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The History of the WWF Tag Team Championship: Part 2
by Scrooge McSuck
- Last time in our History of the WWF Tag Team Championship, we turned back the clock to 1971 to when the lineage of the World Tag Titles began with the inaugural Champions, Luke Graham and Tarzan Tyler, winning a fictitious tournament, a tradition of the era. Mr. Fuji and Prof. Toru Tanaka would go on to hold the belts three times, while Tony Garea would accomplish the feat with three different partners (Haystacks Calhoun, Dean Ho, and Larry Zbyszko). Sonny King made history as the 1st African-American to hold the belts, Chief Jay Strongbow the 1st Italian-American playing a Native American to win them, and the rise of "real" teams (those with official names) like the Executioners, Blackjacks, and (Yukon) Lumberjacks gaining traction. The near-decade long lineage of the titles would end with Johnny and Jerry Valiant on top.
Shortly after Jerry and Johnny Valiant defeated Tony Garea and Larry Zbyszko for the titles, the WWWF would drop a "W" and go by the more familiar "WWF" name, and behind the scenes, Capital Wrestling was making the transition to Titan Sports Inc., the name the WWF produced their content under for the better part of two decades before establishing themselves as World Wrestling Federation Inc. It seemed like a matter of time until Vince McMahon Jr. would take control of the company, but that's a story for a different day. While some identify the rebranding as a new era, that would be far from the case, as television production and booking patterns would remain the same for the next few years. Why the change of a name and not a new direction? Well, Vince Sr. was still in control of the company, so there's the obvious answer for one of those questions. The other… it's not definitively out there, but my best guess would be shortening the name to "World Wrestling Federation" seems grander. The company would continue to operate as a regional promotion for 5 more years, so it wasn't due to global expansion (plus the "World" was in the name to begin with. Again, guessing, the "World" is because of the heavy reliance on foreign stars, whether the heritage was fictional or not).
While the "heel" side of the Championship consisted of "type" partners, whether they be fake relatives, fellow countrymen, or hooded goons, the Russian Roulette of Babyface Stereotypes was spun again, and on October 22nd, 1979, the thrown-together team of Ivan Putski and Tito Santana put an end to Jerry and Johnny Valiant's reign at the world famous Madison Square Garden. Putski, a native of Krakow, Poland, had been a mainstay to the Northeast territory, short in stature but thick and muscular. He wasn't an in-ring technician (that's code word for awful wrestler), using brute strength and his signature "Polish Hammer" (a double sledge to the chest) to put his opponents away. Santana was the complete opposite. Born in Texas but billed from Tocula, Mexico and standing around 6'2", Santana never had much of a physique, but was a skilled grappler who liked to keep things on the canvas and was considered one of the best the WWF had in the ring during the 1980's. This would be the only hold held by Putski during his long tenure with the WWF, but we'll see Santana pop up again down the road, more experienced and looking to Strike with Force.
With the calendar flipping to the 1980's, the Tag Team Division would be shaken up for the better part of the next 4-years by several teams with a savage mentality. Brothers Afa and Sika Anoa'i were the latest tag team attraction managed by Captain Lou. Sometimes referred to by name, others simply as "Samoan #1" and "Samoan #2", they were portrayed as uncivilized monsters from Samoa, known to devour raw fish and having thicker, punishing craniums. Branded "The Wild Samoans", they lived the act, and set the template for years to come, as relatives ranging from their nephews and children following them into the business (Sika, for those unfamiliar, fathered Rosey of 3MW fame (RIP), as well as the current star of WWE programming, Roman Reigns). Not only were they presented as a serious threat to all tag teams but were occasionally used to challenge then-Champion Bob Backlund for the WWF Heavyweight crown. Their bad blood with Backlund led to the unlikely alliance of Backlund and Pedro Morales, the latter being a former Heavyweight Champion and the reigning Intercontinental Champion. On August 9th, 1980, Backlund and Morales swept a 2-out-of-3-Falls Match at Shea Stadium to win the Tag Team Titles, but due to their commitments as singles Champions, immediately relinquished the belts (I love how the rules change to fit the story), and after a tournament was held across episodes of Championship Wrestling, Afa and Sika regained the belts, defeating Rene Goulet and Tony Garea on the September 20th episode (taped on September 9th).
