Pro wrestling tag teams have it twice as easy as solo wrestlers, considering they always have a partner to rely on when they feel tired or start to struggle in the ring. That said, a bad tag team generally has twice the difficulties overcoming their shortcomings, especially if that shortcoming is a terrible gimmick neither member is particularly suited to use. When a tag team is stuck with horrible characters, that means the crowd needs to see double the bad puns, awful jokes, or irritating catchphrases, and no level of in-ring talent can overcome that kind of annoyance. Luckily, it can be just as easy for a tag team to change their gimmick as an individual, so long as both of the members are prepared for the transition.
Ideally, a talented team can finally break through to the mainstream by leaving a weak gimmick behind for a better one, but a bad gimmick change can likewise turn a mediocre team into an awful one. Both scenarios have occurred countless times in the WWE Universe and the rest of the wrestling world, saving or killing a number of promising tag careers in the process. Hopefully, Vince McMahon will listen to his audience when they inform him which one is superior, and even if not, at least wrestling fans around the world will know the truth. Keep reading to learn about the 8 best and 7 worst tag team gimmick changes.
15 BEST: Kai En Tai
Anyone who preemptively worries Kai En Tai doesn’t belong on this list probably don’t remember how the team started out. Originally, Kai En Tai was more than a tag team, with Taka Michinoku and Funaki joined by MEN’s Teioh and Dick Togo. After the latter three debuted to attack Taka, they put their problems behind them and aligned together to feud with Val Venis in a heavily maligned angle. At this point in time, Kai En Tai’s only characteristic was being Asian, which was supposed to make them evil. Lampshading the idea for comedic effect, Funaki and Michinoku dropped the other wrestlers in the group for a new gimmick where fake voice-overs (c/o Shane McMahon) treated them like characters in Japanese films. Take would air his ill intentions towards pure evil, after which Funaki would simply conclude, “Indeed.” While this didn’t exactly bring the group to the Tag Team Championships, it at least achieved more laughs than the team’s stupid beginnings.
14 WORST: Men On A Mission
From day one, Men On A Mission was a highly flawed team to say the least. Neither Mabel nor Mo were talented wrestlers in the traditional sense, and their manager Oscar could do little more than recite pre-written raps about nothing in particular. That said, something about the team was able to catch fire with audiences in the New Generation, and the plus-sized purple dancers were one of the most popular teams around in early-1994. Unfortunately, this was the cue for Vince McMahon to turn them into monster heels, taking away the one thing they had going for them in fun rap music and replacing it with constant puns about royalty and kinghood. Even worse, there was a solid two or three months between Men on a Mission turning heel and developing the royalty gimmick based on Mabel’s King of the Ring win, and the alleged monster heels basically had no character whatsoever in the interim.
13 BEST: Too Cool
Several of the teams on this list were so obscure before finding their money gimmick fans might not even be aware they had a bad one before making it big. The tandem of Scotty II Hotty and Grandmaster Sexay definitely fits this bill, as the men barely made appearances outside of B- and C-Show back when they were simply Scott Taylor and Brian Christopher. Back then, the duo merely called themselves Too Much, affecting arrogant and obnoxious personalities, with nary a dance move to be seen. All this early iteration had in common with later versions was Christopher’s high-pitched laugh, which was less endearing without the swag attached. Once the two discovered hip hop culture and presented an ironic take on it, they moved up the card shockingly fast, appearing in a number of Raw main events aside Rikishi and later becoming WWE Tag Team Champions.
12 WORST: Southern Justice
Let’s face it—Henry O. and Phineas I. Godwinn pretty much had their fate sealed when Vince McMahon gave them their names. The Godwinn family was one of McMahon’s favorite tropes, as well, that being a clan of wacky hillbillies, who eventually became violent hillbillies when the situation called for it. Quite frankly, neither of these gimmicks were exactly groundbreaking, and it’s not like the Godwinns did much with it. However, they nonetheless won the WWE Tag Team Championships twice and remained high-level players in the scene from there.
