Something’s been bugging me the past couple of months: where do we draw the line between “tag team” and “faction”? Do something really quick: go and Google “factions in wrestling”. No doubt you will get something along the lines of the nWo, the Hart Foundation, the Inner Circle, and… the New Day? What is the New Day doing in a list of factions? You see this sort of thing a lot in such lists, and it’s a pet peeve of mine. So today, let’s look at what a faction is and how is it different from a tag team.
To quickly review the basics: factions are a group of people who come together under a shared goal. The New World Order had the goal of taking over WCW. D-Generation X were concerned with being rebels, breaking rules, and influencing teens and tweens to be god awful nightmares for their parents. RETRIBUTION is supposed to be a revolt of the people. All these factions have goals and visions that unite their members.
Factions can also unite around an individual (sometimes called a stable in this case). Take for instance AEW’s Inner Circle, who are all united around Chris Jericho. He has hand picked this team to be his bodyguards, henchmen, and as the faction has grown, friends. Team Taz are right now united around Taz, who is trying to force the wrestling world to recognize him. Back in the Attitude Era, the Ministry of Darkness took orders from the Undertaker and then… that other guy.
Factions can be a mix of unifying factors, too — these are not the most hard set rules. The Nightmare Family is just made up of the Rhodes family and people they choose to associate with.
So what unifies tag teams, then? How does the way factions come together differ from tag teams? Well, again, it’s complicated in some ways. Tag teams can unify around a single person or a goal, but more often than not tag teams simply exist to compete in the tag team division. The Street Profits are a cohesive unit not because of any outside factors or any additional motives beyond just being a tag team. They came together as a pair in order to be a tag team. The IIconics were not there for any purpose other than wrestling in tag team matches.
Sure, you can have friendships or rivalries that come about because of their team, but the key defining feature of tag teams is that their existence is to compete as a tag team. The reason for a tag team, when viewed from outside of kayfabe, when looking at the group in terms of narrative, is to be a single unit to have feuds, to fight, to cut promos. Members of the best tag teams feel as if they could not exist without the group. This is not to say a tag team cannot split and have singles runs, but when that happens major gimmick retoolings are usually necessary.
Which leads to another key defining feature of factions: the emphasis on individualism. A faction is a collection of individuals, often with their own feuds, their own narrative arcs, and their own goals. Look at the Inner Circle, a large faction with unique personalities. Jericho feuds with Orange Cassidy while Santana and Ortiz feud with Best Friends, and Sammy Guevara has his hands full with Matt Hardy. Sometimes they all come together to take on Jon Moxley or The Elite, and sometimes they do their own thing.
Meanwhile, there are tag teams such as Jurassic Express, a group often put on lists of factions (for some reason). Yet, the group never splits focus. Most of their matches are tag matches or trio matches. Even when they have singles matches, at least one of the other members of the group comes out ringside. There is individuality, to be sure — Jungle Boy got to take on MJF and Jericho, but always with the rest of his team by his side. And these things never last longer than one, maybe two matches.
In the New Day, we had something even more substantial: Kofi winning the WWE Championship. One could make the argument this showed enough individualism to qualify New Day as a faction, but to make that argument you would have to ignore the fact the other two often supported Kofi at ringside, joined him in promos, and most damning of all, that this was a completely out of the ordinary one-off for the New Day. For years before this storyline, the group hadn’t had any individual runs, and with Kofi returning to tag matches right after dropping the title without skipping a beat, it sure wasn’t a lasting trend for the group.
However, there is one group of people that is excluded from my definition of a tag team: individuals who are thrown together into a team. Kenny Omega and “Hangman” Page stumbled into a tag team together. Same with Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax. These pairs do not really fit my definition of a tag team. And the honest truth is they aren’t, at least not in the traditional sense. These pairings are often done for narrative reasons, whether it’s growing individual characters like Omega and Hangman, or just because a dominant tag team is narratively needed at the time in the case of Baszler and Jax.
These pairings are even further away from factions than they are tag teams. On face value, one might think that despite only being composed of two people, these pairings will fall under the definition of a faction, and there’s some validity to that idea. However, at their core, factions have always been large groups of people; they are sizable forces to be reckoned with. Something that two people cannot really capture.
Similarly, tag teams, despite their very function implying two members, can house up to three members but rarely any more than that. A tag team and a manager/someone ringside is as big as you can get and still feel like the group is one entity; any more than that and the fact that it’s made up of individuals becomes too apparent.
So then what about those groups with three? The New Day, The Shield, Jurassic Express? Are they tag teams or are they factions? Well, in the end it just comes down to a smell test and the general vibe you get from the group. How independent is each person in the group? What goals do they have? Is it just winning tag matches, do some members have a separate, individual focus? There are gray areas, absolutely. But one thing is for certain: the New Day are absolutely in no way a faction! You hear me, you clickbait lists? Not a chance in hell!
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