Tag-team wrestling has been part of the WWE fabric since Dick the Bruiser and The Sheik roamed the squared circle, but a rash of recent injuries has left the division thinner than ever. Erick Rowan is out with a torn bicep, Tyson Kidd is out indefinitely with a neck injury, and Jey Uso has been sidelined since WrestleMania 31 with an anterior shoulder dislocation. The injuries have left fans wondering: Is it time for a Dudley Boyz, one of the most successful tag-teams in pro wrestling history, to return to WWE after a decade away? Devon Hughes, better known as D-Von Dudley, certainly thinks so.
“For us not to be back there, knowing that we’re in the best shape we’ve ever been in, I don’t understand it,” said Hughes. “We’re better now than we were ten or fifteen years ago.
“I understand that they want the future. But without the older generation that paved the way for these young guys to come, you’re not going to have it. Wrestling is a lost art, so you need the older guys like us to help show the younger guys how it’s done. I don’t understand it, though I know it needs to be on their terms.”
Mark LoMonaco, better known to wrestling fans as Bubba Ray Dudley, did not stutter when pressed for his answer.
“Take the Dudley Boyz and put them back in WWE, and you’d add instant credibility to the tag division,” said LoMonaco. “The great thing about the Dudleys is we can work with any team and we can work any style. Not only will we help one team get over and learn and get better, but we can help all of them. It seems pretty simple to me – having the Dudleys back in the WWE is best for business, so I don’t have a really great answer for why we are not there. Only they know.”
The Dudleys, who have achieved remarkable success since leaving the WWE ten years ago, are in action this Saturday night against the Young Bucks for Tommy Dreamer’s House of Hardcore international debut in Toronto.
“You would think the most decorated tag team in the history of WWE would be able to go back into a company and breathe life into the tag division,” said LoMonaco, who takes great pride in the fact the Dudleys wore tag team gold on ten separate occasions while employed by the WWE. “It may never happen, but you never say never. It could be right around the corner.”
LoMonaco’s appearance in this past January’s Royal Rumble marked the first time the “Dudley Boyz” character had been in use in almost a decade. The Dudleys exited the WWE after contract disputes in 2005.
“We didn’t see eye-to-eye on a new contract, but me and Bubba were burnt out,” said Hughes. “We needed a break so bad. We may not have come to an agreement, but it was a blessing in disguise. We created history without the WWE.”
A glance at the Dudleys accomplishments far removed from the WWE spotlight is even more impressive than their achievements while working for Vince McMahon. After losing the “Dudley” name to a WWE trademark, LoMonaco and Hughes reignited their career while remaining true to their roots. “Brother Ray” and “Brother Devon” rebranded themselves as Team 3D, and the men formerly known as the Dudleys have conquered the tag team scene in Japan – twice capturing New Japan’s tag team championships – and helped TNA Wrestling’s growth. LoMonaco even had a successful reign as TNA world champion under his Bully Ray character, which saw him main event pay per views in a series of underrated matches with Sting.
Only LoMonaco was contacted by the WWE this past January for the Royal Rumble, which took place in Philadelphia. And while Roman Reigns can explain it is not easy to earn a meaningful pop in Philadelphia, the crowd at the Rumble lit up when Bubba Dudley hit the ring.
“I said to myself, ‘When I get there, I’m just going to totally be me, and whatever happens, happens,’” said LoMonaco. “It turned out to be a great day. I can’t say enough good things about how much fun that day was, from seeing all of my older friends there that I had worked with in the ‘Attitude Era,’ the younger guys who were ultra-respectful to me, and getting to go out there in Philly meant a lot.
“I remember Road Dogg saying to me, when I was about ten minutes away from going out, ‘Do you think you’ll get a good reaction?’ I know the Philly fans pretty well, and I know what I’ve been able to accomplish since I left WWE, so I knew they’d remember me. I was really happy with the ovation. I loved the fact I was only in there for a short amount of time. Give the people what they want and leave them wanting some more.”
Much to the approval of the Philadelphia fan base, LoMonaco hit some signature Dudley spots. But he did them without Hughes.
“They never called me, they only called Bubba,” said Hughes. “It was a little bit of a slap in the face.”
