Bobby Eaton Page 2
Eaton also squared off against such stars as Gypsy Joe, Leroy Rochester (later to find fame as Big Daddy Ritter in Calgary and then later, greater fame as Junkyard Dog). Other opponents included Ox Baker, Ripper Collins, Whipper Watson, Jr., Disco Kid (later known as Rip Rogers), Don and Ron Garfield (Don Garfield better known as Don Fargo) and others.
In 1978, Gulas found his one-time partner Jerry Jarrett trying to run opposition in some of Gulasí towns. Jarrett wound up with the younger, less established talent in the area such as Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee while Gulas hung onto longtime stars Jackie Fargo and Tojo Yamamoto. Gulas stepped things up during the summer in the midst of the promotional war. Gulas turned one-time heel and longtime fan favorite Tojo Yamamoto back into a heel. Yamamoto turned on George Gulas and Eaton during a Nashville TV interview. Yamamoto was then paired with Gypsy Joe as the areaís top team. This set up matches with Yamamoto and Joe battling Eaton and Gulas and often, Eaton and Dutch Mantel. Within a few years of his debut Eaton was headlining the cards he once attended as a fan.
Later in 1978, more new talent would be in the area. The "Macho Man" Randy Savage returned in the fall (he had appeared for a few weeks early in the year). Eaton battled him over several weeks with Savage retaining the Mid-America title. In December, a new tag team debuted. That team was Terry Gordy and Michael Hayes. 1978 drew to a close with Eaton teaming with George Gulas and together they held the Mid-America tag titles.
1979 found Eaton and Gulas being billed as The Jet Set (not sure the exact origin of how they were named this but there was a 1970's country song called "The Jet Set" performed by George Jones and Tammy Wynette). Earlier in the year, the Jet Set lost the Mid-America titles to Gordy and Hayes who, of course, would later become famous, some say infamous, as The Fabulous Freebirds, a name they would acquire later in 1979 while working for Jerry Jarrett. They had met working cards in Mississippi in 1978. Hayes had grown up in the Florida panhandle while Gordy was a star athlete from the Chattanooga area. Gordy was still in his teens when he paired with Hayes in the Gulas territory but he already had a few years of ring experience under his belt. He had wrestled under a mask (to hide the fact that he was a minor) for some independent promoters and had also worked a 1976 TV taping for the UWA promotion (as Terry Mecca) that ran opposition against Gulas.
Gordy and Hayes clicked as a team and proved to be a big draw for Gulas. One of their most constant opponents was Bobby Eaton. Eaton teamed with The Mexican Angel, Crazy Luke Graham, Tommy Rich (brought in from Georgia for some matches) and even Andre the Giant.
While he had mainly been featured in tag matches, Eaton did lay claim for a few weeks to the Mid-America title. In the spring of 1979, Chris Colt returned to the area and began battling Eaton.
Their feud reached a wild point when on live Chattanooga TV, Colt attacked Eaton during a TV match. Using a piledriver (a hold barred from use, so when it was used, usually by a heel, it actually meant something) on Eaton on the concrete floor beside announcer Harry Thorntonís desk. Thornton, also a co-promoter, blew a gasket and suspended Colt on the spot for his actions as Eaton was carted off on a stretcher, portrayed as being seriously injured. Naturally, this lead to rematches with Eaton getting the best of the eventually reinstated Colt in the end. The feud with Colt and Coltís partner, Tojo Yamamoto, helped solidify Eatonís status as a top babyface in the area alongside Dutch Mantel and Ken Lucas.
As Chris Colt readied himself to depart the area, Dennis Condrey returned. Condrey had formed a great tag team with Phil Hickerson and together, they had been a force in the area since 1975. By 1979, the pair had finished working the Knoxville territory and returned to work for Jerry Jarrett in the western end of his region. Hickerson though, had some injuries and had to miss working in the ring for awhile. Because of this, Condrey teamed with Don Carson in Memphis. By summer, he returned to work for Gulas. While working for Gulas, Condrey often squared off against Bobby Eaton. Of course, years later, Condrey and Eaton would form The Midnight Express.
