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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: The Top 100 Tag Teams of the WrestleMania Era (#1-#10)
By The Doc
Jun 23, 2017 - 12:50:49 PM

”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE's top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.

Following the response to our collaboration last summer regarding the greatest superstars of the post-Attitude Era, Dave Fenichel and I have teamed up again for another Top 100 list. Between April and June, we have taken an in-depth look at tag team history throughout the WrestleMania Era, even including teams that fall beyond the footprint of WWE and NWA/WCW, with rankings shaped by championship pedigree, classic matches, personal memories, the historical scope of the promotion(s) that hosted the duo, the roster positional heights that the team was able to reach (i.e. escaping the mid-card for main-event status), and impact left on tag team lore. We hope you have enjoyed the journey and feel free to share your thoughts on the teams and their rankings.

Next Tuesday, I will get back to covering WWE in column form multiple times per week through August and Dave Fenichel will begin a series ranking the Summerslam main-events.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Do you take issue with anyone in the Top 5?

10. Harlem Heat
9. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express
8. The New Age Outlaws
7. The Outsiders
6. The Hart Foundation
5. Demolition
4. The Midnight Express
3. The Dudley Boyz
2. The Steiner Brothers
1. The Road Warriors

10. Harlem Heat

I was beyond overjoyed when we decided that Harlem Heat would crack the all-time top 10 on our countdown. I remember watching Booker T and Stevie Ray as The Ebony Experience in the GWF on ESPN as a child. They jumped off the page at me right away. I would always marvel at Booker’s athleticism and Stevie’s size and raw power. I don’t think Harlem Heat gets enough credit for all of the awesome double team moves they had. They had their own spinoff of the Hart Attack where Booker would instead hit the opponent with an ax kick. They had their own spinoff of The Doomsday Device where Booker would dropkick the opponent instead. They had a power-bomb/top rope elbow combination called The Heat Bomb and a backbreaker/top rope leg drop combination that they called The Towering Inferno. All of these moved revolved around a rare combination of power and athleticism, and the crowd ate it up with a spoon. They thrived where teams like E&C and the Hardy’s did not – a staggering 10 title reigns totaling 470 days. I loved me some Harlem Heat.

Can you dig it, sucka? Harlem Heat begins our journey through the Top 10 tag teams of the WrestleMania Era in style.

Several years ago, I was having a back-and-forth email discussion about great tag teams with a reader and we got to talking about Harlem Heat. I was in the midst of the research phase of my book and had reached the point where I was studying Booker T's WCW career. The reader stated very clearly to my recollection that Harlem Heat were a great tag team that didn't have a lot of great tag team matches. It was a comment that stuck with me through watching much of their work from 1993-1996; though they did everything Dave described – great tag team wrestling – there was not a match that stood out. That changed in what I would consider one of the most underrated early moments of WCW's battle against The New World Order when Booker T and Stevie Ray defended the Tag Team Championships against The Outsiders. It felt like a big deal and it was wrestled like a big deal. Maybe it's not a great match by traditional standards, but it featured great stakes and it made clear that, when the time came for Harlem Heat to step up, they were far more than just capable.

9. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express

The Rock 'n Roll Express are most famous to me for their amazing connection with the audience. Starrcade history was obviously an important part of the WrestleMania Era, perhaps not on par with The Showcase of the Immortals, but certainly in its early years near-equal in stature to how we regard the Rumble and Summerslam. In all of my viewings of the Starrcade library over the years, I cannot recall a single match where the audience was more invested in a babyface act than Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson were at Starrcade '86 against The Andersons – just a constant barrage of “Rock and Roll” chants. It was pretty incredible how popular they were, really, and that match was just a microcosm of it. Fueled by fan adulation, they won the NWA World Tag Team Championships on four different occasions and held them for a very impressive 400 days combined. Their matches against The Midnight Express were the stuff of legend, as were their performances against Arn and Ole and The Russians, among others. I was thrilled to see them inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame earlier this year.

