Tag team wrestling holds an interesting place in WWE history. At times it feels like an afterthought, a division for directionless single talents to pair up and put on solid 10 minute matches before splitting up just soon enough to ensure that there’s no real impact made. That isn’t always the case of course and every once in a while a duo, or trio, finds the necessary adversaries to create magic with and then if things fall into place, even make history with. If you’re reading this you can likely think of an example or two from the past but for me, this week isn’t about the past or the future but instead the present. This Sunday night, The Usos challenge The New Day for the SmackDown Tag Titles, all inside Hell in a Cell.
When a brand split is in place, a roster’s sub-divisions are a lot harder to protect and conceal. As soon as the rosters are split the potential big matches become pretty clear, especially in the relatively small tag divisions in WWE right now. Following the Superstar Shakeup, it was clear that for all of the Fashion Police’s brilliance, The Usos only had one real blockbuster foe in The Land Of Opportunity. Just months following their record-breaking tag title reign, The New Day was a major acquisition for SmackDown and with a fresh, villainous Usos as champs, the brand’s marquee tag match was clear.
That inevitable direction didn't take long to get to either with the two teams first clashing at Money in the Bank, just weeks after New Day’s SmackDown debut. The Usos had been really hitting their stride in the meantime, playing the nasty, violent antagonists to Tyler Breeze and Fandango’s comedic and lovable heroes. That match-up embroiled Jimmy and Jey in some comedy themselves which only allowed them to show their versatility, a skill that both teams share and would soon exhibit in their feud opposite each other.
The first match of the program would unsurprisingly excite with their Money in the Bank showdown being filled with excitement before the eventual count-out finish. I know that generally, fans hate the ‘heel champion walks away’ finish but for me, that’s always been the point and with a team as dynamic and authentic as The Usos, keeping them as true heels isn’t always easy. Either way, it was quite clearly the right finish for that match as it allowed the villains to keep their titles and all without actually beating the returning New Day. It was all just the start really and looking back four months later, that now couldn't be clearer.
A rematch between the teams was booked for Battleground but first was the now infamous rap battle between the teams. This was a segment that had all the ingredients for disaster but believe it or not, turned out to be almost startlingly entertaining. Both teams seemed to absolutely thrive in the scenario, looked genuinely thrilled with the opportunity and that showed in the segment’s creativity and presentation. It’s probably somewhat forgotten now and lost in the sea of great matches but in my mind, the rap battle segment really helped things click and showed how special the new dynamic between the teams could be.
Just weeks later and it was time for their Battleground match as the teams opened the PPV main card with a simply spectacular tag team thriller. The match wasn't even particularly long but it was absolutely packed with drama as the pair traded wild false finishes before Xavier Woods eventually got the pin and won the titles for The New Day trio. Woods was particularly sublime that night, garnering great sympathy with his selling and showing immense fire on offense. He was the perfect base for The Usos’ spiteful unpleasantness and then for Kofi’s explosive flurries on the comeback.
I struggle to think of a better main roster tag team match than that Battleground one but a possible candidate came only four weeks later when the teams met again at SummerSlam, on the pre-show. As has been discussed many times elsewhere, being on the pre-show isn’t without its positives. The audience is bigger and sometimes, the crowd is more energetic but regardless of any of that, both The Usos and The New Day seemed extra motivated in Brooklyn that night. The reason for that motivation is really irrelevant as the result stays the same: in-ring magic.
Once again the WWE’s two tag team standard-bearers had somehow raised their very own bar, with respect to Sheamus and Cesaro, and in spite of their pre-show status had stolen another show. Luckily, The Usos won at SummerSlam and that meant that things weren't quite finished yet and after three PPV matches, this story had some twists and turns still to come. The next one of note would come in the Sin City street fight rematch the teams shared in September. Wild, intense and enthralling, the street fight added another layer to their ongoing feud and was fought with such vigor that it elevated both teams and even the title they were fighting for.
Memorable feuds and matches are often built on single snapshots. A moment encapsulated by a solitary image. This feud certainly hasn't been without those instances either, none more so than Jimmy Uso’s shocked reaction to his brother’s table fall as the aforementioned street fight came to a close. For a few seconds all the chaos stopped and suddenly these characters were allowed to breathe and develop just with a single facial expression. That stuff is what we really watch for, these feuds and matches are what we really watch for. Things can’t always be perfect but when it all clicks, that’s a beautiful thing to see.
As a fan, professional wrestling can be frustrating to watch at times. Sometimes we want better for our favorite talents but in that same way, there’s something to be said for watching performers maximize their opportunity and make something more of it. These two teams were already very much respected by the audience and certainly an admired aspect of SmackDown Live but they have now become absolutely central to the brand as a whole. No matter where they are placed on the card, they represent the blue brand impeccably, spotlighting how incredible tag team wrestling can really be at its best.
That work has now led to this Sunday, a Hell in a Cell match that likely wasn't penciled in when this all started over four months ago. These two teams have earned the right to enter that cell and together, have elevated each other’s already high position in the list of all-time great WWE teams. It’s helped established The Usos as versatile, dynamic and brilliant villains, a testament to their whole body of excellent work on the main roster. On the other hand, it’s also been a vehicle to allow The New Day to get serious at times and more importantly, show their undeniable in-ring brilliance. Opposite each other, The Usos and The New Day have made each other better, bigger and quite simply, greater.