When done right, tag team bouts can add layers of strategy and physicality not found in singles matches, but the greater truth is that all the main eventers have gone solo. For premier talent, excelling in tag team action is more of a springboard than an ultimate goal. Getting over as half of a duo is a fine achievement, but it could also cause a bug-eyed and intense Vince McMahon to get in a wrestler's face and rave about striving for more and “reaching for that brass ring” like he was some fanatical creature from a Tolkien novel. And that’s if the guy is lucky. The second bananas on tag teams don’t even get the brass ring speech. Heck, they can only dream of the boss simply handing over a check and muttering something like, “Here’s another one, Anvil.”
Many tag teams feature equally matched talent and popularity among the two, but our focus here is on disparity. The superhero/ sidekick dynamic. The one who got over and the one who was the underling. The rift between the legend and the lackey splits in a wide range of ways—from smashing a former BFF’s head through a plate-glass window to having a Father/ Son Match lead to a series of disasters for the kid. Let's take a break from reaching for that brass ring and get schooled on the true heavyweights and dead weights of tag team wrestling.
13 15. The Macho Man & Zeus
No matter how much a fan preferred Randy Savage to Hulk Hogan—because he was a much better worker who actually sold, the flying elbow smash was infinitely cooler than that clunky leg drop, and his promos were every bit as awesomely ludicrous—the fact remained that Savage was going to be booked as inferior to Hogan. Like it or not, Hogan was the face of the company. Thus, when The Mega Powers blew up, The Macho Man was the one to turn heel and see the dreaded decline in t-shirt sale -and worse, he was paired with Hogan's adversary from the movie No Holds Barred at SummerSlam in 1989.
That brings us to Zeus, portrayed by actor Tom Lister Jr., whom you might remember from Friday and The Dark Knight. Film credits aside, Zeus was a clumsy neophyte in the ring, and at SummerSlam--surprise, surprise--Hogan and his partner Brutus Beefcake prevailed in an eyesore of a main event. Months later, the No Holds Barred pay-per-view repeated the same results. Savage deserved more and we can only hope his ego was salvaged by those Slim Jim commercials and his appearance in Spiderman.
12 14. AJ Styles & Tomko
It's a shame that AJ Styles lingered in TNA for so long, feuding with lesser talent for less money and exposure, and while WWE fans are happy he at least figured it out faster than Sting did, the mind reels remembering The Phenomenal One pairing with the likes of Tomko circa 2007. Granted, the duo reigned as TNA World Tag Team Champs for six months as part of Christian's Coalition and the duo crossed paths with major stars, but consider this list: Kurt Angle, Sting, Christian, Jeff Jarrett, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles... Tomko. That final name just doesn't measure up.
Styles is the current WWE World Champion and in his brief time with the company, he has already defeated John Cena, Chris Jericho, and Dean Ambrose. Tomko, on the other hand, got arrested for robbing over 200 Oxycodone pills in October of 2011 and while he seems to have overcome his addiction problems, a return to the WWE is unlikely.
During WCW's prime, when the company had the edge in the Monday Night Wars, Diamond Dallas Page delighted fans as a loner who stood up for his own principles and proclaimed catchphrases like “Self high five” and “Bang!” It’s no coincidence that WCW began to hemorrhage money right around the time DDP turned heel and recruited two pals to join his forgettable stable, The Jersey Triad. Cohorts Bam Bam Bigelow and Kanyon were there for the meltdown in Atlanta, too, but only Kanyon followed Page to New York for the Invasion angle.
Page debuted by revealing himself to be the stalker of The Undertaker’s wife and got an early push along with Kanyon that saw them become Tag Team Champs, but their run went from fleeting to ancient history in a hurry. The Undertaker lopsidedly buried Page and in a steel cage tag team match at SummerSlam, Kanyon also got pummeled as the pair lost to ‘Taker and Kane. Tragically, life after WWE was also kinder to the founder of DDP Yoga than it was to his friend Kanyon, who struggled with closeted homosexuality and bipolar disorder and died by his own hand in 2010.
