It’s a generally accepted truth that there are only so many stories to be told in the medium of professional wrestling. There are battles over championships and battles over betrayals. There’s good versus evil. In the end, what matters is the nuance—not what stories are told, but rather how they are conveyed, not to mention that wrestling is unique and ever evolving for the profoundly physical elements of its storytelling.
With most wrestling angles sharing common roots, it’s to be expected that we would see redundancies over time. Wrestling promoters inevitably revisit stories that worked well in the past and performers who are students of history will inevitably look to emulate work that they admired from previous eras.
While we accept that very little in wrestling will be wholly original, there are those times when it really stands out that something isn’t just inspired by another source or derivative, but feels as though it’s more decisively ripped off from something we’ve already seen. It especially stands out at the WWE level, because the promotion’s history is so well known and widely documented. When WWE rehashes a storyline, long time fans tend to figure it out pretty quickly. They’re more harsh in their criticism when they recognize that the company may be borrowing from a smaller promotion.
In the tag team ranks, there have been those times when WWE plugged newer performers into old templates, or even put a former member of a successful team in a new version of it. There have also been those times when the company took pretty aggressively from others’ creative efforts. This article looks at 15 times WWE completely ripped off a tag team.
15 The Club
In 2015, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson appeared on Monday Night Raw to pummel The Usos. Gallows was a familiar face to WWE fans having worked first as Festus, then as one of CM Punk’d disciples in the Straight Edge Society. Anderson was a long time indie and international stand out who’d never made it to WWE. The pair was immediately thrust into a high profile spot in the tag team picture.
The thing is, the team was straight out of New Japan Wrestling, and didn’t make any bones about teasing and then briefly rekindling their union from Japan with AJ Styles. WWE purportedly went so far as to inquire with NJPW about buying the rights to the Bullet Club name—their faction overseas, and when the Japanese promoters denied them, they settled on a not so subtle reference in the form of simply referring to the team as The Club.
14 The New Foundation
Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart were largely directionless when they paired up to form The Hart Foundation. Little could management have known that they would wind up being one of the most iconic tag teams of all time and lay the foundation for Hart to become an all time great singles star.
After Hart had broken out on his own, WWE decided to give the concept another try, pairing Neidhart with Bret’s little brother Owen. The attempt at rekindling the old magic was painfully obvious, right down to the uninspired New Foundation team name. While Owen was arguably about as good of an all around performer as his brother, the team felt immediately stale, outdated, and unoriginal, making it a flop from its outset. Fortunately, the pair would get more chances to do more interesting things together as Neidhart later played Owen’s heel henchman when he challenged Bret, and the pair was united again under Bret’s leadership in a 1997 stable named after the original tag team.
13 The Full-Blooded Italians
The Full-Blooded Italians were an ECW stable that was largely played for laughs given that most of its members were pretty obviously not Italian, and played up Italian stereotypes as if in an effort to get their faux heritage over. It was all harmless enough fun. Then, two years later, after WWE had bought out ECW, they decided to launch their own take on the group, centered around original member Nunzio teamed with Chuck Palumbo, Johnny Stamboli, and later Vito.
Like many of the quirkier elements of smaller promotions that WWE has tried its hand at playing off of on the national stage, the company seemed to miss the joke. The FBI was played as more serious in WWE, and thus less entertaining. While most members of the group were talented enough wrestlers, they never really got over with the WWE audience and felt like a silly attempt at retreading a gimmick that was best left alone.
12 The Ascension
The Ascension had a dominant run as a pair of big badasses in face paint in NXT. While they were far from the most polished act in NXT, they were fair enough at their powerhouse heel gimmick with clear influence from The Road Warriors.
When the pair first arrived on the main roster, it looked like they’d be taken seriously and more or less continue their momentum from NXT. Instead, the pair quickly floundered. Explicit comparisons to The Legion of Doom and Demolition did the young duo no favors. They struggled to get over with the WWE audience and soon started dropping matches. Before long, it seemed WWE had given up on them altogether, at least as serious threats. In recent months, they’ve dedicated most of their efforts to playing hapless foils for the comedic Fashion Police team.
The team of Michelle McCool and Layla El was a reasonable enough pairing. They were two beautiful women who were good at playing arrogant and condescending and worked reasonably well in their heelish act, sharing the Divas Championship on SmackDown.