Fear not, Tony Garea fans. The man from Auckland would soon become a FOUR TIME Tag Team Champion, finding a different partner yet again. This time joining Garea's quest for gold would be Quebec native Rick Martel. Mostly working Canadian and Pacific Northwest territories, Martel was a fresh-faced, good looking youngster, a trait that wasn't commonplace for the WWF at the time. I would make my "Russian Roulette" joke again, but it's only been a couple of paragraphs, and even I'm not that lazy for joke recycling. Martel and Garea would take the straps on November 8th, 1980 in Philadelphia, ridding the company (temporarily) of the Samoans, but soon they'll be hunted by the incoming Moondogs, another brutish unorthodox tag team looking to devour the competition. The Moondog name originated when "Moondog Mayne" debuted for the then-WWWF in 1973. By 1980, the Moondogs were represented by Rex (Randy Colley) and King (Edward Wright), portraying animal-like behavior of chewing on giant dog bones. While this incarnation of the Moondogs would win the titles on March 17th, 1981, it was a few months later where King, who was detained at the Canadian border, would be replaced by Spot (Larry Booker), with Spot and Rex carrying the name for the remainder of their time in the WWF. After a combined 126 days as Champions (across the split for King and Spot), Martel and Garea would bounce back and reclaim the belts on July 21st. This would mark Garea's 5th and final reign with the Tag Team Titles, but it won't be long until that record is tied.
Returning in 1981 from the land of the rising sun would be Mr. Fuji, with a brand new partner. Gone was Prof. Toru Tanaka, and coming in with him would be Masanori "Masa" Saito, known at the time as Mr. Saito. This may sound terrifying, but Saito was legitimately from Japan, unlike the Hawaiian natives Fuji and Tanaka cosplaying as Japanese menaces. Saito was not only a veteran of professional wrestling, but his credentials include competing for Japan in the 1964 Summer Olympics. It only seems fitting that Garea, the prolific babyface when it came to the tag team gold, would have his final reign ended by his heel contemporary. Fuji, winning his 4th title, joined for the first time by Saito, would take the belts on October 13th, 1981 and hold them through the rest of the year. The carousel of returning Champions continued, with Chief Jay Strongbow finding his way back in the title hunt, this time joined by "relative" Jules (Francis Huntington). The "Native American" duo won the belts in New York City on June 28th, 1982 but dropped them back to Fuji (his 5th and final reign to match Garea's record) and Saito only 15-days later at the Championship Wrestling tapings held on July 13th. Strongbow and Jules would bounce back from defeat, and reclaim the titles on October 26th, putting an end to the Fuji Chapter (at least when it came to being an active full-time wrestler).
On March 8th, 1983, the returning Wild Samoans (still represented by Afa and Sika) would claim their third reign as Champions, the most from a duo since Fuji and Tanaka accomplished the feat on September 27th, 1977 under the WWWF banner. Though never recognized as part of the Championship team, 1983 saw the debut of "Wild Samoan #3", sometimes known as Samula, and often shortened to Samu. Samu would fill in here and there for an injured Sika, but the reign was never credited as shared amongst the three. The 3rd reign of the Samoans would be their longest, holding it through most of 1983 for 252 days. Their biggest success led to arguably their most well-known loss, thanks to the WWF soon approaching the home video market with a licensed video tapes through Coliseum Home Video.
The WWF taped on November 15th, 1983, but the change wouldn't take place in television time until December 10th. Debuting in July that same year, Tony Atlas was already known to the Northeast, starting with the company towards the end of 1979. Known as "Mr. USA", Atlas's greatest trait was his impressive physique, which would be the centerpiece of plenty of his rivalries. Joining him would be Rocky Johnson. Born Wayde Douglas Bowles, Rocky Johnson was a tribute name for Rocky Marciano and Jack Johnson. Johnson didn't have the same impressive body but had the charisma that Atlas lacked, matched with his quick feet and showmanship in-ring style. The duo began teaming in September of '83 and chased the Samoans around the horn for several months before their match on Championship Wrestling was contested under No DQ Rules. Late in the match, Lou Albano attempted to assist his Samoans, only to KO Afa by smashing a wooden chair over his head. With the victory under their belt, Atlas and Johnson (unofficially named "The Soul Patrol") would be the first African-American duo to hold the Tag Team Titles, the first under the "WWF" name, and the only African-Americans other than Sonny King to hold (W)WWF gold in the history of the promotion.