11 12. The Mega-Maniacs: Hulk Hogan & Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake
The comic book motif was a major part of wrestling in the '80s and if The Hulkster was the ideal superhero, then Brutus Beefcake was his go-to sidekick. Though they didn't team up often, perhaps nobody got the essence of Over/Underling better than these two. Friends in the real world, where shirt-ripping and oversized scissors were all-too-often frowned upon, Ed Leslie (Beefcake) realized Terry Bollea was his meal ticket. Hogan was receptive, allowing Beefcake to be his wingman for a main event at SummerSlam and a high-profile match at WrestleMania IX.
Leslie would chase after his pal to WCW, where he turned on Hogan and then got squashed in a title match at Starrcade '94. He even resurfaced years later, bearded and barely recognizable, as The Disciple, bodyguard of Hollywood Hogan. From Dizzy Hogan to Brother Bruti to The Clipmaster to The Booty Man, a fledgling Leslie had to retool his persona countless times. Without Hogan, forget The Man with No Face; he would've been the man with no job.
10 11. Harlem Heat: Booker T & Stevie Ray
With ten reigns as WCW World Tag Team Champs, these real-life brothers hold a record that will never be broken. They also dropped the belts to The Outsiders in a seminal changing of the guard in Dubya Cee Dubya. When Stevie needed some time to heal from an injury, Booker stepped up and performed as a singles wrestler. Stevie returned and joined the New World Order, which never led to the brotherly feud one might expect because, hey, sometimes WCW storylines tapered off into oblivion and, instead of getting over, Stevie personified how bloated and stale the minions of that once-mighty stable had become. Stevie got to be like the bottom bust on a totem pole that was obscured by a bush.
Booker went on to become World Heavyweight Champion as WCW went bankrupt (which is still more than I've done) and win a total of 35 straps throughout his career. As King Booker, he harnessed heat as a heel with a fake British accent and delusions of grandeur, and he got inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013. He was inducted by his older brother, who had quietly hung up his boots over a decade ago.
9 10. The Lucha Dragons: Kalisto & Sin Cara
Since parting ways before the 2016 Draft, this duo has continued to trend in different directions. Formerly known as Mystico, with Luis Urive under the mask, Sin Cara was given an initial push when he joined WWE in early 2011, but it soon became clear that the man was sloppy and prone to blunders. There's even a Botchamania "tribute" to the luchador. When Urive got suspended for a month for violating the wellness program, Jorge Arias donned the mask--and that's where things got confusing with a two Sin Caras angle that would soon wear thin.
Urive (the original) left the company and the character was claimed by Arias, who tagged with Kalisto and became NXT Tag Team Champions. The confounding ordeal has at least helped propel the career of the younger and more talented Kalisto. He has already won the United States title twice and put on solid matches with powerhouses like Ryback and Rusev. Kalisto could still turn into the heir apparent of Rey Mysterio the company thought it had in Sin Cara, though he's been non-existent for the last two months.
(Footnote: In Spanish, Sin Cara means “without a face,” which is similar to The Man with No Face. Channeling an Ed Leslie gimmick is never a good idea)
8 9. Straight Edge Society: CM Punk & Luke Gallows
A small stable along the lines of the original DX, The Straight Edge Society gave a mouthpiece to Punk to express his anti-drug subculture leanings--but unlike DX, the talent beneath the leader never really got over. CM Punk was the messianic leader and his subordinates mostly just interfered on his behalf. Gallows was truly the Milhouse to Punk's Bart, teaming with The Straight Edge Superstar against the likes of Kane and Mysterio. The Best in the World proved he could excel as a heel or as a face yet again, but the gulf in ability would undo the stable as well as his partnership with Gallows in about nine months.
Punk would go on to have an awesome feud with Cena and then reign as WWE Champion for an incredible 434 days before splitting with the company on acrimonious terms in early '14. He's now 0-1 in the UFC.
