Published on May 6th, 2017 | by Bobby Mathews0
Unstoppable: THE MIDNIGHT EXPRESS Defined Tag-Team Greatness
“You go on through, and I’ll catch up to you, OK?”
—Billy Hayes, in Midnight Express
No matter how good Condrey was in the ring, he needed a little something extra. And he got it when Bobby Eaton and Jim Cornette came to Mid-South in a talent trade between Bill Watts and Memphis promoter Jerry Jarrett.
“Bill saw brilliance in Corny,” Jim Ross said during an interview, “and he knew that there was something there, because Corny, as a TV character, was very easily disliked. And by the stereotypical ‘pro rasslin’ fan,’ he was everything they did not want to be.”
With Condrey’s veteran professionalism and Eaton being possibly the best young in-ring talent in the country at the time, pairing them with the baby-faced trash-talking Cornette was a stroke of genius. It meant the team had instant heat. But Watts went even further. He put the Midnights over the team of Magnum TA and Mr. Wrestling II for the Mid-South tag team titles, and then set up an angle that would draw sellouts and set records around the territory, and it worked on multiple levels.
After dethroning Magnum and Wrestling II, Cornette “threw a party” on Mid-South TV to congratulate Condrey and Eaton. As the heels celebrated, walking away from Cornette, Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson, the Rock & Roll Express, ran out and smashed Cornette’s face in the cake. An amused Watts asked for the clip to be shown again. An incensed Cornette began to verbally dress down the Cowboy. But he made a mistake by putting his hands on Watts. Once that happened, Watts decked him with a slap. But that was still just the start. Later on, Watts was interviewing top singles heel Butch Reed when Cornette interrupted, distracting the promoter so that Condrey and Eaton could jump him from behind.
Watch Bill Watts slap the taste out of Jim Cornette’s mouth:
The angle was carefully booked by Watts. He wanted to come out of retirement for a series of shows, teaming with Junkyard Dog (Sylvester Ritter), who had lost a loser-leaves-town match and was working under a hood as Stagger Lee.
“Now we’re getting into death threat territory—we’re gonna bust Bill Watts open and leave him laying,” Cornette told his podcast co-host, Brian Last. “He’s making our careers here in this one fucking angle. It was amazing … (Watts) thought of a way to fill up every little hole in the logic, and everything was totally legitimate.”
Fans bought in big time. They turned out in droves to watch the Midnight Express (and especially Cornette) get their comeuppance. The feud resulted in a match the promotion billed as “The Last Stampede.” And the original plan was that when the Midnights put over Watts and JYD, they would be done in the territory. Only it didn’t work out that way. Booker Bill Dundee was instrumental in keeping the group around after the blowoff to the feud, and the Midnight Express began their most hotly constested feud—a rivalry that would span years and territories, when they got into the ring with the Rock & Roll Express.
With the Midnights vs. the Rock & Roll, tag team wrestling had reached its apex. While other teams like the Road Warriors, the Koloffs, or Demolition were powerhouses, all five people involved in the Midnights-Rock & Roll feud were tremendously talented and worked on an almost psychic level with one another. Ricky Morton sold the Midnight’s offense better than anyone, and fans responded to Robert Gibson as the ass-kicker who received the hot tag to clean house.
“I sell,” Morton once told an interviewer before pointing to Gibson, “and then I tag him.”
It seems like such a deceptively simple formula, but it worked constantly. And the addition of Cornette turned out to be the straw that stirred the drink for the Midnights. He was reliably funny and over-the-top during interviews, never at a loss for words. Fans would pay to see Condrey and Eaton get beat up, but what they really wanted was to see a babyface make Cornette shut his pie hole. The Midnights-Rock & Roll feud raged through Mid-South, and only got hotter when Gibson and Morton lost a 90-day loser-leaves-town match to Condrey and Eaton.
The promotion brought in the Fantastics, Tommy Rogers and Bobby Fulton, to face Condrey and Eaton, but the crowds wanted the Rock & Roll Express. Despite the fact that the Fantastics were more athletic and could work a wider variety of matches than Morton and Gibson, the feud between the two was limited by the fact that the Rock & Rolls were coming back to the territory. It got to the point that fans posted countdown signs in the arenas for when their favorites could return.
“Athletically, we probably had better matches with the Fantastics than we did with the Rock & Roll,” Cornette said. “It’s just that the Rock & Roll came first, and as so they were more over. The only place the Fantastics got over better than the Rock & Roll was in Dallas for World Class when they had not seen the Rock & Roll there, the Fantastics came first.”
The Midnights went from Mid-South to World Class. But while things weren’t stagnant there for the Midnights, it was tough to follow a feud like the Freebirds vs. the Von Erichs. So in 1985, the Midnights made a deal with Jim Crockett Promotions and went national. Along the way, they’d again light things up with the Rock & Rolls—and stake their claim as the greatest tag team of all time.
But controversy was about to strike.