The Lost Art Of Tag Team Wrestling
Tag team wrestling. It’s so exciting that our very own Canadian Bulldog has set aside a month in appreciation of it (and it’s about time!). Tag team wrestling has been around a long time and it’s a significant part of professional wrestling.
For me, the ultimate guide to tag team wrestling is The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams. Wrestling historians Greg Oliver and Steven Johnson rate the greatest teams of all time from every era, not just the last couple of decades.
They provide a look at each team and while the book focuses more on the wrestlers who comprised the team (as opposed to memorable feuds, etc.), it is still an essential volume for any fan who wishes to expand his knowledge of the sport. I would recommend all of their books on wrestling (except the book The Canadians if you happen to be Bret Hart).
As I discussed in my review of Titan Sinking, there are more and more wrestling books coming out, especially with the ease of which e-books can be assembled. Some of them may be by people you may never have heard of but as Titan Sinking proves, they can be well written, well researched, informative, and most of all entertaining.
Thanks to the fact that I own a Kindle, I’ve discovered another one that I think bears checking out.
The Lost Art of Tag Team Wrestling by Todd Roberg is an elegy to tag team wrestling. The author discusses what he views as the glory days of tag team wrestling and what made it so memorable. From there, he goes on to discuss what went wrong and why tag team wrestling isn’t much of anything today. In some cases, Roberg makes some good points but in others, he neglects the complete picture of wrestling.
The author discusses the fundamentals of tag team wrestling, getting input from people in the industry such as James J. Dillon, Jerry Jarrett, and Les Thatcher. He talks about the mechanics of a tag team bout, something that really hasn’t been discussed elsewhere. While there is a time-tested approach to working a tag team match, there are plenty of variations that you can keep the audience guessing. In the end, it boils down to one team’s partner inevitably getting on the wrong side of town (the other team’s corner), and desperately struggling to stay alive until they can tag in a fresh partner.
As Roberg points out, that formula seems to have got lost over time. He points out a significant problem of some of today’s tag team matches. One of them which I agree with are matches that are spotfests that look good in the ring but provide no sense of story. In some respects, these types of tag team matches are like action movies with no story. No matter how many bullets fly or things explode, you’d like to see some kind of story going on and have characters who you can root for or hiss at.
Another problem is promoters who just seem to throw together random partners and hope for the best. While some teams manage to develop chemistry, there just doesn’t seem to be any kind of rhyme or reason to building them up. Sometimes (at least for me), it seems like wrestlers are thrown together as teams just because a promoter doesn’t have anything better for them to do in singles action. Back when I first started watching Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP), their tag teams were usually made up of wrestlers who were just as competitive in singles matches as they were in tag matches. With the onset of the Second Golden Age of Tag Team Wrestling (I’d say probably around 1983), tag team wrestlers could be considered upper mid card guys or mid-card stars, depending on the promotion.
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Roberg also discusses the dynamics of assembling a tag team. He discusses how tag teams can be just two wrestlers thrown together, two very different wrestlers who provide their own unique strengths (such as Yokozuna and Owen Hart), tag team specialists like the Rock and Roll Express, and main event wrestlers put into tag teams. He does a great job pointing out how tag team wrestling is about more than just throwing two guys together who nobody cares about. When done correctly, tag team wrestling can be as important and entertaining as singles matches.
The author also discusses how tag team wrestling has jump started the singles careers of wrestlers. The stories of Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart instantly come to mind. Likewise, there are wrestlers from a team who faded away after splitting up such as Marty Jannetty and Chris Harris (aka future WWE Hall of Famer Braden Walker). That is not always the case though. Take the team of the Hollywood Blonds (Steve Austin and Brian Pillman) who both went on to huge singles success after splitting up.
While I agree that tag team wrestling really hit its mark during the 1980s, I don’t agree with the author that it’s been all downhill since. The Monday Night War era saw some excellent tag teams. The WWF’s teams of The Hardy Boys, The Dudley Boys, and Edge and Christian were more than enough to create a hot tag team division but there several other notable teams there as well including The Acolytes, The Rock-n-Sock Connection, and of course, The New Age Outlaws.
In WCW, you had top teams like Sting and Lex Luger, Harlem Heat, The Steiner Brothers, and The Outsiders (Kevin Nash & Scott Hall). WCW had the added benefit of cruiserweight tag teams that provided for some entertaining undercard action.
During the first decade of the 21st century, the tag teams in the WWE were uneven. A fine example was how tag teams became little more than two mid-card guys thrown together who were often fed to singles stars in handicap matches. I remember seeing Batista beat up La Resistance and Triple H beat the Hurricane and Rosey. Sure, it may make your singles wrestlers look tough, but it makes your tag team competitors look like glorified jobbers to the stars. Not exactly the best way to put your teams over.
Still, there were some great teams during the 2000’s whether it was in Total Nonstop Action (TNA) or Ring of Honor (ROH). TNA’s tag team division was fantastic and reminded me of the excitement of the 1980’s with teams like Triple X, Team Canada, The Latin American Xchange, Christopher Daniels and A.J. Styles, Team 3-D, and America’s Most Wanted battling over the company’s tag team championship. ROH featured exciting in-ring action with some of the best independent workers from around the world. Even the WWF had moments of brilliance whether it was MNM (Joey Mercury & Johnny Nitro) or Paul London and Brian Kendrick.
The Lost Art of Tag Team Wrestling is enjoyable for its examination of what makes for a good tag team and a good tag team match, its analysis of what went wrong with tag team wrestling, and its in-depth look at some of the top teams of the 1980’s (although as stated earlier, The Tag Teams is much more comprehensive). Like many wrestling books, it’s a short read at 230 pages. The book is available on Kindle for $3.50 or paperback at $9.50. If you have Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service, you can read it for free. If you don’t, you can borrow it if you have Amazon Prime. My take is that it’s definitely worth checking out for free or even $3.50 on your Kindle.