wrestling / Columns

The Magnificent Seven: The Top 7 Post-Attitude WWE Tag Teams

May 16, 2018 | Posted by Mike Chin
The New Day WWE

WWE has a historically bad reputation around how it pushes tag teams. Indeed, it’s a company focused on singles wrestlers that rarely places as much emphasis on tag teams. There have been pockets of exceptions. The initial national expansion up to the early 1990s, for example, featured iconic teams like Demolition, The Hart Foundation, and The Rockers that were memorable and, particularly in the latter two cases, spawned major singles stars. There have also been dry spells, however, for which teams were slapped together which less thought, or when short-term odd couple tandems generally dominated the more formal tag teams.

The Attitude Era saw a real peak with The New Age Outlaws getting the ball rolling, and Edge and Christian, the Dudleys, and the Hardys in featured roles afterward, besides a surprisingly deep bench of additional teams like Too Cool, The Holly Cousins, and the APA backing them up.

In recent times, we’ve seen a proliferation of teams again—enough to support respectable divisions across both Raw and SmackDown (not to mention a consistently budding division on NXT). In between the Attitude Era and the last couple years, however, times were by and large rough for tag team wrestling fans.

This week’s column looks at seven of the best WWE tag teams from this less auspicious period, including some contemporary teams, but also individual teams that thrived despite a relative paucity of great teams to work with. The quality of teams mostly comes down to my opinion, and please note that I only considered WWE main roster work (so, for example, The Revival might enter the conversation for their NXT efforts, but haven’t really made a dent on the main roster; Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson could potentially make a case for themselves if you included their efforts from Japan, but don’t crack the top seven based on their WWE work).

As some additional important caveats, I did make a few questionable calls. First and foremost, neither The Shield, nor any permutation of them makes the list. Why would the guys who consistently put on the best six-man tags in WWE history, and who collected tag team championships under two different permutations not get a spot? For me, it comes down to only wanting consider traditional two-on-two tag team matches. The pairs of Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose or Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns could qualify but as a three-man unit, they were known less for rotating two man combinations than for competing as a group of three. By extension, that’s why New Day does earn a spot—because despite rising to fame as a cluster of three they were generally at their best and performed most consistently in two-man combinations.

I was, additionally, invested in focusing on guys who focused on their tag team pairing. A real argument could be put in place for including Shawn Michaels and Triple H as DX on the countdown, but it was always my impression that they were more of two singles stars teaming together as a novelty than an actual tag team. I applied a similar logic to Rated RKO. A team like Jeri-Show escapes this logic and does make the countdown because they legitimately spent half a year mostly focused on their work as a tag team.

For both the Shield and DX omissions, I’ll happily concede I’m being a little arbitrary, but there are the explanations, so don’t complain about me forgetting about them for this countdown—complain about the logic all you want.

Without further ado, let’s head to the countdown.

#7. MNM

From the mid-to-late 00s there weren’t a lot of teams WWE seemed to invest a lot of effort in. MNM, however, was one of those pairs that was given a fighting chance, clustering hot prospects Johnny Nitro and Joey Mercury with Melina as their valet, and adding on a Hollywood glamour gimmick. The two talents were gifted a distinctive identity, and their budding charisma and athleticism snagged them a spot as a top team of the day.

Unfortunately, MNM didn’t have many good team to work with, and their good efforts tend to get overshadowed by the night Mercury got his face smashed in a ladder spot gone awry (at least it was a heck of a match at Armaggedon 2006). While some would argue that Paul London and Brian Kendrick were the better team (and I did have them at the cusp of this countdown), I give MNM the edge for their more distinctive identity. It’s unfortunate they didn’t get a longer run as a team, though Morrison largely picked up where the tandem left off in his pairing with The Miz.

#6. The World’s Greatest Tag Team

It’s interesting to note that Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin were paired with different tag team partners in WWE’s developmental system. Haas teamed with his real life brother Russ until his untimely passing in 2001, while Benjamin was paired with no lesser talent than Brock Lesnar. As Lesnar moved onto singles stardom, Haas and Benjamin proved near perfect partners for one another. WWE called on their legit amateur pedigrees to cast them as cronies for Kurt Angle, billed as Team Angle in his war with Lesnar on the main roster.

Haas and Benajamin would develop into more than sidekicks, though. While they were successful as Team Angle, they continued their success in arrogantly rebilling themselves as The World’s Greatest Tag Team. They captured tag gold twice and, after their initial, featured run, got the chance to team up again a few years down the road, when creative didn’t have anything better for them to do. That second time around, they were treated less like stars, but demonstrated greater polish for their experience in the business, and were anchors for newer teams to build off of.

While it didn’t contribute to this countdown, it’s also worth noting that the guys went on to a successful career on the indies, and particularly with ROH, post-WWE.

#5. The Hardy Boyz

The Hardy Boyz weren’t the only successful team from the Attitude Era to crossover to the years to follow, but their degree of success, and particularly their degree of success over an incredibly long period of time warrants recognition. The Hardys remained a unit for a bit in the immediate aftermath of Attitude. While they moved on to singles careers, they’d join forces again from 2006 into 2007, during which time they got the best of a program with MNM and won their sixth tag titles in WWE.

