clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A Few Good Men: How the Usos’ Dominance Revives the Tag Team Division in WWE

The Usos aren’t where they are just because they’re Roman Reigns’s family. In 2022, their work helped elevate an oft-neglected section of pro wrestling.

WWE/Ringer illustration

You may have noticed over the last few weeks in this space that we’ve mostly focused on big-picture, broad concepts about the general direction of WWE, or the historical context that helped orientate the company in that way. Some of this has been happenstance, but a significant reason for that focus is that there’s simply been nothing doing on our WWE Power Board, the source from which all our knowledge springs forth in the Palace of Wisdom.

Although a sizable chunk of performers have been removed from tracking because they weren’t working consistently—Brock Lesnar, Edge, Omos, and Matt Riddle have all been pulled in just the last few updates—and, by extension, some debuts (and returns) have filled in their places, there hasn’t been much movement (or push) for anyone in our rankings since, essentially, Crown Jewel. (And in reality, probably Extreme Rules.)

That was until last week, when after months of creeping ever closer, the undisputed WWE tag team champions the Usos finally surpassed their cousin, undisputed WWE champion Roman Reigns, to become the no. 2 performers on the Big Board (behind the center of our WWE Universe, Raw Women’s champion Bianca Belair).

Now, of course, it’s not as though in achieving such lofty heights, Jimmy Uso and Jey Uso instantly became the Tribal Chiefs, the Heads of the Table, or even the second-most important act in the Bloodline.

It also unfortunately doesn’t mean that, all of a sudden, all WWE premium live events will be headlined by the Usos and a series of worthy (but ultimately overmatched) competitors in tag team championship matches (we say “unfortunately” because their matches are almost uniformly dope). But it definitely represents a change on the micro and macro levels of how they are presented and what the show will look like going forward.

For the Usos, personally, this push toward the top of the card is the culmination of a career that has mostly stood next to something that felt bigger than themselves. With Reigns no longer appearing on TV every week, they have become the messengers for the Bloodline in a literal sense on-screen and, in particular, on house shows. As of this week’s Raw, the Usos have worked 26 matches since the start of November and 17 of them at live events, many of which involve the Usos both opening and closing the show.

It’s not like they’ve been coasting on TV, either. Of their three title defenses in the same period, the shortest was 14 minutes (with the other two combining for over 40 minutes in total), and there’s another (already filmed) title defense coming this Friday against Hit Row on SmackDown. The other two matches they worked since the beginning of last month were a 20-minute, six-man tag match against Matt Riddle and the New Day; and the only TV match they’d lost (before Monday night) in this timeframe, a nearly 15-minute match against Drew McIntyre and Sheamus for the WarGames match advantage.

While this stretch is particularly busy and bountiful, the Usos aren’t cramming for some kind of imaginary test before the new year. They’ve worked the second-most matches in our tracking system since the start of 2021—yes, McIntyre is still eight matches ahead of them by himself, despite not working in three weeks, but they also spotted him six months at the beginning of last year—at 194 after Raw this past Monday.

Working this much has made it so that although the Usos don’t have the pure promotional push of Reigns, the amount they work means they’ve become (along with Sami Zayn) the critical characters in the men’s division on either show. They don’t have the force of will that a character like Roman or Bray Wyatt does, but their sheer ubiquity has made it so that they matter simply because so much of the show would need to be replaced if they were unavailable one reason or another.

Which obviously hasn’t made for light work so far this year. Just in those past few title defenses mentioned above, the Usos have managed to become the longest reigning tag team champions in WWE history—defeating the previous record holders, their longtime rivals the New Day, to cap off the achievement—and over the course of the entire year, they’ve been undefeated on pay-per-view and premium live events (7-0) with five title defenses, including three after their unification of the Raw and SmackDown tag team titles over seven months ago.

This run hasn’t quite been Reignsian—as we’ve discussed, the only actual weakness of the Bloodline is six-man tag matches at house shows, in which they are well under .500, which has become even more pronounced without Roman—but it’s definitely established them as the dominant tag team in the company and, at least according to some outside sources, the best tag team in the world.

For a very long time, such a distinction would have been essentially meaningless in WWE. The previous regime was not particularly keen on (actual) tag teams, vacillating between using the division as the lowest quality filler meat—think, like, whatever they might use to make taquitos at a tiny gas station in Barstow, California, only more so and with bacne—or as a punching bag/catalyst for a “more important” main-event feud.

Before Vince McMahon left WWE during this year’s build-up to SummerSlam, he had booked just three “actual” tag matches on the six PLEs outside of WrestleMania (where the “everybody in the pool” nature of the proceedings almost makes those matches count less, as though that’s the only time they can even be bothered) of which he was in charge—and two of those came on the same show, Day 1 in January. (There was also a mixed tag at the Royal Rumble with the It Couple versus Beth Phoenix and Edge, and a gimmicked match at Elimination Chamber with Ronda Rousey and Naomi versus Charlotte Flair and Sonya DeVille, wherein Rousey had to work with one arm tied behind her back. Obviously, neither had any bearing on the actual tag divisions, and both speak to the complete unseriousness with which McMahon approached the genre.)

