During a time when getting people through the front door was much more important than what you offered on television, two promotions, in particular, bucked the trend in terms of offering marquee matches on their weekly programming on a regular basis.
With Memphis, it was often the matches in the studio that built to the contests in the Coliseum on Monday, whether it was a schmozz finish or an ending that required the stakes to be furthered in terms of a gimmick or two.
Mid-South, without that focal marquee event, tended to offer matches that built up overall storylines, cemented partnerships and showcased the relative pecking order of their talent. Still, it was rare that you saw a completely clean finish in the biggest matches on the show as they sought to save something for the paying fans.
As it was often going to be the case that a match on Mid-South television between two rivals as going to end in a fashion that was less than clean, the means in which the matches were developed in order to give fans a taste of what they could expect in the arenas was interesting. The heel interference to give the face a disqualification victory after several minutes of back and forth action was a regular occurrence, but sometimes the watching audience was treated to something a little bit more special as would be seen in the early months of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express’ feud with the Midnight Express.
By the time the Midnight Express and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express faced off on the April 26 edition of Mid-South Wrestling, they had already fought twice on television. The first would be before the Midnight Express won the Mid-South Tag Team Titles from Magnum TA and Mr. Wrestling II, with the two hottest teams in the region arguably competing for their chance to win eventual gold. After showcasing the double team capabilities of both duos, as well as Morton’s face in peril ability, the breakdown off of the hot tag would see the arrival of Nikolai Volkoff and Krusher Kruschev to interrupt the contest. With Mid-South often presenting the heels as a loss collective who are willing to help each other, the Russians would attack Gibson and Morton, ending the match and allowing them to cut a few chunks of Morton’s hair in the process.
Outside of a famous segment in which Jim Cornette would find his celebrations curtailed by the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express pushing him face-first into a cake, the Midnight’s involvement with Bill Watts and Stagger Lee in ‘The Last Stampede’ would briefly halt the feud between the two teams. However, with that issue resolved and the Midnights smarting from their loss, the next match would occur a little over a month later.
This time, the promotion would use the advantage of having a manager such as Jim Cornette involved, though it would initially seem like the Midnights were going into battle without their manager as he was nowhere to be found. For those who smelled a ruse, their concerns were validated as a ‘woman’ with a loaded purse would help reverse a roll-up in order to put Eaton on top of Morton for the win. However, as a handful of wig by Gibson revealed the female to be Cornette, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express were awarded the match by disqualification.
Though the quality of a Rock ‘n’ Roll/Midnights match was without question, it would be the third match of their on-screen trilogy that really helped to sell the feud to the watching audience. It not only gave the fans a big moment on television, a rarity at times but also presented the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express as a team who wasn’t going to be consistently out-thought by the Midnights and Cornette. Having not met that many times on arena shows up until now, this would also serve as the kickstart to this feud proper as they began to take it on the road.
The opening segment of the April 26 Mid-South Wrestling would see Cornette announce that there were three open contracts to face the Midnight Express during that show. With caveats that eliminated the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, Magnum TA, Bill Watts, Stagger Lee, Steve Williams and Terry Taylor from taking up any of the contracts, alongside the first two opponents being notable duos Greg Koslav/Jason Wacker and Tony Torres/John King, it appeared that this would just be an exercise in arrogance. However, Bill Watts, with his usual air of disgust towards Cornette and his whole operation, would reveal the Mr. Wrestling II and III would be the third team to take on the Midnights after the commercial break. A step up in class no doubt, with Hercules Hernandez the new understudy for Wrestling II after the split with Magnum TA.
It might have seemed weird for Mid-South to be going heel versus heel in this last contest, and the reality set in pretty quickly as ‘Mr Wrestling II’ and ‘Mr Wrestling III’ were clearly smaller than usual. The Midnights would jump their opponents before the bell, but after fighting off the champions’ onslaught, Ricky Morton would whip off his mask to reveal the ruse; Robert Gibson would actually struggle to remove his, taking several seconds whilst on the apron in order to reveal himself behind the mask.
After a few minutes which saw the inevitable heat segment and hot tag that these teams worked so well, the finish saw a Morton roll-up on Condrey crotch Eaton on the top rope in order for Gibson to hit the superplex for a double pin. Condrey was down for a long time in the process of this spot, but it ended up being a cool visual to show how comprehensively Cornette had been outthought. Mid-South had new Tag Team Champions.
What made this a great segment for television was the way in which it gave the fans something exciting, yet not something that was in any way a clear victory for either team. The Midnights were arrogant; the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express exposed a loop-hole in the contract; the titles changed hands. Having presented the quick tag team work from both teams in three truncated matches on television, alongside some deft use of interview segments and angles to develop the feud further, the match was ready to go on the road.
And that it would – the feud would run all the way through the year (ending with scaffold matches) before both teams would head to World Class and Jim Crockett Promotions to continue to face each other in different territories.
Arguably, it was the catalyst for the greatest tag team feud of all time, as well as the feud with which each team managed to cement their positions in the pantheon of professional wrestling history.