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The History of the WWF Tag Team Championship: Part 5

by Scrooge McSuck

Hart Foundation

Last time in our "History of the WWF Tag Team Championship", The Tag Team Championship experienced a British Invasion, when Davey Boy Smith and the Dynamite Kid, the British Bulldogs, won the gold at WrestleMania 2 and held them throughout the remainder of 1986. Unfortunately, Dynamite's body, after years of substance and steroid abuse, finally gave out in a match in Hamilton, Ontario. With Dynamite hospitalized and in no physical condition to perform, the future of the team was in jeopardy, and it was clear that a decision must be made to move the belts elsewhere. With an 8-month-long reign under their belt as the calendar flipped to 1987, it was only a matter of time until the Bulldogs dropped the belts, regardless of serious injury to one of the men holding the straps.

Curiously, the WWF taped for syndication on January 5th at the Meadowlands Arena and January 6th in Hershey, PA and didn't do a title switch there, even with Davey Boy Smith in attendance for the second taping (and part of a match taped for Coliseum Video and International TV). Sometime between these dates and the taping in Tampa on January 26th, a decision was finally made, and the Bulldogs would lose the Tag Titles that night... to the team of Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik. WHAT?!?! Yes, in the Fall of 1986, after a long program that saw Volkoff mostly working singles in a feud with Corporal Kirchner, the former Tag Team Champions were reheated, and with Fred Blassie's looming retirement, they were given a new manager, the Doctor of Style, Slick, a shady businessman who was throwing money around like water. Wait a moment, what do you mean this isn't how the chronological history of the belts goes. Though the decision was made to put the belts on Sheik and Volkoff, Dynamite Kid (allegedly) balked at the idea, refusing to put them over, and threatening that if they wanted the belts, they'd have to take it from him at home. The only team he was willing to show up to the arena for would be a team that the Bulldogs were familiar with and had countless battles with that would steal the show in all the towns they worked.

As Vince McMahon expanded nationally, it wasn;t just the territories of the United States that McMahon targeted. Expanding north of the border, McMahon first took over Toronto when he convinced the Tunney family into abandoning relationships with the NWA and exclusively working with the WWF, absorbing Maple Leaf Wrestling in the process. Elsewhere, Stu Hart's Stampede Wrestling, based in Calgary, was going through hardships with a six-month ban handed down for a riot that broke out during one of their heated angles. Seeing the writing on the wall, Stu accepted McMahon's offer, with the condition he also give contracts to three wrestlers: The aforementioned Davey Boy Smith and Dynamite Kid, and the 8th of his 12 children, Bret. There are conflicting reports that Stu's son-in-law, Jim Neidhart, was included in the deal, but based on the timeline, it doesn't line up properly, but it makes for a better story, right?

Bret, like Davey Boy and Dynamite, was brought in immediately, mostly working the Canadian shows and TV tapings in Poughkeepsie as a prelim babyface. There's a hilarious story from him where he was presented with the idea of being a cowboy, and declining the idea because where he comes from, if you act like a cowboy, you better be a cowboy, and to make a long story short (too late), he wasn't a cowboy. Though lacking any serious push or much charisma, he was put over huge by one of the lead-voices in the company, Gorilla Monsoon, with Monsoon noting time after time Bret had "excellence of execution" for how crisp and effective everything he did looked. Jim Neidhart on the other hand was a completely different style of worker. A professional football hopeful and record-setting shot put thrower, Neidhart was a tank who used his size to bulldoze opponents, rarely utilizing much wrestling technique. Brought into the company in early 1985, Neidhart was given a mid-card push as a singles heel with MR. FUJI of all people as his manager. The pairing didn't last long, and Neidhart was soon handed off to Jimmy Hart with little fanfare. With neither man gaining traction in a cluttered roster of territory superstars, they eventually came up with the idea of Bret (or was it spelled "Brett"?) turning heel and form a tag team with Neidhart. Though they are best known as "The Hart Foundation", the name started out as the stable name of Jimmy Hart's crew, not exclusively to Bret and Neidhart. Despite this new change in direction, the Hart Foundation were little more than mid-card fodder for the top teams, with their shining moment being the last two men disposed of by Andre the Giant at the WrestleMania 2 Battle Royal.