LoMonaco was also disappointed he did not reunite with his partner on a WWE canvas, but found a way to turn the negative into a positive.
“They only had room for one Dudley that night, but that worked in WWE’s favor,” said LoMonaco. “If two Dudleys had been in the ring at the same time in Philadelphia, the roof would have legitimately blown off the place.
“It was a little weird doing the signature Dudley Boyz spots with someone other than D-Von, but I knew that the people wanted to see it so badly, so I thought it was the right thing to give it to them. Maybe, one day, we’ll give it back to them together for real.”
The Dudleys roots to Philadelphia, of course, are intertwined with Paul Heyman’s Extreme Championship Wrestling. The operation’s homebase was the ECW Arena in Philadelphia.
“The greatest thing Paul Heyman ever gave us was creative liberty,” said Hughes. “A lot of the boys liked to call Paul the ‘David Koresh’ of pro wrestling back then, but he believed in you. He’d fire you up to the point where you thought you were bigger than Hulk Hogan. He made you believe in yourself.
“Paul took the time to develop your character. When people didn’t know how to speak on the mic, he’d sit there with you until three, four, or even five in the morning until you got it right. Paul really let us be us. When WCW fired Steve Austin [in 1995] and WWE wasn’t knocking on his door, it was Paul E. who saw something in Austin. Eric Bischoff fired Austin when he was hurt in WCW, and Paul E. said, ‘I know you’re hurt, but can you talk?’ When Steve came to ECW and delivered those promos – oh my God, you couldn’t believe that was the same guy who was in WCW. That’s what started Austin as a superstar. Steve started to be born again, and it was the same thing when he was in WWE. He didn’t become a star until he was given the creative liberty to be himself.”
LoMonaco and Heyman remain in constant contact.
“We text and talk all the time,” said LoMonaco. “Me and Paul, our relationship is better than anyone else he had from the entire ECW roster. We respect and like each other as people. Even at the Rumble, it was great catching up with him. When the Rumble was over, I was on Brock Lesnar’s tour bus with Brock and Paul, and we were shooting the s--- and reminiscing. When Brock first started and Paul was his manager, I was Brock’s first storyline. The WWE came to me and asked me to get Brock ready for what could be in store for him.”
LoMonaco recalled taking a unique trip to Suplex City.
“Brock is just so powerful,” LoMonaco continued. “One night, we were performing at Penn State, and Brock gave me an overhead belly-to-belly suplex. He dropped me right on my head. It was a total mistake, and it could have been a very, very bad injury for me.
“As soon as it happened, I remember getting up and telling Brock, ‘Do it again, do it again.’ He did not want to suplex me again, so I made him suplex me three more times the same exact way. I didn’t want Brock to become gun-shy about throwing people or change the way he worked if he’d be worried about hurting other people.”
The Dudleys have been perfecting their craft since Heyman teamed their together in 1997.
“ECW fans were bloodthirsty,” said Hughes. “They made you want to go out there and perform each and every night, and the desire to entertain people and the love for this business was what made us into who we are today.
“It was all from the heart. At that point, Bubba and I had never been to the big dance. We had never wrestled in front of crowds of 20,000 people. So since we’d never experienced it, we didn’t know what we were missing. Coming from the indy circuit, when I’d wrestle in front of 30 or 40 fans, it was a big deal to wrestle in front of a couple thousand people. I remember going into the Georgia Dome with WWE and wrestling in front of 40,000 fans. A couple guys in the back said, ‘It’s a little light of a crowd today.’ I’m like, ‘A little light? Are you crazy? It’s 40,000 people!’”
The Dudleys began as a comedy act in ECW, but the decision to combine Bubba Ray and Devon is a decision that transformed the team into force that is still running strong 18 years later.
“It was when I had the match with Sandman at ECW Arena in 1997 was when all the pieces of the puzzle started to come together,” said Hughes. “That was the night Bubba turned heel. We’d fought each other a few times, but fans weren’t buying Bubba as a babyface. Bubba is a great heel. Before that match, I remember feeling so much uncertainty. I just didn’t know if I was good enough. When that match happened, that was when I knew we had something, and the Dudley Boyz were going to rise from a joke to being taken very seriously.”
