On July 24, Dax Harwood tweeted a picture of the NWA Tag Team Rules, with the following caption:
“It’s this simple. Every sport has clearly defined rules. FTR.”
Without completely showing my age, I should start by saying that I’m not very familiar with NWA as a promotion. I know enough to tell, though, that the promotion’s legacy is essential to understanding the gimmick of FTR. Even during their time in WWE, Dax and Cash’s gimmick was just being good at wrestling, not being out of this world characters, or extreme stuntmen, or making explosive promos on the mic. They’ve honed in on this since arriving in AEW, and I believe it’s been to the detriment of the tag division. This is because it disrupts the audience’s ability to enjoy the physicality or story of a match, as well as the fact that it ushers in disregard for other forms of wrestling, particularly Lucha Libre.
Wrestling fans are well past arguing that wrestling is or isn’t fake. It’s predetermined. A ballet of violence, if you will. While Dax’s affirmation that wrestling, as a sport, has “clearly defined rules,” is supposed to be an example of him being down-to-earth about this real-life, unscripted fighting, it feels more akin to an actor on stage looking the audience in the eye and saying “we have a clear script, read along with it to make sure we don’t miss a word. Anyone who does is a terrible actor.” I mean to say that by stressing the “clearly defined rules” of tag team wrestling, Dax is taking the audience out of the show entirely.
What is and Isn’t
We could note, too, that FTR themselves doesn’t obey the very rules that Dax tweeted:
2. Only one member from each team is allowed to be in the ring at the same time. The remaining partners must stay outside the ropes in their respective corner. A three foot length of rope shall be attached to the corner post, in each team’s corner. The inactive part- ner must hold onto the rope at all times and must not leave his corner for any reason.
3. Partners may change positions only when they have been “tagged”. Tagging is accomplished when the two partners touch hands over the top strand of the ropes. Tags made through the ropes or when the out- side partner has released his hold on the corner rope are illegal and shall not be allowed. The referee must insist that the wrestlers do not make the switch to allow the fresh man to enter the ring.
In their AEW debut against the Butcher and the Blade, Cash and Dax followed these rules for the first two-thirds of the match. When the action started to build to a climax, they began to disregard the rules; they tagged without holding their prized tag rope and entered the ring together to execute moves past any 10 count. To be clear, I think it is good that they sacrifice their idea of tag team wrestling’s “clearly defined” rules in order to entertain and put on a more exciting match. However, the irony of their needing to do so should not be lost. Their hypocrisy and their lack of commitment to the gimmick make it hard to believe their promos, or in their characters as a whole. Additionally, their emphasis on following the rules leads to awkward moments where JR and Excalibur debate whether tags were made before a pinfall, thus making the product as a whole come across as sloppy.
“Clearly Defined Rules”
Another detriment of the stressing of “clearly defined rules” is that the audience that buys into FTR’s words will no longer take their opponents seriously. This is especially true for the Lucha Brothers, who had already built a lot of heat with FTR before they ever even met in person. The core of this rivalry lies in the fact that the Lucha Bros don’t wrestle to FTR’s standards.
Pentagon and Fenix do follow the rules, they’re simply the rules of a different culture of wrestling. During the eight-man tag match between FTR and the Bucks vs the Lucha Bros and the Butcher and the Blade (wordy, I know) you’ll notice that Pentagon rolls out of the ring when he intends to let Blade go for the cover. In Lucha culture, Pentagon’s culture, this is exactly the way to follow the rules. Realistically, if FTR never came to AEW, no one would harp on this; their eyes would simply follow the smooth flow of the action in front of them. But FTR breaks the magic.
FTR’s smash-mouth, meat-and-potatoes, old-school gimmick is a detriment to the entertainment value of tag team matches. Additionally, what FTR argues is a respect for the “rules” of tag team wrestling, is in reality a blatant disregard for tag team cultures that have developed outside of the US. While I’m sure FTR doesn’t mean to be prejudiced, their words carry the implication that the Lucha Bros, the only Mexican tag team on the roster, are lazy and irresponsible. I don’t need to explain how that’s an especially harmful label to place on two Latino men. I’m not saying that FTR is intending to be prejudiced, simply that their gimmick gives those with preexisting prejudice an excuse to keep believing in it. AEW should work to be less NWA-esque, and aspire to be more aware of the different cultures in wrestling. This would help make the product much more entertaining, and much more inclusive.