Welcome back to the House Afire. If you haven’t read the first two installments you can find them here. This edition is a bit different as all the teams have a common theme I wanted to cover.
Earlier this summer, I heard a lot of baseball scouts talking about prospects they picked in the Major League Baseball amateur draft. Scouts rank position players based on their “tools,” which usually include hitting, hitting for power, arm strength, speed and fielding. The top prospects usually have multiple tools, which is why they tend to go high in the draft and are safer picks to make the big leagues. The tag teams at the top of my list are like the top prospects in that they likely score well in multiple categories (longevity, workrate, top-tier matches, title reigns.)
But as the baseball draft extends into later rounds, the five-tool players are long gone and teams are more willing to invest in players that are exceptionally talented in one skill. Scouts call this a “carrying tool.” An example of this would be the Royals selecting Jarrod Dyson in the 50th round because of his excellent speed with the hopes that he would learn other parts of the game. Another example would be Mark McGwire’s power “carrying” him into the top 10 of the 1984 draft, despite the fact that he was neither fleet of foot nor strong-armed (neither is particularly important for a first baseman anyway.)
Many of the tag teams to consider for this project have one, and sometimes only one, particularly strong quality to consider. One team might have enough longevity or one great match that is JUST enough to sneak them onto the list, like Dyson’s speed got him into pro baseball. Others might have a string of matches so great they vault them up the list, like McGwire’s power. For this edition of House Afire, I’m going to look at a few teams from throughout WWE history that I think have a “carrying tool” and where I think it could carry them on my list.
Buddy Rogers & Johnny Barend
Years Teamed in WWE: 1963
Total Matches: 15
Combined Days of Tag Title Reigns: 245 (WWWF United States tag titles)
Match Suggestions: w/ Magnificent Maurice vs. Bobo Brazil & Sailor Art Thomas (3/15/63? 2/3 falls- Chicago)
Thoughts: Rogers and Barend teamed for about 15 matches in the WWWF in 1963, and there is footage of one match available in the Facebook thread (which was a great find.) Neither the number of matches nor the footage would make a compelling case, so if you’re considering this team you’re looking at historical significance to carry them through. Rogers and Barend were NWA United States tag team champions from July 1962 to March 1963, around the time WWWF crowned their own champions, with Rogers being the first World champion. It’s been said that they were first tag team champions recognized by WWWF, but the information I found makes it look like Rogers and Barend lost the belts to Buddy Austin and the Great Scott on March 7, 1963, a month before the belts were renamed the WWWF United States Tag Team Championships. In addition, the NWA U.S. Tag belts had been defended in the territory since 1958, and the name change to WWWF may have been more akin to the change from WWF to WWE rather than the formation of a new territory. The April 1963 date does, however, mark the start of the consideration period for this project. Dates and details from that long ago are always a bit murky, I’m not a wrestling historian and wasn’t there, so maybe Barend and Rogers were the first recognized champs, but it’s not clear to me that’s the case. They certainly did face the top stars of the day, squaring off against Bruno Sammartino, Bobo Brazil and Pedro Morales multiple times in their limited matches in WWWF. The one match we have footage of is fine. It’s always hard for me to compare styles from that long ago, but the crowd was into it, it didn’t drag too much or have extensive restholds. You should definitely check it out if only to see the “back flip” that ends the first fall of the 2/3 falls match.
Placement Range: I can’t do it. The information I found had them losing the NWA U.S. tag titles a month before those belts were renamed the WWWF U.S. tag titles (and before the consideration period for this project.) Add to that only 15 matches with the company during the consideration period and footage of only one match, and that’s just not enough for me to say they’re one of the top 100 tag teams in company history.