Once their time as hog farming country bumpkins had ended, Henry and Phineas began using their real names – Mark Canterbury and Dennis Knight – and traded their overalls for suits and sunglasses, calling themselves Southern Justice. The duo then fell from their status as repeat champions and became jobbers almost overnight, never again even competing for the gold. Sure, they got to stand in Jeff Jarrett’s corner for a few of his matches against X-Pac, but is that really worth bragging about?
11 BEST: The Acolyte Protection Agency
There’s nothing wrong with being a tag team of badasses who destroy everything in sight with no real purpose, which is exactly what The Acolytes were upon their formation. Faarooq and Bradshaw were both at a crossroads in their career, unable to find money gimmicks in WWE when they banded together under The Undertaker’s Ministry of Darkness. Instantly, the team asserted themselves as a WWE Tag Team Championship worthy duo, but the fact of the matter remains that they didn’t have much of a character when doing so. After the Ministry split and the Acolytes were left on their own, Faarooq and Bradshaw let their true personalities shine, going from demonic bad guys to fun loving, beer-swilling bodyguards. Slightly tweaking their name to the Acolyte Protection Agency, the team remained on top of the WWE ladder, only moving away from Tag Team Championship gold because they had more fun things to do.
10 WORST: Los Matadores/The Shining Stars
Truth be told, the initial WWE Universe response to Primo and Epico Colón making their debuts was that neither cousin was as talented or charismatic as Primo’s cousin Carlito. In due time, Primo and Epico would prove they weren’t that bad, at least able to hold their own in the ring if somewhat struggling in the character department. Unfortunately for the Colóns, the first two WWE tried to give them to fix this problem was outrageously stupid, somehow making things even worse than when the team was merely generic. Wearing masks and carrying around El Torito as Los Matadores was outright embarrassing, and attempting to fix this by turning them into condo salesman Shining Stars didn’t even make sense. Thankfully, WWE eventually more-or-less cut their losses, reverting Primo and Epico to basically the same gimmick they started out using.
9 BEST: Harlem Heat
With all due respect to WCW, for every terrible idea the company had, they were at least able to recognize Harlem Heat’s original gimmick wasn’t meant for television. Eventually, the duo would become one of the most exciting and energetic in company history, winning a record 10 World Tag Team Championships together. In the beginning, however, Harlem Heat was rumored to be characterized as escaped prisoners under the command of Colonel Robert Parker. To the blind eye, this made them look a whole lot like slaves, especially since they were lead to the ring in shackles. Obviously, an idea like this is horrifically offensive to pretty much anyone who hears it, and absolutely anything would be a step up. That Harlem Heat were able to so quickly turn things around and become huge stars is a testament to their talents…or at least those of Booker T.
8 WORST: The Beverly Brothers
Whenever a major wrestling promotion dies, there are bound to be a handful of talented grapplers suddenly out of a job, instantly making them the hottest free agents around. The AWA shut it’s doors in 1991, and the previous year, The Destruction Crew became the first and thus far only ever tag team to get named the PWI Rookies of the Year. In most circumstances, this would mean all remaining companies scrambled to purchase their contracts, and that’s almost what happened. After short stints in both WCW and NJPW, the Crew made their way to WWE, where Vince McMahon took away the gimmick that had made them stars and turned them into The Beverly Brothers. Instead of violent construction workers, the pair was now purple-clad pretty boys, personas they were in no way suited for. Before long, the Brothers were complete and total jobbers, leaving WWE two years later with their stock significantly lowered.
7 BEST: The Dudley Boyz
Similar to Kai En Tai, the full story of the Dudley Boyz is a lot longer than most wrestling fans probably realize. Originally, Bubba Ray and D-Von weren’t even part of the crew, which started down in ECW with Dudley Dudley and Snot Dudley, accompanied by bodyguard Big Dick Dudley. Bubba soon arrived as their country bumpkin stuttering half-brother, followed finally by D-Von, who presented the first semblance of what the group is today. Until D-Von’s arrival, the group were largely considered comedy characters, never winning any gold and certainly not catching anyone’s attention outside of Philadelphia. Once D-Von influenced the group into becoming more vicious, they fast became arguably the most violent and destructive unit in ECW, starting with kicking their own brothers to the curb. By the time the Boyz hit WWE, their family history was pretty much ret-conned out of existence.