The Hardys would travel a winding road outside of WWE, sometimes apart, sometimes together before arriving as the hottest free agents in the wrestling world based on their Broken Gimmick. So, WWE brought them back for one of the all-time greatest WrestleMania surprise returns. They were impromptu additions to the Raw Tag Team Championship ladder match and put on a hellacious performance at WrestleMania 33, which gave way to a rock solid run over the months to follow.

The Hardys’ best days were most certainly behind them in the post-Attitude Era, but even a relatively lackluster version of this tag team is plenty good enough to make the cut for this countdown. That’s less a knock on the other teams then an acknowledgment of a team that has found ways to stay relevant, and stay quite good for a very long time.

#4. Jeri-Show

As noted at the top of the article, WWE has often been reticent to spotlight its tag teams. It typically takes a short-term star duo to get tag matches featured at the main event level. While the pair of Chris Jericho and The Big Show were, in many ways, exactly that kind of star tag team, they were also stars who mostly put their singles careers aside for half of a year to focus on working as a team, and providing an insurmountable challenge for face tag teams to chase for the tag titles.

And they were good. Jericho and Show are both veterans who have not only aged well in the ring, but are good at delivering promos. They successfully feuded with established teams like Cryme Tyme, The Colons, and Legacy, in addition to star tandems like MVP and Mark Henry, and Batista and Rey Mysterio. One of the best parts of the Jeri-Show run was that, despite the success of the run and the fact that the heels should have been competitive in each of these cases, if not favored, they nonetheless successfully instilled doubt time and again, suggesting the face challengers may well overcome them.

It was ultimately fitting that Jeri-Show passed the torch to the super team of Shawn Michaels and Triple H, both because it ought to have taken a super team to unseat them, and because it was fitting that that super team would be one that had similarly cultivated its teamwork over a period of time. As a just send off to the Jeri-Show team’s title tenure, they dropped the titles in a PPV main event, not to mention a bit of a forgotten gem of a TLC match.

#3. The Bar

It feels a bit premature to rank The Bar on a countdown like this, given they’ve only been together a year and a half now. Together, however, they represented, first, an optimal use of the wacky tag team partners who just can’t get a long trope, before evolving into a legitimately great straight up tag team first as faces, then, even better as heels.

Sheamus and Cesaro are hard hitting, versatile, and charismatic. They’re a pair of guys who, at a different time, or on slightly different whims on the part of Vince McMahon, might be main event talents, but have made it as a team. It’s unclear if WWE meant for them to be a long-term team or multi-time tag champs, or if pairing them up was simply a way of giving two directionless mid-carders something to do. Regardless, it’s a great example of two talents making the most of a middling opportunity to forge what may well up as one of the best teams of their generation.

#2. The New Day

While Sheamus and Cesaro were a pair of excellent talents not actualizing their potential, The New Day was a set of three guys with an even lower ceiling over their heads, who’ve gone on to reach even greater heights and for a more extended period of times.

The New Day started out pretty blah as relatively generic, feel-good faces. A heel turn, however, gave them a new outlook. They kept up the positivity, generating heat and then fanfare for how over the top they were about acting like good guys despite constantly cheating and engaging in obnoxious behavior. Before long, they were so over as heels that WWE had little choice but to turn them face—the crowd was vocally behind them either way.

While it’s come into style to hate on New Day, and the act has grown a bit stale, it’s a mistake to take them for granted, or forget just how good they’ve been at their peaks.

Xavier Woods has gone on record to claim that his vision for New Day was to elevate Kofi Kingston to world champion status. It doesn’t look particularly likely he’ll achieve that outcome, but Kingston, Woods, and Big E did join the ranks of The Rock and Hulk Hogan as acts over enough be trusted to host a WrestleMania. Add onto that outstanding in ring work opposite a wide variety of teams on Raw and SmackDown and you have a team worth considering for all-time great countdowns, and who I had finishing number two by just a hair.

#1. The Usos

When I first started drafting this countdown, I presumed I’d be ranking The New Day at or near the number one spot, based on how explosively over they got and their record-setting tag title reign. I thought of the Usos early, and felt confident they’d make the list, but as I started to think in terms of longevity, versatility, and quality of matches against a range of opponents, it became hard to make the case for placing anyone in this time period over Jimmy and Jey.

The Usos debuted as heels, most memorably feuding with The Hart Dynasty. They’d go on to their greatest success as faces, though, surprising formidable opponents for The Shield, and finally striking gold, including a very strong 2014 title run in which they got great matches out of Harper and Rowan and thrived against a variety of other opponents.

By 2016, the Usos seemed played out and it was unclear how long they could remain at all relevant on the WWE landscape. Little could anyone have foreseen the impact of a heel turn and identity shift. When they took the titles off of American Alpha, it was an unexpected step toward revitalizing the SmackDown tag division on the whole, and their ensuing feud with The New Day was downright inspired, culminating in a truly excellent Hell in a Cell showdown. They since arrived as the kind of super over heels who bordered on tweener, on their way back to face status. While their current gimmick might have its own shelf life, the Usos have proven over their nearly eight year run that fans should never count them out.

Which teams would you add to the list? Billy and Chuck, Cody Rhodes and Goldust, The Miz and John Morrison, Air Boom, and Brian Kendrick and Paul London were among my top runners up. Let us know what you think in the comments.

Read more from Mike Chin at his website and follow him on Twitter @miketchin.

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The Magnificent Seven, WWE, Mike Chin