With Bret and Neidhart ultimately chosen to take the belts off the Bulldogs, now it was time to take a long-simmering storyline to the next level. For months, there were hints and concerns that the officiating of Danny Davis wasn't always on the up and up. He'd favor the heels, ignoring their blatant cheating, while reprimanding babyfaces for the simplest of excuses, sometimes completely fabricated ones. Heels were protected with lame-excuse Disqualifications, and every week Vince McMahon would blow his top trying to convince everyone how corrupt Davis was (Jesse Ventura would have none of it, naturally). Whether or not it was planned, Danny Davis (in his beige khaki glory) also was the third man in the ring when Randy Savage stole the Intercontinental Championship from Tito Santana at the Boston Garden in February of 1986. With the wheels in motion for the crooked referee, and the babyface Champions needing to drop the belts immediately, it was time for the perfect plan to come into play...

WWF Tag Team Championship Match:
The British Bulldogs (c) vs. The Hart Foundation (w/ Jimmy Hart):

Taped on January 26, 1987, from the Sun-Dome in Tampa, FL, and featured on the February 7 episode of Superstars of Wrestling. Dynamite's injury occurred about 6-weeks earlier, and he's still in no physical condition to be anywhere near a wrestling ring. We don't see the entrance, but Davey Boy literally carries him to the ring in what had to be the biggest red flag for fans in attendance. These days, they would've sent Davey Boy out there by himself, or simply stripped them of the titles. No way in hell a man as severely injured as Dynamite even dresses out, let alone goes to the ring. Davey Boy chases the Foundation with Matilda while Jimmy Hart nails Dynamite with the megaphone, knocking him out on the floor. Smith with a clothesline to Bret and a scoop slam on the Anvil. He takes Bret over with a delayed suplex and tosses Neidhart out of the ring as we get a replay. Back to the live action, it's still 2-on-1 while referee Danny Davis looks over Dynamite on the floor. Smith somehow remains in control despite being short a partner. Bret takes the chest-first bump into the corner and Smith whips Neidhart into him. Smith with a dropkick, knocking Bret out of the ring. He scoops up Neidhart and plants him with a Power-Slam, but Davis conveniently exits the ring to admonish the barely conscious Dynamite Kid. Smith pulls Davis back to the apron by the hair, opening the door for the Hart Foundation to finally take control. Whip to the ropes and they connect with a double elbow, followed by a double DDT. Bret with the Hart Attack and Neidhart covers for three at 2:57 to become the NEW WWF Tag Team Champions. If there was any doubt Danny Davis wasn't a fair referee, here we go with evidence to convict, with non-stop chaos from the challengers finally putting Davey Boy down in what was basically a handicap match.

With the Hart Foundation and Danny Davis finally showing their hand, it didn't take long for the repercussions to be dealt swiftly from above. President Jack Tunney would make the unprecedented decision to suspend Danny Davis from his duties as a WWF referee for life... PLUS TEN YEARS. Way to take the p*ss out of something by tacking something on strictly for comedic effect. Unfortunately for Mr. Tunney, the Foundation would have the last laugh, with Jimmy Hart gleefully announcing that Danny Davis was training to be a professional wrestler. Of course, smart fans at the time might have known that Davis, while performing as a referee, would often moonlight as a wrestler, working under a mask as the mysterious Mr. X. Maybe it was false bravado announcing Davis' ventures into being a full-time wrestler, especially knowing that Davis was considerably smaller than even the smallest men on the roster, but it didn't take long before Davis' first match was announced: teaming with the Hart Foundation against three men who had their careers directly affected by Davis; The British Bulldogs and Tito Santana, and the match would take place in front of nearly 100,000 fans at the Pontiac Silverdome (we'll ignore Davis working a few house shows against Koko B. Ware, the only babyface who might have been shorter than Davis).

To the casual audience watching at home, Danny Davis' participation was the biggest mystery heading into the big event, but there was still the lingering questions and concern about the health of the Dynamite Kid. Following the Tampa tapings, he would stay out of the ring for another month before returning to action on March 8 at the Meadowlands in a match that went roughly 30-seconds and involved zero work from him. That trend would continue, with Davey Boy shouldering the workload while Dynamite would spend entire matches on the apron. Dynamite's first real action wouldn't be until WrestleMania III. While not a masterpiece, the match told the story it needed to tell: The Bulldogs and Santana were less concerned with winning the match than dishing out as much punishment they could to the former referee that screwed them out of their respective titles. After taking big move after big move, Davis would get the last laugh as he was handed Jimmy Hart's megaphone and knocked out Davey Boy Smith to steal the fall. Not only did Davis screw this team out of their titles, now he's embarrassed them at the biggest show in company history.