Eaton also battled David Shultz, The French Angel (Frank Morrell), Hans Schroder and others. He often paired up with Prince Tonga (known later as Haku in the WWF and Meng in WCW) and Rick and Robert Gibson. Also in the area at the time was a youngster making the rounds named Ricky Morton, son of longtime area referee Paul Morton. Within the space of a year, Gulas hosted a future WWF and WCW champion, Randy Savage, and future World tag champions The Rock n Roll Express (Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson, who did not team together often, if at all at this point in their careers). As well, Gulas had more future tag champions in the Freebirds (Terry Gordy and Michael Hayes), the Midnight Express (Dennis Condrey and Eaton (though not as a team), future NWA champion Tommy Rich and even a few appearances by a guy billed as The Incredible Hulk Terry Boulder, who would later become Hulk Hogan.
The fall of 1979 saw Eaton do the unthinkable. He turned heel. He assisted Tojo Yamamoto in a match against Ken Lucas and became part of Yamamotoís Japanese connection. While Eaton turned heel, Condrey turned face and the two feuded for a few weeks before leaving the area to return to Knoxville to team with David Shultz.
As 1979 drew to a close, the Gulas office and the Jarrett office mended fences somewhat. Jackie Fargo and Tojo Yamamoto began making appearances for Jarrett while Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee returned to make appearances for Gulas. Gulas then welcomed a new team to the area that had worked for Jarrett. That team was known as the Blonde Bombers (Wayne Farris and Larry Latham) with manager Sgt. Danny Davis. The Bombers quickly won the Mid-America tag belts and began the new year and decade as a force.
The Bombers quickly found opposition in The Jet Set as Eaton turned face again when he rescued George Gulas from an attack by The Bombers. The Jet Set eventually regained the tag titles for one last brief run as champions.
Eaton battled Hector Guerrero, Gorgeous George, Jr. (they had a brief feud over the Mid-America title), Roger Mason and others in 1980 but the Gulas territory was losing steam. Gulas had aired reruns some weeks in place of new TV programmingand longtime TV announcer Harry Thornton missed some TV shows due to illness. Things had changed and Gulas was not keeping up with those changes.
Eaton made a few appearances in the spring for Southeastern Championship Wrestling in Knoxville but that territory would fold in the summer and run cards for Georgia Championship Wrestling. Eaton continued with Gulas and in the late spring, turned heel once more.
Eaton had teamed with newcomer Steve Regal (the wrestler from Indiana, not the British wrestler Eaton would team with in the 1990s). Fans welcomed Regal with open arms but soon, Eaton grew jealous of Regalís popularity and turned on him.
By summer, Nick Gulas had sold the territory to Buddy Fuller (Gulas lost the western end to Jarrett when they split in 1977 and Gulas sold the Alabama end in 1979). Gulas promoted Jackie Fargoís retirement matches around the territory before stepping aside. A week later, longtime announcer and co-promoter Harry Thornton retired.
Thornton, who showed no effort in hiding his dislike of the heels, told Eaton how disappointed he was in how Eaton had turned out. Eaton, aware of Thorntonís last appearance, briefly broke character by telling Thornton he would miss him and then promptly went into a heel interview.
Buddy Fuller had trouble gaining any momentum from the buyout. He imported some stars from Georgia such as Tony Atlas and Tommy Rich and several from Memphis such as Jimmy Valiant, Robert Gibson, Billy Robinson, Tony Charles and others but by September, the Memphis end assumed most of the old Gulasí territory.
Eaton found himself in matches against Southern champion Jimmy Valiant. He was paired with manager Jimmy Hart and often in tag matches with newly turned heel Tommy Rich. This duo spent the rest of 1980 feuding with the teams of Tojo Yamamoto and Bill Dundee and Dundee and Jerry Jarrett. Briefly, Hart even referred to Eaton as "The New King", a dig at the injured Jerry Lawler.
Eaton left the Jarrett territory at yearís end to try his luck in Georgia. His stay in Georgia held mixed results in the win-loss column. He did hold the areaís TV title and challenged for the Georgia Junior Heavyweight title but he rarely made it past mid-card during his stay.
No doubt though that Eaton gained valuable ring experience in Georgia. He wrestled such stars as Robert Fuller, Ted DiBiase, Mr. Wrestling II, Steve Keirn, Rick and Robert Gibson and others.
