In 1983, Jerry “The King” Lawler made a decision to pair 2 fairly obscure young wrestlers into a new tag team. The 2 young men were born Richard Wendell Morton and Ruben Cain, but they would forever be remembered as Ricky & Robert. As the head booker for his Memphis territory, he needed a second babyface tag team for when the popular Fabulous Ones (Steve Keirn and Stan Lane) were working elsewhere. He wanted them to be a young, high energy, good-looking pair, and with the growing surge of hair band metal, they needed to capture that edge. He wanted something that would appeal to the ladies in the audience. Something cool and in your face, like a train ….something rock ‘n’ roll, a Rock ‘N’ Roll Express if you will.
Over the next year they worked small shows throughout Tennessee until catching on with Mid-South Wrestling in 1984. Here they met the 3 men most responsible for their long careers, their arch-rivals, The Midnight Express. Without Bobby Eaton, Dennis Condrey, and especially Jim Cornette, I believe Ricky & Robert would’ve faded away quickly. After all, what good are heroes without great villains?
Once the feud started, fans couldn’t get enough of it. Cornette, a mastermind in the business knew just how to work crowds into frenzy and make them hate him and his team. They wanted desperately to see somebody put them down and who better than the Express? All of the boys worked well together and in a time when very few guys left their feet, these guys reveled in it. Ricky was an instant hit with the girls and Robert his stalwart friend with the lazy eye. With the highly underrated and steady ring work of “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton and the size and strength of “Loverboy” Dennis Condrey, and later, the martial arts skills of “Sweet” Stan Lane, you couldn’t book enough shows for them in the South.
By 1985, they were hot enough that they all landed a gig with Jim Crockett Promotions, one of the biggest and best companies in the business. It was here that Ricky & Robert would become, well…Ricky & Robert. In July of that year, the R’n’R Express would win their 1st NWA World Tag Team Title when they beat Ivan Koloff and Krusher Khrushchev in their debut match! Unlike other times this was tried (the Rock comes to mind), the fans were excited and latched onto Ricky & Robert right away. I have no stats for it, but as a kid who lived at Mid-Atlantic shows in the mid 80’s, I’d bet their shirts outsold everyone else’s 2 to 1 easily.
Over the next 3 years, they would win the NWA World Tag Team Belts for Jim Crockett a total of 4 times, and battled a who’s who of tag team legends. Besides the Midnight Express, there was Rick Rude and the “Raging Bull” Manny Fernandez (one of my favorite forgotten teams), The Minnesota Wrecking Crew, and the 4 Horsemen, just to name a few. They worked matches alongside Dusty Rhodes, the Road Warriors, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, and Magnum TA. Things looked very good for the pair, but then…the boys would lose to an opponent they never saw coming, finance.
By 1988, poor spending and fiscal plans had severely crippled Jim Crockett Promotions. The boys took an offer to join the AWA, unbeknownst to them, itself a sinking ship. For a little over a year, they worked in the Continental Wrestling Alliance (CWA). They even had a short feud with Shawn Michaels and Marty Janetty’s Midnight Rockers team. This resulted in 2 matches for the AWA World Tag Titles going from and back to the Rockers. Soon after, the 2 returned for a forgettable period to the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). Then….they disappeared.
Unless…you had a satellite dish or lived in central Tennessee, and then you know exactly what happened. Their longtime friend Jim Cornette, had created a wonderful little promotion called Smoky Mountain Wrestling (SMW), and offered the boys a job. If you’ve never seen SMW, you are missing out. YouTube is a treasure trove of this stuff and some of it is classic. The combination of aged talents like Ricky & Robert, the “Nature Boy” Buddy Landell, the Heavenly Bodies (Stan Lane and Dr Tom Prichard), Bullet Bob Armstrong, and Terry Funk drew in old school fans. And then they were delighted by young unknowns such as D’Lo Brown, Chris Candido, The Gangstas, Lance Storm, Al Snow, Unabomb (who we all know as Kane), and a fellow named Chris Jericho.
The Rock ‘N’ Roll Express was reborn here, feuding with everyone and anyone. They held the Smoky Mountain Tag Team Titles an astounding 10 times from 1991 to 1994. They had great matches with the Heavenly Bodies, Gangstas, and Chris Candido and Brian Lee. But, for me, the final feud in 1994 was their crowning achievement, maybe ever. They started a true old school classic against the 5th incarnation of the Dynamic Duo, Al Snow and Unabomb. I have included a nice treat for you at the end of this column from that time. These 4 men did everything you could want. It was the experience and popularity of the Express against the youth, dirty tactics, and attitude of Snow and Unabomb. There were all manner of gimmick matches presented, and the feud would end in one of the most absurd cage matches ever. It saw Ricky Morton hung and the Express wheeled out on stretchers while “As the Music Died” was played. Just tremendous stuff, really. However, like their feud with the Midnight Express a decade earlier, it was their opponents who made them what they were. I actually wish they called it quits that night, or even if they had returned to reclaim the SMW Tag Belts, but neither happened. SMW was closed down soon after, with its young talents going on to (some) legendary careers.
These were hard times for the duo. Ricky has admitted to drug issues, and has been arrested multiple times for unpaid child support. Robert, a child of deaf parents, tried other things, apparently even teaching sign language, but his addiction, like many other old wrestlers, is the ring. Ricky & Robert attempted to carry on, joining any company that would have them over the next 10 years. They made sporadic appearances in WCW, and even had a short run in the WWF, getting to work at WrestleMania XIV, losing to Legion of Doom 2000. They made a few appearances in Total Nonstop Action (TNA) and wrestled their old nemesis’ again, the Midnight Express in 2005 at the NWA 60th Anniversary event in Atlanta. Heck, they even won the Pro Wrestling Alliance (PWA) Tag Team Titles in 2009.
While they may not be thought of in the same stature as many of their contemporaries, and I don’t suggest they should be, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express is, in my opinion, underrated. They, along with guys like Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane, paved the way for a new generation of smaller, more agile wrestlers. Ricky & Robert’s popularity caused the formation of the Midnight Rockers, without whom, Shawn Michaels wouldn’t be the great star he is. So, take a load off and enjoy the trip back into the 80’s below, and Rock ‘N’ Roll! Oh, and til’ next time, keep your shoulders off the mat!
Rock ‘n’ Roll vs Midnight Express (Eaton/Lane) from 198
and here is the Dynamic Duo cutting a promo…
…at Robert (and his Mama’s) expense…