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Ask 411 Wrestling: Did Dean Ambrose Get the Best Sendoff in WWE History?

April 4, 2020 | Posted by Ryan Byers
The Shield Raw 3-4-19 Dean Ambrose WWE

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

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Ray is turning out the lights in the asylum:

Has anyone been given the positive goodbye that Dean Ambrose got from WWE, outside of a retirement?

For those who might not recall, Ambrose got the opportunity to say goodbye to fans in dark segments at least two different Monday Night Raw tapings, and he also got a WWE Network special built around his last match with the company, entitled “The Shield’s Final Chapter,” on April 21, 2019. The special, which had previously just been a regular house show on the company’s calendar emanating from Moline, Illinois of all places, saw Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns defeat Bobby Lashley, Drew McIntyre, and Baron Corbin in the main event.

Has anybody else gotten that kind of sendoff in the history of the company?

Honestly, I can’t say that they have. The vast, vast majority of wrestlers who have left WWE to join other promotions have been forgotten about at best or buried six feet under at worst.

Probably the only similar positive departure for a non-retiring wrestler I can think of is the brief farewell that Vince McMahon gave to “Macho Man” Randy Savage while acting as the lead announcer on Monday Night Raw:

Even that is minimal compared to having a whole show built around your farewell, so I think that Ambrose remains the undisputed champion in this category.

Shaun is trying to figure out whether things “ad” up:

Has a match ever ended during a commercial break in any company?

Yes. I’m sure that there are other examples from other promotions, but I can think of two WWF/WWE matches that ended during commercial breaks.

On the March 8, 1993 edition of Monday Night Raw, Mr. Perfect and Rick “The Model” Martel were having a match. It went to commercial, and, upon the show’s return, Mr. Perfect’s music was playing and he was exiting the ring victorious. A replay showed us that, during the break, he had managed to pin Martel with the PerfectPlex. At the time, both Raw and the concept of live wrestling on TV were both pretty new, so chances are good that this was done in order to convince fans that the show was live and anything could happen.
Ironically, this episode of Raw was actually taped, not live. Typically during this period they would produce two Raws during the course of the same event, with one being broadcast live and the other being taped for the following week.

Also, during the June 30, 2014 episode of Raw, Kofi Kingston rolled up and pinned Antonio Cesaro during what was, for most fans, a commercial break. I say “for most fans” because this was during the period when WWE was heavily pushing the WWE App and promoting it by saying that you could use it to continue to watch the company’s programming during the ads. In other words, this match intentionally ended during a commercial break in order to convince fans that the WWE App was worth downloading. Eventually, WWE stopped promoting this aspect of its app so heavily because, believe it or not, the television stations that air the company’s programming actually WANT fans to watch commercials. It’s how they make their money, and they weren’t thrilled with WWE disrupting it.

Jeremy must be some sort of bench press champion:

I understand everyone is different biologically, but considering the immense amount of chest strength he needs to push, lift, and toss people almost nightly, how is it possible that Kofi Kingston has almost no definition in his pectorals?

First off, everyone is different biologically.

Second, the type of lifting, tossing, and pushing that you’re talking about isn’t that big a part of Kofi’s repertoire. He’s more of a speed and finesse guy than he is someone whose style relies on a lot of upper body strength. Combine that with the fact that Kofi may very well not have a workout routine that would result in a lot of muscle mass being added to his pectorals, and his current physique is understandable.

It’s not like he’s unique in this area, either. Look at the Daniel Bryans, the KUSHIDAs, and the Matt Hardys of the world. It’s not like they’re barrel-chested, either.

Night Wolf the Wise has two questions about the fallout from one of the most unfortunate injuries in wrestling history:

1. So the plan was for Magnum T.A. to take the NWA title off of Ric Flair at Starrcade ’86. Then Magnum T.A. would reignite his feud with Nikita Koloff. I read that Dusty Rhodes was undecided on whether he would give the NWA Title to Koloff at some point during their feud. My question is: Had Magnum T.A. not been in the car accident that ended his career, would they have put the title on Nikita Koloff at some point during his feud with Magnum T.A.?

As noted, Dusty Rhodes was not certain whether this would occur, so we don’t have and really can’t get a definitive answer. However, I suspect that the answer to the question is most likely no.

There are a couple of different reasons for this. First off, at this point in the NWA history, the championship had started to primarily roost in the Mid-Atlantic territory, but it was still in many ways a traveling championship, and the powers that be wanted a champion who could put on high level matches against a variety of local contenders. In other words, they wanted a champion in the vein of a Flair, Funk, or Brisco. Magnum TA wasn’t on the level of those guys, but he was a heck of a lot closer than Nikita Koloff, who was still relatively inexperienced and couldn’t quite pull that off.

The other issue is that, in the late 1980s, the woman who would eventually become Koloff’s first wife, Mandy, was battling Hodgkin’s disease, which ultimately took her life in 1989. Though Nikita continued to wrestle for the majority of that time, I suspect that there would have been some reluctance to making him the top guy with that issue looming in his personal life.

2. Why did they go with Koloff as a replacement for Magnum T.A.?

Though he was a heel (and a Soviet heel at that), Koloff had all of the markings of a guy that could really get over with the fans as a face, from his physique to his explosive ring style to the fact that he was booked like a world-beater. With all of those things going for him, chances are good that he was going to have a babyface run at some point. The void at the top of the card which resulted from Magnum’s injury just accelerated it.

Tyler from Winnipeg buys all of his clothes at Express:

I know who The Rock ‘n Roll Express are, but who are The Midnight Express?

They’re a lot of people, really.