“Especially performing in those buildings,” added LoMonaco, “where a half an hour before the show started, you could hear the people boiling in the arena, and then you had Paul in your ear telling you why you deserved to be there and how ECW was changing the face of the business, you wanted to go out there and tear the house down.”
The Dudleys then took their talents to the WWE in 1999. The pair struggled to connect with the fan base and the WWE’s creative team.
“I’ve always said ECW was the greatest place in the world to work and the worst place in the world to work,” said LoMonaco. “You had freedom working in ECW and could go up to Paul and speak, argue, or scream about something. You had complete ability to do and say whatever, and that’s what made it great.
“But it didn’t prepare a lot of us, including myself, for the real world of professional wrestling in the WWE. I started voicing my opinions on things, especially when I disagreed with something, and Vince had to pull me aside. Vince said straight to my face, ‘Bubba, 90 percent of the ideas that come out of your brain are better than what comes out of creative’s brains. But you can’t just cut these people’s balls off every time you tell them their idea sucks.’ In ECW, you were allowed to say, ‘That idea sucks.’ I had to be a little more businesslike in WWE.”
The first disagreement with creative was immediate. LoMonaco did not want his character to go back to his stuttering ways, which had already been written off by that point in ECW.
“Of course, that was the first thing they asked him to do,” said Hughes. “But the night it finally came together for us in WWE was the night we put Teri Runnels through the table. That started the feud with the Hardys, and then Edge and Christian got involved. Then the one moment that said it all was when we put Mae Young through that table. When you take somebody’s grandmother, pick her up and place her on top somebody’s shoulders, and put her through a table and the fans go crazy, that shows you how sick society really is. That’s when we knew we’d be OK.”
The Dudleys shared some interesting travel partners in WWE. They rode with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for nearly two years, as well as Tommy Dreamer. Another travel partner happened to be Shane McMahon.
“When Shane McMahon was on the road for the company, he was in the car with us,” said LoMonaco. “One night, we were driving, and Shane decided to wake up his father and made us all say hello to Vince at three in the morning. Vince loves all that horses---. Shane was driving and he said, ‘Come on, let’s wake up Pop.’ I said, ‘That’s probably not a good idea.’ So he called his father and said, ‘Bubba wants to talk.’ He handed me the phone and all I could hear was Vince say, ‘Bubba, why are you corrupting my son?’ I told him it was the other way around, and we both started laughing.”
LoMonaco is grateful for the lessons learned under McMahon’s guidance.
“Vince spent his whole life in the business, added his vision, and made it the best in the world,” he said. “Vince has a great mind for the industry and thinks on a much larger scale. Paul [Heyman] was great at storytelling and really getting people’s characters to come out and how to hide your weaknesses and accentuate your strengths. Those are the two smartest guys I’ve ever learned from in the business, and Paul, Vince, and Pat Patterson are the three best minds ever in this business.”
Despite a penchant for powerbombing women through tables, the Dudley’s signature moment in the WWE were their set of high-risk matches with the Hardy’s and Edge and Christian. Despite putting their bodies through abnormal amounts of punishment, all six of them were devastated with the outcome.
“I remember coming back through the curtain with my head down,” said Mark LoMonaco, better known to wrestling fans as Bubba Ray Dudley. “We could not hear the people reacting.”
All of the sound in the cavernous Houston Astrodome went straight up to the dome, and the cheers of a reported 67,925 fans were muffled to the point that the best match of WrestleMania 17 was deemed by its wrestlers as a failure.
“The sound was going straight up and wasn’t coming back to the ring,” said LoMonaco. “It sounded to us like the mat was very flat. Obviously we were totally wrong.
“When I walked through the curtain, the first person there to congratulate me was Shawn Michaels. When you have Shawn Michaels hugging you and telling you it’s the greatest thing he’s ever seen, that will lift your spirits. Then every other guy we spoke with said we were crazy, and that the match was off the f---in’ charts.”
That match at WrestleMania 17 was the third in a line of a series that forever changed the wrestling business. WrestleMania 2000 featured a three-way triangle ladder match between the teams, and the original “TLC” took place at SummerSlam in 2000.
