In 1986, Jim Cornette and The Midnight Express came along and challenged the adage in polite society: never hit a woman! It was one of the vilest moments in professional wrestling history.
“They’re holding her…they…Oh NO!!”
“Oh my goodness…”
– Tony Schiavone and David Crockett
The Midnight Express and Baby Doll Incident
Wrestling is a place where people get hurt. Whether it’s over money, titles, jealousy, or pride, you as a fan know that if a wrestler is talking crap, someone’s going to eventually whoop his ass, especially wrestling from the southern regions like Florida, World Class, Mid-South, and the NWA. Sure, you’d get some bad guys getting their just desserts in Stampede, the WWF, or the AWA but for the most part, if you wanted some vengeance instead of justice, just head south.
However, one unwritten law of society back then was universally known, integrated from birth to death, and followed by every public face of polite society. That rule? You never hit a woman.
In wrestling, the women were a lot of times either women wrestlers who could handle themselves or heels that played the villainess card perfect, attacking the heroes while knowing there would be little to no retribution coming their way. The faces countered with “entertaining” revenge, a big sloppy kiss, and then dropping them on their rear, maybe tearing part of their skirt or just putting them over their knee for an old fashion’d spanking.
Not PC in the least, but entertaining to a raucous crowd and easily explained away back then. “That’s better than the butt-kickin’ she’d get if she were a dude.” And all along, the rules were simple and followed by almost everyone.
Up until Jim Cornette and The Midnight Express (“Beautiful” Bobby Eaton and “Loverboy” Dennis Condrey) came along.
April 1986. Jim Cornette and The Midnight Express had just come to the ring to wrestle a preliminary tag team. Instead, they demolished them handily, not even waiting for the match to start, even going so far as hitting them with the NWA World tag belts that they’d won (ie: stolen) from the Rock and Roll Express a few months earlier.
Cornette, as he usually did, immediately got on the microphone and started insulting Magnum TA (who they have had a history with) and then turned his attention to berating Dusty Rhodes, Magnum’s best friend and tag partner. This brought Dusty from out of the back with his valet Baby Doll.
Who Was Baby Doll?
Baby Doll, formerly known as Andrea the Lady Giant, was a just-under 6 ft tall platinum blonde who always dressed in leather pants and rock tees, and she had no problem with getting involved in some matches. Coming over to the NWA, she joined with complete jerk Tully Blanchard, who changed her name to “The Perfect 10, Baby Doll.”
A few months later, after being saved from a suddenly (?) abusive Tully Blanchard by Dusty, she started coming to the ring with him and watching his back. On the night in question, Dusty listened to Cornette’s choice words and entered the ring, attacking both Eaton and Condrey and dropping Cornette with a punch, which drove the crowd insane.
Dusty had a standing rule for Cornette: that he would get bumped or swatted some but never “pay” for any of his crimes at that point, as they wanted to hold off that reward to where it could make them the most money possible. So when Cornette flew through the air, the crowd roared.
“Finally…” they thought, “…someone is going kick this mama’s boy’s butt for good!”
Southern crowds like their vengeance, y’ know.
Then it all went wrong. As Dusty was grabbing Cornette to finally shut his mouth, Condrey attacked him from behind with the racket. In the meantime, Baby Doll entered the ring and jumped on Eaton’s back, which caused him to drive back to the ring post corner and to also connect with an elbow in the process.
Dusty was being held on the ground and was forced to look up, held in place by Condrey, while Eaton held Baby Doll by the arm and neck when it happened. Jim Cornette hit her in the stomach with the handle of the tennis racket while Dusty was forced to watch, all while pointing at Dusty and telling him that he was to blame for this.
The announcers, who were panicked up until this point, suddenly spoke quietly, still stunned about what they just saw. The ring was immediately filled with other wrestlers looking to stop anything else from happening, but the damage had been done.
The wrestlers, various ringside crew, and some medical people arrived to see Baby Doll lying there and Dusty screaming like a lost soul.
The crowd was insane.
If a mad scientist wanted to create a person specifically built to be hated, it would be Jim Cornette.
That attitude, that voice, those clothes, his mama, that racket, that mouth; all of it was designed to cause a Pavlovian response with the crowds. He may be one of the reasons that the word “triggered” has entered our wording lexicon in modern times as his mere presence not only registered annoyance but his merely grabbing the ring microphone caused crowds to change from annoyance to loathing.
