Tag team wrestling is a time-honoured tradition in the industry, which has demands that single wrestlers don’t need to worry about. These men and women need to create an interesting chemistry with their partner as well as learn how to share the spotlight and most importantly play off the strengths of one another. However, we’d be lying if we didn’t admit that the real glory lies in the singles division, and it turns out that some of the best wrestlers in the tag division didn’t have the skills to make it on their own. Thinking of those people and their polar opposites, those whose time in the singles division outshone anything they’d done up to that point, we decided to put together this list.
In order to be considered for this list, the wrestler needed to have been part of a notable team, so guys who had a short run teaming with a fellow singles competitor need not apply. Looking at every wrestler who then had runs as a tag and singles competitor, we put together this list of the wrestlers who either succeeded beyond what anyone could have hoped or failed miserably. We tried to have some balance to the list, so someone like Steve Austin, who had a legendary run as one of The Hollywood Blondes, isn’t included, as his singles run overshadowed his time as a tag team member. We’ve also opted to limit our entries to people who were part of teams that broke up since the 1990s, otherwise there simply would have been too many wrestlers to choose from.
15 Flourished: Ron Simmons
If this WWE Hall of Famer’s name only brings to mind his run in the WWE that started out as a singles star before he and Bradshaw formed The Acolytes, later known as The APA, you may be confused. How could someone who ended his career as a tag team wrestler make this list? Simple, years before his time in the WWE, Ron was a part of an extremely intimidating tag team in the NWA and WCW, called Doom. Together with Butch Reed, they were managed by Woman and Teddy Long during their run and the pair were actually holding the Tag Team belts when the company rebranded as WCW.
After the duo broke up in 1991, Ron would defeat Vader the following year, making him the first African American to hold a wrestling World Heavyweight Championship for a massive company. After continuing in WCW for a couple of years, Ron worked briefly for ECW before turning heads as a part of WWE’s roster. The former leader of the Nation of Domination, member of the Ministry of Darkness and multiple time WWE Tag Team Champion, Ron clearly killed it after his days in Doom came to an end.
14 Failed: Kenny Dykstra
The Spirit Squad may have largely been reviled by fans but even during the height of the gimmick a lot of observers were sizing up the members up for future singles runs. While the man we know as Dolph Ziggler today was a part of the group, it was Kenny that many people saw as the person with the most potential. It also seemed clear that the powers that be in the WWE were of a similar opinion as he was typically the focus of their storylines and when the group broke up he was the only one who initially stuck around. Sure, the rest of the guys remained a part of the company, at least for a while, but in the case of Kenny, he was immediately repackaged as a singles star on the main roster.
So, what went so wrong you may be asking yourself? Turns out Kenny made some powerful enemies as the woman he was romantically linked with at the time, Mickie James, began an affair with the company’s main man, John Cena. At least that is the case if Kenny is to be believed as he has spoken publically about it several times since. Speaking of Cena, Kenny said “we were cool until last time I was there he hated me. Didn't even want to talk or shake hands” which clearly would be a negative thing for any would-be WWE star. While Kenny could have potentially attempted to become a star for another company, it seems as though he’d soured on the business and never achieved anything close to long-term success post-Spirit Squad.
13 Flourished: Scott Steiner
One-half of The Steiner Brothers, Scott spent nearly a decade principally known for the tandem he and his brother created together. Tag Team Champions in companies like WCW, New Japan, Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, and of course the WWE, they have to be a part of any conversation about the best tag teams ever. In fact, they had so much chemistry together that during their final years together in WCW, they were seen as one of the only teams that could believably stand in opposition to the New World Order.
You know, until Scott turned on his brother by attacking him from behind, completely changed his character and look and became one of the biggest, literally and metaphorically, nWo members. A member of every WCW version of the group up until the company’s demise, he quickly became synonymous with the stable that he’d once opposed and was christened an “elite” member. Calling himself Big Poppa Pump, he seemed more muscular and dangerous than he’d ever been before and he would go on to win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. Brought back to the WWE as a solo star, his run wasn’t the success anyone hoped for but he still managed to have two runs in TNA that totalled six years.
12 Failed: Rick Steiner
Speaking about how great The Steiner Brothers were as a tandem that unfortunately didn’t ensure that both members would be able to boast about their time on their own. Rick may have picked up a few championship belts on his own, including the United States and Television titles, but he remained fully entrenched in his brother’s shadow. Even some of his biggest post break-up runs came about when he’d join his brother as an associate nWo member, stable mate in The Magnificent Seven, or briefly reunited with him in TNA. If you need any further proof that Rick deserves his place on this list, then think of the horrendous segment he shared with Chucky from the Child’s Play franchise. It is the epitome of everything that sucks in wrestling.