In the months following WrestleMania III, the Hart Foundation would routinely defeat the British Bulldogs on the house show loop, often in Cage Matches where the gimmick is both members of a team were required to exit the cage to secure victory. Once that series finally ran its course, the Foundation would jump from challenger to challenger with little storyline investments. First in line were the Killer Bees, a team consisting of Jim Brunzell and Brian Blair that floundered in the mid-card for the better part of two years at this point. While technically proficient, neither man oozed charisma. The only effort into making them stand out was a "masked confusion" gimmick where the Bees would don masks, often mid-match, to confuse their opponents. Yes, that sounds like an underhanded thing to do, and no, it didn't do much in catapulting them into the top of the division. To make matters worse, this short run against the Foundation came at a time when Blair was missing dates, so Brunzell would be paired with whatever random babyfaces the WWF could scrounge, including Koko B. Ware and Hillbilly Jim.

After the Bees came Jacques and Raymond Rougeau, another team of perfectly fine workers who never had the support in being pushed as more than two guys to fill out the card. Arguably their most memorable moment would be one that didn't happen for a television audience and would fly under the radar to the North American audience for years. On August 10th, 1987, at the Montreal Forum, the Rougeau Brothers defeated the Hart Foundation for the Tag Team Titles, with the use of Jimmy Hart's megaphone. Footage was featured on the local news, immortalizing the moment, but it turns out that the finish was meant to be one of those "oh wait" moments where the titles were returned on a technicality caught after the fall was counted. While those finishes were commonplace in the AWA or Jim Crockett Promotions, the WWF would usually resort to cheap DQ's and Count-Outs without misleading audiences. What makes this "Dusty Finish" more complex is that they didn't return to Montreal with a rematch! Instead, the Rougeaus spent the next few months in tag team purgatory before the idea was kicked around to turn them heel.

We've established a lack of storyline development for the Hart Foundation coming out of WrestleMania III, but as the summer heated up, the Foundation would be directly involved into two pieces of business that don't get much coverage. The first bit of business was doing a series of matches on syndication against Jim Powers and Paul Roma. Both men came along with the WWF in 1984 and 1985 as enhancement talent, and both were clean-cut, good lucking young men with physiques that outclassed most of the other prelim workers. Naturally cast as babyfaces, they would show up regularly at the syndication tapings, and over time were used in prelim roles on the house show loop, often paired up either to put over an established team like the Islanders or to have competitive matches with teams like the Shadows or Conquistadors. Meanwhile, in attempt to juice house show business, Mr. T was brought back for the first time since the infamous WrestleMania 2 to be a special enforcer, or in laymen's terms, be a bias babyface referee. One of his first assignments was a non-title match between the Foundation and Roma and Powers, taped on July 15th from Glens Falls, NY. After Bret and Anvil cheated their way to victory, T made the controversial decision to award the match to Roma and Powers. Two weeks later, the duo would upset Kamala and Sika, and shortly after, the duo was branded "The Young Stallions" after a passing comment from Vince McMahon during one of their matches on Superstars. The Stallions parlayed their newfound success and would unsuccessfully challenge the Hart Foundation for the Titles on the October 3 episode of Saturday Night's Main Event. Despite being part of the surviving group of their team at the upcoming Survivor Series, the Stallions were quickly positioned back where they started, as prelim guys who struggled against established talent, and would go 50/50 with the prelim heels. As for Mr. T, his appearances were limited to a few weeks' worth of dates before quietly disappearing from the WWF picture.

With the British Bulldogs disposed of and Dynamite's career on its last legs, the Rougeau Brothers and Killer Bees not seen as next-level talent to carry the belts, and only establishing Roma and Powers for the sake of running more tours (welcome to the era of not just C-tours, BUT D-TOURS AS WELL!), who else could there be that could possibly take the belts off the Hart Foundation? Well, there is one team on the babyface side of the depth chart that we haven't talked about. In fact, the story of them possibly winning the belts dates to before the Hart Foundation won the belts! Bret and Jim's reign was never designed to be a long one, but the team positioned to be their successors as Champions weren't long for the company, with jealousy and personal politics fracturing the team behind the scenes. We'll break here, and dig into the archives and enjoy some matches featuring the Hart Foundation defending the Tag Team Titles against some of the teams we've covered, starting with...

