Could WWE increasing the focus on tag team wrestling at all levels on their show benefit them?
For some reason during this current generation of WWE, the "WWE Universe" has been trained to believe that tag team wrestling is inferior to singles competition. However, could an increased focus on tag team wrestling actually benefit WWE's product? The benefits of an increased focus on tag team wrestling to any promotion are considerable but to a promotion in WWE's current context? The benefits are MASSIVE.
"... but tag team wrestling doesn't draw brother!"
First of let's squash that nonsensical rumour that tag wrestling doesn't draw. TLC 2009 was main evented (as in last match on the show AND the main focus of the build) by Jeri-Show vs DX. The PPV drew 228,000 buys, up 18.1% from the previous December PPV and a higher number than the PPV has drawn since main evented by singles matches. Plus the buyrate was drawn by four regular wrestlers at that point so can't be attributed to a short term spike such as Survivor Series 2011's strong buyrate due to Rock's return in a tag match. So clearly, focusing more on tag team wrestling at the top of the card doesn't hurt business and main eventers/great programs will still be able to draw regardless of the end destination being a singles or tag match.
Magic Trick 72: Making Beefheads Look Like Good Workers
The question doesn't just ask if the increased focus will benefit the main event scene. It focuses on all levels of the card and the benefits to be gained for WWE apply to all levels of the card. One of the great beauties of tag team wrestling is how it can make wrestlers look better than they really are. Take Batista for example, someone who wasn't a naturally blessed worker when he first debuted. 2 years of teaming with Haitch and Naitch later, he's promoted to "walk alone" and he's suddenly able to work great singles matches that go longer than 5 minutes. Not a coincidence at all. Batista's a prime example of the vast development that an increased focus on tag team wrestling can provide to a wrestler and can also benefit WWE by producing a talent that is actually ready to finally breakthrough as a top singles guy, evidenced by Wrestlemania 21 drawing the 3rd highest buyrate ever. Tagging with great in ring workers is bound to improve your ring work and just sheer association with established stars can really help get a new act over like it did with Batista.
For me, Ryback is an obvious example of an act who's just crying out for an increased focus on tag team wrestling to benefit him ala Batista. Like Batista at the start, Ryback's hardly a great in ring worker. However, there is something there. Go back to his babyface run and he was getting over when he was squashing guys. That's because he was good on offence. Then he started to have to work longer matches on his own, his weaknesses got exposed and ultimately his momentum derailed. I go back to the benefit of hiding weaknesses and exposing strengths. This is what Ryback was just begging for. Showcase the guy in a tag team where you can highlight his strengths that were getting him over and hide his weaknesses such as selling and inability to work a singles match of any length. Pairing him with an established babyface such as Christian could've helped him get more over with the audience by tapping into their star power and really developing his in ring skills by working with high end workers on a weekly basis.
The Never-Ending Road Schedule
Another benefit for WWE is a significantly reduced physical load for wrestlers. The current WWE schedule is extremely gruelling and even on house shows the majority of the matches are singles matches. Obviously it doesn't take a genius to figure out that it's more gruelling to work a singles match than a tag match and the risk of injury is reduced in tag matches. With WWE's reliance on a small number of genuine numbers moving superstars they should be taking every measure possible to maintain the health of them stars and an increased focus on tag team wrestling would definitely do that. As I showed earlier, main eventing shows with tag matches won't suddenly kill business so why aren't WWE taking the opportunity to protect their prized assets?
So if you're WWE, which do you prefer? The current system where your top stars run a higher risk of injury on multiple shows every week and your undeveloped prospects have their potential for stardom reduced by exposing their weaknesses, or an increased focus on tag team wrestling that protects your prized assets better and aids development in your next generation of stars. Doesn't even seem up for debate does it?
PPV buyrates come from The Observer. Free secondary sources for the buyrate - 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 Wrestlemania 1-28
Evidence of Batista as a singles worker before Evolution and after
Evidence of Ryback as a main event singles worker vs main event tag worker.
WWE House Show Results
Could WWE increasing the focus on tag team wrestling at all levels on their show benefit them?
The key concept of the title rests on ‘at all levels’. Therefore a broader consideration of the diverse attributes that encompass tag team wrestling is applicable, which when sufficiently evaluated should signify the immense potential a renewed commitment to tag wrestling could bestow upon WWE. It is through this metric that I conclude WWE would absolutely benefit from a renewed focus on tag wrestling.
Historically, tag team wrestling has been a vital device in protecting marketable assets by limiting their exposure and accentuating their strengths whilst disguising their weaknesses. This takes on paramount importance to WWE, where a historical preconception exists in relation to necessary attributes to become a face of the promotion. There forever exists an opportunity for chiselled behemoths such as Ryback or Batista to achieve success in WWE where the concept of visceral imagery retains importance through years of conditioning the audience with how a superstar ‘should appear’, however WWE is still very much a performance driven company whereby potential commodities require a level of competency in the ring to succeed. Where else bar tag wrestling could one expect limited wrestlers to gradually flourish without being overexposed? You only need to look at Roman Reigns, someone very much considered unworthy of sharing the limelight with Ambrose & Rollins during The Shields’ inception, in order to appreciate how tag wrestling presents Reigns in a manner that invites praise whilst deflecting from his lack of singles wrestling experience.
