By Jeff Lutz, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@JLutz82)
Jey Uso was never arrested, it just felt like he was.
Jey was figuratively incarcerated while his brother and tag team partner, Jimmy, dealt with the fallout from a pair of DUI arrests in 2019. Jey didn’t appear on television until Jimmy returned this month, even though Jey had not run afoul of the law.
It was the perfect opportunity for WWE to utilize Jey in a more defined role that didn’t necessitate his brother’s company. The Usos are twins and it’s difficult to imagine one without the other, but both have personality and charisma, and there’s no point in stifling the talents of one brother just because the other is unavailable.
Unfortunately, WWE almost always views tag teams, at least the teams that aren’t made up of two singles wrestlers thrown together, as a single entity rather than two separate performers with distinct skills. That’s OK in some cases, because any credible tag team division should have teams with built-in chemistry and similarities. Those traits are crucial but shouldn’t necessarily be used in place of each wrestler establishing a unique identity.
WWE deserves credit for building several natural tag teams, even though one of those mashed-together teams, Seth Rollins and Buddy Murphy, won the Raw tag titles in my native Wichita on Monday night. The Viking Raiders, The Usos, Heavy Machinery, The Revival, The O.C., The Street Profits, AOP, and The New day are all teams who can or have had lengthy runs together.
Too often, though, there is little to differentiate between the individuals in those teams. I don’t know what makes Erik of the Viking Raiders any different from Ivar. I can’t tell how The Revival’s Dash Wilder is distinct from Scott Dawson or how either member of AOP, Akam or Rezar, are distinguishable.
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson of the O.C. seemingly exist only as henchmen for AJ Styles, and The Usos are so inseparable that one can’t appear on television without the other.
Heavy Machinery’s Otis is branching out some with a storyline involving Mandy Rose, a welcome sign because Otis has natural charisma and an engaging character. I’m still not really sure who or what his partner, Tucker is, though. Meanwhile, The New Day is arguably the best and most entertaining team/trio in WWE history but also an egregious example of WWE’s small-time thinking when it comes to tag teams.
WWE stumbled on a breakout star in Kofi Kingston when his excellent ring work during last year’s WrestleMania build had most fans clamoring to see his first WWE championship victory. WWE rewarded Kingston’s supporters and Kingston himself with a title win over Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania, but what followed was an uninspired run with the belt against so-so opponents and no progress for Kingston’s character.
WWE seemingly couldn’t wait to throw Kingston to the wolf that is Brock Lesnar and settle him back into The New Day with no character development and apparently no lessons learned, or new goals created from his time as champion. Big E is similarly held back by New Day, which highlights his personality but keeps him from exploring more of it on his own. The New Day started as a group that was greater than the sum of its parts but, in spite of its continued popularity, that is no longer true.
It didn’t used to be this way. During the WWE tag team renaissance of the 1990s, teams were often set up for one or both members to prepare for singles wrestling. It happened with The Rockers and The Hart Foundation, which in Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart had two performers with separate strengths that complemented each other.
When Ax of Demolition was forced to retire due to health issues, Smash was repackaged as Repo Man, and Crush was kept on with a reimagining of his character. Money Inc. and The Natural Disasters were teams of singles stars, but they made it work by blending their unique individual traits in ways that fostered team chemistry.
It’s difficult to imagine Jey Uso receiving a singles push if Jimmy were to find himself indisposed again, because we’ve already seen that WWE doesn’t want it to work that way. Even Matt Hardy, who worked tirelessly to create a persona far different from his Hardy Boys character with brother Jeff, has been forced back into an antiquated “Team Extreme” role while he seemingly plays out his WWE contract.
Tag teams should not be limiting; rather, they should accentuate the traits each member brings to the team and be used so both wrestlers have an opportunity to break out individually. WWE once understood and embraced that concept but has lost it somewhere along the way.