He even had a chance to wrestle his Jarrett tag mate, Tommy Rich who had returned to Georgia in the spring of 1981 and immediately walked into a feud with The Fabulous Freebirds. Now however, the Freebirds were made up of Buddy Roberts (one half of Eatonís first major feud) as well as Terry Gordy and Michael Hayes (whose pairing for Gulas was strengthened with an early area feud against Eaton). Hayes wanted rid of Rich so he placed a bounty on him. One Saturday on TV, Eaton tried to win the bounty. Rich won the match despite Eaton being accompanied to the ring by Hayes.
The Knoxville office had reopened in the spring under the wing of Blackjack Mulligan. After leaving Georgia, Eaton wound up in Knoxville for a few months working as a heel with Kevin Sullivan and Wayne Farris against Blackjack Mulligan, Jack Mulligan, Jr. (Barry Windham), Chief Jay Strongbow, Terry Taylor and others. The Knoxville office slowed down and Eaton returned to Memphis by yearís end.
Upon his return to Memphis, Eaton teamed some with Stan Lane. As with his earlier partnership with Dennis Condrey, the two would team again later to greater notoriety. Eaton became part of Jimmy Hartís First Family. Even though he teamed some with Lane, Lane would soon turn babyface and more often than not battle against Eaton. Eaton formed a team with Sweet Brown Sugar. Sugar was the new ring name for Koko Ware, a talented star who had worked his way up in the Jarrett territory much like Eaton did with Gulas. Together, Eaton and Sugar held the Southern tag titles on several occasions and are regarded by many as one of the really great tag teams of the early 1980s. Eaton and Ware meshed high-flying tactics and solid in-ring work to form a great duo. Add the manic antics of Jimmy Hart as their manager and the combination was a true delight.
Professional wrestling is storytelling set to theatrical athletics. There must always be conflict. After a team has been together for awhile it makes sense to pit them against each other and this is what happened to Eaton and Sweet Brown Sugar.
It started out as another great day for Jimmy Hart and the team of Eaton and Sugar. The trio was being interviewed by Lance Russell when Hart kept fawning over Eatonís recent win over Jacques Rougeau for the Mid-America title. Sugar was a wet blanket during the interview because he had failed in his attempt to win the Southern title from Terry Taylor. Hart had finally had enough and slapped Sugar and ordered Sugar to return to the dressing room. As Sugar left sulking for the dressing room, Eaton taunted him by saying "Heís been whining like a woman all week."
The interview continued as Hart and Eaton then aired a clip of a Nick Bockwinkel match against Jerry Lawler from Memphis where Andy Kaufman returned to cost Lawler Bockwinkelís AWA title. After a pre-taped interview with Kaufman and Hart, Eaton and Sugar entered the ring to battle Bill Dundee and Terry Taylor. The match bounced back and forth for five minutes before Eaton caught Taylor and held him for a Sugar top rope dropkick. Taylor moved when Sugar jumped. Sugar nailed Eaton and then Taylor pinned Eaton for the win. Eaton was furious at the loss and Sugar was just as upset. Hart played peacemaker even though Sugar shoved Hart around some. Sugar left the ring as Hart and Eaton told Sugar to return with Hart vowing Sugar would shine his shoes to make up for Sugarís mistake. Sugar never came out to confront Hart and Eaton.
Jerry Lawler then came out to talk about how Hart and Andy Kaufman had cost him the AWA title. Lawler called out Sabu the Wildman (not Sabu of ECW fame), who began a brawl with Lawler. The King was holding the advantage, until Eaton and Hart got involved and eventually with Sabu begin pounding on Lawler until Sugar made the save.
Eaton and Sugar then met in a series of matches that eventually led to a loser leave town match. Eaton won and sent his partner packing. Oddly enough though, a masked man named Stagger Lee, built similar to Sweet Brown Sugar, debuted and made the First Family his target.
Eaton would continue in the area with Hart as his manager and even hold the Southern titles with Duke Myers briefly. Eaton and Myers defeated The Fabulous Ones for the titles but eventually lose them back to the Fabs. The Fabs, of course, were Steve Keirn and Stan Lane, both future partners of Eaton. (Lane would become a Midnight Express member while Keirn and Eaton would form Bad Attitude in WCW in the 1990s).
