Wassup, WWF Watcher, once again, I am your better late than never host,
Llakor, Guardian of Useless Knowledge. I have to thank my local Latverian
consulate for letting me borrow their time machine so that we can once again
return to a time when men were men and Cherry Pez was the greatest food on
earth. A time when Shaddax was still a wee marker. A time when punch/kick
was a maneuver not a style. A time in short: When We Were Marks.
This would be my very special Terence and Philip column, OR the column I was supposed to send CRZ for the second anniversary of slash wrestling before I went to the Laurentians for my birthday/Canada Day, helped babysit my almost two year old nephew and almost four year old niece for two weeks, sat through Stuart Little 42 times, survived two tornadoes, three thunderstorms, two power failures, the crash of my parents dial-up connection, switched from an iMac to Windows, tried to write two columns at once, and turned into a whiny procrastinating bitch OR The Owen Hart Memorial Greatest Tag Team Wrestler in (W)WWF History Award Column.
WHEN WE WERE MARKS
The traditional WWF bench-mark of measuring great tag-teams is that they have to win at least three tag titles. In fact for years, the impossible task for WWF tag teams was to win that elusive fourth title, a quest attempted and failed by such great teams as the Fabulous Kangaroos, Demolition and most notably by the Quebeckers, who returned to the WWF for that specific purpose. Of course, the New Age Outlaws achieved this goal first and subsequently both the Hardys and the Dudleys have matched that feat with Edge & Christian shattering the mark by winning the title an amazing seven times. I wouldn't be so hasty to crown Edge & Christian the greatest WWF tag team of all time though. Winning their first title in April 2000 and losing their seventh title in April 2001, Edge & Christian have dominated the tag team division for a little over a year, holding the title belts for 193 days during that span. By comparison Professor Tanaka and Mr. Fuji won their first belt in June of 1972 and lost their third title belt in March of 1978 holding the title belt for an incredible 572 days during that span including one title reign of 338 days. But even that impressive accomplishment pales next to the age of Demolition who rose above their origins as a Legion of Doom rip-off to dominate the tag team division from March 1988 to August 1990 holding the title belt for an amazing 701 days during that period including a title reign of 479 days. Keep in mind that during this period they were facing some of the strongest tag teams ever including the British Bulldogs, the Hart Foundation, the Brainbusters, the Colossal Connection, the Rockers, and the Killer Bees, arguably the greatest tag team never to win the title.
But how would you go about crowning the greatest individual to compete in the tag-team division? Well, just as you would with a team, you would use the Ric Flair measurement (number of title reigns), the Bruno Sammartino measurement (length of title reign), quality of opposition, quality of the matches and how much heat the team generated. But more importantly for an individual, how many different partners was he able to win gold with, and how different were his teams one from the other.
That is why Owen Hart is the best place to start the discussion. As no less an authority than "Ask the Rick" Scaia has pointed out, Owen won three tag title matches at Wrestlemania with three different partners: Yokozuna, British Bulldog and Jeff Jarrett. All three teams had a slightly different dynamic with Yokozuna/Owen being the classic monster/midget combo, Bulldog/Owen being the classic power/speed combo and Canadian Country bringing together two classic mat technicians. In all, Owen was a title threat for four years, winning the title four times with three different partners holding the title for 488 days. It might seem churlish to consider anything other than the personal tragedy to the Hart family of Owen's death, but imagine the great teams that Owen could have formed in today's WWF just starting with any combination of Owen and the Hardys or Owen and Edge & Christian. Jeff Hardy, in particular, could benefit from the example and advice of a high-flyer who successfully changed his style to a more grounded attack.
Another consideration to determine the greatness of an individual wrestler are the partners that he could have won the tag title with and failed to. As an example, Owen failed to win tag-title gold with his brother Bret at Royal Rumble 1994, and with the Rock in a Four Corners match on Raw August 10th, 1998. He also formed less successful teams with Koko B. Ware, and Jim "the Anvil" Neidhart.
