It was first reported by CBS Sports that the legendary tag team The Rock ‘N’ Roll Express will be joining the 2017 class of the WWE Hall of Fame.
The tag team of Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson thrilled fans for years as one of the most successful babyface tandems in the world. They were one of the National Wrestling Alliance’s hottest acts in the 1980s with eight reigns as NWA world tag team champions, four between 1985-87 while working for Jim Crockett Promotions.
The phone call from WWE to extend the hall of fame invitation caught Morton and Gibson off guard. Morton considers it a dream come true.
“It was a surprise,” he told CBS Sports. “I had a message on my phone [from WWE] to call the number back. I think they got ahold of Robert at the time. When they called, it was just like a suckerpunch. It just knocked us off our feet.”
“It’s an honor for Ricky and me to go into the hall of fame,” Gibson added.
The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express were the prototypical 1980s good-guy duo, using fast tags and double-team offense to propel them to victory. Most of their opponents were larger and more vicious than they, which only helped feed their popularity as the presumed underdogs who feared no challenge and somehow found ways to win.
In their roughly 40-year careers, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express worked all over the world, including various NWA-affiliated territories, the AWA, Smoky Mountain Wrestling and a series of WWE appearances in the 1990s. In all, the duo has held dozens of tag team titles spanning more than 15 organizations.
While Morton and Gibson were already skilled in the ring, it was the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express gimmick that made them very popular with fans, first in Memphis and later in the Mid-South territory in Louisiana.
“Robert and I were just there the other night in the same building,” Morton said. “It’s cool to go back and see stuff like that. Winning the belts at that moment was one of the biggest highlights of our careers.”
In the 1980s, two themes were commonplace in sports entertainment: The Russian bad guy and the patriotic, good-looking hero. In 1985, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express vs. The Russians was a safe bet to make money. Nobody knew that better than the man known as “The American Dream,” Dusty Rhodes.
“Dusty Rhodes was the booker and Robert and I were the All-American babyfaces,” Morton said. “That’s the part that you gotta know about Dusty Rhodes. He was smart about everything. The United States had a little heat with Russia. We had this [feud] going on with Ivan Koloff and Barry Darsow [as Khruschev] and Nikita Koloff, the Russians. Man, they had so much heat. It made it a lot easier. But all the talent in those days were great entertainers.”
The Morton and Gibson that fans saw on TV at 6:05 p.m. every Saturday on WTBS were a pair of care-free, colorfully-clothed, bandana-wearing, mullet-headed youths. In terms of appearance, they would have fit in just as well opening for Def Leppard as they did double-dropkicking Ole Anderson in the mouth in a wrestling ring.
Ricky & Robert were looking for a fight, then a party — in that order. They became wildly popular with fans and attracted a large female following.
“It was crazy, man,” Gibson said. “It was like we shocked the wrestling world. We were like rock stars back then. The fans were great everywhere we went. It was unreal.”
“When Robert and I hit TV on TBS, when this rock thing come on, buddy, I’m telling you,” Morton said with a laugh. “You didn’t have all the beefed-up security when you went in the building. Man, it would be so packed. You’d be lucky to get to the ring with your tights on.”
“It was kind of crazy, because some places we had to go to, we had to meet with the police officers to get escorted into town,” Gibson said. “Then they would escort us out of town because the fans would line up as soon as the matches were over. They were in their cars trying to follow us out, and the police had to actually escort us in and out of the buildings.”
One time, Morton and Gibson arrived at a scheduled show in Greensboro and were trapped in their vehicle by a swarm of fans.
“Robert had just bought a brand new Trans Am,” Morton recalled. “Man, when you got 4,000 people and they rush, their faces was pushed up against the windows. It took 45 minutes for the police to get to the car to get them off. Robert’s brand new car looked like it had been in one of them derby things. It was beat all to hell.”
“Yeah, me and Ricky pulled in the parking lot and they swamped the car,” Gibson said. “I’m blowing the horn, ‘Get off my car!’ They couldn’t move. The people up front couldn’t move, because like Ricky said, it was probably 40, 50 people deep, on top of each other.”
Morton and Gibson’s greatest rivals were the Midnight Express, managed by loudmouth, tennis-racket-wielding Jim Cornette. The Midnight Express underwent a few personnel changes over the years but were most successful with two specific lineups: first with “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton and “Loverboy” Dennis Condrey, and later with Eaton and “Sweet” Stan Lane.
Both of those versions of the Midnight Express feuded with Morton and Gibson in the Crockett promotion. Some battles happened on top of a scaffold, some in a steel cage, but they were all classics, and the fans ate it up.
“Dude, we’d have matches where they’d be getting the heat on me and the fans would hit the ring and everything,” Morton said. “Bobby and Dennis, or Bobby and Stan Lane, with Cornette, I think we had some of the greatest matches of all time. It comes up a lot when I’m on the road, with every fan just about every night, man. ‘Gosh, I remember those matches with y’all and the Midnight Express!’ And they’d go through a whole bunch of ’em. It was one of the best times and one of the best rivalries, I think, of all time.”