The feelgood victory would carry them through a reign that lasted over 5-months, but it wasn't men of shared heritage to unseat them. No, for once, opposites matched up, as North met South in a common goal of Championship success. Adrian Adonis, born Keith Adonis Franke, was born in Buffalo and portrayed a leather-wearing tough guy from the mean streets of New York City. His partner, Dick Murdoch, even tougher and meaner than Adonis, was born in Waxahachie, TX, and was the typical ornery Texan looking to fight and not needing a reason to engage in fisticuffs. Legend has it, Murdoch was supportive of the Ku Klux Klan, a story corroborated by several stars of the era. At the April 17th tapings in Hamburg, PA, the "North-South Connection" defeated Johnson and Atlas. By this time, the WWF withdrew from the National Wrestling Alliance, looking to expand without the shackles of a committee telling them (Vince) what he could and couldn't do. For the remainder of 1984, the belts would be controlled by the "North-South" Connection, but as mid-year approached, the wrestling would feel the wrath after a completely different connection… The Rock ‘n' Wrestling Connection, but that's a story for another day.
And now, the BONUS CONTENT...
Tony Garea & Rene Goulet vs. The Wild Samoans (w/ Captain Lou Albano)
The Tournament Finals featured on the September 20th, 1980 episode of Championship Wrestling, taped on September 9th from Allentown, PA. Garea and Goulet defeated Johnny Rodz & Jose Estrada and Black Demon & Sylvano Sousa, while the only listed match for the Samoans was against Dominic DeNucci and Rick Martel. Goulet and Garea, the dream team of awful road agents circa 1991. Afa and Goulet start. Weird to see Goulet as a babyface after years of seeing him work as a prelim heel towards the end of his in-ring career. Lockup, Afa grabs a side headlock and comes off the ropes with a shoulder tackle. Goulet catches him on the second try with a powerslam and covers for two. Garea in with an abdominal stretch but Sika saves. Goulet with a sunset flip for two. Whip to the ropes and Garea with a sleeper, again broken by Sika. Afa no-sells having his head rammed into the canvas, but a chop is able to knock him on his back for a near-fall. Goulet drops an elbow and drapes Garea across Afa for another two-count. Garea and Goulet take turns with a chin-lock, doing an illegal switch. Afa nails Goulet coming off the ropes with a knee but misses an elbow drop. Garea throws rights on both Samoans as Sika has yet to legally enter the match. Afa finally cuts Garea off with a rake of the eyes. Sika FINALLY tags in and grabs a choke. Those are some very loose ropes. Garea fights out of the corner but Sika cuts him off from making the tag. Whip to the ropes and Garea and Afa bop heads for a double-down. Oh, now Afa is selling head shots? Goulet gets the hot tag and hits both Samoans with dropkicks. Whip to the corner and he drops an elbow on Afa for two. Heck breaks loose, the Samoans hit Goulet with a double slam, and THAT'S the finish at 10:05, giving the Samoans their 2nd reign as Tag Team Champions. Goulet and Garea took most of the match, a babyface trend I can't get into with this era of the WWF.
Tony Garea & Rick Martel vs. The Moondogs (w/ Captain Lou Albano)
Taped on March 17th, 1981 from Allentown, PA. This is "Rex" and "King" representing the Moondogs. Martel and Garea have matching blue trunks with a red stripe. Jesus, I thought Gorilla Monsoon was kidding when he said in his day, you were considered flashy if you had a stripe on your tights. The referee doesn't even bother to call for the bell to start the match. Martel and Rex start. Lockup and Martel with a deep arm drag. Rex with a slam but Martel mule kicks him off and goes to work on the arm. Garea sends Rex to the corner but meets a knee. Rex with a slam but he misses an elbow drop. King comes in and Martel works over his arm as well. Whip to the corner and Martel with a pair of arm drags. Garea with an elbow from the middle rope and a whip to the corner for only a one-count. Martel with a drop toe hold on Rex into an arm bar. Martel and Garea continue to dominate regardless of which Moondog is in the ring. King staggers Garea with a shoulder tackle but is knocked on his butt the second time and taken down with a sunset flip for two. King goes to the eyes of Martel and the Moondogs finally string together a little bit of offense. Rex with a whip and knee to the midsection, followed by a back breaker for two. Albano takes a shot at Martel while the referee chastises Garea. Rex bulldogs Martel's head into the turnbuckle. He tries it again but Martel counters. King cuts off the tag and claws at Martel's face. Garea comes in but is chased out again. Rex and Martel do the double-down spot, with Rex covering for a near-fall. King with a soft back breaker for two. Martel fights out of the corner with kicks to the midsection of Rex, but he can't get to his corner. Garea eventually gets the tag and runs wild with right hands. He applies and abdominal stretch but King saves. Martel sends him out of the ring with a dropkick. Garea chokes Rex and shoves the referee down. Heck breaks loose with King bashing Garea with the bone and putting Rex on top for three and the titles at 12:04. Turned into a fine match once the Moondogs got heat on Martel, but Garea is flat-out AWFUL. Nothing he does makes me get behind the babyfaces.
