There will never be another Bobby Eaton in the world of wrestling.
It speaks to the man that he was, not just the wrestler, that this could encapsulate a number of different things. A pioneer in the industry who was also one of the nicest people to step foot in the ring, Eaton will be sorely missed by all who have had the pleasure to enjoy his work and spend time in his presence.
Any article touching upon Eaton’s role in wrestling at large naturally requires some time spent talking up his exceptional ability as a tag team wrestler. A role largely defunct at the highest levels now (at least in the WWE), the committed tag team worker was a role in which Eaton shone. His awareness of how to structure a match to maximize crowd reactions, the right moments for hope spots and cut off moves, the best way to manipulate an official for increased heat, were second to none. What made Eaton even more exceptional in the role was his moveset, ahead of its time for the 80s in which he had his biggest success. Wrestlers flying off of the top rope was a significant piece of offense for any wrestler, yet few could match the majesty of Eaton hitting a top rope kneedrop or the Alabama Jam leg drop off of the top turnbuckle. Beauty in movement.
Some would argue that a tag partner was the best way to maximize his qualities and hide some of his deficiencies as a worker, yet that would largely be damning with faint praise. Eaton was an excellent wrestler who just so happened to flourish in the tag ranks. Whether alongside Koko B. Ware in Memphis, Dennis Condrey or Stan Lane as the Midnight Express, or later stints in the Dangerous Alliance or as a Blue Blood, Eaton was a different class of worker when it came to tag team wrestling.
What often gets held against him was a perceived lack of charisma and speaking on the microphone clearly wasn’t his strongest suit. However, if you go back and watch any Midnight Express squash match in particular, you’ll see a guy who was characterful and clearly loved playing the ‘smarmy heel’, the antithesis to who he was as a person outside of the ring.
It was the strength of Eaton’s work that saw him, alongside Condrey, Lane, Jim Cornette and the Rock and Roll Express, main event numerous shows for Jim Crockett Promotions. Having begun in Mid-South, this feud drew numbers wherever it went and was a testament to the qualities of each man involved, as well as how these abilities meshed so well. As much as the Road Warriors were the basis for a number of paint and muscle tag teams in the years that followed, The Midnights and the Rock and Roll Express defined what it was to be a heel and face tag team at that time and for years to come. They were inspirational and, most importantly, entertaining. Find any match between the teams from a PPV, a syndicated show, or even a house show, and you will be guaranteed a great time. Heck, find any Midnight Express match and you are liable to be entertained and enraged in equal measure—the mark of one of the greatest heel teams of all time.
To dwell solely on his tag work would neglect what else makes Eaton special, especially when seen through the lens of a modern industry. He was a solid midcard hand as a solo worker wherever he went, a role that feels like a dying breed these days.
This is as much about fan perception as it is about the ability of wrestlers today; if a wrestler isn’t “doing something” or “getting pushed”, the interest of a modern wrestling fan seems to wane. There feels like there is limited space for an Eaton-type these days – a guy who could be put in the middle of the card and provide you a solid 8-15 minutes of wrestling without necessarily any expectations beyond that. There were title runs, sure, but they were as a by-product of Eaton’s skills in the ring. He didn’t need them and delivered for every promotion he worked for whether he was in and around the belts or not.
Ultimately, the main point of celebration when it comes to Eaton’s life is who he was as a person outside of the ring. Coming into the business during a time where the treatment of fellow wrestlers or the fans wasn’t always the best, Eaton was a guy who appears to have been universally beloved by all who have worked with him across the years.
Stories of Eaton’s kindness were captured in Mick Foley’s first autobiography, but you wouldn’t have to dig too far to find any number of other wrestlers willing to talk up both Eaton as a great worker and as a great guy in general. These two aren’t always things that go hand in hand in any entertainment industry, being good at what you do and being a nice person, so for Eaton to have consistently been lauded in this way speaks to the man he was.
In previous years, I might have ended this by talking about Bobby Eaton being one of the most underrated wrestlers of all time. However, the quality of his work has meant that he has lived long in the memory of many a wrestling fan. When added to the ubiquitous nature of social media, I have had the pleasure of seeing Eaton get his dues more often than not as people periodically looked to celebrate what a great career he had. Long may that continue.
RIP Bobby Eaton. You will be missed.