Outlining how WWE could prosper from tag team wrestling requires contextual consideration, where again The Shield serve as a key proponent. WWE’s depleted roster significantly handicaps their ability to protect whatever marquee matchups remain at their disposal, with the roster so sparse in terms of recognisable and marketable individuals that an abundance of rematches dominate booking and render the product stagnant. The Shield however are approaching one year on the roster and unlike anyone else, the potential programs that await each individual are staggering.
Given their sparse singles outings, they avoid the issues that befall numerous superstars as their connection with the crowd has steadily grown without reducing the number of wrestlers they could work with in the future. Given Miz plummeted from main event to midcard fodder in just over a year precisely through a lack of sustainable opponents, WWE’s ability to safeguard The Shield through tag team wrestling is a luxury they can ill afford to squander given the position they find themselves in with regards to identifiable stars.
Inserting recognisable faces into the tag division, thereby giving precarious talents a sense of direction they require is also crucial with regards to what tag wrestling offers WWE. Miz is a telling reminder that impenetrable talents such as Punk & Bryan are not commonly acquired and that mismanagement and a lack of direction could see promising talents flounder when not in the title picture. Consider the potential that could arise if someone like Cena were to be integrated into a tag team, not only could this enhance the legitimacy of the division by positioning a star like Cena into the fold, but the long term implications could be remarkable. A respected division allows for uppercard talent to maintain direction and have options when they’re not in the main event, which avoids stagnant and unremarkable booking. When you recall the level of detail that went into developing a respected and valuable tag division during the height of the Attitude Era where WWE was bestowed with a plethora of singles stars, it seems highly dubious to not entertain the possible long term benefits that could be reaped should they adopt a similar approach in an era not blessed with an array of cash cows.
Therefore, I find it unquestionable that WWE could only benefit from a commitment to tag wrestling. Tag team wrestling is a key component in allowing unseasoned wrestlers to nurture and develop at their own pace, a crucial aspect given WWE’s proclivity for hiring based on marketable appearances first and foremost. Furthermore, a more rigid focus on tag wrestling could alleviate current problems that hinder the creativity of the product due to a depleted roster where talent is plummeting down the card when available programs are exhausted. Given the long term success of Edge, Jeff Hardy and Daniel Bryan, there is also a clear argument that tag team wrestlers much like singles wrestlers can steadily connect with an audience when properly presented in a respectable manner. When you consider the company is currently in critical need of additional stars, surely refusing to acknowledge the historical and contextual merits for refocusing attention on tag team wrestling is a harmful mindset that may ultimately hinder the long term aspirations of WWE to develop a crop of current stars? Well, I believe so.
The Lady Killer
Could WWE increasing the focus on tag team wrestling at all levels on their show benefit them?
The days of well-built internal struggles ultimately leading to the creation of a breakout superstar have been replaced by comedy acts and directionless jobbers being randomly paired up with one another while their remaining credibility is thrown through the nearest barber shop window. Indeed, if anyone saw the abysmal debut of Los Matadores (complete with “BORING” chants) on tonight’s episode of Monday Night Raw, they’d quickly be reminded why an increased focus on tag team wrestling would NOT be beneficial.
My detractors will likely argue that a renewed interest in the tag team division improves the chances of establishing the next breakout superstar. However, when was the last time a tag team successfully generated a big star? Don’t worry, I’ll wait. Perhaps Batista in 2005, but that was mostly due to turning on Triple H and not his partnership with Ric Flair. In other words, recent evidence suggests that focusing on tag teams is not the best use of the company’s resources, especially when the product is suffering from a dearth of true main event caliber performers. Regardless of how many vignettes WWE airs to promote a new or repackaged tag team, it’s very uncommon in the current era to strike it rich in creating new superstars due to the declining popularity of professional wrestling.
Placing such a great emphasis on how difficult it has become for a superstar to emerge from the depths of the tag division speaks volumes about the minimal value-added potential of a renewed focus on tag team wrestling. The truth is that superstars, not tag teams, are who draw the big money. From Hogan to The Rock & Austin to John Cena, the names and faces of the past three decades aren’t tag team specialists. As great as The Road Warriors, Demolition or Harlem Heat were, they won’t be remembered as the flag bearers of their respective companies. There will always be a ceiling in terms of the heights members of the tag team division can reach which falls well below that of singles competition.
Proponents of an increased focus in tag team wrestling fail to realize that the evolution of the business has proven that individuality is the key to success. In a recent interview
, Shawn Michaels qualifies the idea that tag team wrestling may not be viable given the current professional wrestling business model that values individual success over teamwork.
As for any resurgence of tag-team wrestling? I really can't say, it's impossible for me to get into the minds of individuals, but I don't know if that's a real focus now with the guys. Not a lot of guys seem to go into tags looking to make that team the absolute best it can be. Whether the company standpoint is that guys have to be individuals in order to be successful, or that comes from the wrestlers themselves, there does seem to be more emphasis on single success now than there was back when I started.
