When Smackdown Live was coined the “Land of Opportunity” in the summer of 2016, it became the preferred show for WWE fans looking for their favorite superstars getting more screen time, title matches and creative respect. A year and a half later, Smackdown is still the WWE’s most opportunistic show in its lineup but most wrestlers are finding screen time by competing as tag teams.
On last night’s episode, three of the five matches were between tag teams and not a single match – even the two one-on-one matchups – featured performers fighting without other wrestlers standing at ringside. Even the WWE Championship is being challenged by the team of Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, who during last night’s opening segment declared that if they win the title off reigning champ AJ Styles that they’ll operate as “co-champions.” In all, 21 of the 32 superstars on Smackdown that are eligible for the show’s tag team titles are currently competing in teams or stables.
The move is a brilliant way to feature as many wrestlers as possible in the two-hour timeslot the WWE has on the USA Network’s Tuesday night lineup, as it effectively doubles the amount of people they can squeeze into an episode. It’s also proved a productive way to force wrestlers out of their comfort zone and breathe new life into fading characters, like Fandango and Tyler Breeze gaining viral fan favoritism through a tag team comedy act or Owens and Zayn combining their efforts to successfully earn a shot at the WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble.
For Fandango and Breeze (“Breezango”), their rebirth came by combining their similarly flamboyant personalities to become a pair of aloof detectives in a recurring comedy segment called “Fashion Files.” The pairing made sense but took time to catch on with fans, as Breezango continued to get more and more ridiculous with their pop culture spoof segments each week, like when someone tells you a bad joke and keeps nudging you until you laugh. But for other wrestlers like Aiden English and Chad Gable, whose previous tag teams were scrapped by the WWE in 2017, the transition of finding new partners – and essentially new characters – has taken more work. English rediscovered a comfortable role after being paired with Rusev, recycling a singing gimmick he once dumped during his tenure in NXT (WWE’s weekly developmental show). English has become the musical mouthpiece for his once longtime undefeated partner and is showing off his highly annoying, yet highly successful arrogance on the mic.
Gable has maintained his status within the tag team title picture, despite struggling to regain the character momentum he had built over two years with his former partner Jason Jordan. The pair once held the Smackdown Tag Team Championships for nearly three months as “American Alpha” before Jordan was moved to Monday Night RAW. Gable found new hope when he teamed up with returning superstar Shelton Benjamin, but the pair’s personalities haven’t meshed well since their makeshift tag team was thrown together and ineffectively turned heel late last year. The awkward pair gave an uncomfortable promo last night, making stretched references to the previous night’s NCAA National Championship game and struggling to maintain the crowd who erupted with “Roll Tide!” chants at the height of their talking point (Smackdown Live was filmed in Birmingham, Ala., last night). Smackdown GM Daniel Bryan did his best to save the segment when he came out to inform Benjamin and Gable they will receive another title shot at the Royal Rumble pay per view against The Usos, Smackdown’s reigning champs. The upcoming title match will be “two out of three falls,” Bryan announced. And hopefully that will find a decisive outcome, as it will be Benjamin and Gable’s fifth title shot against The Usos since November following a string of controversial finishes.
With almost too much depth on the tag team division’s roster, it’s curious why WWE fans will see the same championship matchup for the fifth consecutive time at the Royal Rumble. Though, given that WWE storylines are gearing up for their three-month WrestleMania builds, hopefully a new team or two will emerge in the coming weeks to challenge for the tag team titles. Perhaps it’s The Bludgeon Brothers (former Wyatt Family members Luke Harper and Erick Rowan), who have been unstoppable since their repackaged debut in late November. They defeated The Ascension in just 37 seconds last night and seem likely to once again run through the ranks of the Smackdown tag division. Or maybe even The New Day has one more championship reign left in them before their inevitable split. Either way, with over half the Smackdown men’s roster grouped into teams, it’s clear the WWE has plenty to work with in the Tuesday night title picture.