Tuesday, September 30, 2014

So where was D-X?


So if you read my last two posts on greatest factions ever you're probably wondering.....where's the love for Degeneration X?  They were number one on the WWE's top 10 list, and didn't garner so much as a mention on mine.  D-X is clearly one of the most memorable groups ever and a key part of the Attitude Era; next to Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock they stood out more than anyone else in the company.  Even a detractor has to acknowledge their awesomeness, right?  Well.......first off despite my criticism I wouldn't call myself a detractor.  Like everyone else, I found them entertaining as hell and was on the edge of my seat when they came out on Monday Night RAW to engage in whatever hijinks they had in store for the night.  But  given a chance to look back 10 years later, and given the very rules that I set up for judging factions here they don't measure up quite so well.  My criteria are longevity, influence, and in ring success.  I also emphasized match quality as I spoke of other groups.    So just how short do they fall?  Let's see.

  • Longevity - The first iteration of the group consisted of Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and Chyna.  They came together in the fall of 1997 and lasted through WrestleMania 14 when Shawn lost the WWE Title to Austin and went away (seemingly for good at the time) with a back injury.  That's about six months.  The night after was when the D-X that people remember most came together when X-Pac came over from WCW to hook up with his old pal Triple H and the New Age Outlaws (Billy Gunn and Road Dog Jesse James) came aboard.  They were together about a year, split up for six months, then reassembled in the fall of 1999 and staying together until shortly before WrestleMania 2000.  So that's about two years total.  Triple H and Michaels did re-form their original duo in 2006 and stayed together off an on through 2010.  Since that version only featured the two of them I'm not counting that (my list, my rules).  Two years isn't a bad run at all, but the last six months of the Triple H/Outlaws/X-Pac run wasn't as fun or exciting as the first year they spent together.  At that point the other three were mainly Triple H's helpers and not co-equal parts of a group and the fan reactions weren't nearly as big as they had been before.  It was during this time that the term 'X-Pac heat' came to be; X-Pac Heat was getting booed by the fans not because you'd gotten over as a heel but because they just didn't want to see you, period.
  • In ring success - They had plenty of it.  Michaels and Hunter were both World Champions, and both held the European Championship for a time.  Hunter was also Intercontinental Champion for a brief period in 1998.  The Outlaws had several Tag Team Title reigns and brief runs with singles titles in 1999.  But once Michaels was gone, they just didn't have many memorable matches.  Hunter had a great ladder match against the Rock at Summerslam 1998, and that was pretty much it.  By the time he joined the group X-Pac was a shell of his former self, unable to do most of the aerial work he perfected during his time as the 1-2-3 Kid years before.  And the Outlaws both had workrates made for short segments on live television and not longer matches.  Road Dog wasn't very good in the ring at all, and Billy Gunn looked like a great worker by comparison right up until he got his chance later on and the mediocrity shone through.  If you think I'm wrong name one match either of them had that mattered.  It's pretty telling that when tag team wrestling really took off in the WWF during the Attitude Era they weren't around anymore. The fact is that the group was known more for their sophomoric antics on RAW than for anything they did in the ring.  By contrast the Horsemen brought it every night in the ring and on the mic.  The NWO wasn't known for great ring work but they still managed to help get both Diamond Dallas Page over and Goldberg more over by virtue of serving as their opposition.  D-X made fun of people and little else; no one got elevated by working against them.  
  • Influence - No one has really tried to copy their model since they went away.  This is probably because they were basically playing themselves during their run, and because of the stricter standards as far as what's allowed in the WWE's broadcasts now.  The sexual innuendos and crass frat boy humor that was all the rage in 1998-1999 has been cast aside, and to be honest given how hard it is to do that kind of thing well without just being crude it's probably a good thing.  When a D-X type group has graced the screen it's been.....D-X itself coming out for an onscreen reunion of some kind.  Now you could say that their uniqueness is a mark in their favor, but the wrestling business largely depends on finding something that worked before and dusting it off with a new face.  That they weren't able to create something useful in that way is a strike against them to me. 
 So there you have it, my reasons for not speaking so highly of D-X in my greatest factions list.   Sorry fellas.  You guys were good but in my opinion others were much better.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Real Best Factions Ever

You want a real countdown of top factions ever?  I'm gonna give it to you.  I'm not going to carry it out to ten groups, because I don't think there are ten that truly stand out above all the rest.  To me, the standout factions are the ones that best met and surpassed the qualifications I laid out in my previous post (longevity, title winning, and influence), and there just aren't ten of those.  I got some honorable mentions, and then a top three.  Honorable mentions for me are the Heenan Family (they had a six year run with several great members and one of the greatest heel managers ever) ,Evolution (the best Four Horsemen imitator of the bunch), and the Dangerous Alliance (best manager led faction of the early 90s headed by the best heel manager of the 90s).  No one else is worth talking about.  Now here's my list:


  • The Fabulous Freebirds - The Freebirds remain the template for wrestling trios almost three decades after their original lineup stopped working together in 1987.  Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy and Buddy Roberts started teaming together in 1979, so that makes eight years together as a unit.  They held a few titles but were most valuable as hell raising, rabble rousers who feuded with some team or collection of faces in whatever territory they worked for.  From Georgia to World Class Championship Wrestling to the AWA to the UWF with some other stops in between, they had some epic battles with the Von Erichs, the Road Warriors, and the entire UWF roster.  Their swan song in their original lineup was a series of great six man tag team matches with the Four Horsemen during the 1987 Great American Bash.  If you want to see how they affected the business just take a look at the three man units that came during and after their run from the Russians (Ivan and Nikita Koloff and Krusher Kreschev) all the way through the Shield.    And there's the Freebird Rules that became a staple of three man teams that won tag team titles in the company they worked for.  Freebird Rules allowed any two members of the group to team together in a tag team title match, and were used as recently as 2012.  The Freebirds were also one of the first acts to use popular music for their ring entrance (Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird").  They also were storyline innovators in that they played the rebellious employees squaring off against their boss in the UWF in 1986, 11 years before Stone Cold Steve Austin chugged a beer in the ring after stunning Vince McMahon.  No list of factions, teams, etc is worth anything if you do not include these men.
  • The NWO - The NWO is mainly responsible for three big things - Bringing invasion angles stateside (the NWO story was literally lifted from a similar angle that took place in Japan previously), revitalizing Hulk Hogan's career through his shocking heel turn, and reigniting interest in the business in 1996 after a half decade-plus of slow erosion.  Yes they got too big and yes they went on too long, but that doesn't take away from what they did at their best.  When Hulk Hogan joined up with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash to form the group, which would go on to add half the WCW roster before too long, everything changed.  People like me, who'd gone on a break from watching in the early 90s, were drawn back in and new fans came aboard because what was once something you didn't admit to watching was now the hottest thing going.  And no one has really succeeded in copying their success since.  The WWE tried its own hand at an NWO style story twice with the poorly executed Invasion in 2001 and the Nexus almost a decade later.  The NWO worked because you had people who were big names for one company changing employers and showing up unannounced on the competition's live broadcast shortly after.  Within a few years the internet would stamp out nearly all true surprises, making it virtually impossible to pull this kind of thing off again.  But the one time it worked, it worked in spades.
  • The Four Horsemen - Number one, no competition, no questions asked.  Often imitated, never (and I do mean never) duplicated.  Arguably the greatest in-ring worker ever in Ric Flair, one of the best tag teams ever in Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson (Anderson is in the conversation for best tag team wrestler ever), and a revolving fourth slot that was held both by one of the best tag team wrestlers of the early 80s (Ole Anderson), one of biggest stars of the 90s (Lex Luger) and one of the best workers of the late 80s (Barry Windham).  They took on all comers and had great matches with all kinds of wrestlers from performers like Dusty Rhodes to musclemen like the Road Warriors to aerial tag team specialists like the Rock n Roll Express.  When Luger, a guy with technical limitations, was part of the group, the other three were able to work him in and protect him so he didn't look bad.  Each member was able to shine on their own or as part of a team, and they always came through.  Blanchard transitioned from an excellent B level solo heel to one half of a stellar tag team without losing any of his luster and Anderson was able to set aside his tag team work to put on a killer singles match whenever the need arose.  For the almost three years they were on top they made everyone they faced look like a million bucks.  When it was time to put someone over, they did it and they had no issue making other guys look like winners.  Their legacy can also be found in the many attempts to duplicate their success from future iterations of the group with Flair, Anderson, and two other guys to future ensembles like Evolution and the Hart Foundation.  No one did it like these guys, and no one ever will.

Top Factions of All Time - The WWE List (and my beefs with it)


So I was watching the WWE Network on Friday afternoon (still just $9.99!), and one of the features is WWE Countdown.  WWE Countdown is pretty cool; it's a rundown if the top 10 (or 20) all time in different categories - finishing moves, double crosses, Royal Rumble moments, you name it.  The one I was watching was top 10 factions of all time.  Now when I tell you that this was the equivalent of trolling for clicks, believe it.  Some of the choices were fine, but some.......you gotta be kidding me.  To me, an all-time great faction needs to meet a few benchmarks:

  • Longevity - Was it around for months or years?  A group that comes and goes in six months can't be considered great.  If nothing else, a short run usually means that the group wasn't getting over.  Or it could be that the key members didn't stay with the company long enough to keep it going.  Either way, a short run is a major black mark.
  • Accomplishments - How many titles did they win?  How many big matches or feuds did they come out on top of?  Some groups were little more than cannon fodder for the primary face or heel in a company, and barely scored so much as one major win over their antagonist.  Others captured and defended major gold in their respective company on a regular basis.
  • Influence - How many times has the model been replicated since the original came to an end?  The best groups get copied over and over with new names and faces, period.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, full stop.
  • Spawn - What comes of the individual members both during and after the faction has it's run?  Does anyone other than the lead dog get to shine?  What do the younger member go on to do afterward?