As for Gallows, he has since joined forces with Karl Anderson. They got over in Japan, but remain frustrated and winless in WWE Tag Team Title matches.
The wrestling gene must have been dominant in the Guerrero gene pool. They're like the Latino version of the Hart family. Eddie and Chavo Jr. had older relatives compete as Los Guerreros, and with their mantra, "We lie, we cheat, we steal," they were just the third combo ever to hoist the Raw Tag Team straps. If their post-Y2K glory days seem hazy, it's probably because Eddie would soon go solo and ascend to main events, becoming WWE Champion with an impressive and historically rare clean win over Brock Lesnar at No Way Out in 2004.
After their split, Chavo did well as a Cruiserweight and took a chance portraying a Caucasian snob named Kerwin White, but he just couldn't match his uncle's sterling technical skills and charisma.
7 7. The Un-Americans: Christian & Lance Storm
Whereas Christian helped tag team matches reach new heights as part of those epic TLC brawls in the Attitude Era and had a great run in singles competition, Lance Storm was a very good technician who had the talking skills to generate about as much heat as a frozen pond in Saskatchewan. Both could wrestle. Only Christian could truly entertain.
Storm’s penchant for boring fans was even mocked by Stone Cold Steve Austin at a Raw in 2003. The Rattlesnake emerged from beneath the Titantron with a blanket and pillow in tow and proceeded to verbally stomp a mud hole in Storm, taunting without mercy: "I ain't slept in a couple of days. So, I figured you were so damn boring, maybe you could put old Stone Cold to sleep." The Canadian was utterly buried by a premier superstar. His brief Tag Team Championship reign with Christian is vaguely recalled a contrast of charisma and tedium.
6 6. John Cena & David Otunga
His popularity has been both massive and polarizing, and among the many instances that have caused fans to badmouth John Cena, one example that ranks high is the way he squashed the rise of The Nexus, a once-compelling stable of young heels. Nexus debuted with a blitz of anarchy on par with the early days of the nWo, pummeling not only Cena and CM Punk, but also the commentators, ring announcer, and timekeeper. Then they dismantled the ring itself. Whoa.
At SummerSlam 2010, however, Cena (allegedly( insisted on changing the outcome of a Team WWE/ Nexus main event so that he got to look like Superman rather than put over fresh talent. The heat of Nexus was effectively stymied by that pivotal loss. In a mismatch of face and heel, Cena was later forced to team up with Otunga, allowing the duo to hold the tag straps for one whole day. By 2015, Otunga had transitioned into semi-retirement and announcing. Now he's a commentator on SmackDown, taking fewer bumps but perhaps wondering what might have been.
5 5. Ric Flair & David Flair
One of the many signs WCW was doomed was the debut of Ric Flair's son David. The offspring of the legend who claimed 16 world championships was dismissed by fans after his first match at Souled Out in 1999, where the Flairs beat Curt Henning and Barry Windham. Whereas the Nature Boy embodied old school swagger and theatrics, his kid got the push into the spotlight due to nepotism.
David looked more like a bartender at an Applebee's than a wrestler and the fact that after his debut he had to return to the Power Plant for more training speaks volumes about his lack of prowess. The younger Flair would turn on his father, become a crowbar-wielding heel, and fittingly win the tag belts with some dude named Crowbar on January 3rd, 2000, in an omen of what awaited that company that year. David could never win convincingly without cheating and his look ranged from dull to annoying. The Nature Boy was so gifted he could garner heat in his sleep. But his son David was so just bland he put viewers to sleep.
4 4. The Undertaker & Nathan Jones
Even though the outcomes were predetermined, The Undertaker's Wrestlemania win-streak was truly special. Enduring countless injuries and maintaining popularity and skill for over two decades, without ever losing at the Super Bowl of wrestling is an astonishing feat. Even before the Brock Lesnar loss, though, the truth is that there were a few letdowns on the way to 21-o. Nathan Jones embodied one such letdown.
