If you are going to argue about the best wrestling tag team of all time, you can throw names around like the Rock and Roll Express, the Road Warriors, Dick the Bruiser and Crusher, the Briscos, the Funks, and The Dudley Boyz, but the Midnight Express has to be considered at some point in that discussion.
Whether it is the team of Bobby Eaton with Dennis Condrey or Bobby alongside Stan Lane, both versions of the heel duo were excellent when it came to their cohesiveness and in-ring ability. No matter what combination of the Midnight Express that you followed in the ’80s or in the ’90s, they delivered quality wrestling, and they proved it by holding titles in every territory they wrestled in.
“The difference between Dennis and Stan was that Dennis would get heat by not playing by the rules. With Stan, it was a different kind of heat. He would get it by making his opponents jealous or by dancing in the ring,” Eaton said. “When Stan came in, he picked up right where Dennis left off as far as being a good heel wrestler.
The Midnight Express made their presence known in territories such as Mid South, World Class, Mid Atlantic, and later in WCW. The team infuriated the fans with their tactics and frustrated their opponents with their deceptive wrestling style. However, the team would not be complete without their tennis racket-wielding manager, Jim Cornette.
“At first, I thought the tennis racket was pretty silly, but it turned out to be one the best things that Jimmy ever came up with,” Eaton continued. “The babyface wrestlers would be beating us up and Jimmy would hit them with the racket by using it as a weapon.”
It all began in the early ’80s when Bobby, Dennis, and Jim were in Memphis, Tennessee. In Memphis they all were working for Jerry Jarrett’s wrestling promotion. Bobby and Dennis wrestled while Jim took pictures of the action for magazine publications from ringside.
At the time, Bill Watts was the promoter of Mid South Wrestling in which he ran shows in Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Mississippi. Jarrett and Watts would often swap talent to keep the energy in both their territories fresh and exciting.
In 1983, Watts picked Bobby, Dennis, and Jim to work for him as the Midnight Express. Dennis previously wrestled under the same team name with other partners. Now with Jim overseeing the two men, they would soon leave their impression on the wrestling business.
“Jimmy was a really good mouthpiece and knew how to talk. He always knew what to say from being around the business for so long,” Eaton affirmed. “I knew the three of us had chemistry from day one. Bill gave us a big push.”
In the Mid South promotion, the Midnight Express, now Beautiful Bobby and Loverboy Dennis, started feuding with the promotion’s top teams. They took on the teams of Mr. Wrestling II and Magnum T.A., the Rock and Roll Express (Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson), and the Fantastics (Bobby Fulton and Tommy Rogers).
The in-ring rivals battled each other night after night in various towns in an array of matches. There were no disqualification matches, cage matches, losers leave town matches, and losers get whipped matches, and even scaffold matches. During their stay in Mid South, Midnight Express held the promotion’s tag titles on two different occasions.
Jim’s interference in matches did not sit well with the fans. Sometimes, getting to and from the ring was not always an easy task to do. There were guardrails that separated the crowd from the talent, but sometimes that did not always eliminate the problem.
“If the fans wanted to get at us they could. Most of the time they were after Jimmy,” Eaton laughed. “They would throw cups, bottles, and just about everything at us. The constables would escort us, but sometimes they were just as angry as the fans were, and they weren’t always around.”
From Mid South, the Midnight Express would go to the World Class Championship Wrestling promotion at the end of 1984. While working for Fritz Von Erich, they would continue battling with the Fantastics. Once again, the team would go after Tommy and Bobby Fulton’s tag team championship. The Midnight Express stayed in the Dallas-based promotion for six months holding the company’s belts once.
By the fall of 1985, the three men were working for the Crocket’s Mid Atlantic Wrestling promotion based out of Charlotte, North Carolina. With the Mid Atlantic program being broadcasted on the TBS station, the Midnight Express gained exposure to a larger viewing audience.
At the time, Dusty Rhodes was booking the territory. Soon, the team of three became a team of four when Ray Traylor Jr. joined the ranks. (Traylor later became known as the Big Boss Man in the WWF.) With Traylor being a part of the group, he took on the role as Jim Cornette’s bodyguard. Dusty would name Traylor Big Bubba Rogers, and he was decked out in a suit and tie, topped with a Fedora hat.
“Jimmy always had his back to the crowd so Bubba would be there to keep an eye out for him,” Eaton recounted. “Dusty saw something in Bubba, and Bubba really believed in his gimmick and really protected Jimmy.”
While wrestling for the Crockets, the Midnight Express had extensive feuds with very familiar teams like the Fantastics and the Rock and Roll Express, but they would also wrestle against the very intimidating Road Warriors (Animal and Hawk), led by Paul Ellering.
“I liked wrestling against all three of those teams. They were all so different,” Eaton explained. “The Road Warriors were big muscle heads, while the Fantastics and the Rock and Roll Express had more of a technical wrestling style to them. We stayed really busy and it was a good time to be a wrestler.”
In 1987, Dennis left the Midnight Express and was replaced by Stan Lane. Stan previously wrestled for nearly five years with Steve Keirn in a hugely popular babyface team called the Fabulous Ones.
Bobby and Stan continued wrestling the same teams that Bobby feuded with when Dennis was his partner, but now, the Freebirds (Michael Hayes and Jimmy Garvin) would test the duo. It was with Stan that Bobby achieved one of his greatest accomplishments, and that was holding the NWA World Titles and the United States Titles at the same time.
“We were the first team to ever do that,” Eaton remembered. “I was really proud of that.”
Bobby Eaton’s in-ring career lasted nearly 35 years. In that time, he had other wrestling partners under different team names, and also had a lengthy singles career, but he will always be remembered for his time in the Midnight Express.
Jim Cornette and the Midnight Express chiseled their names in the professional wrestling history books. Their legacy will last forever. Bobby did not only live out his dream by doing what he wanted to do, but he did it with the people he wanted to do it with. Those individuals included Dennis, Jimmy, Stan, and Big Bubba, who passed away in 2004.
“I loved Bubba and I love all of those guys. I may not talk to them every day, but I have nothing but good things to say about all of them,” Eaton smiled. “I am really proud of what we did together in the wrestling business.”