This top ten had several entries that failed one or more of these requirements.  10 through 6 were as follows:  The Heenan Family, Dangerous Alliance, Nation of Domination, The Corporation, and the Hart Foundation. The first three are fine to me.  The Heenan Family ran for a good half decade, won some titles, and had some great individual members (Andre the Giant, Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy, Rick Rude, Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard, and Curt Hennig to name a few).  They aren't the first to come to mind but when you look at it, they pass the test.  The Dangerous Alliance ran for about a year, but at one point controlled three out of five titles in WCW and had some great members (Rude, Anderson & Bobby Eaton, Larry Zbysko, and one Stunning Steve Austin).  The Nation was around for a couple of years, and was where the Rock found his sea legs as a performer.  They also included Ron Simmons (Farooq), Owen Hart, the Godfather, and Mark Henry.  The title wins were few while they were together but Rock and Henry went on to greater things.  The things got dicey.

The Corporation was a sloppily put together group that came and went in less than a year and was little more than a group of straw men set up for Austin to knock down.  The roster was never settled for more than a few weeks at a time members seemed to join and turn with no sense of timing whatsoever.  The only reason for its inclusion is that this is a WWE production put together by people who were rising in the ranks during that year.  Through their time together they cycled through Mick Foley, Rock, the Undertaker, Triple H, Chyna,Kane, Ken Shamrock, Test, the Big Bossman, and the Big Show.  There were also peripheral members who came and went quickly.  Years later hardly anyone brings up the Corporation when talking the Austin-McMahon rivalry; there's a reason for that.  The Hart Fondation's run was short, less than a year, and was ended abruptly on the night of the Montreal Screwjob.  They had great members (Bret Hart, Owen Hart) and good members (British Bulldog, Brian Pillman, Jim Neidhart) and won a lot of gold in a short time, and pulling off the whole faces in Canada/heels in America was a pretty big deal.  But as soon as they were gone, Degeneration X took their place without missing a beat.  If you're picking ten I can see having them on the list, but number six is a little too high.  I think the Heenan Family was a bigger deal than them, personally, and the Nation was almost as memorable.


Now if you had some issues with the first five, then the top five will really get to you.  There were a few obvious choices like the Four Horsemen and the NWO, but there were a couple of doozies I tell you.  Number five was Evolution.  Now my initial thought was that I could see that, but to a lot of people in my age group Evolution was nothing more than a bootleg Four Horsemen set up to elevate Triple H to icon status by sheer force of will.  They held lots of titles, and did stick around for two years.  They launched Randy Orton and Batista to heights they probably wouldn't have reached on their own, and Ric Flair got one more good run out of it.  I can't hate on that; other than the copycat thing the pass all my tests.  Number four was the Four Horsemen.  No.  Just......no.  The Four Horsemen ran for almost three years, held all the major titles in the company at one point or another, and are the prototype for every faction that centers around the World Champion for the company.  They had possibly the greatest in ring worker of all time in Flair and two of the greatest tag team wrestlers of all time (Anderson and Blanchard), the fourth member slot had at one time or another one of the great match workers of the late 80s in Barry Windham and one of the biggest names of the 90s in Lex Luger.  The Hart Foundation, Evolution, the NWO and every failed group with the same structure was modeled after the Four Horsemen.  To put them fourth is ridiculous.  That slight was all about not wanting to put a group on top that was never a part of the WWF/E.  Period.

The same rule largely applies to number three, the NWO.  Their best work was done in WCW, as their very brief WWE run was over in a a few months.  You can make an argument for putting them number one, even ahead of the Horseman because they drew money on a large, nationwide scale in a way that the South-based Horsemen did not and because they are the ones who sparked new interest in pro wrestling after a half decade of slow, steady decline.  Their best period lasted about a year and a half, and they stuck around too long after that, but without them you don't get the counterprogramming from the WWE that birthed the Attitude Era.  The only thing worse than having them third is having Degeneration X first.  D-X was the answer to the NWO; had the latter not taken off like they did there would have been no sense of urgency to take WWE programming in the direction it went in and gave D-X the free run they got on Monday Nights.  D-X also had some stretches were they largely irrelevant on the roster, or where every member besides Triple H wasn't over anymore.  Their most popular period was also one where no one in the group challenged for the World Championship.  But this isn't even the biggest outrage.  That would be number two......the Brood.  This was nothing more than a trolling attempt by whoever created this.  It was supposedly voted on by fans, but I'm not buying that one bit.  The Brood wasn't even around for very long, they won no titles while together, and didn't influence anybody that came later.  Edge and Christian's future success came later on and had nothing to do with the few months they spent as a trio with Gangrel.  Good grief.....  More than any other choice this one invalidated the whole damn show.  That, and the egregious omission of the Freebirds.  Major fail all around.

OK, this has been long enough so I'll end it here.  I'll throw up my own top factions sometime later.