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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

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EOTR Tag Team Tuesdays: Harlem Heat

By @TrueGodImmortal 

When the tandem of Booker T and Stevie Ray managed to make their way to WCW, they became one of the greatest, if not the greatest WCW Tag Team of all time. When we reflect back on the greatest black tag teams ever, for today, we have The New Day, and of course there were others like Doom with Ron Simmons and Butch Reed, but the greatest black tag team in history of this business to me is Harlem Heat. Comprised of two real life brothers who came from Houston, TX, they would begin their run as the hilariously titled "The Ebony Experience" on the smaller circuits in the Global Wrestling Federation. Previously going as The Huffman Brothers, the Ebony Experience piqued the interest of WCW after winning the GWF Tag Titles and in 1993, they would make their debuts in the WCW.

*WCW Legacy 
When they started out in WCW, no one really knew what to expect. They'd been labeled as Kole and Kane, and to be completely honest, they were originally put into the roles of those names for the most racist gimmick I could imagine (considering this was WCW, a deep south promotion, this was no surprise). The gimmick they originally were slated for? Harlem Heat was supposed to be a team of wrestling prisoners that were won in a card game by the already borderline racist redneck confederate style gimmick of Col. Robert Parker. They would come out in shackles and resemble slaves in a way, so that gimmick was nixed early on, but when you consider what they were intended to start as, it's a wonder that they made it this far in the first place.

When they debuted with Parker, it just didn't work and things were due to change. They became heels and seemed to have an edge about them, but still, Parker didn't fit the team. He felt more like an undercover slave owner telling his slaves to go do his bidding for him. As crazy as that may sound, imagine the image of two black wrestlers, formerly in shackles and chains on their way to the ring, now being some tough team led by a southern redneck white man. It just didn't fit. However, as a team, they were slowly coming into their own, and they began getting over as heels. This would lead to a necessary change for them, as they finally changed their names to Booker T and Stevie Ray. Along with that, came the biggest change that would alter their fate.

Sensational Sherri had worked in WWF previously with Rick Martel, Shawn Michaels, Randy Savage, and many more, but when she arrived to WCW, she was eventually put with Harlem Heat and it fit like a perfect marriage. Being dubbed as "Sister Sherri", she fit well with them and would lead them to a tag team title run, getting the victory over the Patriot and Marcus Alexander Bagwell, also known as Stars and Stripes. Once Harlem Heat had the tag team titles, they would go on to hold the belts 10 times over the course of their WCW career. In about 4-5 total years as a team, they had 10 WCW Tag Titles runs, and each run had its own significance, no matter how short it was. When we look back at WCW, there are some great teams for sure, but no WCW team is greater than Harlem Heat. Unlike The Road Warriors, The Steiners, The Nasty Boys, and other great teams in WCW, Harlem Heat never went elsewhere or wrestled in another big Federation as a team. Thus, they are the greatest WCW Tag Team. And, as a final note, they are responsible for one of the funniest moments in wrestling history, when Booker T mistakenly told Hulk Hogan in a promo that "we coming for you, nigga", which remains one of the best highlights of WCW and in wrestling from an unintentional comedy standpoint. For that, Harlem Heat is forever etched in history books even beyond their ring work.

*Top Feuds 
For the years they spent in WCW, Harlem Heat had some great feuds and some lackluster ones. I wouldn't consider the Dick Slater and Bunkhouse Buck feud significant, nor would their mini feud with Lex Luger and Sting for the titles count, but if I had to rank their feuds, I'd say they had 4 top feuds in the company, one with Public Enemy, one with The NWO/Outsiders, one with the Steiner Brothers, and their greatest one, with the Nasty Boys. While over that 5 year tenure in and out the tag title picture they had some really good moments, these 4 feuds were their best and most intense.

The Public Enemy feud is probably the least significant of them all, but still had some good action. The Outsiders feud was honestly weird, because Harlem Heat rarely got the upper hand, but it was really cool to see Harlem Heat get a run at a near main event tag team feud against two of the biggest stars in the company. I believe that the Harlem Heat/NWO feud really helped Booker make a transition into a star singles wise, and it was necessary for the team. However, the top two feuds remain to be their Steiners feud and the Nasty Boys feud. The matches from both feuds were back and forth and they traded the tag titles during the feuds, but what made each feud so great was that it felt as if the teams involved really hated each other. You might forget about these feuds in reflection, but make no mistake about it, the Steiners feud set the tag division on fire during 1996-1997 in the midst of NWO dominance, while the Nasty Boys feud was the true beginning of Harlem Heat's coming of age. I still look at The Nasty Boys vs Harlem Heat as one of the greatest tag team feuds of all time. Without question.

*The Failed Reunions
I'll keep it short here. 1999 saw a Harlem Heat reunion that was short lived and really strange, considering they won the tag titles and start off successful, but randomly decided to add a female bodybuilder named Midnight, which caused a breakup and the awkward teaming of Stevie Ray and Big T aka the former Ahmed Johnson, which led to the doomed Harlem Heat 2000. It almost messed up the entire legacy of the team, especially when Booker started feuding with them and lost the use of T in his name (2000 WCW was a weird, weird place). That would be a horrible reunion gone bad and the story really left a sour taste with most Harlem Heat fans.

As time and many years have gone by, Harlem Heat reunited in Booker's only promotion ROW for a short tag title run, but of course, neither man is still in their prime, so it's mostly just a nice nostalgia trip, and nothing substantial. Regardless, the reunions for Harlem Heat haven't proved to be fruitful and we've never seen them in WWE together as a team.

Though Harlem Heat isn't the greatest tag team of all time to me, they will always be the greatest WCW team ever and the best black tag team to wrestle in this business. They took a gimmick intended to degrade them, got over, and showed WCW that they were the real deal. They let their talent speak for them and they've built up a legacy that cannot be denied. Not bad for a team from 110th Street in Harlem (by way of Houston, TX of course).



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