Wrestling fandom requires a sense of eternal optimism, although sometimes when we think back fondly on great feuds, we forget that even the best rivalries had an expiration date.
July 2, 1987
Jim Crockett Promotions
NWA World Wide Wrestling 07-04-87
NWA World Tag Team Championship
If any headline act suffered the most from the decline of the territories, it just might have been the Rock N Roll Express. Just like heartthrobs marketed to teenagers in all forms of entertainment, they can be wildly successful, but Tiger Beat usually closes its window before the hormones can escape. Before coming to Jim Crockett Promotions in 1985, Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson worked in Mid-South Wrestling. They “popped the territory”, as the old-timers would put it, but they were also careful not to overstay their welcome.
By the summer of 1987, Crockett fans were growing tired of the Rock N Roll Express, a trend that had only been confined to the heel-friendly Philadelphia market earlier in their Crockett run. The duo peaked both as team acts and a solo acts during the previous year’s Great American Bash tour, with Morton as a hot challenger to NWA World Champion Ric Flair and most of their matches on the tour happening against the Four Horsemen. There was anything but shame in working with the Midnight Express, but it was the second version of the feud in JCP alone and they had already traded the World Tag Team Titles the previous year.
It seemed like they had no idea where to go next. The Rock N Rolls were still very well-received in lots of places, even in this match, but it was clear the act had gotten colder in the previous twelve months. Less than three months earlier, the two were mercilessly booed in Baltimore when ring announcer Gary Cappetta told the Baltimore crowd that they would not participate in the annual Crockett Cup tournament because of Morton’s eye injury. The idea was floated in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter of a heel turn and feud with The Fantastics, while booker Dusty Rhodes pitched a program with The Sheepherders where Morton would have his head shaved, an offer perhaps made specifically so the Express would leave town.
In spite of this, the Capital Centre crowd were receptive to the Rock N Rolls and they might have had a good match that kept the people; however, a television match that spanned 30 minutes with commercial breaks was enough to remind any viewer how played out the team was becoming, which meant this sputtered to a conclusion instead of building to a hot finish. Stan Lane had also replaced Dennis Condrey in the Midnight Express since the previous summer, a change that in theory might have freshened up the rivalry, but didn’t get there in practice. The work is good at times and floundering at times; the teams seemed at least a little off their game because of the growing apathy from the crowd, but haven’t stopped providing the reliably great sequences. Who doesn’t love Ricky Morton literally climbing Bobby Eaton during a simple knucklelock, for example? But more than anything, perhaps the biggest problem they faced was the absence of Jim Cornette. There were a few times in the MX’s run other than this where we saw Cornette not at ringside, and each time, the match had trouble garnering heat. This match made a strong case for Cornette as a difference maker, and as a key component for why this classic series worked so well.
When the Rock N Roll Express returned to the company in 1990, many still weren’t thrilled to see them return, but they won fans over again with their in-ring work even if their days as company main eventers were over. In 1987, they hadn’t been absent, so the hearts of fans hadn’t had time to grow fonder, which showed in how it made even the good moments seem lesser than they deserved.