Tony Garea & Rick Martel vs. Mr. Fuji & Mr. Saito (w/ Captain Lou Albano)
Taped on October 13th, 1981 from Allentown, PA. Garea and Martel have regained the Tag Team Titles from the Moondogs (Rex and Spot), and now we suffer through one last match with Tony Garea before we reach greener pastures (looks ahead to see a bunch of Strongbow matches)… never mind. Albano wearing matching ring gear and a robe is pure dedication to the team, until he does the slanted-eyes gesture. Jesus… Vince lets us know before the bell rings that this will be a HUMDINGER. Fuji makes sure to toss the ceremonial salt. Martel and Fuji start. Lockup to the ropes and Fuji with a cheap shot. Whip and Martel with a hip toss, followed by a slam and pair of arm drags. Saito rushes in and gets caught with the arm drag and into the arm bar. Garea in to continue working the arm. He's nice enough to take at least one bump for Saito before regaining control. Fuji back in and he's stuck in the same predicament. Martel with a cross body press for two and back to the arm bar. Saito in, more selling. I'm seriously tired of this era of heels looking like crap. Saito takes over and the foreign menaces work Garea over in the corner. It took me a solid 5-minutes to notice Saito is wearing BOOTS. What kind of evil Japanese monster wears BOOTS? Garea is selling more for Fuji than anyone in the last two matches combined. Fuji must've threatened to barbeque his dog or something if he didn't make him look good. Lots of chopping from Fuji and Saito. Pat Patterson desperately tries to rationalize how the referee can be confused by Fuji and Saito doing an illegal switch. Garea gives Fuji a slam but misses a dropkick for a near-fall. Saito with a slam for two. Flying knee drop for two. Whip to the corner and Saito whiffs on the big chop. Martel finally gets the hot tag and sends Saito across the ring with a hip toss, followed by a fling head-scissors. Whip and a fist to the midsection, followed by a sunset flip from Garea for two. Whip and Martel with a dropkick. Crisscross and Garea wallops Saito with a back elbow. Martel climbs the ropes but Fuji throws salt in his eyes mid-dive and Saito rolls through the three and the belts at 9:49. Good match once Garea started selling (for once).
Mr. Fuji & Mr. Saito (w/ Captain Lou Albano) vs. Jay & Jules Strongbow
Taped on October 26th, 1982 from Allentown, PA and broadcast on November 16th. We're skipping these teams swapping the belts earlier in the year since I don't have footage at the ready for either switch. The Strongbow's are officially introduced as BROTHERS. Jay Strongbow is a spry 54 at this point and looking every day that age, if not older. Woah, is that DANNY DAVIS working as the referee? Jules and Fuji start. Lockup to the ropes, Jules blocks a right and knocks Fuji down with an overhead chop. Whip to the corner and Jules with a hip toss, followed by some goofy dancing that I guess is some poor imitation at a war dance. Fuji takes a few slams and bails, leaving Saito to sell for these goofs. Jay looks so Italian I can see the Stromboli dripping from his lips. Whip and Jay with a double chop for two. Jules (who is 24 years the junior to his "brother") with a chop for two. Jay hooks a sleeper, but Fuji saves. Jules runs wild again but Fuji is able to cut him down to size. Saito with a Russian leg sweep for two. Fuji carelessly knocks Jules into his own corner, allowing Jay to tag in. When the moon hits your eye like a fistful of salt that's amore. Saito with a whip and boot to the midsection for two. Whip and Jay surprises Saito with a Thesz Press for three at 6:08. Well, this one wasn't good, but the crowd ate it up like a bowl full of linguine.
