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What to watch for in the 2016 Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic


By Mike DellaCamera for

The second annual NXT Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic kicked off last Wednesday. Where last year’s tournament featured more individual talent paired up for tournament purposes, this year the focus is more clearly on the team aspect, with over half the field being established tag teams.

The first two matches are in the books, but there is plenty to look forward to as the tournament kicks into high gear, and some potential storylines moving forward. The biggest storyline of which is that I can now no longer type the word SAnitY in any other way.

Block A

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Hopefully this becomes a showcase for TM61 to show what they can do. The former TMDK haven’t really found their stride in NXT, and I wonder how much of that is due to the current strength of the division, or if the two Aussies just haven’t worked themselves into the rhythm of WWE.

They have all the tools to succeed, they can work, they look the part, and Shane Thorne has an odd, weirdly captivating type of charisma. I think they just need some time and a little room to breathe; hopefully the tournament is their launching pad. From a logical perspective it should be based on the bracket. Let's look at the teams in Block A:

  • TM61
  • Tino Sabbatelli and Riddick Moss
  • Austin Aries and maybe Roderick Strong? Probably Roderick Strong?
  • Niko Bogojevic and Tucker Knight
  • Hideo Itami and Kota Ibushi
  • Lince Dorado and Mustafa Ali
  • Bobby Roode and Tye Dillinger
  • SAnitY

Who has the most to gain from winning this, both for the exposure and storyline reasons? It has to be TM61; everyone else either doesn’t matter yet, or is moving on to other things.

The tag team division is, inarguably, NXT’s strongest division right now so it makes you wonder why they put all the established teams in one bracket, and most of the teams that were thrown together in this one, I mean, even throw The Bollywood Boyz in this bracket just to balance it out.

Block B

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If this were soccer, this would be called the group of death. With The Authors of Pain, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa, and The Revival, it’s loaded with teams that have legitimate, storyline interactions with each other. In all likelihood the second round will have Gargano and Ciampa going up against The Revival, which is a match that can, and should, headline a TakeOver in the very near future.

I suppose that is why this year feels different than last. It was somewhat of a fait accompli that Finn Balor and Samoa Joe would win last year’s tournament, but this year not so much. There are multiple ways it could end, and that makes it so, so great. It’s easy to envision The Authors of Pain steamrolling their way through the bracket and winning it, establishing them as the new dominant team in NXT. It’s just as easy to see Gargano and Ciampa overcoming The Revival, winning the tournament, and continuing their run towards the titles.

Heck, it's even easier to picture The Revival winning the whole thing because they really are the top guys they rightfully claim to be.

We were built to fall apart

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It’s not hard to make a compelling case that at least four of the teams in the tournament won’t exist after it concludes. The easiest call, aside from the already televised Cedric Alexander and Andrade "Cien" Almas break up is the sad, sad destruction of Bobby Roode and Tye Dillinger.

Of course they’ll lose in the first round to SAnitY and then feud with each other leading up to TakeOver. The NXT crowd loves the Perfect 10, and they seem to have finally found his perfect, no pun intended, foil in Roode. Maybe this can be what pushes Dillinger over as a babyface and gets him out of his role as the guy who jobs to people making their debut.

That said, how greatwould it be if they kept the two of them together as a team, and let them make a run in the tournament? The most over entrance combined with a guy the crowd is dying to see succeed? That would be fantastic. The turn is so telegraphed, so expected, that keeping them together would be a fresh deviation from the standard WWE trope.

The breakup that could happen, and I would argue could get the company the most mileage, would be a breakup of Gargano and Ciampa. It has clearly been building. There are already seeds of dissension planted with Johnny Wrestling tapping out at TakeOver: Brooklyn, and they’ve proven to have incredible in-ring chemistry against each other, as proven in their stellar match during the CWC.

With NXT being somewhat light on compelling singles feuds, this would arguably be the top feud in the entire company, even more so than Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura. That isn't so much a feud as it is Joe being obsessed with the idea of beating Nakamura and getting the title back. But a Gargano vs. Ciampa program, with all their history, with how much they’ve promoted their friendship, would be incredible.

It would complete the story of their coming to NXT, as they came in together at the last Dusty Classic. How fitting would it be for them to fall apart a year later?

Tranquilo, baby

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NXT will sometimes display a penchant to debut someone with not much of a story other than that the audience already knows they're good. For the most part that works (Nakamura, Finn Balor, Bobby Roode, etc.), but there are times where it just doesn’t. The debut and packaging of Almas was bizarre from the start. The hype videos were decent, and well produced as always, but when he debuted everything just kind of fizzled.

It fizzled, and then felt completely flat compared to the more bombastic and successful debuts that were happening around the same time. The decision to book him against Bobby Roode at TakeOver: Brooklyn was, objectively, terrible if you're trying to get him over as a babyface. He was doomed from the start.

But having him turn heel with a post-match beat down of Alexander was a wonderful decision. The Alexander beating was pitch perfect -- he is crazy over at Full Sail so the turn on him felt that much more meaningful.

Kota Ibushi

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There really isn’t anyone like Kota Ibushi in the world of wrestling. Someone this prodigiously talented, someone this popular, someone this creative, someone this...different?

It’s very rare for someone to come along and stay so true to what they stand for in the face of a potentially massive financial gain. I believe it when Ibushi says he doesn’t wrestle for the money. I believe him when he talks about wanting to be able to wrestle for different companies at the same time. I also believe that someone this gifted will, at some point, find themselves on the biggest stage.

Performers gravitate towards a spotlight, and no one can offer a spotlight quite as big as WWE. Ibushi can continue working as a freelancer, as Tiger Mask W, or in any form he prefers, but it’s worth wondering if the lure of this particular spotlight will be strong enough to ever bring him over permanently.

The booking of the Ibushi and Itami team will be telling as to Ibushi’s future. If they make a deep run, could the tea leaves paint a positive future for Ibushi inside a WWE ring? Keep an eye on Japan, and see if the Tiger Mask W thing goes anywhere, it’s hard to believe either company would push someone that’s not under contract. Who knows, maybe Ibushi loses the mask, confronts Kenny Omega, and the collective wrestling world just straight up passes out.

Either way, more Ibushi is good for everyone.