Marty Jannetty. Poor, poor Marty Jannetty.
Throughout the world of sports-entertainment, no name has been as synonymous with the situation where one member of a tag team goes on to become a Legend in the history of the industry and the other becomes a footnote. The superkick from Shawn Michaels on December 2, 1991, during a segment of “The Barbershop”, the Piper’s Pit-esque backstage segment hosted by Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, propelled Shawn Michaels into the Heartbreak Kid and Marty Jannetty into…well…The Marty Jannetty.
While Jannetty would have a moderate career in the WWF following the divorce with HBK – he actually beat Michaels for the Intercontinental title in May of 1993 – his revamped New Rockers made him a double Marty Jannetty, as his partner Leif Cassidy would leave and head to ECW where he’d be rebranded as the legendary hardcore character Al Snow. As well as resume goes, Snow may not look much better than Jannetty, but Snow is much more revered by the fans and industry members alike than Jannetty ever was.
But why did Jannetty become the fall guy for mismatched tag teams, the misfit toy who proved to be the weak link in the chain? Surely others have done it before, and after all it shouldn’t consistently be rested on the shoulders of Marty Jannetty solely. Why did his going through a window become the wrestling business’ version of “jumping the shark?”
With the upcoming WWE Brand Split Draft on Tuesday July 19, will be see a tag team get split up and if so, will they be more like Michaels and Diesel – both becoming main event Superstars – or like Michaels and Jannetty?
Let’s look at some other significant times in wrestling’s history where one tag member went on to have much more singles success than his former partner.
THE HART FOUNDATION: Bret “Hitman” Hart & Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart
The original Hart Foundation featured two incoming Stampede wrestlers, whom Vince McMahon agreed to take on in the deal to buy out the Calgary promotion in the early 80’s. One was NWA veteran Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, a solid big man with an explosive personality, and Stampede owner Stu Hart‘s gangly son, Bret “Hitman” Hart, who was gifted in the technical styles of mat grappling but devoid of personality all together. Many probably assumed that once the agreement distanced itself, Bret would be sent packing and The Anvil would be a solid mid-carder in the Intercontinental Title ranks. But somewhere along the line things changed, and they changed big time. While Anvil may have started as the veteran in the group, Bret’s presence in the ring soon surpassed his elder brother-in-law. Being surrounded by such a passionate loudmouth like Neidhart and an improvisational speed talker like Jimmy Hart taught Hart to at least gain enough confidence in his promo work to be somewhat captivating during an interview. When the steroid scandal of the early 90’s broke and Vince shied away from pushing his bigger wrestlers, Bret was an immediate Superstar to showcase. His in-ring style was a work of art and the fans were getting behind his underdog work ethic. At the time, he was still a little guy amongst giants. But within one year of entering the Intercontinental title scene he would not only beat Mr. Perfect for his first title, but headlined SummerSlam against his other brother-in-law “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith – the first time an IC match had headlined a WWF pay-per-view. Bret would go on to become a five-time WWE World Champion and an icon of the 90’s. Anvil would end up wearing zubaz with Owen Hart in the New Foundation and wore a mask as the ridiculous character Who, before briefly returning to the main event scene as part of the Hart Foundation faction in Bret’s war versus Shawn Michaels. Hardly the career for a man many thought would outshine the young Hart when they debuted together.
THE TEXAS OUTLAWS: Dusty Rhodes & Dick Murdoch
If including The Hart Foundation didn’t make some of your eyes roll, the inclusion of The Texas Outlaws probably did. How could you include a legendary tough guy like Dick Murdoch as a failure? Well, to be honest, he wasn’t. Not really. He had some great runs in Mid-South with Junkyard Dog before JYD decided to grab them cakes in Connecticut, and his brief time in the WWF garnered him World Tag Team gold alongside Adrian Adonis, before he became “adorable.” But his greatest rabble rousing days were as part of the rough and rowdy Texas Outlaws alongside the future “American Dream”, the incomparable Dusty Rhodes, throughout the late 60’s and early 70’s. And while Bret Hart became a Legend bigger than Neidhart, Dusty became an icon of the entire industry. It’s probably a bit of a cheeky inclusion, as few other wrestlers to ever don the trunks reached the status of Dusty Rhodes, it would be wrong to point out that they were probably one of the first examples where one member became “larger than life” while his partner did not quite achieve the same levels of greatness.
HARLEM HEAT: Booker T & Stevie Ray
WCW‘s most decorated Tag Team champions, it became apparent when the popular duo parted ways in 1997 (due to an unfortunate injury to Stevie Ray) that Booker T‘s singles career was going to take off. He was able to showcase more ability as a singles wrestler than he was ever allowed to fully display in tag team situations. His Best of Seven series for the WCW World TV title against Chris Benoit made him an instant attraction and he even beat Bret “Hitman” Hart clean in 1999 on Nitro. He was mainstreamed to the main event where he became a five time (five time, five time) WCW World Heavyweight champion. Following the WWE purchase of WCW, he was one of the first to jump ship, becoming a WWE World Heavyweight Champion along the way. Stevie Ray returned from his injury to become a part of the decline of the nWo, formed a new Harlem Heat (a la Jannetty’s New Rockers), with a tragically out of shape Ahmed “Big T” Johnson, before fading away as a commentator on WCW television.
LEGACY: Cody Rhodes & Ted DiBiase Jr.
