On paper, the two had everything going for them; Scott was the leader of a white-hot faction with the potential for real world entertainment tie-ins in Hit Row, and Lee was the supersized, super charismatic big man who could be a perfect long-term babyface capable of earning huge pops in every arena across the country. And yet, for one reason or another, the duo were both called up to the main roster – Hit Row on SmackDown, Lee on RAW– after incredibly successful runs in NXT, and after very weird tenures, were released to the open market without so much as a trip back to NXT.
Now granted, the two situations weren't exactly the same; Hit Row weren't particularly popular because of the antics of NFL lineman-turned-big man Top Dolla, and after attempting to be rebranded as the Bearcat – whatever that means – Lee was held out of action due to a very strange and serious heart inflammation brought on by COVID, but in the end, the two acts were ended on November 4th, 2021 and allowed to try their luck elsewhere.
Had Vince McMahon seen what his son-in-law Triple H did in the two performers, maybe they would still be on RAW and SmackDown now, where the two brands are being forced to recycle matches from Money in the Bank onto SummerSlam, but instead, he handed Tony Khan two ready-made stars who honed their natural talents in the WWE Performance Center and can now call themselves Tag Team Champions in AEW.
— All Elite Wrestling (@AEW) July 14, 2022
AEW saw the brilliance where WWE saw budget savings.
Odd Couple tag teams have been a part of wrestling promotions since bookers have been promoting wrestling, and for good reason: The dynamic just works.
Sure, it's fun to watch a pair of performers who spent years perfecting their crafts under a unified name and with matching gear, especially when the two performers are either brothers or very close friends, but when a promoter throws two premier talents together and tells them to work it out, it can create incredibly compelling television that makes fans fall in love with a team as they figure things out in the ring together.
It happened with The Rock and Mick Foley, it apparently happened with Cora Jade and Roxanne Perez on NXT – though no one told Perez about this dynamic until it was too late – and notably happened with Kenny Omega and “Hangman” Adam Page, who were the first Odd Couple to win gold in AEW.
Swerve Strickland and Keith Lee are now firmly in that camp and have become just the seventh AEW team – the eighth tag team overall – to win the AEW Tag Team Championships, but it didn't always start that way. No, Lee originally debuted in AEW on the February 9th edition of AEW Dynamite, where he won a Face of the Revolution Qualifying match over Isiah Kassidy that saw the debuting babyface Bradley Beal his foe from the Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City right into the Atlantic Ocean. Lee stayed a solo act until April, where he united with Strickland roughly a month after he debuted as AEW's surprise signing at Revolution, and really, the union was more out of necessity than some pre-existing expectation, as the duo were done taking trash from the Team Taz duo of Powerhouse Hobbs and Ricky Starks.
Was this Tony Khan's plan all along, to pair the two former NXT performers together? Maybe, maybe not, but when the Hardys were unable to secure a championship win over The Young Bucks and Jurassic Express, giving the belts to Swerve in our Glory made sense, even if the duo had a minor hiccup back in June when Strickland eliminated Lee in the Interim AEW Championship Casino Battle Royal.
— AEW Argentina 🇦🇷 ⚪ (@AEW_Argentina) June 9, 2022
… oh no, could the tension between Stickland and Lee bubble back up? Could the duo fight each other as much as their opponents and ultimately see their downfall not at the hands of another team but by those of a partner? That sounds… like an amazing angle that will get way over with the fans both in the arena and watching from home.
Would the WWE have ever thought to pair up Swerve Scott and Keith Lee? No, probably not, but do you know what? The pairing isn't why the two performers are earning career-best success as members of AEW. No, all WWE had to do was see that they had a pair of incredibly charismatic performers who got over in every town they wrestled in and garnered unprompted chants from the assembled audiences. Instead, they wrote them off as business expenses and hand-delivered a pair of championship-ready performers to their biggest foe. Between you and me, that doesn't seem like a winning strategy.
Keith Lee cut this amazing heartfelt promo after Dynamite went off the air. What a dude. pic.twitter.com/FM9E3ENraE
— Drainmaker 🌧️ 💵 (@DrainBamager) July 14, 2022