Years Teamed in WWE: 1970-1971
Total Matches: 94
Combined Days of Tag Title Reigns: 501 (International Tag Titles)
Match Suggestions: No footage found (the only Mongols footage I have found is of Bolo and Geeto, rather than Bepo and Geeto, which is the team nominated that appeared regularly in WWF in 1970-71)
Thoughts: I first selected the Mongols for this article, because I wanted to use their lengthy International Tag Title reign as an example of one lengthy reign carrying a team to consideration. After reading some comments and talking to some people about the International Titles, it appears they were more props to get the Rising Suns, and later the Mongols, over rather than prestigious titles. However, the Mongols are still cited as an important team credited with being an attraction that helped heat up the territory after a slump. Some have compared them to a 1970s version of the Road Warriors and fans that saw them live sing their praises, some of which can be read in the Facebook thread. Unfortunately, the Mongols peak was before televised MSG shows, so it appears there is no weekly TV footage featuring the team and if any handheld footage exists, I was unable to find it. This gives me the opportunity to talk a little about what to do with teams that have no footage available. My first instinct was to avoid ranking any team I couldn’t watch footage of, because it wouldn’t allow me to evaluate their match quality, my primary factor in ranking these teams. But I continue to struggle with this, as I know there will be teams with plenty of footage that I think suck, but will still rank due to longevity or title reigns (Money, Inc., Natural Disasters, Nasty Boys, Bushwhackers, etc.) So, is it fair to include teams that I dislike because I can see their crappy matches, but to exclude teams that I can’t watch at all? I’m still trying to decide how to handle this, but if I find a team with an impressive amount of matches or lengthy title reigns but no footage, I will consider them. I can’t make the assumption a team with no footage was good in the ring, but surely I can assume they are roughly as good as the teams I mentioned, so I’ll consider anyone with similar longevity or title reigns. It appears to me that few teams from the era before footage stayed in one territory long enough to accumulate hundreds of matches like later teams did. But enough fans of the day and those that study the history of the WWWF insist the Mongols were a very important team for the WWWF, and that merits some consideration.
Placement Range: As I mentioned, I can’t assume a team I’ve never watched was good in the ring (and Bepo’s later work as Nikolai Volkoff does nothing to bolster their in-ring case.) Without good matches, they can’t be high on my list, but I’m far from convinced I can find 100 teams that were good in the ring for the WWF. And again, the Mongols seem to have the historical significance to merit consideration, so I’m planning on putting them near the end of my list and moving them up or down as other teams impress me or fail to impress me. They’re probably borderline, but the Mongols are one of what I expect to be very few teams with no footage that I’ll consider.
Hulk Hogan & Mr. T
Years Teamed in WWE: 1985
Total Matches: 1
Combined Days of Tag Title Reigns: 0
Match Suggestions: vs. Roddy Piper & Paul Orndorff (WM)
Thoughts: Hulk Hogan and Mr. T teamed for only one match. And if you’re reading this, you know what match it is. That says something. The WWF had a lot riding on the inaugural WrestleMania, with some claiming the very existence of the company was on the line. I suspect the legend of how badly the company needed WrestleMania to succeed has been exaggerated over time like everything else in wrestling, but still was undoubtedly important. It was a time when wrestling was just beginning to infiltrate the mainstream. While Hulk Hogan would eventually become a pop culture icon synonymous with the 80’s Mr. T was already there having starred in Rocky III and the A-Team. The match itself used all the glitz, glamour and gaga to get to a fine, fun match, though nothing great. But that match was the biggest drawing point for the show, which was a financial success. WrestleMania continued the success that the Rock n’ Wrestling connection with MTV had started in getting new eyeballs on the product. If the first WrestleMania was a failure, does the WWF become what it is today and are we worrying about their greatest 100 tag teams? Maybe or maybe not. But because the combination of Hulk Hogan and Mr. T were a huge part of making the first WrestleMania a success we don’t have to worry about it.
Placement Range: There’s a great discussion about this team in the Facebook group. Some voters make the point that the team is so historically important to the health and future of the company that they earned inclusion with one match, workrate and longevity be damned, and could finish within the top 10 on their list. I think that is a very valid opinion and insight I hadn’t considered until I read the team thread. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, though they won’t be in the top 10 of my list. I initially thought their historical significance might carry them into the top 25, but I think they’ll just miss out. Still, I expect they’ll make it into my top half, somewhere between 25 and 50, though that will be somewhat dependent on what I see from other teams.
Years Teamed in WWE: 1988-1996
Total Matches: 764
Combined Days of Tag Title Reigns: 0
Match Suggestions: Oh, hell I don’t know. Let’s go with vs. Fabulous Rougeau Brothers (WM V), w/Rockers vs. Beverly Brothers & Nasty Boys (Survivor Series ’91), w/ Men on a Mission vs. Bam Bam Bigelow, Bastion Booger & Headshrinkers (Survivor Series ’93)
Thoughts: If you’re looking for hidden gem Bushwhacker matches to determine their placement on this list, you’re going to be highly disappointed. You’re also missing the point in trying to determine any value for the team, as the ‘Whackers had two carrying tools, and neither one of them have a damn thing to do with in-ring ability (at least based on what they showed in WWF.) The Bushwhackers had nearly unparalleled longevity with 764 matches with the company (more than the Hart Foundation or Dudley Boyz for reference) and were memorable characters. Now, I never enjoyed their act very much, and I haven’t heard many people offer praise to Luke and Butch and their head-lickin’ ways, but as I watch the matches, there are tons of people in the crowd doing the Bushwhacker strut arm motions. I’m not sure why, but maybe it’s therapeutic. In fact, I think I’ll do that on the way into my next work meeting (I’m stopping short of licking my boss’s head though.) Anyway, my point is they are memorable characters that were a part of the WWF forever. While those boys weren’t right, leaving them off the list wouldn’t feel right either. I should also mention the match recommendations were to point out both their high profile matches and their absurdity (hello Survivor Series ’93.)
