Nick Jackson has had plenty of bad ideas. He and his brother Matt, the world renowned tag team known as the Young Bucks, have leaned into every bit of controversy that has surrounded them for the past decade and they’ve agreed to take every dumb bump that they’ve been offered for far too long. No moment will ever encapsulate Nick Jackson’s spirit more than at AEW’s All Out, when Jackson began ascending to the top of a ladder after assembling two tables on the outside of the ring. Wrestling logic states that because those tables are there, someone must go through them. That person is often Nick Jackson. The only problem in this case was the size of the ladder. I am far from a mathematician, but I took one look at the ladder, upright in the middle of the ring, and quickly realized that we were moments away from disaster. I leaned over to the person I was sitting with and noted, “that ladder isn’t big enough to reach those tables.”
I was half right. As Penta El Zero M sent him cascading to the floor, Jackson was able to crash through one of the table, and in the process, hit his head and neck area on the other. Simply put, it was gnarly. There was no overdramatic “hushed silence” nonsense in the Sears Centre. There was a genuine fear that passed after only a few seconds, but those seconds were real, and they were scary.
— NoDQ.com: WWE Clash of Champions news #WWEClash (@nodqdotcom) September 1, 2019
A simple “I’m alive.” at 1:22 the next morning was enough to put the rest of my fears to bed. Nick Jackson had survived yet again. He has another month to rest up before he and his AEW pals take their show on the road, weekly, in front of a national audience on TNT.
The AEW roster is comprised of legends like Chris Jericho and hot commodities like Jon Moxley, but heading into their first TV taping on October 2, there is perhaps no more historically significant roster member than the Young Bucks. As jarring as it may sound, the Young Bucks might be the greatest tag team to ever live.
The Young Bucks have been wrestling since 2004. Technically, we can go as far back as 2001 if you want to count their famed backyard wrestling tapes, but 2004 seems like a fair starting point for their careers. They wasted away on the Southern California indie scene for a handful of years before finally getting picked up by Pro Wrestling Guerrilla in 2007. It was there that they began to blossom. They got steady work, became champions, and even caught the eye of fellow AEW star CIMA, who was so impressed by their athleticism and their finisher at the time, the More Bang for Your Buck, that he brought them out to Japan for a tour in the summer of 2008.
— LARIATOOOO!! (@MrLARIATO) June 9, 2018
However, it was one year after that first Dragon Gate tour that we began to see what Peak Young Bucks might look like. The Bucks as we know them were fully formed on July 25, 2009, on the first ever Dragon Gate USA show. The Jackson brothers were coming into the match as PWG Tag Team Champions, having recently won the DDT4 tournament in which they defeated the teams of Kenny Omega & Chuck Taylor and The Cutler Brothers before surviving what can only be considered attempted murder via the hands of Roderick Strong & Bryan Danielson. The finals of the tournament, the aforementioned Strong & Danielson match, showed that the Bucks were more than a flavor of the month team. They had tangled with the top independent stars of the time numerous times – the Kevin Steen’s and El Generico’s, the Jimmy Jacobs’ and Tyler Black’s, and the Alex Shelley’s and Chris Sabin’s had all fallen to the power of the Young Bucks. The victory that sent them into the next stratosphere, however, was the win over the former ROH World Champions in Strong & Danielson.
It was after all of that that the Bucks came into the first ever DGUSA show, Open the Historic Gate, with a wave of momentum. On a Hall of Fame-level indie show, the duo from Rancho Cucamonga stole the show with CIMA and then-partner, Susumu Yokosuka. Nick was still a few days away from turning 20 when he and Matt boldly proclaimed that they were not “…the tag team of the future…they are the tag team of the present.”
They ended 2009 with contracts to TNA Wrestling and a second place in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Awards for Tag Team of the Year. The group fell to the honorable mentions list in 2010, then in 2011 found themselves back in the top 10, where they have stayed ever since. In 2014, the brothers took home first place and have held the top spot ever since.
A run of such dominance in the Observer Awards is unheard of. To me, the only team that has an argument over the Young Bucks is the all-star duo of Toshiaki Kawada and Akira Taue, otherwise known as Holy Demon Army. As singles competitors, we’re talking about two of the 25 greatest wrestlers to ever live. As a tag, they are the end all, be all, when it comes to match quality. Kawada & Taue landed on the Tag Team of the Year list for the first time in 1994 with an eighth place finish. In 1995 and 1996, they found themselves finishing in third before moving up a spot in 1997 and 1998. By 1999, they had begun to show their age, and in 2000, Mitsuharu Misawa led an exodus of All Japan Pro Wrestling superstars to form Pro Wrestling NOAH. Toshiaki Kawada stayed behind, loyal to the only promotion he had ever called home to that point, ending the Holy Demon Army tag run for good. They would team once more in Pro Wrestling NOAH on a Misawa Memorial Show in 2009, in an epic against KENTA & Jun Akiyama. KENTA and Akiyama did the heavy lifting in that match, but the aura of Kawada & Taue teaming once more is what carried the match to greatness.