6 WORST: Well Dunn
In all fairness, Steve Doll and Rex King’s time teaming together as The Southern Rockers wasn’t exactly stuff of legends. That said, just about anything was a step up from the ridiculously goofy team they turned into after jumping to the WWE Universe, with a ridiculously punny name dragging them down from the very start. It could be argued even a team like The Road Warriors could have been complete duds with the name Well Dunn, although we’ll thankfully never have the research to see whether or not that is true. Before McMahon had his way with the team, they were quite frankly little more than a Rock ‘n’ Roll Express knockoff, and yet this was still streets ahead of a team with no defining characteristics beyond a stupid name.
5 BEST: The Broken Hardys
Earning a reputation as one of the best tag teams of all time occasionally isn’t enough to keep a duo on top of the industry for more than a few years. Take for instance The Hardy Boyz, who had their time in the sun throughout the 2000s, achieving great heights as both singles and tag team competitors. Unfortunately, success has some downsides, and the Hardyz both fell into the cliché pattern of famous people taking too many drugs and losing the talents that once made them great. Gone were the days the Boyz main evented in WWE, the Hardyz instead confined to small TNA crowds who weren’t entirely appreciative of what skills they had left. Only through a stroke of Matt Hardy’s genius were they able to revive things, switching from the gimmicks they had been using pretty much all their careers to newer, weirder, and let’s face it, flat-out insane personas.
4 WORST: The Orient Express
The worst thing about The Orient Express is that there was absolutely nothing wrong with Badd Company. Pat Tanaka and Paul Diamond had achieved a good deal of success in the dying days of the AWA, with the only thing keeping them from becoming bigger names being the gradual death of that company. For whatever reason, Vince McMahon didn’t want Diamond at first once he snatched the team up, putting Tanaka into a tag team with Akio Sato at first, playing up their Asian heritage by calling them The Orient Express. Once Sato was no longer available, Diamond was brought in to replace him, but instead of having Tanaka revert to the Badd Company gimmick, McMahon had Diamond wear a mask and pretend to be Asian in order to keep his inferior idea alive.
3 BEST: Team Extreme
Even before they were broken, The Hardy Boyz needed to be fixed. For the first five or six years of their time in WWE, both Matt and Jeff were complete and total jobbers, never winning a match, and sometimes not even wrestling under their real names. It took a while before they even got to wrestle a tag match as a duo, and they still barely had any semblance of a character when they did. Quite frankly, the sole defining characteristics either Hardy displayed was looking wet and weirdly sweaty all the time. Not even a legendary wrestler like Michael Hayes serving as their manager could help things. However, getting a new manager in Lita would change things immensely. Granted, this was more because the Hardyz switched up their entire style around this same time, transitioning from a nondescript family duo into Team Extreme, a name that really said it all.
2 WORST: The Bushwhackers
Based on the WWE Universe alone, it would be fair to call The Bushwhackers one of the goofiest tag teams ever to lace their boots. Butch and Luke did little more than wave their arms around like loons and eat sardines while licking young fans on the head, none of which is behavior that would fly today. Of course, what they were doing beforehand might be even more questionable, as they were one of the most vicious and bloodiest duos to come out of New Zealand until Vince McMahon pacified them. In their more violent days, The Bushwhackers were called The Sheepherders, and the only real change in their gimmick was that they were frowning instead of smiling. While this was all it took for Vince McMahon to make the team WWE Hall of Famers, most fans would agree the honor wasn’t worth destroying their reputation.
1 BEST: Edge and Christian
Not only did Edge and Christian benefit more than any other team by switching their gimmick, but they also went through one of the more dramatic transitions discussed on this list. Originally, the blonde brothers were merely playing second fiddle to Gangrel, already a fairly ridiculous character who truly believed he was a vampire. Standing behind him, Edge and Christian likewise looked like wannabe bloodsuckers, which hardly prepared them to become future World Champions, let alone Tag Team Champions. Thankfully, Edge and Christian didn’t waste long before ditching Gangrel and completely revamping their characters as California-style surfer bros who totally reeked of awesomeness. From then on, the duo added five to seven second poses for audience members with the benefit of flash photography, adding just the right amount of arrogance to make them legends almost immediately.
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