Eatonís run for Jarrett was nearly through but before it ended he would go to the dogs. Eaton was paired with The Moondogs for a Memphis match against Austin Idol and The Fabulous Ones. One of the Moondogs accidentally hit Eaton with a bone causing Eaton to be pinned. Eaton was upset and the Moondogs turned on him. Hart at first tried to protect Eaton but when the Moondogs nearly turned on him he joined in on the attack. As Eaton was getting beat down an old familiar face (sort of) ran in to help Eaton. It was Stagger Lee, a.k.a. Sweet Brown Sugar, a.k.a. Koko Ware. Eaton and Lee reformed their team briefly, this time as fan favorites with Lee eventually unmasking to revert back to Koko Ware.
Eaton met Hart and Jim Cornette in a series of handicap matches. Hart had named Cornette as his assistant and with that association, Eaton set Cornette in his sights as well. 1983 was coming to a close and Bobby Eatonís career as a professional wrestler had seen him move up the ranks to become a respected, dependable in-ring talent.
Eaton is remembered by many more for his career after 1983 because the companies he worked for then were more high profile than the Gulas and Jarrett territories he mostly worked for prior to 1983. His time before 1983 though was not wasted. The in-ring talents he would use in the years to follow were sharpened in the years before 1983, including his microphone talents. Eaton, who rarely spoke on interviews after 1984, did have opportunity before then and while he was not the greatest interview subject, he was effective. As time moved on though, he did end up surrounded by others who were at the top of the list as great interview subjects (Jimmy Hart and Jim Cornette) so the opportunity (and necessity) to become more skilled on the microphone diminished.
As 1983 began to wind down winds of change were blowing for some in the Memphis territory, including Eaton, Cornette and Dennis Condrey. That wind would blow them to the doorstep of the Cowboy.
Soon after entering the Mid-South region, Eaton found himself part of the Midnight Express tag team. The Midnight Express was not new to the wrestling world. Randy Rose, Norvell Austin, The Mongolian Stomper and Ron Starr had all once been members with Rose, Austin and Condrey laying claim to the moniker for the longest, having worked the Southeastern territory in Alabama as the Express and later moving to Memphis.
Eaton is best known for his time as a member of the Express. For more details on his time in this popular tag team, click here to be taken to a profile on the Midnight Express.
Bobby Eatonís career after the demise of the Midnight Express continued. He wrestled solo for awhile and even held the WCW TV title. He often battled other top notch talent such as Terry Taylor, Ricky Morton, Buddy Landel, Tom Zenk, Arn Anderson and others. The highlight of Eatonís solo run was a June 12, 1991 Clash of the Champions main event match against world champion Ric Flair. Eaton pinned Flair after his Alabama jam leg drop to win the first fall, lost the second fall when he was counted out and then dropped the last fall to Flair and his figure four leg lock.
Eaton battled a WCW newcomer later in the year known as Stunning Steve Austin. Eaton also faced off against Tommy Rich and Ricky Morton, members of the Alexandra York (WWFís Terri) Foundation.
Things were about to change in WCW. Paul E. Dangerously, who had been relegated to an announce position in the company, reemerged as a manger by hooking up with Ravishing Rick Rude and Madusa. A few weeks later, Dangerously reintroduced his Dangerous Alliance: Rude, Madusa, Arn Anderson, Stunning Steve Austin, Larry Zbyszko and Bobby Eaton. Eaton was then paired in tag matches with Anderson putting together possibly the two greatest tag team partners from the 1980s on one side. It wasnít long before they won the WCW tag titles.
The Dangerous Alliance marched through WCW and battled Sting, Dustin Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat, Barry Windham and others. Finally, on the May 17, 1992, at the WrestleWar pay-per-view from Jacksonville, Florida the Dangerous Alliance met their opponents (Sting, Rhodes, Windham, Steamboat and Nikita Koloff) in the War Games match. The end came when Zbyszko accidentally clobbered fellow partner Eaton with the dislodged turnbuckle in the arm. Sting then placed an armbar on Eaton who then submitted putting the Dangerous Alliance in the loserís column for the night.
For his part in costing his team the War Games match, Zbyszko was kicked out of the Dangerous Alliance and entered into a feud with Eaton. They battled off and on for most of the summer. Eaton continued to team with Arn Anderson and things became more interesting later in the year with an addition to the team.