After teaming for a brief moment in 1990, Holy Demon Army fully take shape in 1993, winning the All Japan tag belts in the same month that they began teaming. What makes Holy Demon Army so special is that they weren’t in the business of having Match of the Year Contenders, they were in the business of having Greatest Match Ever Contenders. Their first of those took place that December in an emotionally draining contest against Kenta Kobashi and Mitsuharu Misawa. Those teams would put on an encore performance in the summer of 1995 in a match that is often talked about as the greatest match ever, even today. When Kobashi and Misawa split up, Holy Demon Army continued their streak of excellence against Misawa and All Japan’s top prospect at the time, Jun Akiyama. Those four put on another all-time classic in December of 1996.
Holy Demon Army reigned supreme from 1993-2000. They do not have as extensive of a list of great matches as the Young Bucks do, but their match quality peaks higher than any other tag team.
The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express and the Midnight Express, both the version with Bobby Eaton & Stan Lane and Bobby Eaton & Dennis Condrey, are obvious “well what about…” teams when arguing who reigns supreme in the tag team hierarchy. Both teams came into their own in 1986 with the Eaton & Condrey version of the Midnights taking home Tag Team of the Year in the WON Awards with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express finishing in a respectable third. Together, the two teams brought home second prize in Feud of the Year.
Peak runs for both teams were short lived, however. The Midnights ravaged Mid South, World Class, and Jim Crockett Promotions under the Eaton & Condrey banner from 1984-1987. Eaton & Lane would continue the trend of greatness well into 1990, but even at that, they do not have the longevity of the Young Bucks peak run which is now a decade and counting. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express also begin their run in 1984 and keep it going through 1987, but in their case, they found a second life in Smokey Mountain Wrestling in 1993-1994.
In-ring, the teams are going to battle a generational crossroads. If you were alive in the mid-1980’s when these two teams were reinventing what wrestling could be, I think it’s fair to hold a slight bias for these guys. Thirty years on, these matches still hold up in a wrestling landscape that has drastically shifted. The top of the line matches between these two teams, either with one another or without, are as strong as anything the Bucks have offered to their craft, but the Bucks have simply been doing it for longer, in more companies, with different styles, in ways that we have never seen before.
The only teams that can offer a similar longevity are the Steiner Brothers and the Briscoe Brothers, both of whom I consider to be second-tier candidates. The Steiners are too inconsistent with their greatness and the Briscoes, for as great as they are (which is really, really great), are a step down from the elite ranks of tag teams that are up for debate.
Japanese tag teams like KENTAFuji, SpeedMuscle, and Kenta Kobashi & Mitsuharu Misawa all peak with five star or near-five star matches, but lack the longevity of the Young Bucks, Midnights, Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, or Holy Demon Army.
The Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame voting criteria states that, “…include the length of time spent in wrestling, historical significance, ability to attract viewers, and wrestling ability. Inductees must have at least 15 years of experience in the wrestling business or be over 35 years old and have 10 years of experience.”
If I had a ballot, the Young Bucks would be a slam dunk vote for me the first time they are eligible to vote for.
The Young Bucks’ historical significance is not built on carbon copies of their in-ring style running around. The Bucks case of significance is built on who they’ve elevated and where they’ve done it. The most extreme case of this is with Candice LeRae, who balls-plexed the Bucks into oblivion en route to the PWG Tag Team Championships with Joey Ryan in a hardcore match that was the #1 selling non-BOLA PWG DVD on Highspots.com until it went out of print.
Without the Bucks, the Super Smash Brothers are not brought into Dragon Gate USA and then years later, All Elite Wrestling. When Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish began teaming, they were attached at the hip of the Bucks until their New Japan exodus and subsequent WWE signing in 2017. reDRagon helped the Young Bucks find their home in Ring of Honor, and in return, the Young Bucks helped reDRagon establish themselves as threats on an international level. Most recently, the Lucha Brothers and the Young Bucks have ushered in a style of tag wrestling that has never been seen before by a large scale American audience. The bubble of hardcore fans that have been watching the Young Bucks for a decade have not been surprised by what these two teams are capable of. They saw it a handful of times before the idea of AEW was birthed into existence. However, the matches between these two teams, most notably the ladder match at All Out, felt like a changing of the guard in terms of the way tag team wrestling is looked at in America.
