The Midnight Express And Rock 'N' Roll Express' Rivalry Explained

It's a safe bet to say that most present-day WWE fans, save for the real die-hards, won't be able to immediately name the current Raw and SmackDown Tag Team Champions off the top of their head. That's probably the easiest way to back up the perception of company chairman Vince McMahon as someone who doesn't care too much for tag team wrestling. However, there were two teams that barely competed in WWE but predated the Rockers, the Dudley Boyz, the Hardy Boyz, Edge and Christian, the New Day, and other all-time greats as tag team wrestling innovators — the Midnight Express and the Rock 'n' Roll Express.

While there have been several men, including the late Bobby Eaton (pictured above), who were affiliated with the former team throughout the years, the latter pairing has always consisted of Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson. With the Midnights working as the heels and the Rock 'n' Rolls booked as babyfaces, they had a long in-ring rivalry for most of the 1980s, with multiple brief resumptions in the decades that followed. Here's a closer look at the Midnight Express vs. Rock 'n' Roll Express rivalry.

Their feud was one of the first to be showcased on TV

As recalled by Voices Of Wrestling, the Midnight Express and Rock 'n' Roll Express came of age in the wrestling business at a time when marquee rivalries were booked as a way to sell tickets to the shows. Their feud, however, was primarily showcased on television, making it unique for the era and a great way to give the participants — "Loverboy" Dennis Condrey and "Beautiful" Bobby Eaton of the Midnights and Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson of the Rock 'n' Rolls — exposure as young, up-and-coming grapplers in the early-mid 1980s.

The two Expresses' feud first heated up when both teams were competing for Bill Watts at Mid-South Wrestling, as documented by Doing the Favor. While Watts typically preferred "legitimate tough guys" as a promoter, he took a different approach with Morton and Gibson, using music videos to hype them up as a top tag team. As for the Midnights, they debuted for Mid-South with a bang, winning tag team gold and maintaining an intense rivalry with the Rock 'n' Rolls.

From 1985 to 1987, both teams were mainstays of the National Wrestling Alliance's Jim Crockett Promotions, where they traded title reigns and renewed their beef on a regular basis. When Condrey left JCP in 1987, he was replaced by "Sweet" Stan Lane, who added a new dimension through his martial arts-inspired moves but also had great chemistry with Eaton.

What made both teams special?

Wrestling fans, especially old-timers, like to describe the Rock 'n' Roll Express and Midnight Express as "tag team specialists." They bring up their many epic matches through the years and across different promotions as examples of tag team wrestling as its finest. Indeed, we could go on quite a bit about the most important moments of their rivalry. But what made these two teams so special in the first place?

As their name suggests, the Rock 'n' Roll Express were all about flash and dash, both in terms of their moves in the squared circle and their colorful ring attire, as explained by ESPN. Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson were known for their double dropkicks and seamless teamwork, and Morton, in particular, was renowned for his selling ability — when the bad guys would beat down on him, you'd feel his pain and see his desperation. Per Sportskeeda, Morton arguably popularized the "babyface in peril" spot, where he'd get the snot beaten out of him for several minutes before making the hot tag to Gibson, who'd clean house on the heels with the crowd going wild.

The Midnight Express, on the other hand, were the villains who let their work — and manager Jim Cornette — do most of the talking. Regardless of their configuration, of which there were many, they also worked very well as a team, albeit with a less flashy style. However, it was Cornette's motor-mouthed promos that set them apart from other tag teams; it also helped that his trusty tennis racket oftentimes came in handy as a foreign object. 

WWE's 'New' Midnight Express was a flop

Remember when we noted that the Midnight Express and Rock 'n' Roll Express spent most of their careers outside WWE? The latter duo finally got their shot in 1998, when the company was still losing the Monday Night Wars to World Championship Wrestling. Sure, the Attitude Era was already in full effect, but there were some storylines that went down poorly with fans, including the "NWA Invasion" angle (via Bleacher Report). This was a crossover storyline that featured manager Jim Cornette leading a faction with the likes of Jeff Jarrett and the Rock 'n' Roll Express holding NWA-branded titles. After Cornette kicked the Rock 'n' Rolls out of the stable for losing their NWA Tag Team Championships to the Headbangers, he replaced them with the New Midnight Express. Wait, what?

No, these weren't the Midnights of old, but a younger version featuring (seriously) "Bombastic" Bob Holly and "Bodacious" Bart Gunn. A guy who once worked a stock car driver gimmick and a guy who became infamous a year later for getting knocked out by Butterbean at WrestleMania XV. These were two lower mid-card talents whose pushes were going nowhere, and sure enough, when the NWA Invasion storyline ended, they were back to jobber-to-the-stars status. They barely feuded with the Rock 'n' Roll Express, and when it came to rivalries against WWE's own tag teams, they were mostly unsuccessful. 

The Rock 'n' Rolls are in WWE's Hall of Fame, but the Midnights aren't

At the risk of beating a dead horse, the Rock 'n' Roll Express' time in WWE was largely unsatisfying. But the company has been known to induct wrestlers who mainly thrived elsewhere into their Hall of Fame, which is why Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson's 2017 induction was well-deserved. As accurately described by ESPN, the Rock 'n' Rolls were worthy inductees for their "quick tags, continuity and unrivaled ability to sell." 

Unfortunately, the Midnight Express has yet to be inducted. According to Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross, much of it has to do with Jim Cornette's contentious relationship with WWE, and how the company might be hesitant to honor him along with the team he managed. "Can't be another reason. Can't be another reason," Ross explained in a 2020 edition of his podcast, "Grilling JR" (via Monsters and Critics). "Midnight Express should be in the WWE Hall of Fame. Why they're not? It has to be Corny's outspokenness."