Both of WWE’s shows have been guilty of scattergun approaches to booking their duos and factions: from Enzo and Cass inserting themselves into random feuds every show, with no continuity from week to week; to The New Day and The Club squabbling with each other for what felt like an eternity; to SmackDown having their tag teams sort of just there in those wilderness weeks before they introduced their tag team championships.
With such a litany of failure, you’d think that Rhyno and Heath Slater pushing themselves into the ongoing program between the Miz and Dolph Ziggler would, a la Chris Jericho, “make the list.”
But SmackDown Live continues to subvert our expectations in its quest to build up its tag team division, and the sudden presence of “Beauty and the Man Beast” in the IC title picture is a stroke of feelgood wonder.
For a start, Slater and Rhyno swinging to Dolph Ziggler’s rescue and helping him fend off the Spirit Squad is a cool way to build up the duo as a pair of solid babyfaces. The two of them have yet to fully shake off their image as a jokey, kooky pair of guys. Indeed, they are still trying to be a little more than a flash in the pan feel good story, a reason to get Heath Slater signed to SmackDown Live, and a pit stop for the tag team titles before they get put around the waists of the Usos, who would be a pit stop before American Alpha takes their spot as the anointed next big thing of WWE’s tag team division.
They have been given a chance to breathe and expand as characters outside of the Tag Team Championship picture, and there is no better way to solidify yourself as a heroic duo by saving someone as inherently likable as Dolph Ziggler from beatings by someone as inherently unlikable as the Miz. The move is also helping them to grow as a brand — to becoming a huge part of SmackDown as a whole, and not just a single division. By keeping some variety on Slater and Rhyno’s plate, they have an excellent opportunity to become mainstays of the New Era of SmackDown.
But it isn’t just the Tag Team Champions who are benefiting from their elevation on the card. It has long been posited by this author that all championships can become a loftier goal if they aren’t defended every single week. SmackDown still has a lot of work to do in bringing the rest of its division up to speed. We’ve seen the Usos come leaps and bounds ahead of everything that was expected from them after their surprising heel turn, and American Alpha still have one hell of a score to settle with the Samoan savages.
Now, if The Ascension, The Vaudevillains and BreezAngo (where have they been lately, by the way?) are able to take a solid, elevated spot in some competitive tag team matches on SmackDown, there would be a stronger pool of competition brewing. The worst way you could do this would be to people gunning for Slater and Rhyno’s titles every week on TV, as this would have us questioning why anyone would be deserving of a shot at them at the PPV.
Yes, in another victory for SmackDown over Monday Night Raw, the blue brand has kept its tag team champions from engaging with challengers for their belts every single week, and still keep their characters fresh, compelling and ever expanding.