The Young Bucks drew no money in TNA as Generation Me. They popped no houses during their two tours of Dragon Gate. Even as a developed, international act, their drawing power was minuscule in New Japan. Where The Young Bucks shined was drawing at the box office on the American independent scene.
There was no definitive switch in the Young Bucks going from hot indie acts to a bonafide draw, but there is denying that the independent act to in 2014 and 2015 was the Bucks. In 2013, the tandem worked 76 matches between indies like Chikara and Dragon Gate USA, a handful of ROH shots, and their debut New Japan tour. The next year, they increased the number to 91 thanks in part to a heavier presence in New Japan, which in return made them a hotter act on the independent scene. By 2015, we saw companies like the New York-based 2CW book a show called, “We Booked This Show Because It Was Literally The Only Available Date For The Young Bucks”. After a year of 104 matches, the tandem were rewarded with a two year deal that kept them exclusive to ROH and PWG in America and New Japan overseas.
Wherever the Young Bucks have gone, there have been bidding wars over them. Dragon Gate USA looked like it was going to be their home for years to come, but TNA scooped in and signed them in the final few days of this past decade. When TNA showed they were incapable of using them to their fullest potential, they waltzed back into Ring of Honor (only to bounce back to DGUSA when more booking issues halted their growth). When DGUSA was crumbling and EVOLVE was rebuilding, the Bucks used their connection to Kazuchika Okada to land in Japan for New Japan Pro Wrestling (years prior, El Generico had tried to get them booked in DDT. At the time, DDT were unable to afford plane tickets for both brothers. If DDT had the cash flow, the entire wrestling landscape would look drastically different). The Bucks used their New Japan platform to rake in indie bookings and expand their profile, which in return landed them guaranteed ROH deals. Two years and a 10,000 seat experiment later, we now see the brothers as figureheads for All Elite Wrestling.
Awards, speculated influence, and drawing power can only get a team so far. When it comes down to it, I don’t believe any tag team has the working record that the Young Bucks have. I referenced the Bucks vs. CIMA & Yokosuka earlier on. That was the first match that we saw Peak Bucks, but it was far from their first great match. They spent 2008 sharing the ring with Age of the Fall, Don Fujii & Masaaki Mochizuki, and El Generico & Kevin Steen. They have a handful of great matches before we enter their peak run.
Then, there’s the peak run. We’re on a ten year stretch of greatness. The battle with CIMA & Yokosuka set the table for matches like the following,
- Young Bucks vs. El Generico & Paul London vs. the Cutler Brothers: July 30, 2010
- Young Bucks vs. Alex Shelley & Chris Sabin: December 5, 2010
- Young Bucks vs. Super Smash Bros vs. Adam Cole & Kyle O’Reilly: July 21, 2012
- Young Bucks vs. Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly: May 17, 2014
- Young Bucks vs. Alex Shelley & KUSHIDA: June 21, 2014
- Young Bucks & Super Dragon vs. Andrew Everett, Biff Busick, & Trevor Lee: August 29, 2015
- Young Bucks & Adam Cole vs. Matt Sydal, Ricochet, & Will Ospreay: September 3, 2016
- Young Bucks vs. Matt Hardy & Jeff Hardy: April 1, 2017
- Young Bucks vs. Kenny Omega & Kota Ibushi: March 25, 2018
- Young Bucks vs. Penta El Zero M & Rey Fenix: August 31, 2019
This is without mentioning their run from Dragon Gate, the hidden gems from New Japan, and numerous PWG matches that have been lost to a DVD-less world. No other team has the output they have. That’s what all of this comes down to. Match-for-match, they are the best team to ever live. As of the publishing date, the Bucks have received two five star matches from Dave Meltzer (the 9/3/16 six-man and the 3/25 tag against the Golden Lovers). Holy Demon Army blows past them with ten five star matches from the Observer, while the Midnights and Rock ‘n’ Roll have none.
Acknowledging the fact that the Bucks are in this conversation does not invalidate your childhood. Both Express teams had phenomenal runs. The Fantastics, Hart Foundation, and Rockers all left their mark on the industry in a positive manner. We just happen to be living in a time now that features the Young Bucks doing those same things, simply better.