Rock ‘n’ Roll Express in WWE Hall of Fame: Long overdue
The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express is, finally, getting its due, with the news that the tag team will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame this year.
The Rock ‘n’ Rolls, Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson, were the top drawing team in the Mid-Atlantic in the 1980s, rising to the top of the business in the Jim Crockett Promotions territory in the Carolinas and Virginia, feuding with The Midnight Express and their manager, Jim Cornette, and the legendary Four Horsemen.
Morton and Gibson never did get the chance to catch on in the post-territory era, and were relegated to the indies at the height of the Monday Night Wars.
But man, in their heyday, roughly 1985-1990, they were the top stars in the tag-team genre, which played a lot bigger role in booking a generation ago compared to today. The Rock ‘n’ Rolls, the Midnights, The Road Warriors, The Russians and The Andersons (and later Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson) were regularly booked in main events on big house shows up and down Tobacco Road.
Morton and Gibson were smaller guys – Morton billed at 5’11”, 203, Gibson at 5’11”, 224 – which meant they had to be booked as the heroes, getting pummeled by their usually much bigger opponents before making the dramatic comeback, culminating in their double dropkick for the pinfall.
The script for a Rock ‘n’ Roll Express match is something that fans see play over and over to this day: one partner, usually the smaller of the two, taking a lengthy beating from the opponents, trying several times to get back to his corner for a tag, finally getting there just before reaching the point of exhaustion, leading to the end-match sequence.
They call it “playing Ricky Morton” because the Rock ‘n’ Rolls made it an art form.
Fast forward about 20 years past their prime, and I can inject myself into the story for a brief moment. I worked for a company, Awesome Wrestling Entertainment, that was booking what at first was scheduled to be an oversized local house show in Fishersville, Va., working title “Night of the Legends.”
The show was scheduled for October 2011, and we began working on the card six months earlier, in April. The promoter, a friend, Marvin Ward, had the proverbial cup of coffee run in WCW and Smoky Mountain Wrestling in the early 1990s, and got to know Morton and Gibson to the point that he worked in Smoky Mountain under the name Doug Gibson as a storyline younger brother to Robert Gibson.
Putting together that house show, we reached out to Morton and Gibson to gauge their interest in headlining the show, and got them to agree. OK, Morton agreed, and said he’d make sure Gibson would be there. More on that dynamic in a bit.
Searching for a dance partner, we came across a YouTube video with Morton shooting on Kevin Nash about their time in WCW, and thought we had gold if we could get Nash, another person who Ward had maintained a relationship with from their work in the business in the ‘90s, to agree to a match.
He did, and the gold that we had envisioned materialized, to a point where our big local house show became an In Demand pay-per-view.
Over the course of the next six months, I had the pleasure of getting to know both guys well, but Morton really well, and it didn’t take long for me to figure that Morton should be working on a booking committee somewhere.
Playing the Ricky Morton, as he did night after night as a top draw and then for two decades on the indies, Morton knows wrestling psychology as well as anybody in the business.
How well? Quick anecdote from our work leading into “Night of the Legends” to illustrate. Without going too deep into the weeds on the storyline, we’d booked Nash as the muscle for Ward, at the moment the babyface promoter, against a heel Morton and Gibson, who had attacked Ward in a parking lot for comments made in a video to the effect that the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express had been “overrated.”
OK, that was a little bit into the weeds. Point being, the two were on opposite sides. So when we had Morton in town one afternoon to shoot a series of videos advancing the storyline, with Morton in front of the camera, and his phone rang, and he had Ward answer it, and it was “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton on the phone …
And Eaton said: “What the hell are you doing answering Ricky’s phone?”
“We got the boys believing it. Do you feel it? This is what it’s all about.”
That was what I remember Morton saying after.
Turns out that Gibson really hadn’t agreed back in April to be a part of the fun we had planned, but Morton talked him into it as the story played out online, with our videos on YouTube and Facebook getting literally hundreds of thousands of views.
The pay-per-view turned out to be the end of the line for AWE, for lots of reasons that had nothing to do with creative.
That’s the business. You’re on top for a brief, brief time, and then …
Five-plus years later, I’m joyed that Morton and Gibson are getting their just due. Unfortunately for them, their stars flamed out just before the guaranteed contract era, and at least Morton still makes a living, now at 60, largely based on his ability to get bookings.
A weekend of spotlight from the Hall of Fame induction and the expected few seconds of highlights the next night on Wrestlemania should help in that respect.
They both deserve a lot more, but again, that’s the business.
Column by Chris Graham