Placement Range: My plan is to slot them at 100 and leave them there. I suppose they could move up if I just absolutely can’t find anybody to put in the 90s slots, but I doubt it. And I can’t imagine being able to justify leaving them off.
Bret Hart & Owen Hart
Years Teamed in WWE: 1993-1994, 1997
Total Matches: 15
Combined Days of Tag Title Reigns: 0
Match Suggestions: vs. Shawn Michaels and Knights (Survivor Series ’93), vs. Steiner Brothers (1/11/94), vs. Quebecers (Royal Rumble ’94), w/British Bulldog vs. Steve Austin & Dude Love & Undertaker (7/21/97 Raw; Flag Match
Thoughts: I selected the Bret and Owen team for this edition with the thought that the great Steiner Brothers match would be the determining factor to carry them on the list if they made it. While that match is indeed great and might be enough to get the Hart Brothers on the list, I think there is more to their case. The entirety of their tag team is telling the story and laying the foundation for their great feud in 1994, from Owen being the only elimination in the Survivor Series match to Bret being too damn selfish trying to hog all the glory and costing the team against the Quebecers at Rumble ’94, after a very good match. If I was Owen, I’d have kicked his leg out of his leg, too. Along the way they have the elite level match with the Steiners, and they supplement their case by teaming nine times in 1997 (I included a six-man flag match with Bulldog from Raw in match recommendations.) Those matches include tags and multi-men matches, including the main event of Canadian Stampede. (I’m not sure what to do with that match, as under the letter of the law, you could count it for Owen-Bret, Owen-Davey, the Hart Foundation and the New Foundation, just on the Canadian side. To me that’s a bridge too far, but technically you could do so.) Even without a boost from Stampede, Bret and Owen are an interesting short-term team that could squeeze onto the list.
Placement Range: They’re making my list, I’m just not sure where. The match against the Steiners is on par (or above) other teams with one big match to their credit (Austin & Michaels, Triple H & Austin.) At the same time the Austin & Michaels vs. Owen & Bulldog and Triple H & Austin vs. Benoit & Jericho matches are so well-regarded, in part, because they’re two of the best matches on Raw, making them a higher profile match than the Harts vs. Steiners. I’m not sure how that’ll all shake out, but I expect all three of these teams to appear somewhere in the bottom quarter of my list (though they may be a bit higher, the bottom part of the list is looking weak on in-ring ability.)
Shawn Michaels & Steve Austin
Years Teamed in WWE: 1997
Total Matches: 7
Combined Days of Tag Title Reigns: 49
Match Suggestions: vs. Owen Hart & British Bulldog (5/26/97- Raw), vs. LOD (6/2/97)
Thoughts: Michaels and Stone Cold were one of the first mismatched teams that hated each other and were the first tag team champions to face each other at a PPV, according to Good Ol’ JR. They became tag team champions in a fantastic match with Owen Hart and the British Bulldog in one of the best matches in Raw history. The next week they defended the titles against LOD, worked as heels (as opposed to the babyfaces they were against Owen and Bulldog the week before) and ended up brawling with each other for a schmoz ending. But the case for Michaels and Austin comes down to the Owen & Bulldog match. For one match to earn a team a spot on my list, that match has to be either an all-time great match, a historically significant match (the main event of the first WM, for example) or both. The match between Michaels & Austin and Owen & Bulldog was incredible and definitely qualifies as an all-time great match for me. Is it historically significant? Well, the fact that it still stands as one of the best matches ever on the flagship show 21 years later gives it a strong case for historical significance.
Placement Range: I think I like this match better than the Two-Man Power Trip vs. Benoit & Jericho, so I think Michaels & Austin will appear just ahead of Triple H & Austin on my list. I had originally said the Power Trip could make it or be just off, but firming up my list, I doubt there are 100 teams I’d put above them. So, I think both Triple H & Austin and Michaels & Austin will make the bottom quarter of my list.
