By Mike Mooneyham
July 10, 2005
They say two is better than one, and if you don’t believe it, check out the latest pro wrestling tome to hit the bookshelves.
“The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams” takes an enjoyable and scholarly look at one of the sport’s most colorful dimensions.
Tag teams were an integral part of the business during the early days of television. Unlike today’s product, where singles performers rule the wrestling roost, tag teams were a hot-ticket item during the ’50s and ’60s and routinely headlined shows throughout the country.
It’s quite apropos that Bobby Eaton, one of wrestling’s most skilled tag-team technicians, not only writes the book’s foreword, but is pictured on its cover, hanging precariously from a scaffold during one of The Midnight Express’s legendary matches with The Rock ‘N Roll Express. The shot of Eaton aptly reflects one of the themes of the generously illustrated book.
“It’s classic Eaton – taking a fall of monumental proportions for the sake of the sport,” notes co-author Steven Johnson. “The funny thing is Bobby never liked scaffold matches because they were so limiting.”
Eaton, who formed one of wrestling’s most recognized teams with Dennis Condrey and Stan Lane as Midnight Express partners and with the tennis racquet-wielding Jim Cornette as manager, respectfully pays homage to the teams that made the business great.“I have always felt drawn to tag-team wrestling,” writes Eaton. “A tag-team match features four men, two teams of athletes. While some may think that four is a crowd, I look at having a partner and two opponents as an opportunity to do so much more. The intensity of moves is doubled. You can’t do a double-team maneuver by yourself.”
Johnson and co-writer Greg Oliver did some teaming of their own when they came up with the idea to pen a book on this special part of the industry. What brought the two together was a genuine love for the business and its rich, colorful history.
“Besides sharing the fascinating stories of the wrestlers themselves, I think it acts as a textbook on tag-team wrestling and hopefully today’s aspiring wrestlers take the time to learn about those who came before,” says Oliver, a 34-year-old journalist from Toronto.
Tag-team wrestling blazed a brand new trail in the business during the ’40s, flourished during the TV wrestling boom of the ’50s, and continued to thrive well into the ’60s. It peaked again during the mid-’80s with the national expansion of the World Wrestling Federation.
Tag teams came in all shapes and sizes. There were brother teams, masked teams, big man and little man teams, and combinations of the two. The unique pairings more often than not made for intriguing matchups.
The fact that the Carolinas was a hotbed for tag-team wrestling during the ’60s and early ’70s should make the book that much more appealing to longtime area mat fans. Many of the duos that made their marks in the old Jim Crockett territory are profiled. The list reads like a who’s who of tag-team wrestling: George and Sandy Scott, Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson, George Becker and Johnny Weaver, Skull Murphy and Brute Bernard, Aldo Bogni and Bronco Lubich, The Andersons, The Assassins, The Kentuckians, The Infernos.
Most interesting to Johnson, he says, was the wide range of duos that dotted the Northeastern wrestling landscape during the ’50s and ’60s. “This happened before my time – I’m 48 – but I still am fascinated by the riches of tag-team talent in the New York area in the late 1950s, when I was about 2. We don’t think of the WWWF (then Capitol Sports) as being a haven for tag teams, but look at the roster … the Fargos, Rocca and Perez, the Grahams, the Gallaghers, the Brunettis, the Kangaroos, the Bastiens, Lewin and Curtis … what a collection. Later the territory would be the exclusive providence of ethnic singles (Sammartino, Morales), and people forget that tag-team wrestling once regularly filled the biggest venue in the sport.”
The 293-page book takes a historical look at the 25 greatest tag teams of all time, and also examines different eras of tag teams, along with quotes from top wrestlers and historians. The meticulous research includes detailed biographical information on dozens of teams, complete with humorous anecdotes and road stories.
The Fabulous Kangaroos were at the top of the book’s list, followed by The Road Warriors, The British Bulldogs, The Dusek Riot Squad, and Ray Stevens and Pat Patterson. The rankings, says Oliver, was a subjective exercise intended to generate debate.
“I really think one of the strengths of the book is the detailed way we looked at tag teams,” Johnson adds. “We used about a dozen standards to compare and contrast them. I know I’m on safe ground saying that although it’s subjective, it’s the most rigorous study of the subject to date, considering factors like longevity, influence on later generations of teams, workrate, ability to work different styles, ability to headline cards on their own regardless of opponents. Having said that mouthful, that’s why I’ll stick with our rankings.”
Johnson defended the No. 1 ranking of The Kangaroos.
“The Kangaroos were the only team that came up positive on every single standard, not necessarily first, but as a positive. I see Internet posts about which team was using entrance music in the 1980s, and the Kangaroos were doing that 25 years before, well before ‘creative control.’ And that’s before you even start to address their abilities. One caveat: If the Briscos had primarily been a tag team, they would have been in the top 10. But you can say the same about a lot of other brief pairings, too.”
One of the highlights of the book, at least for Johnson, was the section on The Fabulous Fargos.
“Hands down, Jackie and Don Fargo,” says Johnson. “We printed only the most timid stories about them. The rest, you’d have to put in a plain brown wrapper behind the counter.”
One of Oliver’s favorite personal subjects was Randy Colley.
