The Rock N' Roll Express: NWA Wrestling Legends

Tom ClarkFeatured ColumnistNovember 13, 2010

The Rock N' Roll Express. Combining sex appeal with youthful energy and real work ethic, the duo of Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson were one of the most popular tag teams of the 1980s.

Riding high in Jim Crockett Promotions, Ricky and Robert earned their stripes in the main event, selling tickets and making the women scream. They were The Beatles of professional wrestling.

I loved them. I did. I was 12 years old when they first debuted for the National Wrestling Alliance, and I completely marked out for these guys. They were young, dynamic, exciting to watch. And, they were just flat-out cool.

The long hair, the rock and roll edge, coming to the ring with Electric Light Orchestra’s “Rock n Roll is King” blasting behind them. They blew the roof off the building every time they set foot through the curtain.

Their overall image and gimmick were enough to please younger fans like myself and their skill and ability in the ring were enough to earn them respect with the older fans in attendance. But Ricky and Robert were not just flash and sizzle in the NWA.

They were the epitome of guts and rebellious determination. They stood out from the rest of the pack in the tag team division, thanks in large part to the fact that they never backed down from a fight, regardless of how they were outmatched.

Of course, that is, by definition, the role of the babyface in the business. Putting them in that position got them over with the crowd; it has been done for years. In that respect, the Rock N' Roll Express were no different than any other tag team.

But these guys were young, virtually unknown when they started in the NWA. And seeing them go toe to toe with the top established tag teams of that company was a big deal. After all, look at the roster in the NWA tag team division.

The Russians (Ivan Koloff, Nikita Koloff and Krusher Krushchev) were tough, bruising, a punishing force in the NWA. Any combination of the three were put over as being extremely dominant, nearly impossible to beat.

I remember watching Ricky and Robert in the ring with these guys, thinking that they would never make it out alive. There was real drama at play here, and the differences in styles and size provided all the push necessary for The Express to win their first of four NWA World Tag Team Titles.

Ole and Arn Anderson, the Minnesota Wrecking Crew, were, pound for pound, arguably the best tag team in the company. Their association with Ric Flair and Tully Blanchard in The Four Horsemen placed them on a level that made them virtually untouchable.

The Rock N' Roll Express had some of their most memorable matches against the Horsemen, and the later pairing of Arn and Tully as a team proved to be an even more important feud in their evolution as one of the best in the business.

But every top star needs an opponent to build his legacy on. The biggest draws in the sport reach the level of legendary because their skills and ability were tested by someone who also strived to be the best. The same is also true for the sport’s greatest tag teams.

The Hardy Boyz had Edge and Christian. The Von Erichs had the Fabulous Freebirds. And the Rock N' Roll Express had the Midnight Express.

The Midnight Express, Loverboy Dennis Condrey and Beautiful Bobby Eaton, were the complete antithesis of Ricky and Robert.

They were smug, arrogant, with a tough macho edge and an egotistical sense of entitlement, thanks in large part to their manager, Jim Cornette.

Dennis and Bobby were also very good in the ring.

The Midnight Express were a well-oiled machine in the ring, using tag team work and excellent ring psychology to become a very cohesive unit.

Having Cornette as their outspoken mouthpiece was a definite benefit for them and provided even more heat from the crowd who wanted to see Ricky and Robert’s arms raised in victory.

The two teams faced off in some of the biggest matches, on some of the biggest cards, in NWA history. The later pairing of Bobby Eaton with Sweet Stan Lane, a tag team specialist in his own right, only improved the Midnight Express, and added to the excitement and action in their feud against the Rock N' Roll Express.

Perhaps the most important statement regarding Ricky and Robert and the place they earned in the NWA is the fact that, for nearly their entire run in the company, they were consistently the second-best tag team in the locker room.

While reaching No. 2 in the tag team division does not seem too lofty of a position, in the case of Jim Crockett Promotions in the '80s, it is very impressive indeed. Especially considering the fact that the team sitting at No. 1 were Hawk and Animal, the Road Warriors.

The only team that could rival the pop that the Legion Of Doom received in the NWA was the Rock N' Roll Express. Again, a true testament to the level of popularity that Ricky and Robert reached with the fans.

But, unlike the Beatles, the Rock N' Roll Express began to lose momentum and eventually dropped out of the limelight. Their gimmick began to wear thin with new fans who were looking for something edgier in their heroes, and during their short time in WCW, they were pushed down to the bottom of the ladder.

It is a real shame, when considering the level that Ricky and Robert once enjoyed. But, there is no doubting that they had a great run in the NWA.

During my time in the business, I was fortunate enough to work with Ricky and Robert on a couple of different occasions. It was very cool, and to be honest, a little intimidating, to be in the same room with these guys.

After all, this was the Rock N' Roll Express, one of the best tag teams of all time. These guys sold out arenas all over the NWA territory, along with some of the greatest talent the business has ever seen.

They stood toe to toe with Dusty Rhodes, Wahoo McDaniel, Jimmy Valiant, Ricky Steamboat and against Ric Flair and the Four Horsemen. These guys were two of my favorites as a kid, and now I was working with them.

They were quite a bit older, not as fast in the ring, and their bodies were really showing the effect the years had taken on them. But when the music hit and the crowd popped, I was instantly sent back in time. The Rock N' Roll Express were in the ring, and were bumping like a couple of 20-year-olds.

A lot has been said by fans, a lot by the self-dubbed “Internet Wrestling Community,” about guys staying longer than they should. Flair’s name has been mentioned, among others.

“Their time has passed. It’s over. Why don’t they move on? It’s all about the money to these guys.”

But, somewhere tonight, the Rock N' Roll Express is working for pennies in a National Guard Armory, in front of a crowd of 50 people or less. Why?

Because it’s what they love. Because they’re good at what they do. Because when the business gets in your blood, you’re hooked, and it becomes all you know. At the end of the day, for guys like Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson, it's about the business and the fans.

Despite the years, despite everyone who’s been a star in the business since their heyday, and in stark contrast to all the so-called experts who whine about wrestlers that can’t let go, the Rock N' Roll Express is still rolling. Rock and Roll is king.