Not every professional wrestler has what it takes to become a main event level talent on his or her own. While the true superstars of the industry tend to get there as a solo act, certain wrestlers are only able to achieve greatness with a tag team partner or two. On the other hand, plenty of potential solo stars have been unfairly pigeonholed as tag team workers and wound up stuck in the division, as well, much to the detriment of their careers and perhaps even wrestling history.
Vince McMahon has great natural instincts when deciding who to push and how, but he doesn’t get it right every single time. Sometimes he tries to break up a tag team for no reason, and other times he makes the mistake of constantly forcing a main event worthy talent into a series of teams that only manage to drag them down. The good news is that history shows he and/or some other wrestling promoter will eventually figure out where the talent truly belongs, and they’ll get the push they deserve. If things go the other way and the wrong wrestler gets pushed as a solo act, the WWE Universe typically speaks up in one way or another to put them in their place.
The cream rises to the top, and the rest of us will only get by with a little help from our friends. In wrestling, the lower card superstars are lucky enough true talents occasionally slum in ranks beneath them to get their feet in the door, do friends favors, or simply hang on to the spotlight by any means necessary. Keep reading to learn 8 wrestlers who were best fit for tag teams and 7 who got better by going solo.
15 NEEDED TO GO SOLO: Booker T
Of all the great tag teams of the Attitude Era, especially those of the familial variety, no team had a greater disparity in talent that Booker T and Stevie Ray Huffman, collectively known as Harlem Heat. The duo won the WCW Tag Team Championships a record 10 times, and Booker would continue to get misused in the tag division as he moved on to WWE, despite consistently outclassing virtually every partner he was paired with. Considering Booker and Stevie are brothers, there’s no faulting either of them for wanting to stick together at the start of their careers. WCW isn’t totally to blame either, as they were a unique and popular act in an era where not many tag teams were successful. However, by 1997 or so, it was definitely time for Booker to spread his wings as a solo star, and from that moment forward all attempts at keeping him with Stevie or giving him other partners only squandered his potential. Though his brother wouldn’t follow him to WWE, Booker still had the same problem, getting stuck in teams with Test, Rob Van Dam, and Goldust, only the last of which was entertaining enough to justify forcing Booker to stay in the tag division.
14 TAG TEAM WRESTLER: Heath Slater
The ultimate punch line to all of Heath Slater’s talk about he’s a one man band has got to be the instant success he finds every time he ventures towards the tag division. Slater debuted on the main WWE roster in 2010 as a member of The Nexus, representing the group in the tag division with Justin Gabriel as his partner. Slater and Gabriel won the WWE Tag Team Champions three times, surviving as a duo past the Nexus schism that created The Corre. Slater immediately turned into a joke when he split with Gabriel, getting squashed by a series of legends in so-called comedy segments with diminishing returns. He tried to revive himself in stables like 3MB and The Social Outcasts, plus a short-lived tag team with Titus O’Neil called the Slater Gators, but none were successful enough to make fans see Slater as anything other than a joke. He finally reasserted himself as a superstar of value by teaming with Rhyno in 2016, giving into his jokey status while letting his heavy hitting partner provide the wrestling ability. The team made Slater part of tag team history, when they became the inaugural SmackDown Tag Team Champions.
13 NEEDED TO GO SOLO: Bret Hart
When a wrestler’s entire family is in the business, it’s inevitable that they’ll at least team with some relatives once or twice throughout their career. In the case of Bret “The Hitman” Hart, he was forced into tag teams with most of his brothers and brothers-in-law even after he established himself as one of the top solo wrestlers in the world. At first, it was reasonable enough for him to have a partner. His brotherly teams were always solid, especially when he briefly teamed with Owen in WWE, and both versions of The Hart Foundation were entertaining in their own way. That said, the stable version was better than the tag team version because it allowed Bret to shine as the leader and WWE Champion, rather than confine him to the tag team ranks with a lesser partner. His foray into tag competition in WCW with Goldberg was arguably worst of all, as neither of them should have been in a tag team at that point in their careers. At this point, the fact Bret started in a tag team is almost entirely forgotten, even as his partner’s daughter has wrestled in WWE for nearly a decade.