It’s evident that shining more of the spotlight on tag team wrestling would ultimately be detrimental to the goal of creating individual superstars. As it stands, only one of the four singles titles (yes, I’m excluding the Divas title) holds any weight, and this won’t change if the focal point of the company shifts towards bolstering the tag division. Some may even make the claim that since The Shield are involved in the main event storyline, the tag titles currently mean more than the World Heavyweight Championship. While that may be true, one should not mistake this as a reason to focus on reestablishing the tag division as a major focal point. The Shield are a clear exception, as they were thrust into the main event with singles superstar potential from the moment they debuted. This special case can and should not be extrapolated to assume that The Shield’s success is indicative of the potential of the other current teams.
Ultimately, increasing the focus on the tag division could only be seen as beneficial if a singles star emerges from the fray. Of course, quality promos and matches are fine and dandy by-products, but given WWE’s current affinity for booking the same matches week in and week out across all shows, the concept of diminishing returns takes center stage. As aforementioned, it’s unlikely for a singles star to be born from a tag team in this day and age. The product is clearly driven by an emphasis on individual success, so attempting to manipulate this formula would only cause harm to an already exposed weakness – an imbalanced roster. The less we see of 3MB/Tons of Funk/Los Matadores, the better.
Regardless of what wrestling era you grew up with, you’ll remember numerous iconic tag teams. From the opening of the card to the main event, tag team action bolsters any wrestling show. If the WWE invests in a tag team renaissance, committing to long-term cohesive teams, the on-screen product will most definitely benefit.
An increased focus on tag wrestling brings all of the benefits that come with using tag teams generally. In tag formats, you can cover the weaknesses of competitors (be it on the ring or on the mic) with greater ease. The New Age Outlaws reached crazy heights of popularity with one guy who was unimpressive on the mic (Billy Gunn) and another who was mediocre in the ring (Road Dogg). Tag formats lessen the workload on top-level or older guys. When Scott Hall and Kevin Nash arrived in WCW, they could work main-event matches weekly without putting an overt amount of strain on their bodies.
Tag wrestling is beneficial because it gives fans variety – workers with differing styles can match up against or pair up with guys with completely different skill sets. Recall the excitement when the Hardy Boyz, the Dudleyz and Edge and Christian matched up. There’s many recipes with which guys can find tag team success, so any focus on the WWE’s part on tag wrestling is also an opportunity for guys to find success that might be otherwise unachievable as a single’s competitor. If you were a wrestler, wouldn’t you rather get seven minutes of exposure in a tag match on Raw instead of appearing in a throwaway midcard singles’ match on a Superstars taping? Absolutely! It’s more exposure! Greater emphasis on tag team wrestling from the top of the card to the bottom also gives freshness to matchups, as long as WWE avoids the Teddy Long special of throwing together the two heels and two faces in the ring at any given time and making a tag team match, playa! Let rivalries develop organically. Allow teams to form, and stick together more than a month, based on kayfabe friendships and alliances.
The naysayers arguing against increased emphasis on tag team wrestling will say that when we’re looking at the megastars of wrestling, tag teams are a level below the names that pop into mind immediately. If guys like Sting, Steve Austin, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels can start their careers in big organizations in a tag role, that’s the foundation of one high-quality undercard. Gaining experience in a team helped cultivate these guys into well-rounded, confident stars in the future. Essentially, tag team wrestling easily increases the quality of the product, both short-term and long-term.
Being able to build up wrestlers in a tag format is undoubtedly helpful to WWE brass. Why have one over superstar when you can have two? If a team catches fire, you instantly have an over tag team, and the option to eventually break that team up for a hot singles feud or push one (or both). Look at what happened with Shawn Michaels, Jeff Hardy and Edge, when they were pushed to the moon after establishing themselves in a tag team. Being able to begin a single’s career with a wave of momentum, experience and familiarity with the fans is in invaluable, and competing in a tag team affords a wrestler these things.
The notion of credibility in the fans’ eyes is especially critical. How many teams actually pose a legitimate kayfabe threat to The Shield’s tag reign? We, as the audience, don’t really have any reason to believe that the tag titles will change hands because any given team is a number one contender this month, then losing to Ryback in a 1-on-2 squash match the next. However, the more the WWE puts on consistently competitive tag matches without making the guys looks like complete pussies against main-eventers, the more threats exist to The Shield’s dominance over the division. The potential for title changes is fun, right? Speaking of main-eventers, having main-event guys going after the belts enhances the prestige of the titles as well. Recall Rated RKO, the Two-Man Power Trip, and the Outsiders in WCW. These were main event guys holding the tag titles like they meant something.
The question is whether or not an increased focus in the tag division across the card will benefit the WWE. An increased focus on the tag division not only brings with it the common benefits of tag team action, but also improves the quality of the present day undercard, which propagates into a healthy long-term future for the company. Not everyone can be a main eventer NOW, but give as many undercard guys screen time as possible, and there’s a greater chance of finding something that connects with the audience. That’s definitely good for business.