His listing of misdeeds from where he started in the Mid-Southern area with Jimmy Hart were a slow escalation of vile actions, from verbal attacks and slurs on the most beloved of stars to coordinated attacks on those very same people. His tag team, The Midnight Express, was comprised of two southern boys/rednecks who were as talented as they were mean. The three of them were a perfect fit as Dennis Condrey and Bobby Eaton weren’t much for talking, and Cornette more than made up for that.
Jim Cornette and The Midnight Express ran roughshod over the Mid-South area, splitting the popular team of Magnum TA and Mr. Wrestling #2 for the belts, feuding with the popular Fantastics and the uber-popular Rock N’ Roll Express, attacking and feuding with hero/owner Bill Watts and his masked tag partner Stagger Lee (who looked suspiciously like the Junkyard Dog), and then even continuing the RnR/Midnight feud in NWA rings.
The hatred levels rose exponentially in each place, especially after they unseeded the RnR’s for the NWA tag belts, with riots at house shows not being out of the ordinary and Cornette actually having to load his racket with an honest-to-goodness horseshoe to take care of excitable fans. Sellouts between the amazingly popular Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson and Jim Cornette and The Midnight Express were setting box-office records, especially in the Carolinas and the East Coast.
Dusty Rhodes, the booker at the time and one who would always take advantage of a money-making situation, wanted to split the RnR’s time a bit while giving the Midnights a chance to run with some other talent. Ric Flair orchestrated a smartly played feud between the 4 Horsemen and the RnRs (specifically Ricky Morton and Ric Flair), all started over a training bra and a pair of designer sunglasses.
Meanwhile, Cornette started laying the groundwork for a feud between the Midnights and Dusty and Magnum TA (called America’s Team). Cornette dropped insults after insults on the American Dream during regional commercial interviews and sometimes just during (uninvited) commentary. Cornette finally started insulting Baby Doll. If you want to hear some horribly humorous (or humorously horrible) un-PC’ness, listen to some of those interviews as those were some brutal things indeed.
Watch Jim Cornette interview “Big, fat cow” Baby Doll alongside Big Bubba (aka Big Boss Man) below in all its un-PC-goodness!
Dusty knew that the crowd was very much behind him as Dusty and Cornette’s kayfabe backgrounds were total opposites. The southern crowds hated wimps, snobs and jerks, and dear God, Jim Cornette was all three. All they needed was a lit match to set off that dynamite, an angle that could get that feud going immediately. This night was perfect as the crowd was already hot until Jim Cornette and The Midnight Express arrived.
Then it was nuclear.
The Immediate Aftermath
Right after the attack, Jim Cornette and The Midnight Express high-tailed it out of there, making their way to the interview area where commentators/interviewers David Crockett and Tony Schiavone were at. The camera stayed on Dusty, Baby Doll, and the wrestlers in the ring while Crockett and Schiavone tried describing what had happened, and they sound legit shocked.
The next thing that happens is David Crockett’s mike gets cut away. The shot is now of Cornette and Crockett screaming at each other, with Crockett reaching up his back, unhooking the mike battery and throwing the entire thing on the ground, and walking away.
[Side note: you know it’s bad when the broadcaster can’t stand you!]
Cornette, still raging, merely picks it up without missing a step and continues bashing Rhodes, telling him to tell his friends Wahoo (McDaniel), (Ronnie) Garvin, and Magnum what they did, and they had plenty more.
Eaton and Condrey started laughing about what had happened when the producers of the program had the great idea to show a shot-in-shot of the wrestlers and doctors in the ring with Dusty and Baby Doll, so now Jim Cornette and The Midnight Express could watch what was happening along with viewers at home. Eaton and Condrey actually spoke during this segment with Cornette. Here are some choice lines during this interview:
- Eaton: “Wrestling ain’t no place for no woman! If that’s what you want to call her!”
- Cornette: “Even a woman as big and fat n’ ugly as Baby Doll! I can whip you any day of the week, Baby Doll!”
- Condrey: “This ain’t no place for women; this ain’t a place for some men!”
The weekly NWA episode ended with Cornette and his men laughing at the wrestlers and Dusty carrying Baby Doll to the back. I knew one thing for sure when it went off; that I was going to be watching the Superstation WTBS at 6:05 pm that night, and under no circumstances was I going to miss it.
The Eventual Aftermath
Well, the experiment worked perfectly. With the Great American Bash 86′ about to begin touring, there were tons of ready-made matches between Cornette’s team and Baby Doll’s team, whoever they were. Oh, it was usually Magnum and Dusty and Baby Doll versus Jim Cornette and The Midnight Express all together in one match, which almost always ended with Baby Doll beating the living hell out of Cornette and pinning him easily.