11 Flourished: Booker T.
Brought into the wrestling business by his big brother, Stevie Ray, these two became the tag team known as Harlem Heat. Winning the WCW Tag Team Championship an unbelievable ten times in their years together, they were always able to remain relevant in a company that was overrun by the nWo. Winning over the hearts of fans around the world during their several year run, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the aforementioned nWo would eventually come between them.
Out on his own, Booker proved that he was absolutely the cream of the wrestling crop as best evidenced by the fact that he is one of the most decorated wrestlers ever. A six-time world champion, he has also held the TNA Legends, Untied States (both in WCW and WWE), Hardcore, and an Intercontinental championship which proves Booker clearly thrived. Inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013, he more than deserves the accolade considering his incredible career that is still going today, though mostly out of the ring.
10 Failed: Chuck Palumbo
Chuck Palumbo was a part of three major tag teams that won tag team belts in WCW and WWE. Standing beside Shawn Stasiak and Sean O’Haire during his time in WCW, it was abundantly clear that Chuck was seen as a future star for the company before they closed their doors. Brought into the WWE as part of the Invasion storyline, he was largely left to the background but before too long, he found success in the company as part of a tag team yet again, this time with Billy Gunn. Calling themselves Billy and Chuck, they began to hint at a possible homosexual relationship and were even announced to be getting married before revealing it all as a ruse.
After losing all momentum with this “shocking” turn of events, Billy and Chuck broke up and Palumbo would go on to form the WWE version of The Full Blooded Italians which was formerly an ECW gimmick. A largely forgettable member of that group, he was traded to the RAW brand where he underwent yet another gimmick change, this time as a biker or mechanic of some sort. Shockingly that too went nowhere and the WWE released him twice over the next few years.
9 Flourished: Bully Ray
The Dudley Boys brag often and loudly that they are the most decorated tag team in wrestling history for good reason. After all, they worked for ECW, the WWE, TNA, Hustle, New Japan, and other companies where they won championship gold again and again. A pivotal part of The Attitude Era, they were a key element in the resurgence the tag team division underwent during that time because of feuds with the likes of The Hardys and Edge and Christian. Also a major part of TNA’s tag division over the years, they may have been known as Team 3D at the time but the success they achieved remained the same.
Breaking up after Bubba attacked his on-screen brother, he would go on to become one of the best villains in TNA history. Renaming himself Bully Ray, he definitely lived up to the moniker and seemed to relish every second of it. Arguably becoming the hottest heel in the industry for a time, Bully lost a lot of weight, upped his in-ring intensity, and managed to get the better of pretty well everyone he interacted with. Eventually leaving TNA and returning to the WWE alongside his long-time partner, our only regret is that we never got to see that side of the man during his latest tenure.
8 Failed: D-Von Dudley
Speaking of The Dudley Boys, this is another instance in which one member went up while the other went down. After he was attacked by his tag team partner on TNA television, D-Von had to watch as Bubba became Bully and ascended to the Heavyweight division, while he was relegated to the Television Championship Division. Winning the belt, it could have been a watershed moment for him if it was treated as such but he was quickly an afterthought. Worse still, when he won the title it was announced that he would defend it on every episode of their TV show. After two months, however, that stopped without explanation. If that wasn’t evidence enough of how important the belt and by extension, D-Von was at the time, he left the company while still the champion.
7 Flourished: Jeff Hardy
During the height of The Attitude Era, The Hardy Boyz and Lita, collectively known as Team Extreme, were amongst the most popular wrestlers in the WWE. Winning tag team championships together seven times during their time in the WWE, every time they ran to the ring fans went crazy. Two of the more artistic performers the wrestling world has seen of late, they created a unique persona for themselves that seemed cutting edge and extremely likable up until their first break up in 2006.
From the moment The Hardy Boyz ceased being seen as simply a tag team Jeff was the clear standout of the two. Don’t get us wrong, Matt was still immensely popular and you will definitely not see him listed as a failed wrestler on this list but we’d be lying if we pretended he wasn’t seen as the second Hardy. Jeff would go on to feud with the likes of The Undertaker, Rob Van Dam, Chris Jericho, CM Punk, and others in the WWE and eventually won three world titles in the WWE. Also a major star for TNA, he won their world title three times as well and has arguably been their most bankable star for several years now.
6 Failed: Road Dogg
A man who was once known as The Roadie, Road Dogg tried to make it on his own in the WWE for a while to no avail before finding success after creating a team with Billy Gunn. Known as The New Age Outlaws, they were members of D-Generation X during the height of the Attitude Era which ensured them a spot amongst the most recognizable wrestlers in the world. Winning WWE tag titles six times together, they are forever linked to such a degree that they reunited on television in the last several years and were even crowned once again.
One of the most verbose wrestlers we’ve ever seen, it seemed like his personality alone should have ensured that he killed it once he and Billy broke up but that was never the case. Feuding with his former friend, Road Dogg would have brief runs on his lonesome before attempting to recreate his success in the tag division with various partners. Whether it was by himself or with men like X-Pac, Ron Killings (either as K-Kwik or The Truth), or Konnan, one thing has remained clear since the first time The New Age Outlaws broke up. If Road Dogg is on our screens, we’re waiting for Billy to follow and if he doesn’t we can’t be bothered enough to care.
