Tulsa fans were a far less unruly bunch than many ticket buyers in other Mid South markets. Their reward was to receive the ideal snapshot of tag team wrestling.
July 2, 1984
Jim Cornette has spoken in the past about how when Mid-South Wrestling came to town, Tulsa, Oklahoma, attracted a more -- shall we say -- housebroken crowd than in some other major markets in the territory. Understanding this, Ernie Ladd, Bobby Eaton, and Dennis Condrey were licensed to cheat at will, secure in the knowledge that they could be total meanies to Ricky Morton without some drunk deciding to murder the manager. This doesn’t mean that Tulsa drew a docile people; they were hot for the action and in fact, the crowd reaction came easy, being that the Rock N Roll Express were the most over act in the territory. Still, Ladd and the Midnight Express didn’t take the crowd for granted.
Out of the goodness of their dark hearts, they decided to let the Rock N Rolls and Jim Duggan have the lion’s share of the match. There are many moments where you think face-in-peril -- the concept of one babyface being isolated by the heels and struggling to make the tag -- has arrived but it’s not time just yet. They tease Robert Gibson first but quickly abandoned that idea when Gibson tagged Duggan. Then they hinted briefly that it would be Duggan but despite taking a few shots, he tagged out to Morton quickly. It was only when Morton missed a dropkick that the heels took over, leaving Morton to play the role that defined his career as much as it did tag team wrestling in the era.
The contrast of the gigantic Ernie Ladd attacking the pint-sized Ricky Morton made for an awfully effective visual. Ladd was clearly winding down by this stage of his career, but he still has simple moves in his arsenal like the double legdrop and basic thrust-like strikes that got the job done. He also understood how to rile up the crowd, playing Milton Bradley’s Hide the Foreign Object to maximum effect. It’s the double-team moves combined with complete lack of moral turpitude that made the Midnights and Cornette such a credible triple threat; the duo combined legal and illegal tactics seamlessly.
At some point in the 1990s, we started thinking of the hot tag as the beginning of the end of a match -- a sign that both teams would start the finishing stretch, do at least one nearfall, and then go home. In the 1980s, the very sight of the perilous babyface was the beginning of the finishing stretch, and it’s important to watch tag matches from the era with that in mind. Think of it like the film where the villain has the hero on the ropes until the villain’s last weakness is exploited. Just like Dorothy pouring water on the Wicked Witch of the West, the hot tag signified such a moment; complementing that, “shine” -- the part of the matches where the babyfaces get the better of almost every exchange -- is often thought of as a match introduction, but can also spill into the body of the match. It was only in the last five minutes that the Morton beatdown even began. They made those minutes count, but make no mistake, that’s because they were teasing a finish at any moment. Exceptions can and will be found -- the famed “double heat” with two face-in-peril stretches and two hot tags, particularly common in the AWA, and the hot tag that’s followed by multiple nearfalls and teases before the real finish. Those matches are usually the exceptional ones, something this, while very good, is not, even while it does act as an excellent representation of the positives of tag team wrestling in 1984.