The final criteria for greatness would be the quality of one's partners. Many WWF superstars have hot-shotted the titles by forming a super-team, the Two-man Power Trip and the Cripplin' Chrises being the two most recent examples. Putting two former WWF champions into a team to win the tag-title isn't difficult, teaming with a jobber to win the title is. Much as Ric Flair's greatness is measured by his ability to wring a four star match out of a mop, the greatness of a tag-team wrestler should be measured by his ability to win the title with a rag-doll as a partner.
The following are, in ascending order, the ten best individuals other than Owen to win the tag titles. It should be pointed out that to qualify for the list, a wrestler had to win the title with a minimum of two different partners. This means that the Dudleys, the Hardys and Edge & Christian are all eliminated right off the bat. Of course that could change in a heartbeat once Christian gets around to Grey Cupping Edge through a plate glass window.
#10 Shawn Michaels 4 titles/3 partners, 202 days
The 'win' with Marty Jannetty is a controversial one since the WWF never acknowledged the switch on TV and stripped the Rockers of the win because the top rope snapped during the match. I count it because the fans left the arena convinced that the Rockers had won the title. I desperately wanted to leave Shawn off this list but his closest competition, X-Pac, only held the title for 81 days and the Rockers were a much more important and influential team than Kane/X-Pac. Astonishingly, despite winning the tag-title four times, Sean has never jobbed away the titles, a dubious achievement even for him. His title with Marty was stripped because of the top-rope snapping; his first title with Diesel was stripped when Diesel won the WWF title and the team broke up; his second title with Diesel was stripped because they beat Yokozuna/Bulldog for the titles rather than the team of Yokozuna/Owen; his title with Stone Cold Steve Austin was stripped when Shawn was too injured to defend it. Having won the tag title four times and never having lost it, Shawn could show up in the WWF tomorrow, pick anyone in the back-room and have a legitimate claim to an immediate title shot!
#9 Undertaker 5 titles/3 partners, 54 days
The very definition of a hot-shot champion, the Undertaker has never partnered with anyone unless they were a former WWF champion. His longest title reign is 16 days, not even being able to hold the title from one PPV to the next.
#8 Kane 5 titles/3 partners, 121 days
Tagged with Mankind before Mick won his first WWF championship. The Kane/X-Pac team is arguably the second best monster/midget team ever. Failed to win the title with Spike Dudley.
#7 Steve Austin 4 titles/4 partners, 145 days
Not quite as bad at hot-shotting titles as the Undertaker, but close. Helped Mick Foley win his first WWF title of any kind. We usually consider Stone Cold Steve Austin to be a loner, but his roots are in tag-team wrestling.
#6 Chief Jay Strongbow 4 titles/3 partners, 482 days
Adam Sandler's favourite wrestler according to Big Daddy. It is astonishing to consider that there were once so many wrestlers with Native American gimmicks that Strongbow tagged and won with three different partners with that gimmick and later managed even more including Tanaka. On the downside, all of these teams were essentially the same. His one non-native partner (that I can remember) was High Chief Peter Maivia, but that partnership ended in disaster when Maivia (Rock's grandfather) walked away from Strongbow in the middle of a tag title match leaving him to be destroyed by the Yukon Lumberjacks.
One interesting feature of this list is that the records of the bottom six are obviously inferior to Owen's, Strongbow being the closest just 6 days away from Owen's mark. The remaining five all boast title careers that are arguably better Owen's.
#5 Mike Rotundo/I.R.S. 5 times/2 partners, 553 days
I know what you're thinking. Mike Rotunda? He can't even decide how to spell his last name! But Mike was part of one of the most beloved baby-face times of all time, the U.S. Express, AND one of the most despised heel teams of all time, Money Incorporated. Like Owen, he took part in three title matches at Wrestlemania, but he had slightly less success losing a stunning upset at the first Wrestlemania to the Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff, losing to the Natural Disasters by count out at Wrestlemania VIII and beating Hulk Hogan & Brutus Beefcake by DQ at Wrestlemania IX.