The Hart Foundation (w/ Jimmy Hart & Danny Davis) vs. The Rougeau Brothers:

Taped on March 7, 1987, from the Boston Garden. The Foundation have a date with the Bulldogs and Tito Santana at WrestleMania III, while the Rougeau Brothers are due for battle against Johnny Valiant's Dream Team of Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake (NOW FEATURING DINO BRAVO). Monsoon gets a word at ringside from Davis as we wait for the action to start. Jacques and Bret start, with Bret using a bunch of stall tactics. Bret wants a knuckle-lock and doesn't hesitate to plant a boot to the midsection. Jacques sweeps Bret off his feet and slaps him across the face in retaliation. Neidhart tags in and immediately pulls the straps down to psyche himself up. Lockup and he shoves Raymond into the ropes. They do it again, with Raymond bouncing back and knocking Anvil on his rear with a forearm. The Rougeau's take turns working the arm, but carelessly allow Neidhart to get to his corner. Bret in with a slam, but he misses an elbow drop and gets caught in the arm bar. Raymond with a "reverse mule kick" to the midsection, followed by a snap mare. Jacques comes off the ropes with a seated splash across the knee, followed by a wish bone. Bret tries kicking Jacques off, unsuccessfully. Plan B is a rake of the eyes for Raymond. A distraction on the apron allows Neidhart to clobber Raymond from behind and clothesline him across the top rope. Bret with the illegal switch, hitting an inverted atomic drop. The Foundation with excessive choking while the referee is distracted by Jacques' complaining. Raymond fights out of a chin-lock, but a sunset flip is negated with Bret getting the tag mid-move. Whip and Raymond with a back-slide for two. Bret stays on Raymond, dropping elbows across the back of the head and dumping him to the floor. Back inside, Neidhart slaps on a bearhug. Raymond fights free but is stuck in the corner of the Champions. Bret with a back breaker for two. Raymond brings up a boot in the corner and makes the slow crawl to his corner, but the referee misses the tag. We get heel miscommunication, allowing the real hot tag. Jacques runs wild, hitting Bret with a knife-edge chop and flying fist drop. Whip and a hip toss into a short arm-scissors. Neidhart makes the save, and that brings in Raymond. Heck breaks loose with the Rougeau's in full control. They hit Bret with the Tower of Quebec, but Neidhart saves again. Jacques with a small package, but Davis runs in to turn it over, putting Bret on top for three at 14:56. The crowd was fully invested in this one. Not a masterpiece, but you can tell this was better than a lot of matches at the time (as far as the WWF is concerned). ***¼

The Hart Foundation (w/ Jimmy Hart) vs. The British Bulldogs:

Taped on July 25, 1987, from Madison Square Garden, and one of the last televised meetings between the two teams (they would face each other in a taped Houston show in November, but the Foundation were no longer recognized as Champions, so it isn't included here). The Bulldogs have their mascot, Matilda with them. Jimmy sells for the dog while the action kicks off. Bret pounds away on Davey Boy in the corner. Smith gets choked out with the tag rope while the octogenarian referee plays dumb. Whip is reversed and we get heel miscommunication. Dynamite in with the DOUBLE NOGGIN KNOCKER. He lights up Bret with a forearm and takes him over with a snap suplex for two. Smith drops Bret with a headbutt and grabs a chin-lock. Whip and Smith with a crucifix cradle for two. Dynamite with a short clothesline for two as Monsoon notes the Bulldogs look to be back at 100% (wishful thinking there, Gorilla). Bret goes to the eyes to cut him off, but Dynamite has the wherewithal to grab a headlock and take him to the corner. Davey Boy with a fisherman suplex for two. THAT'S THE PATENTED MOVE OF THE KING HARLEY RACE! Neidhart finally tags in and works Dynamite over with clubbering blows. Bret pulls Dynamite to the floor and introduces him to the guardrail before rolling him back in the ring. Neidhart holds Dynamite across the knee as Bret hits an elbow from the second rope. Bret lays in a series of forearm uppercuts. He scoops Dynamite up for a slam, but Dynamite shifts his weight to land on top for two. Bret quickly recovers, hitting a leg drop to the back of the head. Dynamite fights off Neihart, but Bret cuts him off from getting to his corner. Davey Boy gets the tag, but the referee doesn't see it. Dynamite avoids Bret being whipped into the corner, then dumps Neidhart over the top rope. Smith with the hot tag, running wild on Hart with a clothesline and monkey-flip. Flying knee drop across the chest for a near-fall. Delayed vertical suplex for two. Davey Boy plants Bret with the running powerslam but Bret gets a foot on the ropes. Bret counters a second powerslam attempt, grabbing a sleeper. Dynamite from behind with a headbutt. Whip is reversed and Davey Boy dumps Bret across the top rope in an uncomfortable position. He tries to bring him in with a suplex, but Neidhart picks the ankle, allowing Bret to land on top for three at 10:36. This was non-stop action. You can tell Dynamite's limitations forced Davey Boy to carry the offense, but the pacing helped mask any issues coming with that territory. After all the matches these teams had for the New York market, it only made sense for them to throw bombs instead of a long chess game. ***½