12 TAG TEAM WRESTLER: Mike Rotunda
Regardless of what name he went by (and his confusion over how to spell his own name notwithstanding), Mike Rotunda remained one of the most consummate tag team professionals wherever he worked. His first major team was formed in the early ‘80s with his real life brother-in-law Barry Windham. Rebranding themselves as patriots named The U.S. Express, Rotunda and Windham soon won the WWE Tag Team Championships twice, defending the belts at the inaugural WrestleMania. Windham left WWE and Rotunda without a partner, and he almost immediately bombed in the role. Efforts at replacing Windham lead Rotunda to the NWA, where he started to succeed again as a member of The Varsity Team, winning the Tag Team Championships with Steve Williams. Once the team split, he again flopped, adopting bizarre gimmick names like Captain Mike and Michael Wallstreet. He jumped back to WWE with another silly gimmick, IRS, but the absurdity only served to prove he was better in tag teams regardless of name, as he again became a star under the name by teaming with Ted DiBiase as Money Inc. The team earned Rotunda another three WWE Tag Team Championships, only for him to jump to WCW when they broke up, and finish off his career as an opening match solo act.
11 TAG TEAM WRESTLER: Cody Rhodes
Despite constant efforts to get the WWE writing team to see him as a solo star, the unfortunate truth about Cody Rhodes is that he doesn’t have enough of his father’s natural charisma to catch fans’ attention. The innate talent is there, but no one is willing to pay attention unless Cody was given a strong gimmick or, even better, more charismatic partner. Part of this could be WWE not letting him shine, but based on his average matches and feuds that did anything but set the Universe on fire, we have to image Rhodes himself is part of the problem. Crowds reacted to Cody better than ever when he teamed with his brother Goldust, and he was never more over as a heel than during his days in The Legacy as Ted DiBiase, Jr.’s partner. He also enjoyed a lengthy WWE Tag Team Championship reign with Hardcore Holly, not to mention some additional doubles gold with Drew McIntyre. For whatever reason, fans always lost interest in Cody the second these partners left him to his own devices, and not even a transformation to Stardust could save him. Recently, he’s been trying to prove this reputation wrong by doing his best on the independent scene, but it’ll be some time before Cody truly establishes himself as a solo star.
10 NEEDED TO GO SOLO: Kofi Kingston
There could be some controversy behind this pick, and we acknowledge Kofi Kingston does a great job in his role as The New Day’s de facto leader. He was also pretty great when forming WWE Tag Team Championship winning partnerships with Evan Bourne, R-Truth, and CM Punk. However, there comes a point in a wrestler’s career when they need to fly in the solo division or get labeled as a tag performer forever (um…our bad), and Kofi Kingston is desperately running out of time to make it clear he’s capable on his own. Kofi’s had a handful of shots on his own thus far, with four reigns as Intercontinental Champion and three with the United States belt. Despite that, he hasn’t had many shots as a true main eventer, due to his constant success with various teams. Kofi continues to be the stand out regardless of who he’s paired with, and his performances at Royal Rumbles prove he’s just as sensational on his own as with any of his many partners. We’re not calling for The New Day to break up, but it might be time for Xavier and Big E to become the main pairing while Kingston shines elsewhere on the card, alone.
9 TAG TEAM WRESTLER: Lance Storm
If we can be serious for a moment, the issue with Lance Storm may not be that he didn’t have what it took to excel in the solo division, but that he was never given a real shot to do so. In the very least, it certainly didn’t help that WWE blatantly called him boring. Regardless of that unfair disadvantage, we still think Storm was significantly better with tag team partners than on his own, starting when he first broke out on the independent scene as Chris Jericho’s partner in The Thrillseekers. Jericho soon broke out on his own in ECW, WCW, and WWE, all while Storm was confined to a series of tag teams in the smallest company of the three. Storm won the ECW Tag Team Championships three times, once with Chris Candido and twice as The Impact Players with Justin Credible. Storm attempted a solo run in WCW, winning the United States, Cruiserweight, and Hardcore Championships all at once, but the reputation of WCW in the year 2000 should say it all about how Storm performed in the role. His turn as WWE Intercontinental Champion was just as dire, but he won fans back during Tag Team Championship runs with Christian, William Regal, and Chief Morley, serving his purpose as a solid hand wrestling good matches, but not charismatic enough to ascend up the card.
