Tag teams are one of the cornerstones of professional wrestling. From the earliest tag team champs in the 1970s to the current generation of wrestlers competing today, tag teams are a highlight of any self-effacing wrestling promotion. If you need proof of this crystal clear fact, look at the popularity enjoyed by AEW’s The Acclaimed or The New Day in WWE.
As entertaining as these modern duos are, it’s important to acknowledge the handful of teams that set the standard for tag team wrestling in the 1980s. These teams laid the foundation for everything that came after, whether we're talking about Edge & Christian and the Hardy Boyz in the Attitude Era or the Young Bucks and FTR today.
From classic NWA tag teams like the Road Warriors to vintage WWE duos like Demolition, here are 15 of the best wrestling teams of the 1980s.
The Killer Bees
Don’t let their silly gimmick fool you. In their heyday, the Killer Bees were one of the most exceptional tag teams in WWE upon their arrival in 1985. For the next three years, the pair would have memorable matches against numerous celebrated tag teams, including the Dream Team and the Hart Foundation.
From a character perspective, the Killer Bees were unbelievably bland, not having the same unique appeal as the British Bulldogs or demonstrating the clear athleticism of the Hart Foundation.
Still, their defining characteristic — the “masked confusion” — proved a decisive factor in the team’s matches and would later be borrowed by several other teams in the following years. As both men were adorned in identical masks and attire, they were able to quickly switch with one another during a bout (a common heel tactic later popularized by the Bella Twins).
The Dream Team
In many ways, the Dream Team were the immediate predecessors for every stylish, “flashy” tag team that came after it. (In fact, one can argue that the pairing of Dolph Ziggler and Bobby Roode are essentially the Dream Team 2.0.)
Between their glamorous attire, outlandish personas, and obvious athleticism, the Dream Team were one of the more standout teams to come out of WWE during the latter half of the 1980s, acting as an effective counterpart to their babyface rivals, the British Bulldogs.
While Brutus Beefcake made for an effective protege of Hulk Hogan and Greg Valentine did well as the partner of the Honky Tonk Man in Rhythm and Blues, the two possessed a chemistry together that made the Dream Team one notch better than most other teams at the close of the decade.
The Fabulous Rougeaus
Real-life brothers Jacques and Raymond Rougeau often fail to get the same recognition as other tag teams of their era. But from a character and wrestling standpoint, the siblings had enough spark and personality to make a mark in WWE that inexplicably faded with time.
Perhaps because neither of the two brothers had a successful singles run like Bret Hart of the Hart Foundation or Shawn Michaels of the Rockers, the Rougeaus’ status as a talented tag team has gradually diminished.
However, like the Killer Bees, numerous tag teams seem to owe a serious debt of gratitude to this Canadian high-flying act — especially teams that adopt a pretentious, mocking attitude that antagonizes American crowds. (A feat the Fabulous Rougeaus regularly and brilliantly exploited every time they sarcastically tried to start a “U.S.A” chant from the audience.)
The British Bulldogs
Today, the name British Bulldog is synonymous with Davey Boy Smith, one-half of the original British Bulldogs. But such attributions overlook the accomplishments of Smith and his cousin Dynamite Kid as a tag team.
Making a name for themselves in NJPW, the British Bulldogs arrived at WWE as a tag team unlike any other. Despite their strength and physically imposing sizes, the two demonstrated remarkable athleticism and agility, introducing a style of wrestling popularized in ROH, NJPW, and AEW decades later.
In their meaningful feuds with the Hart Foundation, they could’ve simply relied on their size, watering down their move-set and primarily using their strength. But rather than be outshone by the technical prowess of the Hart Foundation, the Bulldogs preferred using a mixture of speed, stamina, and submission holds that made them a force to be reckoned with.
The moment that continues to define the Rockers' legacy is their notorious breakup, which saw Shawn Michaels superkick Marty Janetti and chuck him through a barbershop window. Of course, that infamous scene in WWE later contributed to the incredible rise of Shawn Michaels, but it’s also worth remembering just how fantastic the two men were together in their prime.
