This week on Raw, Nia Jax walked out of a tag match to chase Mandy Rose and Dana Brooke, leaving Shayna Baszler to the wrath of Naomi and Lana.
Shayna wasn’t happy afterwards, perhaps foreshadowing a break-up - although the duo have bickered since they were first paired together, so it could all be forgotten in a week. Who knows?
What is certain, though, is that it wouldn’t be a surprise if they parted ways.
These days, WWE have a borderline obsession with breaking tag teams apart. It’s a habit which at first seemed like a funny Vince McMahon booking quirk, like his brief fascination with restarting matches after every commercial break. It was something for us to roll our eyes at. But now the consequences have become far more damaging.
Were Shayna and Nia to break up, I like to think they’d probably be fine. They’re both singles stars who were thrown together in the first place, and are therefore familiar enough to us as individuals. But what about the likes of Peyton Royce, Billie Kay and Tucker? When The IIconics and Heavy Machinery were disbanded, it didn’t just rob these Superstars of their momentum. It gave them no chance of recovery at all.
Even before The IIconics’ split, many of us guessed they’d be worse off on their own. Their chemistry was so apparent and genuine, it would always feel like something was missing in singles competition. But the surprising thing was just how precise and straightforward their decline turned out to be.
Traditionally, when a popular tag team has ended, the members at least enjoy small honeymoon periods as individuals; with Billie and Peyton, the negative effects were immediately obvious. Royce became a weirdly straightforward Raw Superstar with little in the way of personality, while Kay was launched headlong into a purely comedic role, all her previous cunning removed. Peyton’s charisma was gone, as was Billie’s legitimacy, each missing what the other now had in excess. Rarely has the booking of a former tag team disappointed in such predictable fashion.
It’s easy to feel bad for The IIconics, and we absolutely should. But as little a chance as they were given post-split, another recent WWE release was given far less.
When Tucker turned on Otis at last year’s Hell in a Cell, he seemed doomed to be the ‘Jannetty’ - the slightly mean-spirited term for the ‘lesser’ member of a former tag team. The one who doesn’t become a singles star, essentially. But on the plus side, Tucker at least had a built-in storyline to salvage some momentum as a midcard heel. We were all expecting a straightforward feud between the two, one which easily wrote itself. Tucker would be envious of Otis’ popularity and success, while Otis, in turn, would behave very much like Otis.
But as absurd as it sounds, that storyline never happened. Tucker was instead drafted away to Raw, where he was given a new set of (terrible) ring attire, and essentially taken off television - save for the occasional 24/7 Championship segment. Again, the reasons for this are maddeningly unclear.
At present of course, only one member of these former teams remains on the WWE roster - and despite being one of the most natural babyfaces around, he’s inexplicably been turned heel. While it’s not certain that Peyton, Billie and Tucker would have kept their jobs had The IIconics and Heavy Machinery stayed together, they’d have certainly been in positions of greater relevance, and therefore stood a much better chance.
The worst part about WWE’s break-up fixation is how needless it is.
So many recent tag teams have given their members a boost, allowing them to bounce off one another and bring their personalities to the fore, only to be cut short in callous fashion. Just look at Fire and Desire, or Andrade and Angel Garza - or if we extend this thinking to stables, former groups such as Retribution and (most frustratingly) the Hurt Business. Alliances are being regularly severed for the sake of it, whether they’re entertaining or not, sometimes with no real explanation given to the audience.
I’m not fundamentally against the idea of break-ups in wrestling. After all, what would have become of Bret, Shawn, Edge and Jeff Hardy if they’d stayed in their tag teams forever. Even certain ‘Jannettys’ have gone on to have legendary careers, as Christian and Matt Hardy have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. Most teams don’t last forever, and that’s fine, but their break-ups at least served a purpose. WWE seem to have forgotten the second half of this equation: the push after the split.
This careless, harmful booking is, I believe, a symptom of a wider problem.
We’ve all heard recent reports of Vince arriving late to Raw, rewriting the show in a hurry, and so on. We’re now used to WWE’s obsession with short-term ‘moments’, and their increasingly clumsy relationship with continuity. All in all, it feels like the company’s attention span has shortened beyond the point of coherent storytelling, and the tag team division is a major casualty of this.
As we’ve seen in recent weeks, this has caused damage in a far more direct way than ever before. It's starting to cause real, tangible harm, and WWE need to address it now.