The Aussie Strongman Champion made the leap to the WWE in 2002. He was pushed as the Dead Man's protégé and hastily booked as his tag team partner at WrestleMania XIX. But Jones performed so poorly at a SmackDown prior to 'Mania that he was abruptly removed from the match due to a kayfabe injury. In reality, somehow it got overlooked that the strongman was a terrible wrestler. 'Taker prevailed in a handicap match over Big Show and A-Train due to a quick assist from Jones, who left the company in late 2003, never to return (Fans who think this one shouldn't even count know nothing about the power of the swerve).
3 3. Mankind & Al Snow
Beneath the gore and self-destruction, Mick Foley has a kind and friendly reputation, but the hardcore legend still couldn’t resist mocking his less-popular pal Al in his book Have a Nice Day. The irony is that the mannequin head-toting Snow had the more traditionally buff frame that the McMahon family prefers, whereas Foley got over not with his physique but with creativity and a reckless disregard for his own safety that was kind of freaky—but mostly badass. Foley became a star not only in spite of, but because he was the opposite of McMahon’s ideal wrestler, and even Vince had to give him credit for that since it was good for business.
The run Mankind and Snow had as WWE Tag Team Champions lasted for six days. Fittingly, it was the eighth time Foley had held that strap (we’ll never forget the Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection), and the first and only time for Snow. The chasm continues when looking at their achievements in singles competition. Snow did win the Hardcore belt, but he never got close to the main-event level. Foley did, winning the World Championship on four occasions and taking bumps so insane he might still be the all-time leader in causing “Holy Bleep!”chants.
2 2. The Rockers: Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannetty
The Rockers were essential in bridging the gap between the quality of the in-ring work throughout the Hulkamania era and the high standards of today's product. They pioneered spots like double-dropkicks and tandem aerial assaults, and they did so with fluidity and showmanship that was years ahead of the curve. Both were great workers, but Shawn received the push Marty didn't because his mic skills were better and creative control realized he could thrive as a cocky villain. Thus, in early 1990, fans were treated to a heel turn for the ages when Shawn faked a reconciliation with his estranged partner and then struck with Sweet Chin Music.
It was so fitting for kids who got their hearts broken watching Marty's head get launched through the window of Brutus' Barbershop that Shawn would later be dubbed The Heartbreak Kid. After that moment, their career paths diverged. Shawn became The Showstopper/ Mr. Wrestlemania--a four-time Champion, an automatic Match of the Year candidate for almost two decades, and a roller coaster ride that always seemed to end in redemption. Marty just fizzled (plus attacking a cop was a bad career move). He could never get over in singles competition and every other tag team he was a part of was doomed by the memory of the electrifying Rockers.
1 1. The Hart Foundation: Bret "The Hitman" Hart & Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart
Comparing the success these two had separately in singles competition is kind of lopsided... Between the WWE and WCW, The Hitman was a seven-time World Heavyweight Champion. He claimed the Intercontinental strap twice and the United States belt four times. He won King of the Ring honors in '91 and '93, and, in his prime, he was twice voted the best wrestler on the planet in the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Top 500. And let's try to forget about the matches he could have had to further his legacy after the WWE bought out WCW--if it wasn't for Goldberg.
Solo Anvil, on the contrary, won zero belts at the highest level. So, that gives you an idea of the over/ underling dynamic they shared. Together, they triumphed twice as Tag Team Champions during the late '80s/ early '90s. Though The Anvil did help compensate for Bret's sometimes subpar talking in promos, when they got in the ring, The Excellence of Execution always stole the show. Bret's ability as a technician was about a decade ahead of its time, whereas The Anvil could throw a pretty mean shoulder block (Ahem). It's not surprising that Anvil missed out on hearing Vince McMahon's bug-eyed brass ring speech. There was no screwjob preventing the rise of Anvil, the man simply proved how awesome his partner was. The Hart Foundation defined what it meant to be a lopsided tag team.
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