It was a travesty that it took as long as it did for The Rock N’ Roll Express to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Simply put, they wrote the book on the psychology of tag team wrestling as a baby face tag team. Jim Cornette laid it out as well as you possibly could during their Hall of Fame induction speech. No one took a beating like Ricky Morton. He would keep getting pounded until the crowd was dying for Robert Gibson to be tagged in. Finally, when all would seem lost, Gibson would get the hot tag and clean house. A double dropkick later and they were victorious. This may seem like commonplace because it happens in EVERY tag match ever, but the Rock N’ Roll Express were the pioneers. Their feud with the Midnight Express is top 3 all time in the tag team ranks, they personified what Rock N’ Wrestling meant in the 1980s, and I’d argue that, strictly from a pure baby face tag team standpoint, no one has ever done it better.

8. The New Age Outlaws

Has there ever been a more surprisingly successful tag team than The New Age Outlaws? Although Billy Gunn had some success as one half of the Smoking Gunns, that was more of a gimmick driven tag team than the results of the fruits of their labor. The Road Dogg was a jobber, plain and simple. This team shouldn’t have worked, but boy did it work. 5 tag title reigns totaling 468 days doesn’t even begin to describe their impact. DX wasn’t cool until the NAO joined. Their schtick was gold. I dare you to find a wrestling fan from the attitude era that can’t recite it word for word. They were one of the big reasons that the WWE became “cool” during the Attitude Era. For the most part, their in-ring accomplishments don’t quite stack up with the very very top of our list. However, their Tag Team Title Dumpster match against Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie is a hidden classic that is still enjoyable to watch to this day. The New Age Outlaws may go down in history as the most over-achieving tag team ever.

Last week, I borderline harped on New Day for being a merch-selling giant whose accomplishments on the 20’x20' canvas were miniature, so it requires context for me to turn around and heap serious praise toward The New Age Outlaws. Here's the bottom line: it is far more impressive to me to be the third most bankable merchandise-selling act of your era if that era includes all-time great personalities like Steve Austin and The Rock. With all due respect to New Day, most of the top stars of this generation either have very little charisma or have rarely been given the chance to show it; what New Day has done is nevertheless amazing, but what Road Dogg and Billy Gunn did was far more impressive to me. The Outlaws were rewarded for their stuff flying off the shelves and for carrying a lousy tag team division to consistent relevance for two years, feuding with the major players of the Attitude Era instead of being relegated to nothing positions on both TV and PPV. Gunn and James are everything I hope The New Day will become...

7. The Outsiders

The Outsiders were such a big deal in the Monday Night War. Can that be emphasized enough? Because of their stature in WCW, it could be argued that tag team wrestling was never more relevant at a main-event level than when Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were reigning as champions six times for 475 total days in the late 1990s – not even during the periods that I've hailed the best in team-oriented lore. WWE's revisionist history likes to downplay what WCW accomplished in a lot of ways, so most of the conversation about the weekly ratings battles revolves around WWE's comeback and not The New World Order that sparked WCW's two year dominance and that caused WWE to throw away their old playbook and creatively fight in the trenches. Again, Hall and Nash were such a big deal. I would say any argument against their place in tag team wrestling history on account of things like a lack of classic matches should be immediately dismissed because of how many memorable moments they were involved in while holding the gold. Call it The Outsider corollary to Hogan's Law: if you were that significant to the success of professional wrestling, most typical counter-arguments to your place in the pantheon do not apply.

The Outsiders often get forgotten about in the conversation of greatest tag teams in the history of wrestling. When you think of Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, you immediately think about the NWO as a stable and how dominant they were. Additionally, it’s rare for two massive singles stars to combine to make an incredibly successful tag team post-singles success. Nonetheless, even if it is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, it is without question that they belong in the top ten of our countdown. Not only do their title stats warrant inclusion, but they were one of if not the biggest draws in the history of tag team wrestling. Sure, the NWO angle went on far too long and ultimately killed WCW, and sure, they were involved in many craptastic matches and storylines, but you cannot argue against their dominance. Lastly, much like the NAO made DX cool, the Outsiders undoubtedly were what originally made the NWO a faction that appealed to the masses.