The team may be remembered more fondly were it not for their conspicuous overlap with The Beautiful People—the team of Angelina Love and Velvet Sky (plus occasional other accomplices) who were a major part of TNA programming at the time. While it seems backwards to think of WWE ripping off TNA, it’s not so far fetched for the women’s ranks. TNA took female wrestling seriously long before WWE’s so called revolution and it was with TNA that acts like Gail Kim and Kharma would really get over before returning to or debuting with WWE. While we can argue about whether LayCool or The Beautiful People were better at the gimmick, there’s no question the TNA version came first.
10 Enzo And Cass
The team of Enzo Amore and Big Cass seemed like an ideal combination in NXT. Among rising prospects Amore was quite arguably the best talker the company had, but wasn’t exactly a star athlete or technician. Meanwhile, Cass was an impressive physical specimen for his height and build but didn’t have much to offer by way of charisma. The two helped one another significantly to graduate to one of the most popular acts in developmental, and pave the way for them to be reasonably successful on the main roster before they went their separate ways.
The combination of a big talker with limited physical gifts who got the fans singing along on the way down with the ramp, paired with an impressive powerhouse might sound familiar. It was more or less the exact same formula WWE applied to The Road Dogg and Billy Gunn in the New Age Outlaws. While both the Dogg and Gunn would have reasonably successful WWE careers before and after the pairing, their most over work was unquestionably as a tandem. Something tells me we might look back on Enzo and Cass much the same way.
9 The New Midnight Express
Throw on the “New” descriptor in front of a tag team’s name, and the results are not likely to be great. One of WWE’s laziest attempts at this dynamic came with The New Midnight Express, a pairing of Bart Gunn and Bob Holly to go along with Jim Cornette’s NWA stable that invaded WWE in 1998.
Unfortunately, outside the name and Cornette’s presence, there was very little to make Gunn and Holly’s pairing comparable to Stan Lane, Bobby Eaton, and Dennis Condrey. This was a case of WWE trying to cash in on a classic name in the business, but with neither the appropriate talents nor the appropriate booking to get them over at nearly the level of the classic tag team that they were ripping off.
8 American Alpha
After a number of directionless years in developmental, Jason Jordan got a break when he was paired with Chad Gable. WWE threw the two of them in patriotic singlets and christened them American Alpha. Their combination of high impact offense and technical wrestling reminded some fans of the Steiner Brothers, but element of patriotism and use of ankle locks harkened more exact comparisons to the old Team Angle, otherwise known as The World’s Greatest Tag Team—Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas.
While the comparisons weren’t exact, and Alpha didn’t enjoy as much longevity on the main roster, fans became even more conscious of the dynamic when Kurt Angle returned to WWE as a Hall of Famer and then Raw general manager. WWE both played into and steered away from this dynamic in splitting up American Alpha, only for Jordan to join up with Angle as his kayfabe son on Raw.
7 William Regal And Eugene
While you can question the taste of the Eugene character—Eric Bischoff’s mentally challenged nephew who was nonetheless a skilled wrestler—there’s no denying he was a major part of WWE programming in the mid-2000s. The character was particularly high profile in his initial run, and was particularly entertaining when paired with William Regal. The two were a fun odd couple, with Regal the grizzled veteran and Eugene the innocent young talent. Regal started a heel who resented having to work with Eugene before growing protective of him and turning face to defend the youngster.
While the comparison is far from exact. Regal’s pairing with Eugene had significant overlap with his team with Tajiri, for which Regal similarly played the veteran mentor to an outsider who didn’t fully understand his surroundings. In each case, Regal came off as vaguely paternal with a mix of comedy and just trying to do the right thing, while a character who had his limitations got the rub from, and got all the more entertaining for working with Regal.
6 Animal and Heidenreich
The Road Warriors were a truly iconic team, and it’s little surprise they’d get imitators, one of the more awkward attempts, however, came when original member Animal returned to the WWE fold and was paired with young Heidenreich in a revisiting of the old team that even went so far as to be known as the Legion of Doom.