Baby Doll also teamed with the Rock N’ Roll Express, Magnum and Ronnie Garvin and the Road Warriors on different nights, all of whom easily hated Cornette as much as she did, and those matches also ended the same way; with the Midnight’s beaten down and Baby Doll stomping a mudhole in him and getting the win with Cornette getting very little offense.
The lead-in to the feud was memorable, with Dusty saying in interviews immediately following the incident that they were worried that it might have affected her being able to have kids one day, but thanks to the doctors that night, this didn’t happen. The fact that this injury scared her with those thoughts touched a chord with the fans.
Magnum had some justifiable feelings against Baby Doll from before in his career, as he had a vicious feud with Tully Blanchard while she was Tully’s valet, but now he said that after talking to her in the hospital that all was forgiven between them and that Cornette would pay for what he did.
A set-up a spot during a match between the Road Warriors and the Midnight Express had Cornette running from the Warrior’s manager Paul Ellering when Baby Doll was supposed to tag him with a punch, knocking him out in front of everybody, embarrassing him, and letting the fans know that Baby Doll was pretty tough.
The punch Cornette received looked incredibly real…because it was. Cornette’s running and Baby Doll’s insistence of making the shot look good equaled Cornette taking a pretty righteous blow to the back of the head that legit made him see stars.
Now, whether she did that to make the shot look good and to set up their later matches OR to get some payback for the insults she was receiving is up to the viewer’s discretion.
Damn good looking punch, though.
Watch: Baby Doll Punches Jim Cornette in the Back of the Head at 1986’s Great American Bash
Cornette kept the fires of this feud going with his already insulting interviews getting even more personal with offensive words towards Baby Doll, but the audience knew that this was just going to make things worse for him in the end.
Years later, Cornette said that he regretted saying such horrible insults about her then, but the peppering he got from her and the money they both made soothed some of those feelings, with the emphasis on “some.” When the Bash wrapped up, the angle threatened to die down with Cornette telling the world that “…under no circumstances will we wrestle Rhodes or Magnum again so you can just go home to Texas, Baby Doll.”
A masked tag team called The James Boys (who looked suspiciously like Dusty Rhodes and Magnum TA in masks) from parts unknown arrived and beat down and pinned the Midnight Express with Magnum’s signature move; a belly-to-belly suplex, all while Cornette was going out of his mind saying that the James Boys were Magnum and Dusty. There are tons of great lines from this that I still remember.
- Cornette: “That’s Dusty Rhodes and Magnum TA!! Even Ray Charles can see that!”
- Schiavone: “The James brothers, from out of nowhere, really know how to wrestle!”
- Cornette: “I know where they’re out of! They’re out of Dusty Rhode’s car!”
- Dennis Condrey (after wrestling them a few minutes): “Do you know who this is?!?”
- Schiavone (to Cornette): “Jim, this is just a warm-up match!”
- Cornette (to Schiavone): “I hate you! I really do! I don’t care whether my momma likes you or not! I hate you!!”
After a match against another preliminary tag team, the Midnight Express was attacked from behind and laid out by the same team of Frank and Jesse James but on this occurrence, tragedy almost struck for real.
The angle they planned was to have Frank/Dusty grab a dazed Cornette, drag him outside the area where Jesse was waiting by a running pickup truck with Baby Doll behind the wheel. The James Boys would put a noose around Cornette’s neck and take off, with the Midnights showing up and taking the noose off of Cornette’s neck before the truck could drag him.
BUT what actually happened was after putting the noose around Cornette’s neck and tightening it, Baby Doll misheard the “go” signal early and took off with Bobby Eaton barely getting the noose off of him but flying through the air as he still had a slight handhold on it. Looking back, it’s a scary moment that could have turned lethal.
Southern crowds like their vengeance, y’ know. They cheered like America landed on the moon.
The James Boys angle was closed later, with America’s Team finally getting their just rematches and their just revenge. The Midnight Express returned to their main feud with the Rock and Roll Express, dropping the NWA Tag belts to them in the process. Dusty Rhodes engaged in another feud with the 4 Horsemen while Magnum began a monumental program with Nikita Koloff. Baby Doll stayed with Dusty but eventually turned on him, joining with Ric Flair for a time.
There are perfect feuds that made crowds come by the thousands, and the Rock and Roll Express/Midnight Express feud was one of those with few other angles that could touch it. For a few months, the Baby Doll/Dusty versus the Midnight Express feud matched that intensity and made just as much money. And that was probably for all the best since there was little chance that Cornette could top so vile a moment as hitting Baby Doll with that racket.
At least until he had an idea about a pack of matches and Ronnie Garvin, but that’s a story for some other time.
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