Along with big bad monsters, “stables” have always been a key to telling stories in pro wrestling. At a basic level, there’s strength in numbers in any fight. Forming a stable in wrestling is as easy as grouping together any number of members (more than a tag team, less than end-stage NWO, please and thank you) with a common purpose and mindset. From The Four Horsemen and The Heenan Family all the way through to Bullet Club and the recent debut of The Pinnacle in AEW. It’s usually embodied by everyone ganging up and beating the holy hell out of some poor, lone babyface who was dumb enough to try fighting fair. This naturally sets up the amazing story moment when that good guy finally overcomes ALL the baddies to triumph (think Sting fighting off the NWO repeatedly on his way to the Big Gold Belt), or else comes together with other good guys to serve up justice (like when Daniel Bryan shockingly joined Team Cena to help topple the Nexus at Survivor Series).
Perhaps the biggest opportunity for stables to tell in-depth stories, however, is when they die. Whether demolished from the outside or (more often) imploding from the competing self-interests of the members, the end of a stable can set up long-form personal feuds between people we’d come to see as blood brothers. Take the current dissolution of The Undisputed Era in NXT (dare I say, my favorite WWE faction? It’s certainly the one I’ve enjoyed most in recent years). The selfishness of wannabe lead dog Adam Cole couldn’t allow for someone else like Kyle O’Reilly to seize the NXT Title spotlight. Cole NEEDS to be the man, can’t stand not to be, so he instead burned everything down around him rather than see one of his own compatriots take the throne. Now we’re seeing a Cole/O’Reilly feud heat up fast, but where will Roderick Strong land? What about when Bobby Fish comes back? The possibilities are endless and endlessly compelling, setting up Takeover main events for months to come. That kind of shock, entropy, and evolution (pun intended) is the main point of this discussion. Here are, in no particular order:
Four Hugely Influential Stable Breakups
1 – The Nation Of Domination (WWE)
Rocky Maivia’s rough start in WWE is well documented, if now irrelevant given that he became arguably the biggest mainstream star to ever to emerge from the sport. We remember the Survivor Series start, the IC title win, the souring on his white meat babyface character, and the “Die Rocky Die” chants. We also remember The Great One main eventing and hosting WrestleManias. His time in between, spent as one part of a faction, is often forgotten.
To save their fallen superstar of the future, the WWF had Rocky Maivia turn heel and join Farooq’s Nation of Domination, a vaguely political faction presenting Black Power salutes and 4-on-1 beatdowns. It was during this time that we first heard Maivia branded as “The Rock,” and witnessed him start to unload loquacious tirades. As The Rock developed his trademark style and sayings, they started to get over, and the Nation at first kicked out Farooq and became more about swagger than politics. The fans enjoyed that, but it was a tenuous position – this was pre-social media, when there was far less of an idea of “smart” fans enjoying the heels for what they were. In the moment, we wanted to like The Rock but it still felt wrong, and that doesn’t move the needle enough in ratings nor in T-shirt sales.
So on the October 12, 1998 RAW, Mark Henry and D’Lo Brown became jealous when The Rock was inserted into the main event alongside the company’s biggest stars (“Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Undertaker). They jumped him from behind during the match and attacked him on the floor repeatedly before striding off. The strands of this prescise moment, HOW the Nation ended and the Rock’s face turn began, are inseperable and hugely important. Brown left that night all set to play the head-waggling, shortcut-taking, arrogant prick we loved to hate. Mark Henry got set up as a scary badass (he’d just caved in The Rock!) now free to eventually leave tag team wrestling behind to be himself, become a champion, and found the Hall of Pain.
Most importantly, while The Rock was still cocky himself, he had now been seen by a huge audience backing it up against top names until he was hit with a cheap shot. He then joined Austin in beating down McMahon’s corporate stooges after the match to seal the deal. The Rock could now go for revenge and lay verbal smackdowns on his opponents, as opposed to targeting us at home, and we could happily go along for the ride. In one fell swoop the WWE had changed not just wrestling, but pop culture forever, simply by tossing a stable aside.
2 – The Dangerous Alliance (WCW)
The Dangerous Alliance, headed up by the eponymous Paul E. Dangerously, were a modern update to the game played by longtime bad guy factions in what had been Jim Crockett Promotions & the NWA. Custom suits, flowing robes, and Paul’s omnipesent Zack Morris-esque cell phone made them seem like the Wolves of Wall Street in comparison to the largely down-home feel of opponents like Barry Windham and Dusty Rhodes. They used their numbers advantage and textbook dastardly heel interference to follow the stable trope to the letter. It was all tied together and given a unique edge by Dangerously’s big personality, the same hook that ate up TV time and allowed less established members, like the then-“Stunning” Steve Austin, to keep their focus on the in-ring action.
