411’s Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2007: The Midnight Express
The Midnight Express was one of the most influential teams in wrestling in terms of fluid style and tag team work. It was one thing to be a Road Warrior and run dudes over; it was another to be one of the Rock n’ Roll Express and be a flashy, aerial star. But it was another entirely to combine a solid wrestling style with a vastly intelligent approach to tag-team wrestling the way Jim Cornette’s crew(s) did.
It all actually started without Cornette in 1983. The original Midnight Express was actually a six-man-tag unit based out of Alabama consisting of Dennis Condrey, Randy Rose & Norvell Austin. The trio enjoyed moderate success before splitting up, with Condrey ending up in the Mid-South area. It would be here where Condrey would meet up with Jim Cornette and “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton.
With the team in place, Cornette and the Express wasted no time chasing gold, setting their sights on reigning Mid-South Tag Team Champions Magnum TA and Mr. Wrestling II. The duo virtually guaranteed a shot at the belts after they tarred and feathered Magnum TA at a television taping, then almost unheard of and certainly an attention-getter. The Midnights made good on their shot after that, winning the Mid-South Tag Team Championships in the Spring of 1984 – the first of many titles for the team in any incarnation.
Right off the bat, the Midnights with Cornette had made their statement to the world. They would raise more heat and hell than most teams before or after them and then, with Cornette as their mouth, use their in-ring chemistry to dazzle their opponents, co-workers, and bosses, leaving fans and promoters no choice but to recognize in amazement.
The team would go on a reign of terror in Mid-South, hinting at things to come for Cornette and his crew and laying the foundation for the legacy of the Midnight Express. As they celebrated their title win at a public celebration, The Rock and Roll Express crashed the party and smashed the cake in their faces, humoring the fans and officially setting off one of the longest feuds in wrestling history. Mid-South promoter Bill Watts even got involved, getting into a series of matches with Cornette and the Express with Junkyard Dog as his partner. Ultimately, the feud with the Rock and Rolls would take off in earnest as the R’n’Rs – under masks and billed as Mr. Wrestling II & III – defeated the Midnights for the Mid-South titles. The teams traded the belts so much that it finally took a series of scaffold matches – which would play an important part in the Midnight Express’s history later on – to settle this score in Mid-South.
After an embarrassing incident involved getting his head shaved, Cornette took the Midnights to World Class Championship Wrestling for a brief stint where they defeated the Fantastics for the World Class tag titles. After losing them back, Cornette decided to take his team to the big time – the National Wrestling Alliance.
In the NWA, Cornette and the Midnights rekindled their rivalry with the Midnight Express. In February, they would be the team the Midnight Express defeated to win their first NWA World Tag Team Championship. They would hold those belts for six months (almost to the day), taking on all comers until the Rock and Rolls won them back in August of that year. After that loss, the Midnights began their feud with the Road Warriors. That feud would culminate in the first-ever televised Scaffold Match at Starrcade ’86. The match was history making not only for the precedence of it, but for the long fall that Jim Cornette – infamously afraid of heights – would take afterward, causing him to break an ankle and many fans to cheer wildly at seeing the biggest mouth in wrestling finally get his.
The following year, the team of Eaton and Condrey seemed to run its course as the team began falling apart in January of 1987. Condrey left the NWA, putting Cornette and Eaton in a bind. In April of 1987, Cornette publicly announced Condrey’s replacement – “Sweet” Stan Lane. The “new” Midnight Express were viewed with some skepticism until that year’s Jim Crockett Senior Memorial Cup tag-team tournament.
While Eaton and Condrey were a great team, it was here that the Midnight Express would truly define their legacy. Very few combinations have ever hoped to have the chemistry and knowledge of tag-team wrestling that Eaton and Lane possessed together. The duo had their first opportunity to truly impress at the Corckett Cup and did not waste their chance at all, defeating The Garvins (Jimmy and Ron) and the Road Warriors themselves (something Eaton and Condrey could never do, shocking the fans) before falling to the Superpowers – Dusty Rhodes and Nikita Koloff – in the semi-finals.
Not too long after, in May of 1987, the Midnight Express won a tournament to claim the vacant NWA United States Tag-Team Titles. The Midnights subsequently set the record for the longest US Tag title reign in history, holding the belts for 12 months before losing them to old rivals, the Fantastics. In this time, the Midnight Express were proving themselves as heat-getters on a national level. With Cornette’s brash mouth setting the tone, the Midnights used a little chicanery and a lot of pure talent to gain their audience. People everywhere wanted to see Eaton, Lane, and especially Cornette get their rear-ends handed to them; Cornette because he couldn’t shut up, and the former two because they were so good at what they did, it was looking like no one could stop them.
During the Great Americam Bash of 1988, the Midnight Express defeated the Fantastics to win back their NWA US Tag titles. Mere months later, the Midnight Express would enter history again as they would defeat no less than the Horsemen – Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard – to win the NWA World Tag-Team Championships, becoming the first and only team ever to hold both of those titles simultaneously.
The Midnight Express dropped the titles to the Road Warriors a month later, just in time to participate in a groundbreaking feud. The “Original” Midnight Express – Dennis Condrey and Randy Rose, managed by Paul E. Dangerously – were running rampant this entire time in the AWA (going so far as to beat Jerry Lawler & Bill Dundee for the AWA World Tag Team Titles at one point). The team used patented MX moves such as the Rocket Launcher and the Vegematic and also referenced “the other Express” in various interviews. In late 1988, in a stroke of genius, Cornette convinced the powers that be in the NWA to bring in Dangerously and his crew for a program that would raise eyebrows as well raise the gate. Dangerously and the original Express came on the scene one night during the Saturday Night program on WTBS and savaged Cornette and his men. The ensuing white-hot feud garnered a lot of attention and finally ended when Cornette’s Express beat the “Original” in a loser-leaves-town match. Cornette himself would put the final nail in the feud when he beat Paul E. in a Tuxedo match at the 1989 Great American Bash PPV while his Express were members of the winning team of that year’s War Games – arguably one of the best ever.
The Midnight Express went on to feud with the Dynamic Dudes and the team of Brian Pillman and Tom Zenk, winning their 3rd and 4th US Tag-Team Titles in the process. In November of 1990, Cornette and Lane left the NWA, effectively breaking up the Midnight Express for the last time. The crew – including Condrey – would put the Express back together for a series of reunion shows on the independents that started in 2004 and continue to the present day.
Why the Midnight Express were selected…
During their tenure, The Midnight Express were hated by the fans for their underhanded tactics and reliance on the mouthpiece that drove everyone nuts, James E. Cornette. Looking past their kayfabe existence, Eaton, Condrey and Lane proved that you didn’t have to be the prettiest, most athletic, or biggest team in the world to be a raging success. All it took was an uncanny knack for working together and an encyclopedic knowledge of the art of working as a team – together and with other teams. Among the strategies they made popular among workers to this day, the Midnight Express took the strategy of cutting the ring in half first made popular by the Minnesota Wrecking Crew and took it to another level entirely. They are idolized by other tag teams, as their moves are still emulated today; such as the Veg-o-matic and the Rocket Launcher. It is for these reasons, along with the memories of great feuds and even greater matches that the team provided fans, that we induct the Midnight Express into this year’s 411 Wrestling Hall Of Fame.