully vicious assault as The Animal turned heel. The visual of this super angry, super jacked monster decimating a man half his size made the crowd go wild, and set Batista on his last main event push of his first WWE tenure.
8 Shocking Break Up: The Shield
The Shield is a success story in just about every sense for WWE. They debuted hot, and got a big push right out of the gate. WWE shrewdly told the story that they were a killer group—they didn’t have a ton of wins in singles matches to their names, but based on their keen teamwork could overcome other two or three man teams.
That Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose would split off and have big singles runs was no surprise, and WWE even seemed be hinting they’d break up months before it happened, as in-fighting set in. However, rather than splitting, the guys turned face defy The Authority, and square off in an intergenerational dream rivalry with Evolution. On one hand, after The Hounds of Justice beat decisively beat Evolution, it looked as though they’d peaked. Their level of success suggested and camaraderie they might start pursuing singles careers out of an amicable split. Instead, the night after they blew off their issue with Evolution, Rollins suddenly, violently turned on his partners, attacking them with a steel chair.
The Rollins turn was shocking for its timing, and because most people had assumed that if anyone turned it would be Ambrose. In the years to follow, The Shield alumni have emerged as staple main event talents, more consistently closing out PPVs than any other full-time talents.
7 Breaking Up Next: Heath Slater and Rhyno
The team of Heath Slater and Rhyno is a true odd couple. They joined up in a fun angle at the dawn of the new brand split. Slater was an unsigned free agent, desperate to win championship gold so that he could get a contract with one of the brands. He went out seeking a tag team partner to pursue SmackDown’s tag team belts, and Rhyno stepped in. Together, they combined Slater’s comedic stylings and deceptively sharp in ring with Rhyno’s more serious edge and veteran credibility. The unlikely duo would get over with the fans and wind up the first SmackDown Tag Team Champions of the current era.
While Slater and Rhyno were fun, WWE transitioned the belts soon enough to the Wyatt Family. American Alpha beat them and took the tag division on the whole in a more serious direction that would soon include The Usos and The New Day in the title hunt.
Slater and Rhyno have since transitioned to Raw and aren’t consistently used on TV. The Fashion Police have largely usurped the role of top comedic tag team, and Slater and Rhyno have seemed largely directionless amongst a stacked tag division. Rhyno isn’t getting any younger, and the smart money is on Slater transitioning to another singles run sooner than later.
6 Shocking Break Up: The Rockers
For their first years on the WWE roster, Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty were completely synonymous with one another, and it was difficult to imagine either of the lightweight high-flyers outside the context of the Rockers tag team. WWE teased dissension between them, and particularly that Michaels might turn heel, before filming a reconciliation angle on Brutus Beefcake’s Barber Shop interview segment.
While the two seemed to have made up, the segment ended with Michaels nailing Jannetty with a superkick, and then throwing him through a plate glass window. Not only was the split a surprise, but the sheer level of violence felt like a real departure for this tag team, and indeed this era of WWE programming. Michaels would, of course, use this shocking moment as a springboard into one of the most successful singles careers of all time.
5 Shocking Break Up: Lance Cade And Trevor Murdoch
The mid 2000s saw a bit of a lull for WWE tag team division, but one of the teams that stuck around and largely thrived was the redneck tandem of Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch. The team’s split largely came out of the blue, as they went from a more typical spat between partners that might signal an eventual break up, straight to Cade decking his partner.
This break up saw one of the more stable teams of that era go their separate ways. Cade won the resulting match handily, and was then paired with Chris Jericho. He looked to be off and running for a big singles push, before WWE abruptly released him for what Jim Ross has alluded to as bad judgment. Cade would tragically pass away before too long, and Murdoch wouldn’t have much of a WWE career moving forward.
4 Breaking Up Next: The Ascension
In NXT, The Ascension was cast as a big bruising team, akin to The Road Warriors or Demolition. WWE marketed them as such when they came to the main roster. The comparisons didn’t hold up all that well, though, and the team was quickly exposed for still being green and not up to the top billing they’d been set up for.
WWE seemed to call an audible on The Ascension’s push. Interestingly, they weren’t sent back to NXT for more work or rebranding, nor broken up to try out as singles stars. Instead, they were simply demoted to working the lower echelons of the tag division, leading to their current place as comedic frenemies to The Fashion Police.
While Konor and Viktor are entertaining enough in that current role, it’s not reasonable to keep them on the payroll just as comedic accessories. WWE may wind up releasing them, but if they stay on, there’s reason to think WWE may try them out apart from one another, likely as not with at least one of them rebranded in a new gimmick.
3 Shocking Break Up: Jeri-KO
The pair of Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens went from a semi-comedic mid card act in the summer of 2016, to a pairing that dominated the Raw main event scene from fall 2016 to early 2017. Owens unexpectedly won the Universal Championship. Jericho, in more or less equal parts, added credibility to Owens’s act for all of his WWE history, while also injecting some comedy relief in constantly insisting he was KO’s best friend.
Lots of fans anticipated that the pair would break up, but it was nonetheless a surprise when it went down in an early 2017 episode of Raw. Jericho would throw an over the top Festival of Friendship in Owens’s honor. Owens would respond by giving Jericho one of the most brutal beatings in recent WWE history to end their friendship, and set them up to feud going into WrestleMania season.
2 Shocking Break Up: Goldust And Stardust
In the fall of 2013, the Rhodes boys—Goldust and Cody—would band together alongside their father to stand up to The Authority and The Shield. It was a great angle and inserted this pair into the conversation of great brother tag teams. They’d thrive over the months to follow, before things took a dark turn, with Cody ultimately rebranded as Stardust.
As Goldust and Stardust, the team lost some of its sense of tradition attached to the Rhodes name, but did start to look and act more alike as a fresher tag team brand. They would end up capturing tag gold together. However, before long, Stardust would turn on his brother as he took the character in a darker direction. Sadly, the Stardust gimmick never really led anywhere, and its failure to evolve was a factor in Cody leaving WWE.
1 Breaking Up Next: The Hype Bros.
The tag team of Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley was quite arguably key to making the most of both men’s WWE careers. After Ryder manufactured his own push via shrewd use of social media and YouTube, WWE largely buried him. He ended up heading down to NXT to reinvigorate his career. There, he teamed up with Mojo Rawley, a big athletic guy with a lot of the tools WWE values, who nonetheless wasn’t going anywhere. Merging Ryder’s Long Island bro shtick with Rawley’s gimmick of staying hyped, both guys found more direction and formed a solid tag team first in developmental, then on the SmackDown brand.
The guys teased a break up over the summer before settling on a heel turn instead. While they seem like the kind of team that ought to have at least one tag title reign on their resume, they may also fall into the pocket of teams like Too Cool in the Attitude Era—good, but overshadowed by the elite teams they happened to coexist with. If the team holds out, they may well realize their championship potential, but it looks just as likely WWE may end up splitting them, in particular to push Rawley as a singles wrestler.