8 NEEDED TO GO SOLO: Eddie Guerrero
Appropriate to his legacy as one of the greatest wrestlers in history, several of Eddie Guerrero’s early tag teams were amongst the most legendary in Mexico. When teaming with Octagón, Eddie became the first luchador to voluntarily remove his mask, triggering outrage from fans and breaking up the group. Next, Eddie and El Hijo del Santo made tribute to their fathers’ legendary Pareja Atómica, only for Guerrero to again betray history and turn on his partner. El Hijo del Santo and Octagón bonded over their hatred of Eddie, so Guerrero paired with Art Barr to form Los Gringos Locos, also known as La Pareja del Terror, one of the most hated duos in lucha libre history. In addition to their incredible heel charisma, Barr and Guerrero were also unmatched in the ring, their potential success only marred by Barr’s sudden death in 1994. Eddie fast overcame the tragedy and became a solo star in ECW, WCW, and finally WWE, achieving greater fame and success in each passing company. Even so, there were many times throughout Eddie’s career when the company tried to demote him to the tag division, especially in WWE. While his teams with Rey Mysterio, Tajiri, and Chavo Guerrero, Jr. were all respectable in their own right, most fans would have to agree Eddie could have just as well been in the main event scene during all of their respective Tag Team Championship reigns.
7 TAG TEAM WRESTLER: Rick Steiner
There have been countless wrestlers rightly confined to the tag team division not worth mentioning on our list because no promoter was bold enough to try and push them as a solo star. Thanks to his brother, who we’ll get to in a second, Rick Steiner was never quite so lucky. Or perhaps, more accurately, the fans of WCW weren’t so lucky, having to sit through multiple Rick Steiner solo runs, occasionally seeing him reach the main event on prime time television. Teaming with brother Scott, Rick was capable of being one of the best tag wrestlers on the planet, and the teams he formed in groups like Hot Stuff Incorporated and The Varsity Club solidified the fact he didn’t necessarily need his family at his side, just a decent partner to bounce off of. Credit where it’s due, Rick’s first attempt at a solo career ended with a legendary moment at Starrcade 1988 when he won the WCW Television Championship, but by the time he regained that belt some 11 years later the magic was entirely gone. WCW being what it was at the time, that didn’t stop him from winning the US Championship, as well. Regardless of what belt he held, Rick dragged the entire division down unless his brother was there to save him from doing so.
6 NEEDED TO GO SOLO: Scott Steiner
In stark contrast to his older brother Rick, wrestling fans and insiders alike were aware Scott Steiner had serious potential as a solo act almost from the moment he appeared on WCW television at Rick’s side. Even so, those same fans are no doubt appreciative Scott decided to team with Rick for several years before breaking out on his own, considering the Steiner’s aforementioned status as one of the best teams in history. Rick has the most to be thankful for, and rumors have long persisted Scott himself wanted to keep the team together because he knew his brother couldn’t be a success without him. Noble as that was, it didn’t stop him from eventually giving the singles division a go in WCW, reinventing himself as Big Poppa Pump. Finally on his own, Steiner quickly won a number of solo titles and eventually became the last truly dominant WCW World Champion that promotion would see. Steiner could never translate his success to WWE or even TNA, but it’s worth pointing out both companies tried putting him in tag teams that ultimately killed his careers there, not saved them.
5 TAG TEAM WRESTLER: Kane
That Kane has won some version of the Tag Team Championships in WWE no less than 12 times is impressive enough, and that he did so with 7 different partners only further proves his versatility. Despite those numbers, we still acknowledge some fans might not agree with this assessment of him as a tag team wrestler, given his status as a two time WWE World Champion, not to mention a handful of runs with other solo titles, as well. However, the truth is that Kane’s persona doesn’t allow him to be particularly compelling as a truly independent character, and his unions with Mankind, X-Pac, Daniel Bryan, and especially The Undertaker were more popular and dominant than he ever was as an out of control monster with no friends. Weird as his duos with Rob Van Dam and The Hurricane were, they still beat his horrible feud with Triple H that took place that same era when he went solo, and his team with The Big Show was a natural fit in the classic mold of destructive monster tag teams (with a veteran edge bonus, to boot). Kane has enough fans and talent to occasionally hover towards stardom without help, but we’re confident it will always be the bonds Kane formed that endear him to the WWE Universe.
