Smackdown Live likes to call itself “the land of opportunity” every chance it gets. You can see it in the show’s women’s division, in stars like James Ellsworth getting a chance to shine against main eventers like AJ Styles, and in the relative rookie Baron Corbin getting a serious upper card feud against Dean Ambrose less than a year after his slow start of a main roster debut.
It makes you wonder, then, why the tag team division hasn’t had the same opportunities.
It felt like they did at first. The storyline with Heath Slater and Rhyno coming together to win the tag team championship and a contract and financial stability for Slater was glorious right out of the gate, but since then, it’s felt like the tag team division of Smackdown Live has been an afterthought. It’s especially glaring when compared to Raw, where teams like The New Day and Enzo and Cass have been huge moneymakers, and where we’ve gotten to see Cesaro and Sheamus organically grow as a team since September. And Smackdown’s downhill slide has only gotten worse of late, becoming more obvious since American Alpha’s reign as Smackdown Tag Team Champions began.
American Alpha had a stellar first half of 2016. A beloved team in NXT, Jason Jordan and Chad Gable had several match of the year contenders with The Revival in pursuit of the NXT Tag Team Championships, successfully gaining them at NXT Takeover: Dallas. They were also the first of four NXT picks in the draft for Smackdown Live and were early favorites to win the titles before The Usos turned heel on them.
Then… nothing. Well, nothing for most of the tag teams, really. The Usos had a brief go at Slater and Rhyno and there seemed to be several false starts for Breezango and The Ascension, but then the titles shifted to The Wyatt Family for a short time. American Alpha won the titles in an elimination match at the end of 2016 after an injury to Zack Ryder made the Hype Bros ineligible to compete as #1 contenders. By early 2017, it was obvious that the tag team titles were just brief props in the current saga of the Wyatt Family, and that American Alpha was nothing but second bananas. Since then, they’ve had no real solid feuds and barely any TV time. Even their main event spot this week against the revitalized Usos was just background noise to the concern over Shane McMahon’s well-being, and it’s not clear if they’ll actually get to compete at WrestleMania this year, despite the rumors and mounting evidence of it being a seven hour affair.
Smackdown Live has a wonderfully solid tag division with a lot of diversity in style and potential for story. However, for a show that prides itself on giving opportunities, it really doesn’t afford any of it to the tag teams. There’s a lot you can say about how Raw manages its roster and time, but I at least know I’m actually going to see some of the tag teams and the tag team champs in some form or fashion every week when I tune in. For Smackdown Live, you’re just lucky if the tag champs get an opportunity to walk to the ring at all.
Ashley Leckwold is a freelance writer based out of Atlanta who specializes in comic books, professional wrestling, and pop-punk music. Besides being regularly found at Graphic Policy and The Outhousers, you can find her at her blog and on Twitter @misskittyf.