During this 'Diving in Deep' series, we will take an in depth look at wrestling matches from the past, as well as the performers within them. Discussing the status of the latter up to the time of the bout, alongside the importance of the match itself... we will be diving in deep!
When remembering some of the greatest WWE tag-teams of the noughties, many images of nostalgia involve a generic item turned wrestling star-maker: the ladder. It is hard to forget the likes of The Hardys, The Dudley Boys and Edge and Christian going to war over the Tag Team Championship belts in show-stealing ladder matches, but an oft forgotten bout took place at Armageddon 2006, containing only one of these infamous duos. Originally billed as a standard tag-team match between the tandems of Paul London and Brian Kendrick and William Regal and Dave Taylor, it is strange to think this match almost never happened. General manager Teddy Long had a change of heart on the night and "holla holla" later - and unable to resort to his normal tactic of booking wrestlers into a tag team match - The Hardys (Matt and Jeff Hardy) and MNM (Johnny Nitro and Joey Mercury) were added to the match alongside a ladder stipulation.
A match full of innovative high spots, underrated workers crafting their art and a breath of life on an otherwise generic single-brand Pay-Per-View, if you're struggling to remember or place this match there are three words that will jog your memory: Joey Mercury's Face.
Now written in WWE folkore - a meme before memes - Joey Mercury suffered a broken nose and orbital bone during a Matt Hardy ladder spot, spraying blood as if his face was a faucet. And whilst this is a highly memorable moment, the match should be remembered fondly as well. Let's take a look at the tandems taking part:
Brian Kendrick and Paul London - WWE Tag Team Champions
Going into the bout as the reigning WWE Tag Team Champions, the high-flying duo had held the titles for the better part of a year. Often disregarded or forgotten when discussing the best tag teams in WWE history, London and Kendrick held the record for longest title reign before The New Day surpassed it in 2016. Transitioning from standout performances in Ring of Honor to the mountain top of WWE's tag team division, the diminutive tandem were a company mainstay during the middle of the noughties.
At the back-end of 2005 - following Kendrick's return to the company - the pair of cruiserweights were quickly elevated to the Tag Team title scene. After a loss to then champions MNM, London and Kendrick scored a non-title victory over Mercury and Nitro before respective victories over the champions in singles competition. This winning streak continued into Judgment Day 2006 where London and Kendrick toppled the charismatic champions to win their first WWE titles as a team. A first title feud against the completely forgotten duo of K.C. James and Idol Stevens - the latter becoming Damien Sandow further down the line - saw Ashely Massaro join the champions to combat the challengers devious manager, Michelle McCool. By October 14th 2006, London and Kendrick had become the longest reigning WWE Tag Team Champions by hitting the 145 day mark, and entered a feud with British brutes William Regal and Dave Taylor. Regal was able to pick up singles victories over both Kendrick and London, whilst the British duo also scored a non title tag-team victory over the champions on the December 8th episode of Smackdown!.
Following these prior victories, Regal and Taylor went into Armageddon 2006 as the rightful number-one contenders. However, their title pursuit was made all the more difficult when a 'festive' Teddy Long embraced the holiday spirit to throw ladders and four more competitors into the match. Ultimately, London and Kendrick retained their titles in a stellar match.
MNM (Joey Mercury and Johnny Nitro)
Called up to the WWE main roster in April 2005 following a successful stint in the company's developmental promotion, Ohio Valley Wrestling, MNM were immediately thrust into the WWE Tag Team title picture. Debuting with an attack on one half of the Tag Team Champions , Rey Mysterio, during Carlito's Cabana segment, MNM won the titles in the debut match on Smackdown!. With Eddie Guerrero refusing to tag into the match, MNM took advantage to first title reign. The duo's valet, Melina, then entered into an angle with the questionably psychotic Heidenreich, ridiculing the behemoth ahead of an attack from Mercury and Nitro. Schedule to face Heidenreich in a handicap match, Road Warrior Animal saved the unstable goliath from a pre-match beat-down at the hands of MNM. The unlikely duo then challenged Mercury and Nitro for their titles at The Great American Bash 2005, defeating the latter to gain the WWE Tag Team Championships.
