An article by Mike Mooneyham
Published May 14, 2000
All good things must come to an end. Such is life in the fast-lane world of professional wrestling.
Few, if any, have been more loyal to a wrestling company than Bobby Eaton has to WCW. Eaton, for those new fans to the business or whose fascination with the industry doesn’t extend past the “Stone Cold” Steve Austin era, was once a big star in the mat game.
By the late ’80s Eaton was often mentioned in the same breath as Ric Flair and Curt Hennig as the best worker in the United States. He was part of arguably the best team of that decade as a member of Jim Cornette’s Midnight Express.
But to talk to Bobby Eaton, you’d never know it. Humble to a fault, he never pegged himself any more than a guy who loved wrestling. He loved watching it, he loved doing it and he loved being around it.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]It’s been a major part of Eaton’s life since he was a teen-ager helping put up the ring for shows in his hometown of Huntsville, Ala. He was still in high school playing linebacker and fullback for his football team when he stepped into the ring for his first professional match. He has been in the business nearly a quarter of a century, although he is a relatively young 41 years old, which puts him in the median range of the seasoned pack at WCW.
A couple of weeks ago, however, Eaton received some news that he hadn’t anticipated and hadn’t braced for. His services were no longer needed.
The saddest part for Eaton was that he was never officially notified of his release. He called the office when his paycheck never arrived, and the accounting department and later J.J. Dillon informed him that his contract had expired and had not been renewed.
The news blind-sided him, but Eaton’s not complaining. That just isn’t his style.
“I’m not crying over spilled milk,” Eaton said last week. “I am sad, though, because I felt like I had been very loyal to them. But I’m not going to be like one of those old-timers who say they got the short end of the stick.”
“I’m just sorry that nobody ever talked to me,” said Eaton, the company’s most tenured worker dating back to his pre- WCW days with the NWA in the mid-’80s. “Nobody told me that I was going to be released. I never even got a letter in the mail. I had to ask them, and I was kind of sad about that. I guess I was still working shows while I was being released.”
It’s no secret that over the years Eaton passed up a number of opportunities to leave. There were lucrative deals in Japan and offers from the WWF. But he remained loyal to WCW.
“I didn’t mind being loyal because I was told that I had a job forever. But here I am watering the grass tonight.”
Talking with Bobby Eaton you feel a sense of loss – not over the fact that he longer has a job with WCW, but that he may have lost more than he gained by staying with the organization.
His stock had progressively dropped, and he had been used in recent years solely as a talent enhancement performer on house shows and lower-profile television shows. His last hometown appearance in Charlotte saw him job in the opening match to a Power Plant product. He did the same in nearby Fayetteville.
“Nobody there really bought it,” said Eaton. “But I went along with the program.”
For the past year he mostly had been working Saturday night television, “putting over guys who couldn’t lace their boots up,” and most recently had been helping train wrestlers at the Power Plant.
But wrestling has not been the same for Eaton since his partnership with Cornette and his association with The Midnight Ex press ended in 1990. Although he enjoyed mild success in later years teaming with the likes of Arn Anderson, Larry Zbyszko and Lord Steven Regal, those who knew Eaton knew something was missing.
“Corney gave me my confidence,” said Eaton. “He’s my buddy. I love him. We both were big wrestling fans. We’d travel up and down the road talking about wrestling. I miss working with him and Stan (Lane). I haven’t been the same since they left.”
There was, however, a trade-off. Eaton’s schedule allowed him to spend time with his family that he might not have had working full-time for another company.
“I was happy here. It was close to home. That’s what I wanted to concentrate on – being around my kids and my wife,” said Eaton, a father of four who married the daughter of veteran wrestler Bill Dundee nearly 18 years ago. “Those kids are special to your heart. It might not have been the best financial move, but my family was my first priority. I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
As for his release, Eaton says he has no answers, but he’s not one to hold a grudge. He added that he doubted Eric Bischoff, who recently was brought back in to head up WCW, had anything to do with the re lease or even knew that he was no longer with the company. “I like Eric Bischoff,” Eaton said. “He’s always been very nice to me. I think he would help me if he could. He helped me out once before when I was in a real bind. I don’t care what other people have said about him – you have to take into account how a person’s treated you. He was treated pretty badly by some of the boys and some of the guys in the office when he was an announcer. It doesn’t matter to me what position you have, you’re still a person. I was always nice to him, just like I’d be to my neighbor or anybody else. What difference does it matter what position you have in life?”
Eaton’s past is a storied one from the glory days of the NWA.
The original Midnight Express, Eaton and Dennis Condrey with Cornette at the helm, set Cowboy Bill Watts’ Mid-South promotion on fire in 1984. The trio were leading villains when the promotion, which ran shows in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, broke one gate record after another.
“That was one heck of a year,” said Eaton. “They gave us a big push, and man, we were fighting every night. I got beat up (by fans) six or seven times down there.”
Jim Crockett Promotions signed the trio in the summer of 1985. Stan Lane took Condrey’s place in The Express in 1987 when Condrey, being outvoted by Eaton and Cornette over an opportunity to take a job with the WWF, left the team and the NWA (later to become WCW).
The new version of “Sweet” Stan Lane and “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton, behind one of the greatest managers in the business, held the NWA tag-team belts on several occasions and were named tag-team of the year in 1987-88. Their matches with duos such as The Rock and Roll Express, The Fantastics, The “Original” Midnight Ex press (Condrey and Randy Rose), The Road Warriors, and Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard were among the best area fans had ever seen. The two were innovative, and created maneuvers such as the rocket launcher, Alabama jam and the vegematic.
Contract problems in 1989, however, resulted in the NWA front office trying to break up the trio, feeling the act had out lived its shelf life. But the group refused, quitting once to show unity and threatening to do the same when management wanted to split the trio up again. Cornette’s fiery temper often clashed with WCW’s front office, and he left the company for good in 1990 after a series of disagreements, culminating with a falling out with then-WCW boss Jim Herd and booker Ole Anderson. Cornette took Lane with him and later formed Smoky Mountain Wrestling, a regional promotion that folded in 1995. Eaton, always the loyal employee, stayed behind.
Eaton figures he’s still got a few good years left in the business.
“In my mind I’m not old, but sometimes my body tells me different. I love to work, but I can’t keep up with some of these guys,” said Eaton, referring to the Luchadores and cruiserweights.
“It’s not their fault, it’s my fault. I couldn’t have kept up with them 20 years ago,” he jokes.
Eaton said he doesn’t exactly know what his future holds, but he looks forward to rejoining Cornette and Lane.
“I’m really excited about getting back together with Stan and Jim. I’m especially excited about getting back together with Corney. I’m not a rich man by any means. I need to work.”