Even before their introduction to WWE in 1988, Janetti and Michaels had a remarkable three-year run in various independent companies like AWA. By the time they debuted in WWE, the Rockers had earned a reputation as two of the most likable babyface wrestlers on the company’s roster.
Utilizing their incredible speed and penchant for high-flying, high-impact moves, the Rockers were a spiritual predecessor to every team composed of smaller, lightweight wrestlers who came after them (the Hardy Boyz, the Usos, the Young Bucks).
The Fabulous Freebirds
It says a lot about the Fabulous Freebirds’ lasting achievements in the wrestling world: they literally have a rule named after them. With their permed hair, outdoor sunglasses, and flashy wardrobe, all three Freebirds looked like backup dancers in a Michael Jackson music video.
As humorous as it seems from a modern perspective, such an outlandish appearance was part of their appeal. They may not have strictly been a tag team, alternating between each of their three members (Michael Hayes, Buddy Roberts, and Terry Gordy) in their matches. But no matter the classification, the group acted as a grandfather to trios commonly seen today, from AEW’s Elite to WWE’s New Day.
The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff
There weren’t many tag teams more universally hated than the now-classic pairing of the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff. The two men were the physical manifestations of the two foremost fears Americans had in the international landscape, Volkoff representing Soviet-era Russia, the Sheik standing in for Iran.
Many elements of the team seem dated by today’s standards, but there’s no question the two made for an effective pairing. All they needed to do was show up and brandish their respective nation’s flags, their entrance music drowned out by the sounds of entire stadiums booing in unison.
The Rock ‘N’ Roll Express
One of the two major groups bearing the “Express” moniker that gained prominence in the 1980s, the Rock ‘N’ Roll Express was the Rockers year before Shawn Michaels ever tagged with Marty Janetti.
Making their debut in 1980, Robert Gibson and Ricky Morton became two of the most popular wrestlers in the world at the time, cementing themselves in such renowned promotions as the NWA, WWE, and WCW.
Rarely staying with one company for a long time, the Rock ‘N’ Roll Express made their rounds to almost every conceivable wrestling company in the ‘80s. This continuous migration on their part helped keep their gimmick fresh and alive, guaranteeing some great match-ups with Ole and Arn Anderson in WCW and even a feud with their successors, the Rockers, in CWA.
The Mega Bucks
The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff may have been unpopular with fans, but few wrestlers were universally despised as “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. Flashing wads of cash and decked out in elaborate apparel on his way to the ring, DiBiase was the kind of affluent figure who viewers could easily hate. After all, it’s almost effortless to root against a guy who used his vast wealth to buy his way to stardom.
That being said, when DiBiase first began teaming up with the legendary André the Giant at the beginning of 1988, it was a match virtually made in heaven. With DiBiase’s resources at their back and Bobby “the Brain” Heenan in their corner, the duo took the WWE by storm, controversially seizing the WWE Championship from Hulk Hogan.
Their time together was short-lived, but seeing the two team up was like watching Lex Luthor ally himself with the Joker. It was a brilliant pairing, as well as one that further legitimized the Mega Powers.
The Mega Powers
In the mid ‘80s, Hulk Hogan was easily the most popular wrestler worldwide, holding WWE on his shoulders throughout most of the decade. But by 1987, another wrestler was beginning to make a slow climb to television prominence in “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who had accrued his own contingent of fans as he shifted from an established villain into a tried and true fan-favorite.
After several matches against one another, the two men would unite into a formidable alliance, dubbing themselves the Mega Powers, linking the popularity of Hulkamania with the growing success of Savage’s Macho Madness.
A natural foil to such groups as the Mega Bucks, the Mega Powers were two of WWE’s biggest stars at the time. However, while they made for a compelling team, their relationship might be eclipsed by their later, equally iconic rivalry at WrestleMania V — one of the greatest WrestleMania main events of all time.