Money Inc. perfected one of the most hated gimmicks ever. When they felt that they were losing, they just grabbed their titles and walked away, willing to lose by count-out, knowing that the titles wouldn't change hands. This got over their opponents as credible contenders, set Money Inc. up nicely as smart cowards, and used the fan hatred of screwy finishes to gather them even more heel heat. There was nothing quite like the roar of the crowd when Howard Finkel got on the mike and announced, "The referee has decided that this match... MUST... continue... If Money Inc. don't return to the ring in ten seconds they will forfeit their titles."
#4 Mr. Fuji 5 times/2 partners, 937 days
Until I sat down and typed up this list, I had forgotten how much heat there was between Tony Garea and Mr. Fuji (and to a lesser extent between Chief Jay Strongbow & Mr. Fuji). For a long while, it seemed as if Tony Garea could care less who had the tag title as long as it wasn't Mr. Fuji!
When I originally made this list, I had Mr. Fuji at number three and only moved him down in fear that my personal dislike for another wrestler had made me short change him. He also won the tag titles with teams that were very similar. On the other hand, over a ten year period, Mr. Fuji held the titles for almost three whole years! He also had a legitimate shot at putting himself at the top of this list when he competed in a six-man match for the titles at Wrestlemania V teaming with Warlord & Barbarian against Demolition (Ax, Smash & Crush). A win in that match would have given him six titles with four different partners over a 17 year period!
#3 Billy Gunn 8 times/2 partners, 894 days
This of course would be the guy that I reluctantly moved into the number three slot dislodging Mr. Fuji. But consider the facts: Over a five year period, Billy Gunn shared the title for nearly three years. He is the only man on this list to be on two teams that fulfill the WWF standard for greatness - winning the title at least three times. Both teams were never supposed to factor in the title hunt. The Smoking Gunns were disparaged right off the bat by no less than CRZ as "Scottish Cowboys". ("Smoking Scotsmen." ;-) - CRZ) The New Age Outlaws was a pairing of two guys floundering with gimmicks ripped off from the Honky-Tonk Man. Both teams got themselves into the title hunt by getting over and staying over with the fans. And yet I hate him, or at least, I hate him as a singles wrestler. I frankly think that a permanent pairing of the Underachievers would be a very good idea and might actually lead to some interesting and entertaining wrestling.
One way of judging the greatness of a tag-team is when super-teams have to be formed to get the titles off them. The Smoking Gunns are a perfect example of this. In 1995, they had beaten every team in the WWF, so when Owen challenged them to a match at Wrestlemania XI with a mystery partner, they were pretty smug when accepting. Yokozuna was one of the greatest mystery partners ever, perfectly sold by the Gunns who looked like they might have to go to the back to change their tights. The New Age Outlaws also inspired the formation of super-teams with the Dudleys being the only regular tag-team to beat them.
One point of interest: Mankind and Billy Gunn have been involved in a mind-boggling eight title switches with each other.
#2 Tony Garea 5 titles/4 partners, 602 days.
So, when CRZ, on an almost weekly basis, tells you that the WWF security guy right behind Sgt. Slaughter is Tony Garea, this is that guy. Tony only had a couple of small skills as wrestler - he made his opponents look good, and he made his partners look good. And he could tag with anyone. In fact during Mr. Fuji's heyday, it sometimes seemed that Tony was prepared to tag with the devil himself to get the titles off him. Of course he did tag with Larry Zybysko... All of Tony teams had a different dynamic: Garea/Haystacks was your classic fat guy/skinny guy team, Garea/Dean Ho was the Australian/Hawaiian team (I don't know if they ever came to the ring with surfboards, but they should have), Garea/Zybysko was your classic guy who is a great wrestler/guy who thinks he's a great wrestler team, and Garea/Martel was something special. It wasn't supposed to be Tony Garea and Rick Martel. The Can-Am Connection was Tom Zenk and Rick Martel and they were hugely over with the fans as two young athletic patriots. A tag title reign seemed like only a matter of time, until Tom Zenk in one of the first of a career of bad choices flaked out of the WWF leaving Rick Martel a crowd favourite without a partner for... oh about the time it took for Tony Garea to out sprint the rest of the WWF locker-room to hold up Rick Martel's hand. Where Zenk/Martel had a two young turk dynamic, Garea/Martel had the cagey veteran and hot-headed rookie vibe going on, but they were just as popular with the fans and deserved to be.