Losing their tag titles was deemed "bad publicity" and they set about repairing their image in a bit to regain their lost gold. On the October 28th 2005 episode ofSmackDown!, Mercury and Nitro were placed into a tag team title fatal four-way match against the teams of the Mexicools, William Regal and Paul Burchill and the WWE Tag Team Champions Animal and Heidenreich. Making amends for past failures, MNM hit the snapshot on the latter to become two-time tag champs. Following their October triumph, MNM successfully defended the Tag Team Championships against Eddie Guerrero and Batista and were due to defend the titles once more against the Mexicools at Armageddon 2005.
Prior to Armageddon, MNM lost their tag team titles to the duo of Batista and Eddie Guerrero on Smackdown!. Melina had attempted to seduce Batista into forfeiting the match, and came out to the ring the following week to claim sexual harassment and invoke the MNM's rematch clause. Thanks to Mark Henry's involvement, MNM regained their titles before successfully defending them against Latino Heat and The Animal in a steel cage match the week after.
As aforementioned, in April 2006 MNM then endured a losing streak at the hands of Paul London and Brian Kendrick before ultimately losing their WWE Tag Team Championships to the duo. Following the match, Nitro and Mercury brawled leading to a break up of the group. Later that night, Melina lost in singles competition and slapped General Manager Theodore Long in anger. In order to facilitate a switch to Raw, Melina and Nitro were fired from Smackdown in storyline. In reality, Mercury and Nitro did not get along backstage and Mercury was also due to serve a suspension for breaking the company's Wellness Policy.
Following Mercury's suspension, MNM reunited in November 2006 to answer an open challenge from Matt and Jeff Hardy. The duo were defeated by The Hardys at the otherwise much maligned December to Dismember pay-per-view , before being thrust into this four-way ladder match at Armageddon. The duo were again unsuccessful in their attempt to regain their championship, with Mercury requiring 15 facial stitches for his efforts. Nitro fought the majority of the match on his lonesome, and performed to a level where MNM would have been credible and deserving victors.
William Regal and Dave Taylor
Serving as two prime examples of British technical wrestling and physicality, William Regal and Dave Taylor were stablemates during their stint at WCW. Two-thirds of The Blue Bloods alongside Bobby Eaton, Regal and Taylor reunited in WWE in October 2006.
Reunited due to Regal's desire to return to his heydays after languishing in Smackdown's undercard, Taylor returned at Regal's side and the duo quickly picked up a victory over the team of Funaki and Scotty 2 Hotty. However, shortly after their reunion Taylor suffered a torn meniscus and it appears as though their chance t build momentum was lost. Taylor supported Regal in a ringside role, and following a speedy recovery the duo entered a feud with the WWE Tag Team Champions Paul London and Brian Kendrick. The British tandem picked up non title victories over the champions and were due to face London and Kenrick in tradiational tag-team competition at Armageddon.
Despite the late inclusions of MNM and The Hardys - and an ill-fitting stipulation - Taylor and Regal added a different dynamic to this ladder match, combining their traditional brutality with their roles as comedic foils. The latter culminated in Taylor and Regal's fear of heights when climbing for the titles, and ultimately cost them a chance at victory.
The Hardys (Jeff and Matt Hardy)
Beginning their careers in backyard and trampoline wrestling, the real-life brothers debuted in the World Wrestling Federation as jobbers in the late 1990s. The Hardy Boyz started their run as a popular tag team with a win over Kaientai on Sunday Night Heat, cultivating a loyal fan base thanks to their high-flying and reckless tag-team tactics. The addition of former Fabulous Freebird, Michael Hayes, made the duo serous contenders and they defeated The Acolytes for the WWF Tag Team Championships on the July 5th 1999 episode of Raw is War. This title run was short-lived as The Acolytes regained their titles at Fully Loaded a month later. The brothers then had a brief run alongside Gangrel as The New Brood, though this was largely uneventful.