It was particularly hard to hear Animal talk in interviews about how sometimes he forgot it wasn’t Hawk he was walking down the aisle with because the teams felt so much the same. While Heidenreich did as well as could be expected in the gimmick, he was no Hawk and the team was a pale imitation of what Hawk and Animal had once been in preceding decades.
5 The New Blackjacks
The Blackjacks—the pair of Blackjack Mulligan and Blackjack Lanza—were an iconic team of the 1970s. They played a pair of big heel outlaws, complete with black cowboy hats, who plied their trade in companies ranging from the AWA to WCCW to, of course, WWE.
In the 1990s, WWE decided to revive the act, pairing Barry Windham with Justin Bradshaw, who would later become JBL. The idea of pairing these two talents, and particularly a veteran with a rookie who represented similar potential, was sound enough. With the benefit of historical perspective, Windham and JBL even comes across as something of a dream team. For the year they spent teaming, though, the twosome seemed largely outdated amidst the budding Attitude Era and they were never the top team amongst a division that was getting ready to flourish. Ultimately, the Blackjack gimmick probably did more to keep fans from taking them seriously than helping the two eventual Hall of Fame level talents get over on their own merits.
4 The Headshrinkers
In the early 1990s, The Headshrinkers showed up in WWE. The team of Samu and Fatu (and later Sione) had paired up in the AWA earlier, so WWE didn’t exactly come up with the team nor the gimmick. Nonetheless, in introducing them to the WWE audience, and particularly with Afa as their manager, the company was quite overt about their connection to the old Wild Samoans tandem of Afa and Sika.
Both Samu and Fatu are legit members of the famed Anoi’a Samoan wrestling family, so making the connection was a fair enough choice. Just the same, the idea of the men portraying savages already felt outdated in 1992 and may have put a ceiling over the tag team which, despite a lengthy tenure, only won tag gold once in WWE. Fatu would, of course, go on to bigger things with singles runs in a variety of gimmicks, most memorably as Rikishi.
3 Fake Diesel And Fake Razor Ramon
The year 1996 saw an odd turn as WWE reintroduced the characters of Diesel and Razor Ramon, despite Kevin Nash and Scott Hall being under contract to WCW. There was a lot of confusion when the advance announcement came out, only for two imitators to debut under the tutelage of heel Jim Ross.
As would be expected, the twosome underwhelmed audiences. They worked as singles stars that ripped off the earlier incarnations WWE had promoted, and then worked as a tag team that was, interestingly enough, a rip off of WCW (Hall and Nash had never previously tagged up in WWE, but were teaming on the regular in WCW as part of the still new nWo). Whether WWE was just trying to assert its intellectual property, take a shot at their alumni, or just make WCW nervous about the possibility of the two top stars actually defecting, the tag team was a flop. The Fake Razor would reach his peak in this role while The Fake Diesel would wind up a star after he was re-cast as The Undertaker’s little brother Kane.
2 The New Rockers
The Rockers were a truly great tag team built on the foundation of Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty being hellaciously fast paced, agile workers, whose tandem offense contributed to revolutionizing tag team wrestling in the 1980s. When they went their separate ways, Michaels became one of the biggest singles stars of all time. And Jannetty? While he had his moments as a singles wrestler, he also had issues with substance use that contributed to him never really getting a sustained push at a high level.
In the mid-1990s, WWE sought to cash in on Jannetty’s greatest value, which was his association with the Rockers name. He got paired newcomer Leif Cassidy (better known as Al Snow) for a poor man’s version of the original team that was competent enough in the ring, but probably would have been better had WWE not ripped of an old concept and rather let these two rock solid performers pave their own way as a new team.
In the number one spot we arrive at arguably the most successful rip off tag team of all time. With their face paint, bruising style, and spiked entrance garb, the guys were clearly influenced by the better celebrated Road Warriors. The irony? For their safe, sound ring work, there’s a fair argument Demolition was actually the better team. The pair of Ax and Smash thrived as heels under Mr. Fuji’s management, were over as faces afterward, and later worked well with the addition of Crush as a third member.
Unlike The Powers of Pain or The Ascension, Demolition tends not to be written off as LOD knock offs, but rather celebrated as their unit, on account of their talent, charisma, and longevity. They won three WWE Tag Team Championships and worked independent bookings together as recently as earlier this year.