The Midnight Express
The other major “express” group aside from the Rock ‘N’ Roll Express, the Midnight Express were the premiere indie tag team of the ‘80s. Never having the same high-publicity platform as their counterparts in WWE, NWA, or WCW, they still enjoyed great success wherever they hung their patented sequined jackets.
Many different groups bearing the name the Midnight Express have come along. However, unlike the various iterations of the Fabulous Freebirds, the numerous incarnations of the Midnight Express had varying levels of success.
For example, while WWE’s 1998 version of the group (made up of Bob Holly and Bart Gunn) was an utter dud, Bobby Eaton and Norvell Austin made for a welcome addition to the original lineup of Dennis Condrey and Randy Rose. And, of course, the team’s managers over the years have largely accounted for the group’s legacy today, using such loudmouthed associates as Jim Cornette and Paul Heyman in his pre-ECW days.
Save for the Road Warriors, no team was as genuinely frightening as Demolition. Between their large size, heavy metal outfits, and KISS-esque face paint, Ax and Smash were two of the most visually striking wrestlers on WWE’s roster in the latter half of the 1980s.
In recent years, Demolition’s lasting achievement in the industry is their unprecedented 478-day reign as WWE’s World Tag Team Champions (they’re recognized as the longest-reigning champions in the title’s history).
Even more than that, though, Demolition made every one of their moves appear devastating — none more so than their trademark Demolition Decapitation.
The Brain Busters
Arn Anderson has been a part of many notable pairings over the years, from teaming with onscreen brother Ole to forming one-half of the Enforcers with Larry Zbyszko. When looking at Anderson’s career as a whole, however, it’s clear that his greatest tag team partner was Tully Blanchard, the two collectively known as the Brain Busters.
Meeting in WCW in the mid 1980s, Anderson and Blanchard formed the backbone of the Four Horsemen, the now legendary faction of Ric Flair, Blanchard, and Ole and Arn Anderson.
The FTR of their day, the Brain Busters laid the groundwork for villainous tag teams as we know them. It didn’t matter if they competed with their Four Horsemen associates in WCW or wrestled as a tag team in WWE; Blanchard and Anderson had undeniable in-ring chemistry with one another, the likes of which have rarely been seen since.
The Hart Foundation
One of the most revolutionary tag teams of all time, the Hart Foundation is undoubtedly among the most important duos in wrestling. Like the Midnight Express, each iteration of the group is worthy of praise (especially the villainous Foundation that feuded with Steve Austin in 1997). Still, the original pairing of Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart is the version that should be singled out for celebration.
Descending from the Great White North, Hart and his brother-in-law Neidhart were the perfect wrestling act. Both men also effectively used everything taught to them by Hart’s father, Stu, the patriarch of the Hart family dungeon.
In the simplest of terms, Neidhart acted as the team’s muscle, Hart bringing a speedy energy that established him as the more agile of the two. Demonstrating the talent inherently tied to the Hart family, both men proved they could bring a mat-based amateur wrestling style to their matches, forever changing the wrestling landscape.
The Road Warriors
Whether you know them as the Road Warriors or the Legion of Doom, the team of Hawk and Animal were practically synonymous with tag team wrestling in the 1980s, the same way Hulk Hogan was tied with singles competition in WWE.
Often called the greatest wrestling tag team of all time, it’s virtually impossible to downplay the Road Warrior’s contributions to pro wrestling then and now. With their physical bulk, threatening face paint, inventive haircuts, and wrestling attire straight out of an actual Mad Max movie, Hawk and Animal worked as well together as Brock Lesnar and suplexes.
Regardless of whether they were in AJPW, AWA, or WCW, the Road Warriors were the pinnacle of their breed, beating nearly every tag team and faction they came across and securing gold with whatever promotion they happened to sign with.
This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Richard Chachowski is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. He loves reading, his dog Tootsie, and pretty much every movie to ever exist (especially Star Wars).