4 NEEDED TO GO SOLO: Edge
As this list starts to reach a close, it feels fair to reiterate the point that just because we think a wrestler is generally better solo, that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t great with a partner, as well. That’s most certainly the case with Edge, who became one of the most decorated tag team performers in history prior to pulling off the same feat in the solo division. He technically debuted in WWE on his own, but it wasn’t until reuniting with his independent scene partner Christian that Edge became a true star. E&C were arguably the top team of the Attitude Era, and yet at the same time, many fans long held hope that they would split up and earn fame on the solo division. Christian didn’t do too bad for himself, but it was Edge who truly turned out to be a star, with a collective 11 reigns as either WWE or World Heavyweight Champion. Such was Edge’s ability that he became the rare performer to bounce between main events and tag team matches, elevating the latter rather than getting dragged down himself, forming top level teams with Chris Jericho and Randy Orton. Still, it was always what those teams accomplished pre- and post-break up that fans will never forget, and so Edge remains a wrestler who always needed to go solo.
3 TAG TEAM WRESTLER: Billy Gunn
There are certain superstars Vince McMahon simply refused to give up on, and for better or for worse, Billy Gunn sits high atop the list of people who best elucidate that theory. The one thing justifying Gunn’s long WWE career was not whatever solo potential Vince saw in him, but rather his near chameleonic ability to adapt to an ever-changing tag team division in a number of diverse and successful roles. He made his start in the company as half of The Smoking Gunns with his kayfabe brother Bart, only to completely bomb as Rockabilly when the Gunns went off in different directions. Just in the nick of time, he saved his career by forming The New Age Outlaws, one of the most popular teams of the Attitude Era. Attempts at a breakup always resulted in fans rejecting Gunn as a singles wrestler, even as he became the 1999 King of the Ring. The only way he could revive his career was by returning to the tag division, reuniting the Outlaws and becoming popular once again. The Outlaws split again, and the same thing happened, with Gunn receiving no reaction as he won the Intercontinental Championship. He reinvented himself one last time by teaming with Chuck Palumbo, and controversial though their gimmick was, it indeed made them stars. Gunn’s runs as a solo act were overall so forgettable the teams are all anyone remembers today, and his legacy deserves better because of it.
2 NEEDED TO GO SOLO: Shawn Michaels
Regardless of how exciting and innovative The Midnight Rockers were in their era, there’s a good reason the most memorable moment experienced by that team was their breakup. Both Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty showed enormous potential to succeed as solo stars, and while Jannetty didn’t quite live up to that reputation, Michaels more than did so almost instantly. And yet, WWE decided to keep him in the tag division anyway, with the unfortunate side effect of basically killing the division. He and Diesel were a solid team, but both were so above tagging in general they had no competition, and all of tag team wrestling suffered as a result. Wrestling has seen the same thing every time Michaels wins the belts, be it with John Cena, Steve Austin, or as D-X with Triple H. These teams lead to historic and unforgettable moments, but always felt like solo wrestlers happening to work together, and didn’t need to take the Tag Team Championships away from actual teams to get their angles over. Michaels was always promoted as one of the most charismatic superstars of all time, and if Vince McMahon really understood that, he’d understand why putting him with a partner can too easily eclipse the division. The same could probably be said about all of his partners, except, obviously, poor Marty.
1 TAG TEAM WRESTLER: Davey Boy Smith
More so than anyone else on this list, Davey Boy Smith’s lifelong reputation as a tag team wrestler is almost entirely his own fault. It happened around 1990, when The British Bulldogs, Davey’s team with The Dynamite Kid broke up, and he decided to take the moniker for himself as a solo star. Anyone who remembered his days with Dynamite knows Davey batted cleanup for The Kid’s groundbreaking performances, and it’s perhaps for this reason than any attempts by WWE or WCW at pushing him as a main event singles star resulted in minimal success, at best. While we acknowledge the several Pay-Per-Views Davey headlined, the fact he never won the WWE Championship can’t be ignored. It’s also telling that WWE defaulted to putting him into a tag team with a family member when his career prospects looked dire. His team with Owen Hart went on to become one of the best of the Attitude Era, further cementing Davey as a perennial tag team success. By the time Davey was without any regular partners in WCW or WWE, he had virtually nothing left to give, descending down the card as everyone realized the Bulldog had sadly little bark on his own.