“I remember being petrified,” said Devon Hughes, better known as Bubba’s half-brother, D-Von Dudley. “We had to incorporate everything we did on these ladders with violence, entertainment, and acrobats. If we failed, it was over. We knew everything was riding on that first WrestleMania in 2000. Then we had to top what we did at WrestleMania when we went to SummerSlam. We didn’t think we’d be able to do it. Then we were told we’d be doing TLC again at WrestleMania 17, and I was like, ‘What?’”
“There was no room for uncertainty,” said Hughes. “We didn’t care who came before us, or who came after us, we were going to tear the house down. We weren’t going to be sorry for anything we did. And, if we were sorry, we were going to do it anyway and then say sorry later.”
TLC was born from the three-way triangle ladder match at WrestleMania 2000. Then there was the original TLC match at SummerSlam in North Carolina, and TLC II at WrestleMania 17.
“Now we had to put together TLC II in, up to that point, the biggest WrestleMania of all time,” said LoMonaco. “We were in the Astrodome putting together a match we’d already done twice, and were all wondering, ‘How the hell are we going to top the last two?’”
In the weeks leading up to the match, each team put together their own version of the match. Then the six came together and laid out the match.
“We always discussed who was going to take what bump,” said Hughes. “Now I’m scared of heights. It was one of those where I didn’t want to hang or get pushed off from a ladder to the outside of the ring. I sure as hell didn’t want to take that bump that Matt Hardy did where he went backwards outside the ring through a table at SummerSlam.”
There was even one heated argument in the early afternoon of WrestleMania 17, which started over the order of final eliminations. The disagreement was over which should happen first and which should happen last – Bubba Dudley and Matt Hardy taking a plunge off the ladders in the ring and through the tables, or Edge spearing Jeff Hardy off a ladder mid-air high above the ring.
“The vote was split down the middle,” recalled LoMonaco. “There was no agent breaking down this for us, so the match was in our hands. Nobody knew the ebb and flow of the match better than us, but we needed to find the natural progression of which crazy fall would come first. The spear happened first, then the ladder bump, but I wanted the spear to be last. During the SummerSlam match, Devon and Jeff hung from the rings for the first time, and Jeff knocked Devon off.
“I remember telling Edge after SummerSlam, ‘Wow, if we ever have that picture again, imagine if Jeff was hanging there and you could spear him in mid-air?’ Both our eyes lit up at the time, but we had no idea there would be a TLC II. So when we finally put together the match, that spear off the ladder was the first thing we discussed.”
LoMonaco’s epiphany for that incredible spear occurred while watching Jeff Hardy and Hughes battle while holding onto the rings above the ring, but Hughes has a much different recollection of that moment.
“I was hanging 25 feet up in the air with Jeff Hardy, which I’ll never do again,” said Hughes. “Jeff Hardy is one crazy son of a b----. Jeff didn’t care about his body – and he still doesn’t. He was actually crazier inside the ring than he was out of it. Jeff will go out to the top of a building to do a swanton bomb. If the guy moves, he’ll just land on the concrete. That’s the kind of guy Jeff is, he’s out of his freaking mind.
“So when we did WrestleMania 17 and we had to come up with a spot to take each other out, Bubba thought we could have Jeff and D-Von hang from the ring again. I said, ‘Absolutely not.’”
Hughes’ fear was legitimate. The spot at SummerSlam called for Jeff Hardy to kick Hughes until he dropped violently back to the canvas, but Hardy was not supposed to kick until after Edge and Christian removed the fallen ladders.
“Jeff Hardy was in such a zone he wouldn’t stop kicking me,” said a horrified Hughes. “The ladder was still underneath me in the ring. I was screaming at Edge, ‘Please move the ladder.’ I remember yelling at Jeff, ‘If you ever loved me, for the love of God, you would stop kicking me. The ladder has not moved!’ But Jeff never stopped -- he just kept kicking me.
“He still apologizes to me about it ‘till this day, but like I always tell him, I’ll never hang up there with him again. But the Hardys were exactly who you thought they were – they were two high-flying sons of b----es. They would do what everybody else wouldn’t do. They set the blueprint for the guys who do that now on a regular basis.”
The Dudleys greatest feat may, in fact, be the fact that they have worked together so long. The two even opened up a wrestling school – Team 3D Academy – in Kissimmee, Florida.
“The crazy thing about me and Devon is that we actually get along,” said LoMonaco. “We respect one another and we know how to stay the f--- out of each other’s way.”
