In professional wrestling, a tag team consists of two wrestlers who are working together as a team (more than two is called a stable). Often they are close partners and backstage friends who team with each other almost exclusively, while other times they are singles competitors who are booked together for just one match.
They usually wrestle against a like number of opponents on the other team or teams, however in the occasional "handicap match" there may be an unequal number of competitors on the different teams, for example André the Giant was often pitted against two or more opponents.
The term "tag team" has since become used in a metaphorical sense in common language for two or more people who alternate or cooperate in participation in an activity, and "tag-teaming" for the act of alternating with an ally, e.g. a couple tag-teaming in an argument with another person.
According to the rules of pro wrestling, only one competitor per team is allowed in the ring at a time, and the only way that a wrestler can change places with a partner is for the competitor in the ring to "tag" him or touch him on some part of his body (usually the hand). The referee must also see a tag for it to be legal. Given the nature of pro wrestling, the "rules" are seldom adhered to and exist as part of kayfabe, the suspension of disbelief required for pro wrestling to work as entertainment. This means that often both members of teams, especially heel teams, are in the ring simultaneously with only one member of an ostensibly rule-abiding face team. A "bookend" tag team is a (usually derogatory) term for a tag team where the members look and/or dress alike (eg, The Killer Bees, British Bulldogs, Hart Foundation et al). Bookends are common in North America, Europe and Mexico, but not at all in Japan since promotion of wrestlers to singles championships is based (in a large part) on tag team results, as no secondary singles championships exist.
In 1901 the first tag team match was held in the United States, in San Francisco. San Francisco promoters introduced tag team wrestling as a way of improving the sport’s entertainment value. While tag team wrestling is now almost traditional in American professional wrestling, the innovation didn't become especially popular outside San Francisco until the 1930s. The first "World" tag team championship was also crowned in San Francisco in the early 1950's.
The basic tag team has two teams of two wrestlers facing off against each other. Only one wrestler from each team is allowed in the ring at a time, though heels will often break this rule and gang up on a single opponent. The other(s) wait on the apron outside the ropes in a specified corner adjacent to the other team.
Offensive cooperation from a team member can happen as long as they are within the referee's count of five and after an official tag. In a "Tornado" tag match there is no time limit for how long your partner can stay in the ring often making these matches a 2 on 2 battle.
A tag team match involving more than two wrestlers per team is often referred to by the total number of people involved (eg. a six-man tag team match involves two teams of three), while a tag team match involving more than two teams is referred to by normal qualifiers (eg. a triple threat tag team match involves three teams of two).
A wrestler must do the following in order to make a legal tag:
A referee can be allowed to overlook any of these tag rules at his discretion. All standard match rules apply but the legal man must make a pin or submission on another legal man to win. Only legal men can be counted out but either team can be disqualified regardless if a team member is legal or not.
In lucha libre, the basic tag team match is referred to as Lucha de Parejas (Doubles Fight), a six-man match as a Lucha de Trios, and an eight-man match as a Lucha Atómica (Atomic Fight).
One spot that occurs in practically every tag team match is the hot tag. One member of the face team is in the ring, too weakened to move or otherwise impaired, while his partner watches helplessly, struggling to reach him for a tag. The tension builds as the legal man is unable to tag out, until something happens (a second wind, miscommunication between the heel wrestlers, or another stroke of luck) that allows the faces to tag and reverse the momentum of the match in their favor. When done well, this results in a large audience reaction, and was the typical climax of tag matches for decades.
A common variation on the hot tag sees both wrestlers from the heel team attacking a face, while his partner protests to the referee about this bending of the rules (and therefore, unintentionally "distracting" the referee away from the heels). Eventually the weakened face wrestler does make the tag to his partner, who comes in as the fresh man and is able to take on both opponents quite easily. Ricky Morton, of the tag team Rock 'N Roll Express, would often play the "face in peril", who got beaten up in the ring while his partner Robert Gibson, looked on helplessly. Thus, the tag partner in the ring being beaten is often said to "play Ricky Morton".
A blind tag is a legal tag made without the referee's knowledge. This typically results in the legal man being forced to leave the ring once the referee sees him inside -- thus giving the audience cause to feel injustice.
The word blind tag is sometimes used when the outside wrestler makes the tag without a request from his partner. For example, he can pat on his partner's shoulder when he bounces into the ropes or has his back turned. Usually, the opponent will not see it either, so typically, he will either be attacked from behind by the newly legal wrestler, or try a pin on the inside wrestler, but it will not count since he is no longer legal. This is actually a self tag.
A phantom tag is when a legal wrestler is replaced by his partner without making a legal tag, also without the referee's knowledge. These will, however, be allowed, thus giving this cheating team an advantage; another source of injustice. A wrestler will sometimes clap his hands together for a phantom tag, helping him to convince the referee that a legal tag took place.