Which brings us to ... (drum roll please) ... the greatest Tag Team Wrestler of all time:
#1 Dude Love/Cactus Jack/Mankind/Mick Foley 8 titles/5 partners, 118 days.
Granted that he has a hard time holding onto title belts once he won them, Mick Foley still has an impressive set of tag team records. He shares the record of most title belt victories with Billy Gunn at eight. He holds the record for winning with the most different partners at five. He holds the record for winning under the most different names/personalities/gimmicks/whatever at four (I consider the pre-Mr. Socko Mankind and the post-Mr. Socko Mankind to be different personalities.) In fact, he has won gold with all four of his personalities. He is the first man (and one of only two men) to win tag belts in the modern Big Three of WCW, ECW and WWF. (The Legion of Doom are the only ones to accomplish the earlier similar feat of winning tag gold in the NWA, AWA, WWF.) With the exception of his brief tenure as a WWF jobber, and his brief gimmick of tagging with a jobber in the WCW and destroying his partner after he was pinned, only two of Mick's partners have failed to win tag gold with him: Maxx Payne and Vader. (There is an argument to include Goldust in that list because they were briefly both managed by Paul Bearer, but I don't remember them actually tagging up.)
I do count the Wrestlemania XIV 'wrong dumpster' victory as a title switch. (One of the reasons that I credit Shawn Michaels with winning with the Rockers: in both cases the fans went home convinced that they had seen a title switch.) Even if I did not count that title switch, it would only mean that there is a four way tie for the record of most tag team titles at seven. (And Mick would be tied with Tony Garea & Steve Austin for winning with the most partners at four. He also would share the record with X-Pac of winning the title under three different names.) There are some people who count the Wrestlemania/Raw Cactus Jack/Terry Funk vs. New Age outlaw series as a title switch for the Outlaws but not for Mick and Terry, but that's just silly.
One of the reasons that Mick has a hard time holding on to the title belt is that he has a bad tendency to get involved in handicap matches for the title. There's his famous loss at Raw in the cage when Terry Funk was handcuffed to the cage; his loss to the New Age Outlaws (again) at SummerSlam when Kane no-showed the title defence; his victory with the Rock over Big Show/Viscera/Mideon in a Dark Side rules match; the Rock's loss to the Holly cousins when Mick refused to tag in. He also won the title with Sullivan in a sort-of handicap match when Maxx Payne helped them win the Street Fight against the Nasty Boys, and I'm sure that there were some handicap matchs involved in his team-up with Mikey Whipwreck in ECW. Mick did win the tag title with three former WWF champions, but his partnership with the Rock is the only tag-team joining two former WWF champions to win the tag title three times. Unlike the Undertaker, Mick has won with non-champions, winning tag gold with two senior citizens (Sullivan & Funk), one jobber to the stars (Al Snow) and the proverbial rag doll (Mikey Whipwreck). Come to think of it, if you count Mr. Socko and Head as partners, Mick has actually won the belt with seven different partners...
And honestly what other tag-team wrestler can boast winning the title with a rag-doll, a sock and a doll's head as partners?
The Fine Print:
NEXT WEEK: The Match That Convinced Us That Wrestling Was REAL Really! I promise! This time for sure!