Faces of a burgeoning tag-team division in the early noughties, Matt and Jeff Hardy entered into long running feuds with Edge and Christian and The Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray and D-Von). With the addition of Lita, the tandem were dubbed Team Xtreme to reflect their "extreme" movesets and wrestling styles, and "stole the show" at Wrestlemania 2000 in a three-way ladder match against their aforementioned foes. Becoming a staple in the WWE at the time, the Hardys, Edge and Christian and the Dudleys reinvented the ladder match stipulation. Seizing every second of air time given to them, the three duos would often be the talking point at the end of PPVs. In the early 2000s, despite the Hardys best efforts, Edge and Christian continued to find ways of retaining their titles. The longstanding feud between the three young tag-teams would come to a head at Summerslam 2000 in the first ever TLC match. Created and devised purely for these three teams, the inclusion of ladders, tables and chairs each reflected a team's personal affinity for those items. Still regarded as a showstealer to this day, the three tag-teams would attempt to top their efforts in at TLC match at Wrestlemania X-Seven the following year.
Further tag-team and title success would follow the Hardys, however after a title-unification loss to The Dudleys at Survivor Series 2001 the brothers began to feud. This led to a singles match at Vengeance with Lita as the special guest referee. Jeff would emerge victorious after Lita failed to see Matt's foot on the rope. Ultimately, the storyline was dropped in January 2002 and WWE reunited the duo.
After a loss to Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman at Judgement Day 2002, the brothers split as Jeff Hardy found himself moving up the card. Jeff entered a hugely memorable feud with The Undertaker whilst Matt found himself relegated to WWE's minor show, Heat. Creating a storyline where he was jealous of his brother's opportunities, Matt attacked Jeff but was then moved to Smackdown to distance the two high-flyers. Matt went on to dub himself Matt Hardy Version 1 and real-life friend Shannon Moore became his follower. However, as Matt blossomed and held the Cruiserweight title, Jeff from WWE on April 22 2003 for erratic drug-related issues and no showing events - amongst other concerns. Mat would continue with company for two further years but was released in 2005 due to unprofessional conduct with social media after discovering Lita had a real-life affair with Edge. Due to a groundswell of fan support, Matt was rehired just a few months later, feuded with Edge, and was eventually returned to the SmackDown brand. Jeff Hardy returned to the company in August 2006, and it was announced on WWE's official website in November of that year that Matt and Jeff would team up for the first time together in over four years as members of Team DX at the Survivor Series pay-per-view. At the end of November, The Hardys recieved their first tag-team title shot in five years against Rated RKO (Edge and Randy Orton) on Raw, but ultimately lost as Edge got himself intentionally disqualified to retain the titles.
That same day, The Hardys also posed an open challenge to any team for ECW's December to Dismember event which MNM accepted, as previously mentioned. This then led into the two teams being added to the WWE Tag Team Championship match at Armageddon. Despite coming up short, both Hardy brothers were able to add their unique and reckless ladder-match antics to the bout, and entered another feud with MNM after the event due to Mercury's legitimate injury at the hands of the Hardys.
As covered above, Paul London and Brian Kendrick were able to retain their titles on the night and would go on to hold the belts for 334 days. As far as spontaneous booking decisions go, the choice to amend the tradiational tag match between the champions and Regal and Taylor would ultimately be an inspired one. Throughout the bout each team showcased their strengths, and despite seeming the 'odd ones out' the British duo were able to splice their offence into the acrobatic high-spots of the other three tandems. Often forgotten when discussing WWE's plethora of high-quality Tag Team ladder matches, this match was so good that JBL forgot he was meant to be a heel commentator.
Comprising of four very-skilled duos in a wrestling ring, this ladder match not only steals the show in 2006, but also holds up in the spot-heavy, over-exuberant modern wrestling world. Even if just to remember how good Kendrick and London were as a team, this match is well worth a revisit.