5 Flourished: Edge
Edge and Christian were friends long before they entered the wrestling business and the chemistry they had helped them to be one of our favourite tag teams of all time. Introduced as a team when they both joined The Brood, they ended up breaking out on their own and far exceeded anything that could have ever been expected of them. Winning the tag team championship seven separate times, they created some amazing television both as comedic villains and in-ring badasses.
Breaking up in the early two thousands, it was Edge who seemed to get ahead right from the start. Winning the King of the Ring before feuding with other major stars of the era, including Booker T, Kurt Angle, and too many others to list, he would even team with Hulk Hogan. Eventually the first Money in the Bank winner, it was the moment where he cashed in on an already exhausted John Cena that catapulted him into the industry’s highest echelon. Arguably the biggest villain the company has seen since 2005, the ultimate opportunist was able to get a lot of fans to really hate him, which was an incredible feat.
4 Failed: Chris Harris
In the minds of a lot of people, America’s Most Wanted is the duo that most deserves credit for putting TNA’s tag team division on the map. Wrestling against the likes of The Naturals, Triple X, 3Live Kru, and others, they won the belts six times and won Wrestling Observer’s Tag Team of the Year Award over every other team in the world at one point. Involved in several high profile feuds, both in and out of the tag division, including joining the mega-faction Planet Jarrett, if you watched TNA’s early years, they were probably your favourite team.
Breaking up in the final weeks of 2006, it seemed like both men could easily become major stars and while James Storm would ultimately win the Heavyweight title, Chris fell by the wayside. After an underwhelming TNA singles run Chris managed to receive a contract from WWE and seemed to actually be the most successful of the pair. That was until he actually debuted as Braden Walker on WWE’s version of ECW. Having put on quite a bit of weight, he started telling everyone he was going to “knock your brains out” he barely wrestled for the company at all. Released to little fanfare, he would make a handful of TNA appearances but was still overweight and out of shape. Looking awful in the ring, TNA opted to not bring him back when it became clear the bloom was off the rose.
3 Flourished: Bret Hart
The Hart Foundation is one of the best tag teams the wrestling world has ever seen. Combining the raw power of Jim Neidhart with the technical prowess of Bret Hart, they were able to have incredible matches against pretty well any tandem. In fact, if you put these two men at their tag prime in there with a pair of broomsticks, we’d actually be surprised if they didn’t put on a great show, they were that good. Two-time tag team champions, their series of matches with The British Bulldogs are an absolute masterclass of what makes wrestling an art.
Eventually, Bret Hart’s undeniable skills and a groundswell of support demanded that he receive chances at singles titles and despite his smaller size he refused to be held back. Winning the Heavyweight title off of Ric Flair, his rise to the top of the card seemed so unlikely during an era dominated by giants but he was so good the world loved it. Winning World Championships nine separate times in the two biggest companies in the world at the time, his legacy as one of the best workers of all time was forever cemented. Inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006, despite years of anger and resentment between the company and him, it spoke loud and clear that no matter the controversy, everyone knew how important Bret is.
2 Failed: Marty Jannetty
The Rockers may be the biggest tag team the WWE has ever seen that were never recognized as tag team champions there. Putting on amazing matches with teams like Demolition, The British Bulldogs, and others, it seemed like their eventual reign was a foregone conclusion but it never seemed to come to pass. Sure, they did win the belts briefly but because a ring rope broke during the match the company pretended it never happened. Still, they were seen as a great pair right up until their break up.
After that extremely notable event, it seemed as if they were set to collide with one another but Marty’s personal life screwed it all up. Placed on house arrest, he was released before that could happen and by the time he returned later in the year some of that initial momentum had cooled off. Still, Marty would win the Intercontinental Championship during his first night back in the company. Feuding with his former partner for several months thereafter, Marty still largely hit the skids before being released yet again. Brought back again and again in the years since, including getting a contract in 2009, he could never put together an important run and is remembered as a cautionary tale of sorts.
1 Flourished: Shawn Michaels
Of course, when Marty Jannetty made our list, we assumed everyone expected his former partner, Shawn “HBK” Michaels, would also appear here. The first ever Grand Slam Champion in WWE history, meaning he won four titles in the company including the world and tag team championships, Shawn’s career speaks for itself. Inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2011, Shawn was one of the most consistent performers in company history and is routinely touted as the best wrestler ever by his peers. Even Ric Flair, the other person that a lot of people point to, has been quoted as calling him the best ever many times in the past. Understanding in-ring physiology possibly better than anyone who has ever laced up their boots, he always knew how to elicit huge reactions out of crowds. Also a participant in the match many point to as the best ever, against The Undertaker and WrestleMania 25, Shawn was the man.