“We’re different, but we know how to put up with each other,” added Hughes. “We’ve been together so long that it’s funny, we really became brothers. Neither one of us has a big ego with each other. We don’t think we’re better than the other. We both want to go out there and entertain and prove we are the greatest tag team in the history of the business. When you’re on the same page, it’s hard to stray from that. Now we’ve had our arguments, but at the end of the day, we know we make money together. We know we’re good together, and that’s the key.”
Hughes and LoMonaco, unlike many tag teams before them, have always been very comfortable sharing the spotlight.
“We always knew the act of the Dudley Boyz was worth a lot of money,” said LoMonaco. “Which is why it was so miserable when they split us up in WWE – no one wanted to see that happen. We told Vince, ‘This is a horrible idea. Nobody wants to see us on our own.’ Only once we decided that there was nothing left for us, professionally, to accomplish as a team, that was when we decided to go on our own.”
In addition to an active wrestling schedule, Hughes gives students a chance to learn the actual wrestling – the holds, the takedowns, the reversals, how to apply moves, how to give and take moves – at their wrestling school, and LoMonaco teaches students how to build their matches and enhance their characters by cutting promos.
“There’s nothing I haven’t seen in this business,” said Hughes. “So we teach everything about the business, in and out of the ring. That includes how to carry and conduct yourself, wrestling etiquette, as well as psychology, and every other piece. We want to pass on the knowledge.”
As for helping the future of pro wrestling, the Dudleys are excited to lock up with the Young Bucks this weekend, a team who have made their notoriety outside of WWE.
“I’m a big fan of the Young Bucks, because I am a fan of anybody who stays true to themselves and gets over in a way that they can still look themselves in the mirror and in a way the fans still appreciate what they’re doing,” said LoMonaco.
“But don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to pick the Bucks up and superbomb them through a table. I eat superkicks for breakfast. We’re definitely going to lay an a-- kicking on them.”
Even though there is currently little emphasis on tag team wrestling, the Dudleys believe they could make an immediate impact if they returned to WWE, and it would not be out of the question to have the Authority bring in the Dudleys to fight the likes of Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns.
But the question still looms – if the Dudleys were to return to WWE, who would be the first to go through the tables?
“I see the Bella Twins raising some hell in WWE, so they might have to take a Dudley Death Drop,” said Hughes. “Bubba and I are not shy about putting women through tables, everyone knows our history with that.”
LoMonaco already has his target set.
“Right now, the one WWE tag team that deserves to taste the Dudley Death Drop is Harper and Rowan,” said LoMonaco. “It was very interesting they started hitting the Dudley Death Drop on TV and calling it something else. We’ve been hitting this finish consecutively for eighteen years.
“That is a touchy subject,” added Hughes. “A move like 3D – when you see it, you automatically think the Dudleys. So Harper and Rowan started the fight. Harper said on Twitter, they’d be happy to show us ‘The Way,’ which is what they’re calling the move. Well, we’d be more than happy to hit 3D the way it should be hit.”
Hughes and LoMonaco bring an air of dangerousness and unpredictability rarely seen in today’s wrestling. The Dudley’s may not be the world's greatest wrestlers, but when it comes to tag team wrestling, fans are hard pressed to find a more entertaining team. Yet the stigma attached with being away from the WWE may end up hurting the pair.
WWE is quick to dismiss any character not on WWE television. Sting’s past thirteen years were ignored in the buildup to his match with Triple H at WrestleMania 31, and there has been no mention of the former fighting grounds for newly-acquired Samoa Joe. In the world of WWE, the only thing that exists there is what they recognize. In the case of the Dudley’s, the question yet to be determined is how the company will do what is best for business – by ignoring the duo, or by bringing them back home.
“Our goal is to help the business,” said Hughes. “And that’s why Bubba and I would go back to WWE. It’s not about wins and losses, it’s about going up there and preparing the next generation for the future.”
“We really want to perform for the fans,” said LoMonaco. “I really try to take our fans into account as much as I can. I always say, every night I go through that curtain and hear those fans cheer or boo, that’s what getting inducted into the Hall Fame is all about for me. Those fans are our Hall of Fame, and they induct us every night.”