6. The Hart Foundation

The Hart Foundation are my personal favorite tag team ever. While they were only champions twice, both reigns were wildly successful and lengthy, totaling 483 days. You cannot talk about The Hart Foundation without talking about their in-ring performance. They feuded and had great matches with a “who’s who” of tag team wrestling. Their feuds and matches with the likes of The British Bulldogs, Strikeforce, The Rockers, The Nasty Boys and Demolition were the stuff of legends. During the Nasty Boys’ entry, I discussed how highly I regard their Wrestlemania 7 encounter. Their match against The Brainbusters at Summer1989 made the WWE’s list of Top 25 Summerslam matches ever yet no one talks about it. My personal favorite match of theirs though, was the 2 out of 3 falls match against Demolition at Summerslam 1990. To me, that’s as good as tag team wrestling gets. The Hart Foundation to Dave Fenichel were the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.

When you combine elite championship success with fantastic in-ring performance level and leave a lasting impression that has people still talking about you thirty years later, then surely you have the resume of one of the top five or six tag teams ever. The Hart Foundation represent very well – perhaps better than anyone else in history – what I think WWE especially feels is the ideal use of tag team wrestling; they were foundational pieces of a stacked mid-card scene and featured one wrestler who was capable of breaking out on his own and becoming a huge star in the singles ranks. Personally, I feel as though their lengthy tenure in the tag division allowed fans to make a deeper emotional connection to them that benefited Bret as the years wore on. Things move too swiftly these days and have for years; The Hart Foundation rose to prominence, dropped down a bit, and rose back to prominence again, winning the Tag Team Championships first as villains and later as heroes and amassing one of the greatest in-ring resumes ever for a duo.

5. Demolition

I'm going to be very honest...I kind of wish that Demolition's record had never been broken because what they accomplished in storylines was just so far beyond what New Day was given the chance to do. Go back and watch what Demolition did throughout their run atop the division. They took the titles from Strike Force at WrestleMania IV and proceeded to feud with The Hart Foundation, then had one of the best double turns that nobody talks about at Survivor Series with Mr. Fuji aligning with The Powers of Pain. From there, they stamped their position as the division's leaders by remaining champions for a year and eventually lost the belts to The Brain Busters, regained them, feuded with Andre the friekin' Giant, lost the titles to Andre and Haku, and regained them for a third time before dropping them to The Hart Foundation in the aforementioned 2/3 Falls classic that Dave talked about in the last entry. They deserve to be recognized as the longest single reigning Tag Team Champions ever, but will instead have to settle for “just” being the longest reigning Tag Team Champions in WWE history. Ax and Smash were a force of nature, brother, intimidating as they were popular; they were rock stars.

HERE COMES THE AX…HERE COMES THE SMASHER…THE DEMOLITION…WALKING DISASTERS…DEMOLITON! 3 title reigns totaling a whopping 698 days and what was the longest singular title reign until recently doesn’t even begin to do Demolition justice. They were absolute monsters. Their ring music, one of the best of all time, got everyone riled up into a frenzy. I’m glad that Chad mentioned the double turn with the Powers of Pain at Survivor Series 1988. It was probably the second best double turn ever done after Austin and Hart. Demolition was the Kane to the Road Warriors’ Undertaker. Knockoffs of other popular gimmicks just aren’t supposed to work, yet here we are. On top of the double turn and on top of the 2/3 falls match already discussed, Demolition’s tag match played a prominent role on three straight Wrestlemanias. Their match against Strikeforce at Wrestlemania IV where they won their first title was the best match on the card. Their match against The Powers of Pain and Mr. Fuji at Wrestlemania V was one of the top 3 matches on the card and their match against Andre The Giant and Haku was incredibly memorable. Simply put, they took something that should have never worked and turned it into one of the best tag teams ever.

4. The Midnight Express

If The Rock n’ Roll Express wrote the book on how to wrestle as baby-faces in tag team wrestling, than The Midnight Express wrote the book on how to do it as heels. Cutting the ring off, antagonizing the illegal man and double teaming the legal one while the ref is distracted, knocking the illegal man off the ring ropes as he tries to make the tag….these are all commonplace in every tag match but were first done by The Midnight Express. I struggle to not lump them in with the Rock n’ Roll Express, but it’s hard to argue against The Midnight Express having the better career. They held the titles for almost double the amount of time, 5 reigns totaling 749 days. Their feud with The Road Warriors, and in particular their legendary scaffold match, are far more memorable than anything The Rock n’ Roll Express did outside of their feud. Being that The Midnight Express is Chad’s labor of love, I’m going to turn the floor over to him. Take it away friend.