WCW had a number of good tag teams. Rick and Scott Steiner headed that list and others would include Eaton and Anderson, Barry Windham and Dustin Rhodes and The Freebirds. By mid-year, WCW added the team of Terry Gordy and Steve Williams. Gordy and Williams were the hottest tag team in Japan and quickly made an impact on WCW by winning first the NWA tag title tournament and then the WCW tag titles.
Eaton and Anderson went after Gordy and Williams. To insure his team would be ready, Dangerously hired Michael Hayes to serve as manager for Eaton and Anderson. Hayes, of course, had once been Gordyís Freebird tag partner. Despite the combined efforts of three of the greatest tag teams ever on one side, Gordy and Williams held onto the titles.
During the year WCW had once again been in some inner turmoil. Jim Herd, who had served as Executive Vice-President had resigned after a lot of pressure. His replacement was K. Allen Frey, who was just a temporary stop-gap until WCW could get who they wanted, one Cowboy Bill Watts.
Watts came on board and the honeymoon was on. Watts had successfully promoted the Mid-South area for a number of years and helped oversee the success of some of the top names in the business including Eaton. Fans were excited about Watts coming on board since many of them remembered the glory days of Mid-South and itís successor, the UWF. After arriving, Watts helped bring in Gordy and Williams and Jake "the Snake" Roberts.
The honeymoon soon ended though. Watts began trying to restructure contracts of existing WCW stars and some were even let go. One of the casualties of Wattsí shenanigans was Bobby Eaton.
Eaton rebounded by appearing for the newly formed Smoky Mountain Wrestling group operated by his one-time manager, Jim Cornette. Cornette brought Eaton in and paired him with The Heavenly Bodies (Stan Lane and Tom Prichard) - oddly enough, Prichard nearly became Dennis Condreyís replacement in the Midnight Express in 1987. The Bodies were in the midst of a feud with Eatonís old rivals, The Rock 'n Roll Express as well against Robert Fuller, Jimmy Golden and Dutch Mantel. The Rock 'n Rolls countered Eaton and Cornette by bringing in their own mystery partner, Eatonís Dangerous Alliance tag mate Arn Anderson, also a victim of the Bill Watts regime. The Smoky Mountain fans responded by turning out in large crowds to see these veterans work the magic most of them had worked with each other in the ring for years.
Watts was ousted in power and replaced by Eric Bischoff. Both Eaton and Anderson returned to WCW. Eaton paired up some with Chris Benoit but WCW never pushed them much as a team.
Eaton from that point forward has been used primarily in mid-card status or below. He did appear for Paul E. Dangerouslyís ECW promotion in 1994 when WCW and ECW swapped some talent from time to time. Also in 1994, Eaton teamed with one-time Fabulous Ones member Steve Keirn to form a team billed as Bad Attitude.
Eatonís last push in WCW was when he paired with Lord Steven Regal and Squire David Taylor to form the Bluebloods. Regal and Taylor, both British, attempted to "British-ize" the Alabama-born and bred Eaton in video segments getting the team over to the fans. Although the trio had some good chemistry and potential, WCW never gave them a decent push as the company seemed intent on letting the tag team scene die.
Eaton continued working for WCW. He often appeared on the Saturday TBS show or on the syndicated WCW shows usually to put over developing talent. Eatonís ability to make others look good had diminished little over the years but his skills as an in-ring performer were apparently lost on those in charge of a major wrestling company.
Eaton worked training new talent at WCWís Power Plant facility in Atlanta. WCW though released Eaton from their payroll in the spring of 2000.
From his humble beginnings in rings in northern Alabama to headlining some of the biggest cards ever in the U.S., Bobby Eaton has rarely failed to deliver as a performer. In his book entitled Have A Nice Day, Mick Foley, wrestlingís Cactus Jack and Mankind, speaks highly about Bobby Eaton as a person and how Eaton is highly regarded by others in the business of professional wrestling. That seems a fitting way to close an article about a performer perceived by his peers as one of the most talented and genuinely nice people they have ever known.
Heaven knows you would never hear Bobby Eaton say it. Some things just speak for themselves.
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