For years, the twin brothers had dominated the WWE’s tag-team division, winning multiple championships and twice being named WWE “Tag Team of the Year,” but unless they ditched the characters that had gotten them to that point, they may have never fully reached their potential.
“It was about that time,” Jimmy Uso told Yahoo Sports. “We started to feel that the Siva Tau, the friendly Usos deal was kind of running low.
“We hadn’t even touched the microphone at all in our career and I feel like we got over just on in-ring performance. No one had ever really heard us talk. I grew up watching Stone Cold, watching The Rock, just like everybody else, Shawn Michaels, Triple H. All these dudes could talk, we have to talk to be the complete package.”
In reality, it was the perfect storm for The Usos to make a change. In 2016, WWE decided to undergo a brand split, creating two separate rosters for their “Raw” and “Smackdown Live” shows. The Usos, who had just gone through a storyline angle with real-life cousin Roman Reigns, were going to “Smackdown Live” and bringing some new heat with them.
“It was all clear, all in the making, it just worked, it was very organic,” Jey Uso told Yahoo Sports. “The crowd was 50-50 with us, when we were with Roman. It stuck with us. We just went 100 with it, let’s do it, the time is now. It’s a fresh slate, it’s time to play ball. What’s the next chapter of The Usos. Boom.”
That negative reaction mirrored what The Usos were feeling each and every week.
“I was like ‘OK, I kind of like this,’ because I was tired of trying to put a smile on my face,” Jimmy Uso said. “I wanted to let the people know how we were really feeling. We really felt like we were the best tag team and getting overlooked. Put us in the ring with anybody and we’ll put on a five-star match. I’m not trying to be cocky about it, but that’s how you have to have the confidence to put on every night.”
For the first time in their careers, Jimmy and Jey Uso were “turning heel,” and it didn’t take long for the crowd to take notice.
“In the beginning of the heel Usos, we were just showing that aggressiveness, that viciousness that people gravitated to,” Jey Uso said. “Then, once people started saying ‘I like how they work as heels, they have personality as heels’ and we started to roll with it, it was like, OK here’s the microphone. Now we’re rolling with the microphone, ‘Oh, I didn’t know they could talk, I didn’t know they talked that way.’”
Thus, the Uso Penitentiary was born.
Joshua and Jonathan Fatu come from a long line of Samoan wrestlers. Their father, Rikishi (Solofa Fatu Jr.) wrestled during the WWE’s popular “Attitude Era,” their familial ties to the industry also include Umaga, Yokozuna, Rosey, The Tonga Kid, Samu and even The Rock.
That tradition helped shape the first iteration of The Usos tag team, but fans – and Jimmy and Jey – wanted something more.
“We added our own flavor,” Jey Uso said. “It kind of was always the Samoan thing. Barefoot, Samoan tights, we added our own footprint for the fans. [It was always the same] for my dad, Umaga, High Chief, Wild Samoans, Yoko, Tonga Kid, Manu. The Usos are in their own lane now. We’re tatted up, we speak. That barrier’s broken, the sky’s the limit and there’s two of us.”
The colorful war paint was gone, the Siva Tau in the rear-view mirror, traded in for Nike Air Force 1s and a new real swagger.
“People started to feel us because we were real,” Jimmy Uso said. “This wasn’t an act. I really wear Air Force 1s, that’s really me out there, that’s really my brother out there. That’s what people got with and really understood, they started saying ‘I like that, I can get with it.’”
While it’s a risk anytime a WWE star changes their character, Jimmy and Jey Uso had a secret weapon. Jimmy’s wife and WWE wrestler, Trinity Fatu, had undergone a drastic overhaul to her character, Naomi, right before The Usos made their turn.
“My hat goes off to Naomi because I sat there and I watched her change,” Jimmy Uso said. “I watched her try and find out what works for her. She was in that gray area as well and when that ‘Feel the Glow’ came out – which she felt comfortable with because it came from her, which is why it worked.”
Shortly after her change, Naomi won the WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 33 in her hometown of Orlando.
“I looked at how happy she was and how accomplished she felt, that’s a big milestone and I said, ‘Yo, I want that, that’s gotta be cool,’” Jimmy Uso said.
Now, 18 months since their change, the Usos are on the verge of appearing on the main card of WrestleMania for the first time in their careers. Despite all of their previous accolades, The Usos had always been relegated to the pre-show. After the heel turn and another year of breathtaking matches, they’re hard to ignore.
“Let us do what we do and shine on the big stage,” Jey said. “How do we bang all year, how do we shut it down all year, appear on pay-per-views all year, [put on] five-star matches all year, and don’t get the big payoff. It has got to happen. This year’s the year.”
In the months leading up to WrestleMania 34, The Usos have been embroiled in a heated rivalry with The New Day. Arguably the two top tag teams in the WWE at the moment have used their chemistry together to elevate Smackdown Live’s tag-team division, throwing it back to the days when the Hardy Boyz, Dudley Boyz, and Edge and Christian were the kings of the ring.
“Working those guys, hands down, the most fun I’ve had being here,” Jimmy Uso said. “Straight tag-team wrestling, the kind of stuff I grew up on, the kind of stuff they love to do. It was no holds barred.
“I think that’s what New Day brought to us to have us step our game up and what we brought something new out of the New Day that people haven’t seen in a while. You actually forgot how bad ass Big E is, how crazy athletically [Xavier] Woods and Kofi [Kingston] are, because they’re so entertaining.”
Even for veterans like The Usos, who grew up around the industry and have been in the WWE system since 2009, there’s something special about what they’re about to do in a triple threat match against The New Day and the Bludgeon Brothers.
“We still in the surreal moment,” Jimmy Uso said. “It’s funny, I’ve been around WWE for nine years, and this is feeling like our first time at the dance. I’m excited, I’m nervous, it’s WrestleMania season. This has to be it, this has got to be it. We’re just keeping our fingers crossed.”
Main card or pre-show, win or lose, for The Usos, WrestleMania 34 will just be the beginning.
“We have little brothers and cousins in training right now,” Jey Uso said. “We can be in this business until I’m 80 years old, when my kids’ kids get here. We’re just bringing them up and they’re going to get faster, stronger, more ambitious, more good-looking.”
WrestleMania 34 will stream live around the world Sunday, April 8 at 7 p.m. ET on the WWE Network.
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