While Triple H hasn’t exactly produced a show called “Oops, All Tag Matches!,” he has definitely increased the emphasis on them at PLEs, with an average of one match per show he’s booked (as well as using the champion Usos and Damage CTRL in the headlining matches for Survivor Series WarGames). Overall, in the time period we covered in our survey of the empirical differences between Vince McMahon and Triple H, Hunter had managed to put together an extra two hours of tag team matches in the shows he produced, presumably because he doesn’t seem to have Vince’s extremely well-established aversion to properly compensating his employees the financial “burden” of tag teams.

Given his artistic influences, Triple H almost certainly enjoys tag matches more as a narrative conceit than McMahon did. He also can probably do the back-of-the-napkin math on how many more options are available to fill time and how many different pairings can be made with a tag team feud relative to the singles alternatives: When you need to fill at least one extra segment a week with wrestling, experimenting with six different narrative choices per feud—each performer can have two matches with their opponents (one with each member of the other team) and a handicap match as well—seems worth the extra cost of needing to keep an additional person or two employed to make it work.

At the very least, H has emphasized tag team title matches on TV since taking over—again, as of Friday, the Usos will have had four tag title defenses in the last month and a half on TV, which is absolutely unheard of—as part of a two-prong strategy (along with the U.S./Intercontinental title divisions) to fill the hole left by Roman Reigns’s regular absence from in-ring competition on weekly shows.

In addition to shifting some spotlight back on the tag divisions, Triple H has now begun to use the men’s and women’s tag champs—and the Usos in particular—as the tip of the spear, narratively. Damage CTRL’s chaotic campaign has largely been confined to Mondays in terms of their leader’s focus; but, with Monday’s episode of Raw, SmackDown’s rampaging Bloodline (led by Jimmy and Jey, at the behest of Roman) has further shifted the dynamic of WWE’s weekly television shows from places where anything can happen to a place where it explicitly does on either show.

When it was used to attempt to goose the ratings and focus eyeballs during the yearly Survivor Series campaign to try and make us care about whether someone is wearing a red or blue shirt during a match, it fell flat. Now, at least it has a reason that goes beyond “Oh shit, we forgot to preheat the oven again, just throw some stiff punches and shots of riots in the locker room in the air fryer.”

Jimmy and Jey showing up to wreak havoc on Raw because the Bloodline doesn’t like Kevin Owens (as opposed to showing up on Raw just to beat up Kevin Owens because they don’t like Kevin Owens) means more than it appears on the surface: Although the borders between the shows have always been permeable, when they are explicitly challenged outside the context of some bullshit “brand warfare” is when the idea actually works and feels alive. And it’s not simply the Usos, Sami, and Solo showing up because they want to create havoc, or Roman Reigns trying to sabotage the other network’s show for shits and giggles.

Having both the Usos and Reigns as unified champions has essentially reshaped the entire men’s half of the WWE Universe in their image and, in response, the rules of engagement have changed to better suit their needs. Now, instead of merely functioning as some kind of raiders or agents of a specific brand, the Bloodline’s dominance means that all that the light touches is now their kingdom, but they also get to be the hyenas in the elephant graveyard.

They are on Raw because those are the performers they would need to compete against to maintain their stranglehold on the divisions, which is—even if it’s considered kind of shitty to do in kayfabe—a totally valid reason to shit where you eat (and/or antagonize literally all of your co-workers, even those who work in the Stamford office). What’s more, at least from a “logical storytelling” perspective, is that because they have an “us vs. the world” mindset, the Usos showing up together (alongside Sami Zayn-Uso and Solo) makes infinitely more sense than Roman showing up by himself or even with a crew.

One person, even when surrounded by their own army, will need to watch that army’s back nearly as much as their own. With partners like the Usos—twin brothers-in-arms—the nature of both their real-life relationship (even in kayfabe) and the requirements of their career (i.e., they each need one another to win) has built that kind of multitasking in the face of danger into who they are as characters. Tag guys are who you line up with when you want to cause trouble or teach someone a lesson so they’ll fall in line.

And by essentially ordering a code red, Reigns has made it crystal clear that he wants his cousins on that wall, that he needs them on that wall. However, running such an offensive operation is not exactly something that a leader like Roman usually does unless they are either unsure of themselves and the future, or so overconfident that they may end up putting the Usos in situations like the one they found themselves in this past Monday night. Their loss in an exceedingly charming shitshow to close out the December 19 Raw against Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens may have come at the end of a string of run-ins, but the interference was—excluding Austin Theory attacking Rollins, obviously—largely a series of self-inflicted hoists by a variety of Bloodline-brand pitards planted throughout the night.

Which as the Bloodline spreads itself thinner—though we have to assume they will largely stay away from the Capitol Wrestling Center—is exactly the kind of thing that Jimmy and Jey may no longer want to fuck around and find out, especially if they might perceive whatever request as the bidding of the Tribal Chief (after, say, losing their unified tag titles). At which point, all of the things that have been suppressed over the last two years between the three of them—along with their own brother Solo and the Honorary Uce over the past few months—may come to a head and will likely end with each of them doing things that they will end up regretting.

For now, however, the Usos find themselves the Twos—like, in a fun, charming way—carrying the Bloodline to the highest levels in company history, while pushing their division’s, faction’s, and family’s legacies forward in equal measure in a way that not even Roman Reigns can quite claim. We will have to wait to find out whether, whenever this entire unit becomes unsustainable, that’s a truth that Roman Reigns can handle.

Nick Bond (@TheN1ckster) is the cofounder of the Institute of Kayfabermetrics and provides weekly updates to The Ringer’s WWE Power Board.