The Hart Foundation vs. The Killer Bees:

Taped on September 18, 1987, from the Philadelphia Spectrum. We've got Dick Graham and Craig DeGeorge calling the action, so I'm lowering the volume. No Jimmy Hart at ringside. I'm guessing the Honkytonk Man is working elsewhere that night. The Foundation milk things after the bell for the removal of Bret's sunglasses. Who wears sunglasses indoors? Blair and Neidhart start. Lockup and Neidhart with a shove into the ropes. He pulls down the straps to show off his belly. They do the spot again, this time with Blair bouncing off the ropes and knocking Neidhart down with a hip attack. Brunzell comes in to work the arm, but Neidhart counters and grabs a bearhug. Brunzell smacks the ears, and the Bees take Neidhart down with a double strike to the midsection. The Bees with double-team wish bones and spinning toe holds. Bret gets the tag and is immediately caught with a drop toe hold. Now it's Bret's turn to have the leg worked over. The Bees take turns with the spinning toe hold. The crowd is in love with this. OK, not really, but they pop when Blair switches to a Figure-Four Leg Lock. Neidhart breaks that up and tags in, choking Blair with the bottom rope. The referee reprimands Neidhart, so Bret picks up where he left off. Blair gets dumped to the floor and sent into the guardrail. Back inside, Blair surprises Bret with a sunset flip for two. Bret hooks the ankle to keep him in the corner and lands a boot to the back while Blair bounces off the ropes. Bret with a back breaker but Brunzell saves. Bret and Neidhart keep doing illegal switches. Bret plants Blair with a slam and drops an elbow across the chest for two. Whip and Bret with a boot to the midsection for two. Blair fights out of a bearhug, but he doesn't see Bret making the tag. Whip to the ropes, Blair ducks a clothesline and they meet in the middle for a double-down. Dick Graham sounds WASTED. Neidhart with a mule kick to put Bret on top of Blair during a slam attempt, but Blair rolls through for a near-fall. The referee misses the tag, setting up the spot where Bret misses the charge to the corner and Neidhart gets dumped. Brunzell with the hot tag. He takes Bret over with a back body-drop and follows with an elbow for two. Whip and Brunzell with a clothesline for two. Running high knee and Bret gets a foot on the ropes. Bret ends up on the apron, and we all know what's going to happen. Brunzell tries to bring him in with a suplex, but Anvil picks the leg and Bret lands on top for three at 13:33. Yeah, the Hart Foundation loved that finish. Good match, though nothing flashy from the Bees. ***

The Hart Foundation vs. The Young Stallions:

From the October 3, 1987, episode of Saturday Night's Main Event. Probably the pinnacle of the Young Stallions push, which isn't saying much. Yes, they won at Survivor Series later that year, but that was presented more as a fluke than a serious attempt to push them as legitimate contenders. Roma and Neidhart start. Lockup and Neidhart shoves him into the corner. Roma avoids a double axe-handle and takes him over with an arm drag into a wristlock. Neidhart plants Powers with a slam and tags in Bret, who is taken over with a back body-drop and sent into the boot of Roma. Whip to the ropes and Powers with a sunset flip for two. Another whip and Powers with a cross body press for two. Crisscross and Bret buries a knee into the midsection. He connects with a back breaker and Neidhart comes back in with clubbing blows across the back. Whip and Bret with a shot from the apron, followed by an axe-handle from the middle rope. Neidhart hangs Powers up across the top rope and gnaws at his forehead. Roma gets a weak hot tag and unloads on both men with right hands. Heck breaks loose and the Champions get knocked into each other. Double dropkick to Neidhart and Roma catches Bret off the ropes with a powerslam for two. The Foundation quickly recover and hit Roma with the Hart Attack to retain at 4:35. Very rushed and one-sided. *½

This is just a small sample why the mid-late 80's was considered the golden era for the WWF's tag team division. It didn't matter where you pulled matches from, or who the participants were, there was always a good chance of the tag team matches being the best match on the card. You could fall down a rabbit hole trying to watch all the title defenses from the Hart Foundation, not to mention all the other tag teams putting on high caliber performances. Take it as my personal recommendation to track down whatever you can and enjoy it. You won't be disappointed.

Next time on Part VI of the History of the Tag Team Championship: We've got two major title changes shaking up the tag team division. The Can-Am Connection relocates, and a Road Warriors knock-off becomes arguably the most dominant team in WWF history.

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