The Second Golden Age of Tag Team Wrestling. Part One of Three.
Originally published at Canadian Bulldog's World.2015.
The 1980’s has been called the Second Golden Age of Tag Team Wrestling but what was it that made it so special? Does this decade deserve this praise or is it mere hype or perhaps nostalgia?
The 1980’s was a great decade of tag team wrestling for a number of reasons. First, it featured a plethora of tag teams. Second, many of these teams stayed together for a long time, focusing on tag team competition. Third, the number of quality teams from this era was significant. Last, the nature of tag team matches was opened up, impacting the industry to this very day. Two teams were instrumental in lighting the fuse to the tag team explosion of the 1980’s. The first we will discuss this week.
The 1980’s was a boom decade for professional wrestling. Any review of history will lead to the conclusion that wrestling has its ups and downs. Some people believe the business to be cyclical in that wrestling is a recurring fad that captures the public’s imagination, sparking a boom in business only to lose its novelty and lose its mainstream audience. Again, a careful review of history will lead to the conclusion that wrestling doesn’t just magically become popular. Spikes in popularity are based on unusually popular stars, innovative promoting techniques, and innovations in how to reach your audience.
Wrestling blossomed during the 1980’s because of all of these factors. Stars like Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan stood out head and shoulder above an already star-studded array of wrestlers. Promoters came up with explosive angles that led to capacity crowds. Wise promoters also tapped into the expanding cable television industry as well as closed circuit broadcasts, the precursor to pay-per-view (PPV). All of these factors contributed to the boom that wrestling experienced throughout North America.
Interestingly enough, the success in singles wrestling translated to tag team wrestling as well. Promoters took the aforementioned steps by creating superstar tag teams, changing the way that tag team matches worked, and promoting them in new ways to capitalize on the proliferation of these teams.
Tag team wrestling has always been popular and specialty tag teams have been around nearly as long. By specialty teams I mean that have their own unique identity rather than just being two random pairings of wrestlers. For example, the legendary Minnesota Wrecking Crew of the 1970’s consisted of any pairing of Gene, Lars, or Ole Anderson. Contrast a team between two wrestlers who might team up for a night or two but then moved on to something else. In some promotions such as Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP), tag team wrestling was the promotion’s mainstay as opposed to most promotions where one on one competition was highlighted and tag team wrestling promoted as more of a special attraction. While some fans may look to the 80’s and conclude that this was when specialty teams like the Road Warriors, Fabulous Freebirds, Midnight Express, Rock-n-Roll Express, and British Bulldogs first came to prominence, that is not the case. Just check out the book The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams and you will see that specialty teams were around for a long time. Whether it was brother teams like the Tolos Brothers or Graham Brothers or name teams like the Heavenly Bodies or the Hollywood Blondes, tag teams competed for a long time.
However the 1980’s was when tag team wrestling just seemed to explode. While there were always good tag teams, there never seemed to be so many of them. Whether it was a small promotion like Championship Wrestling Association (CWA) in Memphis or larger ones like JCP and the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), tag team wrestling exploded during the 1980’s.
Looking back at the 1980’s, I would argue that the start of the Second Golden Age of Tag Team Wrestling began in 1982. This year marked the debut of a quintessential team that would achieve tremendous success in CWA. In the long run, this team proved to be a big fish in a small pond but it spawned many bigger fish, changing the wrestling landscape forever.
In 1982, CWA wrestling put Steve Keirn and Stan Lane into a team and called them “The Fabulous Ones”. Oftentimes, that was how a team was put together and the promoters went from there. However CWA’s owners Jerry Jarrett and Jerry “The King” Lawler had big plans for the Fabs and they carefully crafted the team’s look and the way in which they were promoted. They outfitted Keirn and Lane with top hats, bowties, and sequined tuxedos reminiscent of the Chippendales. Lawler and Jarrett were innovative in their promoting and the rising success of MTV caught their attention, leading to music videos being filmed with the Fabs to ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” and Billy Squier’s “Everybody Wants You”. While the videos are disturbingly homoerotic when viewed by contemporary standards, they were innovative for the time (and admittedly were disturbingly homoerotic even back then). The videos really increased interest in the Fabs and once the fans saw them in the ring, they knew that they were more than just two pretty boys. As if that wasn’t enough, Memphis wrestling legend “Fabulous” Jackie Fargo lent his seal of approval to the team.
The Fabulous Ones proved to be an instant success. They were attractive to the ladies and like many other pretty boy teams, they would win over male fans by showing they were tough in the ring. Before long, the Fabs were a top attraction in Memphis. They feuded with the promotion’s top teams such as the New York Dolls and the Midnight Express. The problem was that the promoters ran so many shows that the Fabs couldn’t appear on all of them. Since they had created one successful tag team, promoters Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler may have thought that they could repeat their success. The two men had caught lightning in a bottle but could such a feat be repeated? The two men threw caution to the wind and created a new pretty boy team, this time consisting of Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson. The team became known as the Rock-n-Roll Express and worked smaller, secondary shows (aka “B” shows) while the Fabs worked the larger, primary shows (aka “A” shows). Like the Fabs, the Rock-n-Roll Express’ good looks, cool factor, and exciting ring work shot them to the top.
The Fabulous Ones worked a number of hot and profitable feuds in CWA in 1982 and 1983. They tussled with brutal teams such as the Sheepherders (undoubtedly their number one opponents), the Bruise Brothers, the Moondogs, and the Grapplers, winning the promotion’s Southern Tag Team Championship on numerous occasions.
In 1984 the Fabulous Ones tried their luck in the Texas promotion Southwest Championship Wrestling before moving on to Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association (AWA), one of the top three promotions in North America. There the Fabs challenged the AWA Tag Team Champions the Road Warriors. However the Road Warriors refused to drop the titles to the Fabs and the Fabs soon left the promotion. I have heard different stories on why the Road Warriors refused to drop the titles. The first was that the Road Warriors felt that the Fabs were simply too small to be believable in defeating them. Another story has it that Verne Gagne booked the match with the Fabs winning by switching places with one another, fooling the referee and the Warriors. Supposedly the Warriors felt that no one would believe that the street-smart Chicago tough guys the Warriors portrayed would fall for such a ruse.
The Fabs returned to Memphis where they found renewed success. They wrestled a number of teams but the promoters knew a good thing when they saw it and the Fabs/Sheepherders feud was reignited in 1985, spilling a lot of blood between the two teams and selling a lot of tickets. The matches were brutal and full of action, the style that Memphis fans grew up on and loved to see. The two teams wrestled in every kind of tag team match imaginable (and if you ever watched Memphis wrestling, you knew that could be anything).
Despite their popularity and influence on many other teams, the Fabs never struck it big outside of Memphis despite trying their luck at other promotions including Championship Wrestling from Florida and special appearances in the AWA and JCP. Eventually the team disbanded and Stan Lane would go on to national success as the newest member of the Midnight Express (alongside “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton), winning the promotion’s World Tag Team Championship. Keirn had an interesting run in the WWF during the early 1990’s as Skinner, a crazed alligator hunter.
While contemporary fans may not be familiar with their work, the Fabulous Ones were instrumental in launching the Second Golden Age of Tag Team Wrestling. Their success led to other pretty boy teams such as the Midnight Express, the Fantastics, and the (Midnight) Rockers. All of these teams found greater success than the Fabs but it’s difficult to imagine any of them existing without the promotional genius that created them and the in-ring product that the team itself delivered to its fans.
Join me next week as we examine the other team that helped launch the Second Golden Age of Tag Team Wrestling, a team that many fans consider to be the greatest of all time.