The tide was set to turn, though, and we’re talking some The Perfect Storm shit. Following a defeat in a brutal WarGames match in 1992, the Dangerous Alliance splintered rather quickly. Rick Rude (whose arrival had signaled the start of the stable) and Medusa simply took their ball and left, meaning each other former member had to figure things out for themselves. Austin moved into the tag team ranks as half of the Hollywood Blonds alongside Brian Pillman. Without a gum-flapping manager to sell his stories, however, Austin was deemed unexciting and expendable by WCW brass. He was then unceremoniously fired in a move that has to have as many what-ifs and hindsight lessons as the sale of Babe Ruth. His former manager then brought Austin into his new venture, the burgeoning ECW, and allowed him to experiment with a new persona.
Austin emerged with a much harder edge, talking major crap about his former boss in Atlanta (rhymes with “Schmeric Schmishoff”) with no regrets, and speaking in a much more relatable way. You know the rest, as Austin built on his ECW work with WWE to become a tough talkin’ mudhole stompin’ rattlesnake. He then rode that new “Stone Cold” style to being the biggest and most over attraction since the prime of Hulkamania. Imagine how different the wrestling business would look like today if WCW had simply stuck with the original approach.
3 – The Triple Threat (ECW)
After his original partners (Dean Malenko and Chris Benoit) were snapped up by WCW, ECW’s “Franchise” Shane Douglas assembled a new version of his dominant heel faction The Triple Threat. Following a brief dalliance with Brian Lee, Douglas fleshed out the lineup by adding “No Gimmicks Needed” Chris Candido and former WWE superstar Bam Bam Bigelow. They stayed in the main event scene and boosted Douglas to the promotion’s World Television title, followed by a long reign as World Heavyweight Champion. The cracks began to show when Candido and Bam Bam repeatedly had to fend off Taz’s furious push to face Douglas for the belt.
Douglas and Bam Bam then got manipulated into facing each other for the title and had a falling out, which led to Lance Storm joining for a time. When Storm and Candido butted heads repeatedly, Storm was booted out in time for Bam Bam’s return. This flurry of activity ended up tying the group into every part of the card across ECW’s near future. Candido and Storm feuded while still defending the Tag Team titles, Bigelow captured the Television Championship and dominated the midcard, while Douglas steered the proceedings with his trademark watchful eye and motor mouth. It wasn’t meant to last, though, as Bam Bam’s defection to WCW meant The Triple Threat could no longer keep Taz from taking away the title he held so dear. Douglas lost the belt to Taz in January 1999 and sent the whole stable idea packing as a result.
It might surprise you to know that the waves coming out of the Triple Threat, and its breakup, are still being felt today. Even while being in the group for less than a year, Lance Storm moved on from there to form the Impact Players with Justin Credible as the next dominant force in ECW. This allowed him to show more personality (on a relative scale) and prove his mettle in top tier feuds against Candido and others, eventually leading WCW to sign him and put multiple belts on him (at once!). His credibility continued to build and allowed him to successfully train whole generations of athletes, who are still competing today, at his own Storm Wrestling Academy. Douglas, meanwhile, had shown that he could carry a whole card and promotion with his mic work, matches, and as a main event ringleader. He would soon get another shot at the big time (minus the terrible Dean gimmick and chalkboard WWE once gave him) in WCW, along with his own new stable there.
For his part, Chris Candido proved to the world that as a singles star he didn’t need any colorful spandex or ridiculous workout-idol premise to kill it in the ring. He did so while being as lively as he wanted along the way up until his tragic passing. RIP to the man who loved being Back In Black.
4 – 3MB (WWE)
You’re laughing right now, aren’t you? That’s ok, but remember this isn’t about the BEST breakups, or the breakups of the best stables. It’s about how important they turned out to be. Did you ever think that 2 of the 3 Man Band would win the WWE Championship held by Bret Hart, Steve Austin, Bruno Sammartino, et al? Me neither. Drew McIntyre was supposed to have a rocket on his back. He was branded “The Chosen One” and it wasn’t meant to get laughs. His talent was evident, but it wasn’t clicking and he couldn’t get over via the weird leather pants/air…guitar? (look above – your guess is as good as mine) gimmick of 3MB. Just as in the other cases, the plug eventually had to be pulled.
Unlike the other entries here, though, their breakup was a shoot. There was no angle, no explosive feud or backstabbing – Mahal and McIntyre were straight up released. It ended up being the best case for them, though, pushing them both to develop themselves physically and (particularly in Drew’s case) as workers. Jinder returned first, teamed with Rusev, and then shockingly won the WWE Championship as The Modern Day Maharajah. His matches were too similar, sure, but he made himself look the part and pounced when the opportunity arose. Drew returned to the independents as Drew Galloway, filled out his physique, and learned how to pace out incredible main event matches. He fashioned himself into a true headline talent in IMPACT and smaller feds like ICW and WCPW. His eventual return to WWE, conquering WrestleMania moment, and revival of the badass face champion role all trace back to when 3MB petered out. That is some legacy for a group often thought of as a laughing stock.
And that’s the lesson here. The thing all of these groups tell us about stables. Give them a chance to go through real trauma, collapse in a believable way, and there will always be a story there. It’s just about who finds it and who will be able to capitalize the most.