Jay & Jules Strongbow vs. The Wild Samoans (w/ Captain Lou Albano)
Taped on March 8th, 1983 from Allentown, PA and broadcast on March 19th. I think I've exhausted all my jokes about the "Brothers" Strongbow that I can. I guess I should say by the end of 1983, Jay qualified as a Senior Citizen under modern era rules. He somehow looks 5 years older here than he was 5 months ago. Jules and Afa start. We get a classic promo voiced over from the Fink hyping some small town shows. Jules catches Afa off the ropes in a sleeper but eats a turnbuckle. Afa misses an elbow, allowing Jay to come in and act like everyone's liquored up Italian grandad, stumbling around like a mess. IN NO UNIVERSE DO THESE TWO LOOK LIKE BROTHERS. I know there's families with a wide age range from oldest to youngest siblings, but Jay literally looks like Jules' grandpa. Jay manages a baseball slide and takes Afa over with an arm drag. Holy crap, I didn't know Pa-Pop had it in him. Jules, cosplaying as his brother grandpa, comes in to take the heat since Jay's hip isn't insured. Sika with a whip and elbow, but Jay is knocked into his own corner. Jules can't make one decent decision in the ring, constantly caught in danger and looking to the old folk's home to carry the offense. This match is a total mess to watch. Jay looks like Bill Eadie does now in 2020, and Eadie's pushing 80. Jay gets wiped out with a double headbutt. Double clothesline to Jules and Afa finishes with a Samoan Drop for their 3rd reign as Tag Team Champions at 5:25. This match was a dumpster fire.
The Wild Samoans (w/ Captain Lou Albano) vs. Rocky Johnson & Tony Atlas
Taped on November 15th, 1983 from Allentown, PA and broadcast on December 10th. We're Joined in Progress, with Afa in control with a nerve hold. Johnson fights free with elbows but gets caught off the ropes with a fist to the midsection. Sika and Afa with double stomping for two. Rocky fights out of a second nerve hold and nails Sika with a punt to the chest. The Samoans keep Johnson in their corner. Johnson uses the ropes for leverage to escape a nerve hold and a shoulder tackle knocks both men down. Johnson goes for a slam but Afa falls on top for two. Sika with ANOTHER nerve hold. For a TV match, they're working like a 30-minute Broadway. Atlas FINALLY gets the hot tag and unloads with right hands. Double Noggin Knocker WORKS! Heck breaks loose with all four men in the ring. Atlas with a slam on Afa, knocking the referee down in the process. Albano hops on the apron for the distraction. He brings a chair into the ring but smashes it over the head of Afa, allowing Johnson to cover for the titles at 3:53 (shown of an alleged 8:22). Albano, instead of doing anything to break the pin, just waddles out of the ring like it's not a NO DQ Match. Points to Afa still wearing the broken chair around his neck. Nothing to the action but a great finish.
Rocky Johnson & Tony Atlas vs. Dick Murdoch & Adrian Adonis
Taped on April 17th, 1984 from Allentown, PA, and broadcast on May 12th. Albano is NOT managing Adonis and Murdoch. Although he ended up associated with them by the Summer, at this point, he was managing singles guys like Greg Valentine and Buzz Sawyer. Johnson and Adonis start. Adonis tries a surprise attack, but Johnson catches him (and Murdoch) with a series of arm drags. Adonis picks the leg and runs the ropes, only to get caught with a slam. Atlas with a shot from the apron and Johnson goes back to work with the arm bar. Murdoch in and we get the tried and true "heel runs into an arm drag and gets caught in an arm bar" formula. Murdoch NIPS UP to counter, but Atlas quickly turns it back in his favor. Murdoch forces a break in the corner and throws some short rights. Whip across the ring and Atlas meets an elbow. Adonis in with lefts and knees to the body. Whip and the challengers with a double elbow. Atlas rocks Murdoch with a headbutt but wanders to the wrong corner and gets hung across the top rope. Atlas gives Adonis a headbutt and Johnson gets the tag, hitting Adonis with a dropkick. Adonis and Murdoch are sent on a collision course. Johnson with a Boston Crab but Murdoch makes the save. Heck breaks loose and Adonis rolls Johnson up (without being able to get to his feet for leverage) for three and the belts at 4:58. Fine match, though the finish looked awful.
Final Thoughts: An underwhelming era for the belts, though that's more to do with the titles being an afterthought for the company. As I combed through results, I was surprised to see how often the belts weren't defended, either because the Champions were split up into singles matches or put into 6-man tags. Rick Martel was clearly a star to be, looking like he was moving at 5-times the speed of the other babyface Champions we were looking at (I'm looking at you, Garea and Strongbow "Brothers"). Just a lot of "same old stuff" with repeat Champions and digging up Garea, Fuji, and Strongbow for multiple reigns each with new partners. With the Expansion Era on the horizon, we can only hope to see some of these dinosaurs of a bygone era left in the rear-view mirror.
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