“I hunted throughout Alabama for Randy Colley, who was on the list to talk to about being a Moondog. But then he ended up explaining how he came up with the Demolition gimmick for the WWF, and how he was a member of the Dalton Gang and even an Assassin. He was a real find.”
Johnson says the most enlightening part of his research centered around the integration of the South and ’70s performer Bearcat Brown.
“There’s a lot in there that’s never been reported. I went to the University of Mississippi as an undergraduate, and that topic has always been important to me.”
The authors lament the fact that tag-team wrestling has become a lost art. “More than anything, tag-team wrestling relies on communication with a partner,” says Oliver. “As a team spent months and years together on the road, usually driving, they became a true unit in the ring. Today’s wrestlers fly everywhere and don’t get that quality time with four guys in a car to talk about angles and plot out their next moves. The writers backstage are dictating things in WWE, and they just don’t get tag teams.”
“Where do you go to learn about tag-team wrestling? So much of the learning process takes place in the ring, and guys don’t have the chance to work five or six night a week and hone their skills anymore. If someone shows promise as an action figure, it’s easier to market them as a singles star than a tag-team wrestler. To some extent, tag teams always have been a breeding ground for singles stars, but since about the time of the Rockers split, that process has really accelerated. In today’s world, Rip Hawk would have been spun off from Swede Hanson because of his verbal skills. And what a shame that would have been.”
Oliver believes the emergence of writers in WCW and WWE, rather than bookers with wrestling experience who could lay out logical programs, is partly responsible for the decline in tag teams.
“It will never come back to the heyday of the ’80s, let alone the earlier times,” says Oliver. “For every MNM that Vince McMahon thrusts into the spotlight, there’s a thrown-together, meaningless team like Bob Holly and Charlie Haas. If the writers can’t be bothered to tell us why someone is teaming, then why should we, as fans, care about the team?”
“Promoters can educate fans. If promoters place an emphasis on tag-team wrestling, then fans will understand that it is important,” adds Johnson. “But obviously, that’s not the case. Terry Taylor told us about being in the room when Eric Bischoff announced he wanted to kill tag-team wrestling when he was running WCW. Bischoff just didn’t like it. So, Terry asked, why should anyone who worked for Bischoff place any value on it? I think TNA has tried to some degree, which shouldn’t be surprising, given its ‘Jarrett’ roots – Tennessee was always a great tag-team area.”
Oliver notes that he and his co-writer talked to at least a couple hundred individuals, including wrestlers, bookers, referees, promoters, fans, office workers, journalists and family members, for the year-and-a-half project.
“In retrospect, buying some stock in an audiotape company would have been a good idea,” jokes Johnson, who has a PhD from the University of Virginia in government and foreign affairs and whose work on politics, business and sports has appeared in dozens of newspapers, magazines and Web sites.
“I have about 200 hours of tape in my basement. It was more than a full-time project. It took days, and, in some cases, weeks to track down surviving relatives.”
The timing of the book’s release coincides with a recent report that WWE is looking to add new teams to its roster. Tag teams have been the red-headed stepchild of the company for the past several years, with singles matches and singles performers most often cast in the spotlight.
The fact that John Laurinaitis reportedly is behind the move to beef up the tag-team division should come as little surprise, since his ring career centered around tag teams. He broke into the business as a protégé and flag-carrier for The Sheepherders (Butch Millar and Luke Williams), a blood-and-guts combo that later settled down in the WWF as the fan-friendly Bushwhackers. Along with Shane Douglas, Laurinaitis later carved his niche as half of one of the forgettable Dynamic Dudes, a skateboarding, pretty-boy duo created in the early days of Jim Herd’s WCW. Ace gained his greatest exposure in Japan forming formidable teams with the likes of “Dr. Death” Steve Williams and Stan “The Lariat” Hansen. His brother, Joe Laurinaitis, was part of one of the greatest teams in the history of the business, The Road Warriors (Animal and Hawk), along with the late Mike Hegstrand.
Johnson is rightfully proud of the project.
“This is a slice of life that needs to be preserved … traffic in Greensboro, N.C., really did come to a dead stop one night in 1983 because of tag-team wrestling.”
“The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams” ($18.95; ECW Press) can be ordered at www.ecwpress.com.
– WWE conducted one of its biggest housecleanings ever last week. Among those released were newlyweds Jackie Gayda and Charlie Haas, Bubba and D-Von Dudley, Spike Dudley, Dawn Marie, Billy Kidman, Mark Jindrak, Matt Morgan, Marty Jannetty, Maven, Shannon Moore, Akio (James Yun), Gangrel (David Heath), Kevin Fertig (formerly Mordecai), Kenzo Suzuki, Hiroko (Suzuki’s valet and real-life wife) and Joy Giovanni.
The cuts were the result of a poor earnings quarter for the company and an expected $10 million loss in ad revenue when its cable programming switches over to the USA network in September, along with freeing up money for Hulk Hogan and the imminent return of Brock Lesnar.
Hogan’s new family reality series, “Hogan Knows Best,” debuts at 10 p.m. today on VH-1. The Hulkster will meet Shawn Michaels in August at Summer Slam.
– Jim Cornette, who headed up WWE’s Ohio Valley Wrestling developmental territory, was fired Friday. Cornette, who recently came off of a suspension, allegedly slapped an OVW student numerous times for failing to properly react to a wrestling angle.