I think you could have easily put The Midnight Express at #1, personally. Remembering that we accounted for NWA/WCW's second set of Tag Team Championships (the United States versions), Midnight absolutely killed it statistically and were second behind only The Steiner Brothers for the longest total combined number of days as the gold standards. Unlike a lot of their peers, who rarely had anything interesting to say, their manager, Jim Cornette, could talk his butt and your ear off, never failing to provide an extremely entertaining audio soundtrack to the all-time great physical tales told by “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton and either “Lover Boy” Dennis Condrey or “Sweet” Stan Lane. And oh those wonderful matches. Dave mentioned their two most famous feuds, with the other Express and The Road Warriors, and I'll excitedly revisit ground we've already covered in past entries on this countdown by reiterating their incredible work with The Fantastics and The Four Horsemen, as well as what I would consider to be one of the top four or five tag team matches of the WrestleMania Era against The Southern Boys / Young Pistols. “Every man's nightmare and every school girl's dream,” The Midnight Express were also my personal favorite tag team of all-time.

3. The Dudley Boyz

Let's talk numbers for a moment. Two teams in the Top 10 hold an incredible distinction of having held a major promotion's tag team gold on ten different occasions. That's wild, right? Think of how long you have to stay together to achieve multiple handfuls of title reigns considering that the general consensus is, however rooted in falsehood it may be, that tag team wrestling cannot draw on the same level as singles. Now, consider that The Dudley Boyz, between ECW, WWE, and TNA, have amassed EIGHTEEN championship reigns! That's a lot of focal point time as divisional figureheads, wouldn't you say? In a modern era that celebrates the total number of reigns more than it does the total number of days reigned (which is a good thing for Bubba Ray and D-Von since their average run as champs lasted just over a month), The Dudleys are the Ric Flair of tag team history. The fascinating thing is that they are not even remembered for it; they are better remembered as one of the pioneering duos of the Tables Match and the TLC Match, as I believe that they should be given the impact that those matches still have on the product today. I cannot speak much to their achievements in ECW or TNA, but they would be in the pantheon of greatest tag teams even if we just accounted for their time in WWE. DAAAAVE!! GET THE TABLES!!

Don’t be silly Chad. You are DEFINITELY D-Von. In my eyes, three teams stand head and shoulders above everyone else in tag team history. The Dudleys get the #3 spot because while their stats are incredibly impressive, the majority of them took place in ECW and TNA. We’re splitting hairs here and a distinction had to be made. Nonetheless, The Dudleys were amazing. I cannot begin to tell you fans that didn’t live through the ECW days the extent of which the Dudleys were heat-seeking missiles. The things they would say and do got the crowd so worked up that I thought they would storm the ring every single night. Make no mistake about it: The Dudleys were the heart and soul of ECW. ECW was remarkable in the sense that no matter who they lost, they rebuilt and recovered. When The Dudleys left town, everything fell apart. I remember being disappointed when the Dudleys went to the WWE. Their antics were so over the top and over the line that I thought they would never translate well into the WWE. Yet translate they did. While the ladders matches between Edge and Christian and the Hardy Boys were fantastic, it wasn’t until they added the Dudleys and the tables that magic was created. Somehow, some way, the Dudleys went from incredibly hated heels to incredibly popular baby faces. Much like the Hart Foundation, that was an impressive feat. They dominated everywhere that they went, and created amazing memories along the way. Their brawls with The Eliminators. Power bombing Mae Young off a ramp and through a table. I could go on and on. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of my favorite moments ever at a WWE event – putting Tommy Dreamer through a flaming table at the first WWE One Night Stand. The Dudleys will always have a special place in my heart and are without a doubt one of the best tag teams ever.

2. The Steiner Brothers

The Steiners check in at #2 on the strength of their impressive title statistics. They were number one in this category by a landslide, amassing ten title reigns for an amazing 754 days. They could have easily stolen the number one spot as the greatest team ever, but were slightly edged out by you know who. The Steiners were physical freaks. They looked like wrestlers. They acted like wrestlers. Scott had an awesome mullet. Ok seriously, they were everything you could ask for in the ring. Guys that looked like them just didn’t move the way they did back in the 1980s. Scott Steiner’s Frankensteiner was the first move that ever made me drop my jaw and be amazed. The Steiners had great matches against the elite of tag team wrestling lore – from the Freebirds to The Midnight Express to Doom. Like all of the top teams in history, they too had a match that ranks amongst the best in tag team history. Theirs took place at Superbrawl I against Sting and Lex Luger. I find this feat to be more impressive than the others because they did it against a non-tag team. The Steiner Brothers were the total package, and very worthy of their spot on our countdown as the second greatest team of all time.

