All Bobby Eaton ever wanted to do was be a wrestler. He did that, and then some.
Remembering Beautiful Bobby Eaton
There was a point in his career when Bobby Eaton was considered the best young worker in the world, and it was deserved.
Now he’s gone.
In a year of heavy losses, Beautiful Bobby Eaton’s passing may be the hardest to take.
He was widely regarded as one of the nicest, kindest guys in the wrestling business … and the wrestling business Eaton came up in was not known for nice guys.
Growing up in Huntsville, Alabama, Eaton was a fan of Nick Gulas’s Mid-America promotion, which ran towns like Birmingham, Huntsville, Knoxville, and Memphis before Jerry Jarrett bought into the company.
As a teenager, he attended wrestling cards in his hometown, getting there early to help put the ring up and staying late to take it down.
Eaton and one of his friends would wrestle in that same ring before the shows, and their showing off was drawing a crowd of wrestlers to watch what the kids were doing.
Hre’s the truth: their stuff in the ring was better than some of the guys on the cards they were set to watch later that evening.
Wrestlers coming into the building noticed, and soon Eaton got his break.
Eaton was an immediate hit as a babyface in his home promotion, and he wrestled for Gulas until the territory went out of business in 1981.
A Talent For Tag-Team Wrestling
He showed an early talent for tag-team wrestling, forming the Jet Set with George Gulas, the son of the promoter. Eaton’s talent was so great that even Gulas, who would be a millstone around the neck of almost anyone, was dragged into good matches.
The Alabama-East Tennessee promotion is also where Eaton first met Dennis Condrey, who would later become his partner in the Mid-South and early Jim Crockett Promotions versions of the team.
Eaton stuck close to home, going to Georgia and winning the NWA National TV title, and also heading west to Memphis, where he would end up as part of a legendary talent trade between Jarrett and Watts.
Once Watts put the quiet, humble Eaton with veteran heel Condrey and white-hot mouthpiece Jim Cornette, the Midnight Express started rolling down the tracks.
Bobby Eaton in the Midnight Express
The Midnight Express was supposed to last for six months, taking the Mid-South tag titles from Magnum TA and Mr. Wrestling II and then having a blowoff feud labeled “The Last Stampede” against a returning-from-retirement Bill Watts and Sylvester Ritter, the Junkyard Dog.
The Express was white-hot, but Watts wanted to make sure that things got even more heated when he booked the Midnights to attack him after he slapped the mouthy Cornette.
“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 f***ing angle. It was amazing. [Watts] thought of a way to fill up every little hole in the logic, and everything was totally legitimate.”
People hated Eaton, Condrey, and Cornette. Imagine how hard that was to do … Bobby Eaton had a reputation as a good guy inside and outside the locker room.
Old-timers who knew him will tell you about Eaton on road trips through a territory, giving panhandlers cash and then — knowing the drunks were going to spend that money on booze — making sure they had food, too.
His largesse extended to the boys, too.
"… it was near impossible to pay for anything with Bobby around, though I will confess to not trying that hard," Mick Foley wrote in his first memoir, Have a Nice Day.
His duffel bag was legendary, too. That bag was like the clown car at the circus — he had everything in there, and sometimes guys would rib him by asking for something obscure.
Long after his days in the national spotlight, I saw a worker ask Bobby for a butter knife as a rib. Bobby rummaged around in the bag for a moment and produced the knife. Everyone laughed.
I was low enough on the locker room scale at that point that I wanted to join in the fun but didn’t. I would have asked for a bowling pin just to see the look on his face.
Eaton would go on to be the straw that stirred the drink for the Midnights, staying in the Carolinas when Condrey left after a dispute with promoter Jim Crockett.
Partnered with the athletic and handsome Stan Lane, the Midnights seemed to be featured even more and more prominently on national television.
Like all good things, though, the Express eventually broke up when Lane and Cornette allowed their contracts to expire.
Cornette went on to form Smoky Mountain Wrestling, with Lane as one of the founding members of the Heavenly Bodies along with Jimmy Del Ray.
Bobby Eaton – A Thrilling Performer
In his most high-profile singles run, Bobby Eaton won the NWA World TV Championship from his behind-the-scenes best friend, Arn Anderson, in 1991 and headlined Clash of the Champions XV against world champion Ric Flair.
Eaton won the first fall in the match, but Flair took the next two to retain his title. Watching live, it was compelling.
Those two veteran professionals made viewers believe that their match was real and that Eaton had a realistic shot of beating the perennial headliner.
Even now, it’s thrilling to re-watch.
A Tragic End
The wife of Bobby Eaton, Donna — herself the daughter of Southern wrestling legend Superstar Bill Dundee — passed away in June 2021.
When they first started dating, they had to keep the relationship secret from her father, as her father had forbidden her from dating the wrestlers he was booking.
When Dundee found out she was dating Eaton, he let it go because Eaton had such a great reputation.
A few weeks after Donna passed, Bobby suffered a fall and had to be hospitalized.
Bobby Eaton died Wednesday, August 4th, 2021. He’d had a history of illness: Type II diabetes and heart trouble that was serious enough that he had a pacemaker implanted in 2013.
It’s ironic that one of the guys in the wrestling business with the biggest heart actually suffered from heart trouble later in his life.
Bobby was a good man, loyal friend, a legitimate all-time great professional wrestler, and — most importantly — a family man. His passing leaves a gaping hole in a lot of people’s lives, but our sincere condolences go out to his children: Dustin, Dylan, and Taryn.
Bobby Eaton was 62 years old, and he absolutely earned the name Beautiful.
These stories may also interest you:
- The Midnight Express – The Unstoppable Team that Defined Greatness
- Jim Cornette and The Midnight Express Attack Baby Doll
- Dangerous Alliance – Their Short Yet Impactful Influence on WCW
- A Ghost Story: How a Long-forgotten Territory Still Haunts WWE
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