Edge & Rey Mysterio
Years Teamed in WWE: 2002, 2010-2011
Total Matches: 54
Combined Days of Tag Title Reigns: 12
Match Suggestions: vs. Angle & Benoit (No Mercy ’02), vs. Angle & Benoit 2/3 falls (11/7/02- SD), vs. Los Guerreros (10/24/02 SD), vs. Tajiri & Brock Lesnar (10/10/02 SD), vs. Angle, Benoit & Los Guerreros (Survivor Series ’02 elimination match) vs. Kane & Del Rio (12/30/2010 SD)
Thoughts: Edge and Rey Mysterio teamed together 32 times in 2010 and 2011 in tags and multi-man matches, mostly as a result of both being in the main event scene. The magic from 2002 was not present against Alberto Del Rio and Kane in 2010, but I included a match in the recommendations so you can see for yourself. Clearly, their best work came as 1/3 of the famed SmackDown Six in 2002. Their match against Angle and Benoit for the inaugural SmackDown tag titles at No Mercy ’02 is a classic, among the best straight tag matches in company history. That match was why they’re included in this edition, with me thinking that match alone could carry Edge and Mysterio onto the list. It could, but they have plenty of other great matches from the time to strengthen their case. The 2/3 falls rematch on SmackDown was f’n lit and Edge and Rey had excellent matches with Los Guerreros on TV, as well. If you just search the network and select any Rey-Edge tag match from ’02, it’s likely to be excellent, though the three-way elimination match at Survivor Series is strangely a step behind most of the other SmackDown Six matches, though still quite good. Rey and Edge worked extremely well together and all of their matches in 2002 were non-stop action. They really gelled as a team and developed tandem offense and good chemistry very quickly.
Placement Range: The more I rewatch their SmackDown Six tag matches, the stronger their case grows. They’ve got enough great matches to supplement the all-timer at No Mercy, that I think they are a middle-of-the-list, somewhere between 40 and 65.
Years Teamed in WWE: 2015-2017
Total Matches: 71
Combined Days of Tag Title Reigns: 70 (NXT Tag Titles)
Match Suggestions: vs. The Revival (NXT Takeover Toronto 2/3 falls 11/19/16), vs. Revival (NXT Takeover Brooklyn II 8/20/16), vs. Authors of Pain vs. Revival (NXT Takeover Orlando 4/1/17,), vs. Authors of Pain (NXT Takeover Chicago 5/20/17 ladder match), vs. Revival (NXT TV 1/11/17), vs. Tajiri & Akira Tozowa (NXT TV 12/28/16), vs. Noam Dar & Cedric Alexander (Cruiserweight Classic #10 9/14/16)
Thoughts: For match recommendations, I considered just saying all of them, because there aren’t really bad #DIY matches. Their top matches, include what many (myself included) consider to be the best tag team match in company history (2/3 falls vs. Revival at Takeover Toronto.) Their other Takeover matches against the Revival and Authors of Pain are not far behind. I really liked the three-way match with the Authors and Revival, and the story of #DIY and the Revival having to work together to battle the monster team of AOP. It fell off a bit after #DIY was eliminated. Their first Takeover match with the Revival is another all-timer, top-ten tag match in company history. Really, the only thing missing from their resume is longevity, with only 71 matches in the company. Their top-tier matches stack up with anyone (except perhaps the Revival) and they also had an epic break-up angle with Ciampa (or Chompy to some) turning on Gargano (we can only count the turn not the matches that gave us all the snowflakes in 2018, we have to give the other nominated teams a fighting chance in the voting.) They worked very well together, executing tandem offense like their kick-knee combo. #DIY matches always had good heat, as Gargano is one of the best babyfaces when it comes to generating sympathy from the crowd (hot take, I know) and the Psycho Killer held his own as well. If they had a longer run, it would be difficult to argue against them near the top of the list. As it is, their list of great matches, including a couple all-timers, does carry them to a spot of prominence on my list.
Placement Range: Those matches with the Revival were so fantastic that they’ll carry #DIY somewhere between 25 and 40 or so on my list. It’s hard for me to go much higher without more longevity, but the team that was half of what I consider the best tag match in company history has to be high on my list.
I really enjoyed doing this list, probably because I got to watch some of the best tag matches the WWE has ever put on. I’ll be back with more teams soon. Remember, you can join the discussion on the Facebook group here.