Bubba Ray is the annoying Dudley who antagonizes fellow wrestling fans, so you’re right; I must be D-Von. The Steiner Brothers were all-time-level legends before they'd completed their third year as a team. Not many pairings can say the same. In 1989, Scott joined Rick in WCW and, by the summer, they were tearing up the mid-card in matches against Rick's old running-mates from The Varsity Club, were contending for the Tag Team Titles against the legendary Freebirds in the best matches that the Freebirds had during their NWA/WCW run, starred in the forgotten but entertaining Tag Team Ironman Tournament at Starrcade, and then really cut their teeth as the team we truly came to know them as in their feud with Doom. Personally, beyond the iconic match at the inaugural SuperBrawl with Sting and Luger, Rick and Scott against Doom stands out in my mind as the most memorable Steiner rivalry. Add in matches against teams like The Skyscrapers, The Midnight Express, The Nasty Boys, and The Great Muta and Masa Saito and The Steiners overall body of work for even just their first two years was as consistent as any tag team in history. When they got to WWE, they kept right on being consistent, offering a huge boost to the mid-card with top notch tag team matches, the best of which I believe was not even televised (WrestleFest against Bret and Owen Hart). Championship success of the magnitude that they achieved was a reflection of their status in the tag team pantheon as much as it was the reason they belong in the tag team pantheon.

1. The Legion of Doom

Here's the simplest reason why The Road Warriors are the greatest tag team of all-time: they were main-eventers. Over in WWE, Demolition on their best day were still mid-carders, a distinction held by even the TLC Era trio. Occasionally, other top tag teams throughout the WrestleMania Era would step up to the top of the card and assume an overall Top 5 (ish) spot in their promotion, but Hawk and Animal were always among the biggest drawing acts wherever they went. Starrcade '86, for instance, is not forever etched in the annals of time as “Night When Ric Flair Faces Nikita Koloff,” it's known as “Night of the Skywalkers,” which featured The Road Warriors against The Midnight Express in the iconic Scaffold Match. They were not the token tag team taking part in the first War Games Match in 1987 either, but one of the primary reasons why that match happened in the first place. In WWE, which placed less upper echelon emphasis on tag teams, The Legion of Doom still was one of the top acts in the game; seriously, name five bigger acts in WWE in 1991 and 1992 than Hawk and Animal.

The Road Warriors changed the game, not only elevating tag team wrestling, but also helping to popularize the body-builder physique as the go-to look in pro wrestling and revolutionize the concept of the “bad ass” babyface whose intensity and appearance prompted fans to gravitate toward cheering them, whereas in the past such a combination would have been considered “unrelatable” and a better foil to the popular everyman.

I don't know that any team will ever overtake The Legion of Doom at the top of the historical tag team mountain, folks.

Oh wow, I get the last word here. I should really spend my time talking about how much I hate Dolph Ziggler. Seriously though. There isn’t much to say here. Of course The Road Warriors/Legion of Doom are the top tag team of all time. Is this even up for debate? When I first told people that Chad and I were taking on the top 100 tag teams of the modern era, the reaction was unanimous. “The Road Warriors are #1, who’s #2? Chad hit the nail on the head. The Road Warriors were the main event everywhere they went. There’s a reason they refer to a huge crowd face reaction as a “Road Warrior Pop”. They were an awesome force in the tag division never seen before and never to be seen again. They are the only tag team in history that could sell out any arena in any town at any given moment. That’s the only statistic that matters here, even though their title statistics are also impressive. They were Stone Cold Steve Austin before the gimmick was a glimmer in Stunning Steve’s Eye. The face paint, the spikes, the incredibly intense promos. Every wrestling fan wanted to be a Road Warrior. Without question, they were the greatest tag team in the history of the industry.

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