Last week, we granted SmackDown Live some credit for finally introducing something for the women’s and tag team divisions to fight over. In the case of the women’s division, the quality of work has increased exponentially, with the promos, matches and feuds having demonstrated a group of women who are ambitious and hungry for the SmackDown Women’s Championship.
The same cannot be said for the tag team division. The most that The Ascension got from this tournament was the opportunity to get in some vague offense against The Usos. The Vaudevillains were squashed in under three minutes by The Hype Bros. Neither of the losing teams were able to build any excitement and competitiveness among SmackDown’s partnerships — a move that has only served to cheapen the accolade of winning the championship. After all, if reaching the finals of the tournament is a pretty easy gig, then who on earth is going to look like they’ve gone through any kind of ordeal when they pick up the championship?
Brief matches in tournaments are perfectly acceptable if it involves individuals from a dense roster, but with SmackDown’s limited options, it makes no sense whatsoever to throw one of their few tag teams to the lions on a regular basis.
The drastically improved Breezango at least got to put on an excellent 10-minute match against American Alpha, an excellent back and forth with a predictable outcome which nonetheless cemented the formerly fledgling duo of Tyler Breeze and Fandango as a solid tag team with a bright future. However, with Tuesday’s bizarre segment in which Fandango was chokeslammed by Kane, it seems pretty certain that SmackDown isn’t intent on keeping a spotlight on tag teams that aren’t explicitly in the running for the championship at this stage.
The biggest issue, however, is the fact that Rhyno and Heath Slater seem destined to be the inaugural champions. The storyline with Heath Slater’s eternal quest for a WWE contract is surely coming to an end at this point (it certainly doesn’t have much more mileage beyond Backlash), and assuming he isn’t going to be released by WWE, his victory seems the obvious choice.
This creates a number of problems for the two other players at this stage: The Usos and The Hype Bros. The Usos have just undergone a heel turn, and a completely perfunctory one at that, designed solely to add some kayfabe to American Alpha’s injury-induced drop in momentum. If they don’t win the championship (which they won’t), then their heel turn on a go-home show is killed dead in its tracks before it even started.
The Hype Bros are the more exciting tag team, and the simple fact is that they work far better together as a tag team than Heath Slater and Rhyno. “The One Man Band” and “The Man Beast” have some serious shortcomings as a duo when it comes to in-ring work, and no amount of chemistry together in backstage skits will make up for this. Their matches thus far have been a disservice to what tag team wrestling is supposed to be: A standard match will be three minutes of Heath Slater getting the life beaten out of him, then tagging Rhyno in the deliver his finishing move and pick up the win. They have thus far been utterly incapable of (or not permitted to) demonstrating a unique dynamic, and all of their competition in the ring is nothing more than a sideshow to Heath Slater’s illustrious quest for a swimming pool.
The WWE wrote itself into a corner the moment Heath Slater’s journey became focused on winning the tag team championships. It is a good thing for American Alpha that Chad Gable suffered his injury, because otherwise their credibility would have been killed by suffering a loss to Heath Slater and Rhyno. Had Slater and Rhyno lost to American Alpha, it would have portended overkill for the Heath Slater contract quest.
The WWE is stuck between a rock and a hard place. The prestige of the Tag Team titles are destined to slump into the gutter come Sunday at Backlash.