It certainly wasn’t surprising to hear the crowd exclaim ‘this is awesome!’ during The Usos’ tag team title victory this week on SmackDown, far from it. In fact it’s become almost expected that, through ups and downs, The Usos will deliver inside the ring because for the most part, they always have. This week’s enthralling clash with American Alpha was just another example and served as a reminder that when given time, Jimmy and Jey can make tag team magic. It goes understated at times but a key ingredient to The Usos success and particularly their recent resurgence is versatility, something that’s become clearer than ever since the draft split.
Though it may be hard to believe, it’s been almost seven years since the now cemented tag team first appeared on WWE television. On that night they attacked The Hart Dynasty and with Tamina Snuka at their side, left the then champions laying after a trio of top rope splashes. The following week the group introduced themselves with an in-ring promo, citing their family’s histories and immediately establishing themselves as arrogant villains. Whilst their style has certainly changed since, it must be said that the Usos looked comfortable even then and delivered their verbiage with confidence admirable for main roster newcomers.Regardless, The Usos would unable to capture the titles and by the year’s end had lost Tamina as well as any momentum they had.
A 2011 draft move to SmackDown would lead to a babyface shift that came without much explanation. There wasn’t really a turn but instead the team were now just being matched with heels, it was that shallow of a change. The new slant did give the duo slightly more television time though and in June they debuted their new entrance, or the first version of it least, that featured the traditional Samoan war dance Siva Tau. I know that this may sound ridiculous but sometimes in a product as grand and broad as WWE’s, memorable aesthetics matter more than character development or progression. As simple as it was, the entrance gave The Usos what they needed desperately: identity.
Once again though, the team wouldn’t win the belts and soon began appearing on the bizarre NXT Redemption season before returning to SmackDown in order to join the half-hearted build for Wrestlemania 28’s tag title match. Though it was on the pre-show, it would be The Usos’ first Wrestlemania match as a team as they took on Tyson Kidd and Jason Gabriel as well as the champions Primo and Epico, coming up short in the process. It was all still very stop and start for The Usos as they continued to lose in multi-team title matches whilst also appearing on NXT. They were almost floating in the middle of a quite flat tag team division.
In the summer of 2013 though, eyes would be opened as The Usos wrestled for the belts against the Shield combination of Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns on the Money in the Bank pre-show. The match would come just weeks after Jimmy and Jey debuted new face paint in tribute to their late, great uncle Umaga. At heart it was a nice tribute to a man that had played a pivotal part in the duo’s careers and to the decision-makers it was seen as another puzzle piece in making The Usos an incredibly marketable tag team act. Either way, at Money in the Bank The Usos had a breakout performance.
Though they entered to a mild response, by the match’s climax people seemed to be genuinely rooting The Usos on, biting on every dramatic false finish. In the end the team would again come up short but this time it didn’t matter. That night they won by simply putting in a career altering performance. For the rest of the year, The Usos’ hunt for the belts continued, their popularity rapidly growing in the process. In early 2014 the pair’s momentum would reach new heights though, being intertwined with The Wyatt Family’s feud with Daniel Bryan before a win streak once again directed them towards those elusive Tag Team titles.
On the March 3rd edition of RAW, The Usos would finally capture the belts by defeating The New Age Outlaws. As the referee counted the three there was a genuine sense of excitement in the crowd and sincerity poured through the screen as the overjoyed brothers celebrated their win. In an era in which pure babyfaces are often shunned, The Usos were legitimately popular with the majority of the audience as their tendency for in-ring excitement had won over the more hardcore viewer, even if their characters weren’t aimed at them. In the Wrestlemania 30 preshow The Usos would defend their belts successfully before next allying with John Cena in his battles opposing the Wyatt Family.
The allegiance with Cena represented the duo’s incredible progression as an act. They had gone from forgotten perennial contenders to the most popular babyface tag team all in under a year. More than that though, their involvement in the feud would lead to two memorable successful title defences against the team of Luke Harper and Erick Rowan. It was clear that the Wyatt Family pair were hugely motivated by the opportunity and The Usos played the perfect babyface counterparts, serving up two of the best main roster tag matches in modern times. Eventually their defining title run would come to an end against Goldust and Stardust but they regained the belts before 2014’s close, holding them again until February 2015.
The Usos would once again occupy a spot in the multi-team Wrestlemania pre show tag title match but their involvement would be marred by Jey re-injuring himself early in the match. The injury would prove to be a serious one and left Jimmy without his partner for over six months. The team’s eventual November return was exciting to begin with as the fraternal twins took part in a thrilling triple threat ladder match for the belts. However, an alliance with their cousin Roman Reigns would bizarrely hurt the duo’s popularity and that trend wouldn’t be helped by a rather pedestrian Dudley Boyz program either. The Usos’ slow decline in popularity was then quickened by their feud with the debuting Club. Suddenly surrounded by fresher acts, the once tag team centerpiece was now almost floundering.
The returning brand split represented a chance for change though and on September 6th 2016, The Usos would certainly take that chance. Participating in the tournament to crown the inaugural SmackDown Tag Team champions, the pair was set to face NXT call-ups American Alpha in the semi-finals. The match was represented as the top two seeds competitively fighting in an all babyface battle. However, in a surprising turn of events, Alpha would win in under 30 seconds. Caught cold, The Usos were frustrated and angry and turned on their youthful conquerors, the story made perfect sense. Jimmy and Jey were tired of being overlooked for the newer teams and were now going to get back to the top by any means necessary. It was all rather cliché in reality but the route the turn took added a neat extra layer.
Unfortunately, The Usos’ momentum would be victims to the surging team of Heath Slater and Rhyno and had to take a backseat to the on fire comedic duo. At Survivor Series though, the recently turned team would get a chance to shine, making it to the final two and playing a major part in the highly praised match. Once again The Usos would spend some time in the background as the aforementioned Alpha took the titles but soon it was clear that the two teams would continue their program on the road to Wrestlemania. In a perfect capturing of what’s made their turn work so perfectly, The Usos would cut a wild promo in which they proudly exclaimed “it’s not paranoia, it’s the Usos”. You can watch this promo at the 1:50 mark of the video below.
It was believable, authentic and energetic and while the heat wouldn’t be capitalized on immediately, this week’s title match made it worthwhile. It was ironic to hear the crowd support the now villainous Usos after booing them into the turn to begin with, though it did honestly make perfect sense. This latest incarnation is rougher and tougher, grittier and realer, there’s an almost tangible mean-streak both in and out of the ring. Consider that whole description and then contrast it to what this same team was just a year ago. Though the babyface run may have ended with somewhat of a whimper, it’s easy to forget that it was wildly successful and now they’ve reinvented themselves as malicious and spiteful villains. That’s what makes The Usos the most versatile and well-rounded team in pro wrestling for my money.
I know they aren’t the flashy or popular choice and I absolutely understand that. People love the immense match quality provided by teams like The Revival, DIY and American Alpha in NXT. People love the flash and flamboyance of The Young Bucks and people love the personality of teams like The New Day and Enzo and Cass. Granted, The Usos may not shine in one department quite like those teams do but the difference is they can do it all to an exceptional level. There’s no holes in their game. Whether it be as high flying white meat babyfaces or as horrible, vicious and nasty heels, The Usos deliver both on the microphone and in the ring. It’s that versatility that has allowed The Usos this impressive longevity and believe it or not, it seems the best may be yet to come.