Another case where the one originally deemed inferior wrestler greatly surpassed the Chosen One, is seen in the pairing of Cody Rhodes – real life son of Dusty Rhodes – and Ted DiBiase Jr – real life son of WWE Hall of Famer The Million Dollar Man. The two were part of the tag team component of Legacy, a faction that was lead by third generation Superstar Randy Orton (son of Cowboy “Ace” Bob Orton Jr.). DiBiase had the good looks and the physique, his ring skills were passable and his charisma seemed ready to explode. Cody had come off a rather awkward partnership with Hardcore Holly (although it resulted in his first WWE gold). He hadn’t filled out completely, and had less than movie star looks. But as Legacy ended, it was clear that Rhodes was the real prodigy of the team. When they branded off, Cody emerged as “Dashing” Cody Rhodes, while DiBiase became a predictable junior version of his father (carrying the Million Dollar belt) before slowly jobbing his way out in 2013. Cody mastered many more gimmicks after that – the masked narcissist that arose from the “Dashing” character, the moustachioed Rhodes, even Stardust – before leaving the company a few weeks ago. Along the way he amassed an impressive resume of WWE gold – two time Intercontinental champion and six-time World Tag Team champion – and a place in the history books, while Ted became “Million Dollar Man’s son”.
THE BLONDE BOMBERS: Larry Lantham & Wayne Ferris
Many of you may be asking yourself “Who?” (possibly followed by “When did Billy Connolly do a Colonel Sanders gimmick in wrestling?”). During the late 1970’s, Wayne Ferris and Larry Lantham were a popular tag team in Florida Championship Wrestling, the NWA affiliate run by latter WWE stooge (and scout) Gerald Brisco. They travelled the territories as popular heels, best remembered for the infamous “Tupelo Concession Stand Brawl” during a match in Memphis against Ferris’ real life cousin, Jerry “The King” Lawler and Bill Dundee. Lantham would move on to be a part of the moderately popular heel unit The Moondogs – a precursor to the Wyatt Family’s hillbilly cult group – portraying Moondog Spot. In 1981, his “family” were WWWF World Tag Team champions. Ferris was working his trade up in Canada, working with the Hart family in Stampede Wrestling. It seemed that Lantham had made the big time while Ferris remained in the minor leagues. But Ferris finally got the call to the WWF in 1986 and entered the history books forever. With his Elvis inspired gimmick, Ferris – now renamed The Honky Tonk Man – became the longest reigning Intercontinental champion of all-time in the WWE, a record that still holds today, with his 454 day title reign. Lantham had left wrestling by the time his former partner first greased up his hair in the WWF.
THE EDGEHEADS: Brett & Brian Majors
Although they debuted as The Major Brothers in WWE’s ECW relaunch in early 2007, it wasn’t until their big splash on the Main Roster at the year’s end that the majority of the WWE Universe were introduced to Brett and Brian Majors. In hindsight, I don’t know how any of us were fooled by this. Neither of the Major Brothers – more commonly referred to as The Edgeheads – looked that much like Edge. But they arrived as clones of Edge in his Armageddon match versus The Undertaker and Batista, helping “The Ultimate Opportunist” win his second World Heavyweight championship. Shortly after their alliance, the Majors were revealed to not in fact be brothers, but instead were two dudes named Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder. While their pairing with Edge didn’t last long (although they did win a WWE World Tag Team title together), they both faded away to jobbing obscurity. During their absence from any legitimate TV time, Ryder became a YouTube sensation that ultimately forced his way back onto WWE programming. And while he never got the push many on-line believe he should have received, he still became a WWE US Champion, got an amazing (albeit brief) Wrestlemania moment this year winning his first Intercontinental championship, and has at least become a somewhat regular character again on WWE television (even his Hype Bros team with Mojo Rawley in NXT was entertaining television). Hawkins got sent back to FCW, had a failed run back on the Main Roster with both Vance Archer (who himself would find greater success in Japan as Lance Hoyt alongside another WWE reject, Harry “British Bulldog Jr.” Hart Smith in The Killer Elite) and then with Tyler Reks. He was sent back to FCW (now rebranded as NXT), but ultimately got his future endeavours in 2014.
SECOND CITY SAINTS: CM Punk & Colt Cabana
If the Texas Outlaws didn’t make you flinch, you’re probably too young to remember them. So most likely, this will be the one to make your eye twitch. Yes, it’s true that Colt Cabana has had a pretty successful indie career. He’s still a solid draw on the indie circuit to this day, not to mention, is still actively wrestling, unlike his former partner “Will He or Won’t He Fight For Real This Time” CM Punk. But let’s be honest. None of Cabana’s successes come close to his long time friends archive, no matter what either one would say on their Podcast. Cabana and Punk trained together and debuted together in Ring of Honor in 2002. While initially adversaries, they soon joined forces and, alongside their mentor Ace Steel, formed the faction The Second City Saints. Punk and Cabana were the faction’s tag team representatives, where they captured the ROH World Tag Team titles twice. Punk tested the bigger waters first, dipping his toes into TNA‘s waters, before returning to become World Champion in ROH. He also made the jump to WWE first, in 2005, before Cabana joined him in 2007. Punk debuted in the WWE’s ECW in 2006, while Cabana – horribly renamed as Scotty Goldman – debuted on Smackdown a few months after Punk hit the Main Roster. The year 2009 was a drastically different one for each man. Cabana was released by the WWE in February and a few months later, Punk cashed in his MITB briefcase to defeat Jeff Hardy to become the new World Heavyweight Champion. Punk would go on to initiate one of the biggest shifts in WWE history – moving towards established indie stars – and become one of the most popular and polarizing Superstars of all time. While it’s true Cabana still has his place in the history books, he will always be the Art Garfunkel to Punk’s Paul Simon.
Concluded in Part 2 of the 2 Part Series, “The Marty Jannetty, Part 2: The Full Marty”