The original Midnight Express was a three-man team that formed in the Memphis wrestling territory. The members were Dennis Condrey, Randy Rose, and Norvell Austin, and their first recorded match took place at the Mid-South Coliseum on November 30, 1981 with Condrey and Austin defeating the team of Eddie Gilbert and Ricky Morton. (Morton would not form the Rock ‘n Roll Express with Robert Gibson until early 1983.)

The Condrey/Rose/Austin trio lasted through the end of 1983, and, in addition to working in Memphis, they also appeared in Southeastern Championship Wrestling, a territory that covered eastern Tennessee, Alabama, and and the Florida panhandle. They captured championships in both territories and feuded with the likes of Rick and Robert Gibson, Steve Keirn and Bill Dundee, The Mogolian Stomper, and even a young Brutus Beefcake, at that time still known as “Dizzy” Ed Hogan.

Eventually the group had done just about everything the could in Memphis and Southeastern, so they went their separate ways. Dennis Condrey wound up working for the Louisiana-based Mid-South Wrestling. In November 1983, Mid-South paired Condrey with partner Bobby Eaton and manager Jim Cornette to form a new version of the Midnight Express, and they quickly became the top heel team in the promotion, embroiled in a feud with Magnum TA and Mr. Wrestling II over the Mid-South Tag Team Championship, taking the titles off of Magnum and Wrestling on March 13, 1984.

Just a few weeks after winning those belts, Condrey and Eaton embarked on a new rivalry, this one with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, who, as noted above, formed in Memphis in 1983 before jumping ship to Mid-South the very next year. The two teams had great chemistry and feuded in Mid-South during the spring and summer of 1984, trading the Mid-South Tag Titles in the process. In Mid-South, the Midnights also regularly did battle with the Fantastics of Bobby Fulton and Tommy Rogers and the Pretty Young Things, consisting of Koko Ware and, funnily enough, original Midnight Express member Norvell Austin.

During their Mid-South run, Condrey, Eaton, and Cornette would also occasionally appear on major shows for promotions that Mid-South had a good working relationship with, including Paul Boesch’s Houston Wrestling and the Von Erichs’ World Class Championship Wrestling, where they would usually have a showcase match with either the Fantastics or the Rock ‘n’ Rolls.

The feud with Morton and Gibson also flared up again in Mid-South in the fall of 1984 and was ultimately blown off in a series of scaffold matches around the territory’s loop, after which it was decided that Condrey and Eaton would head over to World Class on a full-time basis, taking Cornette with them. The Midnights made their debut as WCCW regulars during the last couple of weeks of 1984 and were immediately thrown back into a feud with the Fantastics in 1985, though they would continue to show up in Mid-South a couple of times a month.

The Fantastics/Midnight Express feud in World Class ran the entire first half of 1985 before it was decided that the Express would change territories again, this time heading to Mid-Atlantic, where they probably gained their most fame, beating jobber dream team Sam Houston and the Italian Stallion in their debut on July 4, 1985. In Mid-Atlantic, they also acquired the services of a young Big Bubba Rogers (a.k.a the Big Boss Man), who took on the role of Jim Cornette’s bodyguard. The Midnights initially feuded with brother team Brett and Buzz Sawyer before defeating them a loser leaves town cage match on September 14 in Columbus, Georgia. Through the rest of 1985, Condrey and Eaton had some matches with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express yet again but also feuded with Jimmy Valiant and a series of partners, perhaps most notably “Superstar” Billy Graham and then Miss Atlanta Lively, who was . . . ugh . . . Ronnie Garvin in drag.

This latest incarnation of the Midnight/Rock ‘n’ Roll feud bled over into 1986 and featured Condrey and Eaton scoring their first reign with the Mid-Atlantic version of the NWA World Tag Team Titles, which over time would morph into being the WCW Tag Team Titles. That championship change occurred on February 2, 1986 in Atlanta and the ensuing Midnight reign lasted a little over six months. The Midnights lost those titles back to, believe it or not, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, this time in a two-out-of-three falls match in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Eaton and Condrey never really stopped wrestling Morton and Gibson for the rest of their time in Mid-Atlantic, but, in late 1986, they also picked up a new rival in the form of the Road Warriors, which lead to the infamous scaffold match at that year’s Starrcade in which Jim Cornette blew out both of his knees when Big Bubba missed catching him on a scaffold dive.

Don’t get me wrong, getting the crap kicked out of you by the Road Warriors on an almost nightly basis seems like a lot of fun, but Dennis Condrey apparently disagrees with me on that one, because, after a match with Hawk and Animal in March 1987, he vanished. That’s not an exaggeration, either. He just up and left one day, not showing up for a flight to a show he was booked on and not telling anybody about it in advance. Not only did he leave wrestling, but he also left his family and was incommunicado with anybody for several months. Where exactly he went still isn’t 100% clear, but there were definitely some personal issues at play. (For what it’s worth, Condrey in more recent shoot interviews has claimed that he left because the group got an offer from the WWF and he wanted to take it while the other two did not. However, Cornette’s shoots indicate that he and Eaton – as well as Condrey’s wife – all had no idea where he went or why.)

According to multiple Jim Cornette shoot interviews, with Condrey out of the picture, he and Eaton were looking for a replacement and originally wanted to recruit Tom Prichard to fill that role, but they couldn’t get ahold of him. Dusty Rhodes, who was booking Mid-Atlantic at the time, brought them Stan Lane, who had been working in the Florida territory, and the group hit it off.

The Bobby Eaton/Stan Lane version of the Midnight Express debuted on April 4, 1987 in Boston, losing to the Road Warriors. The new version of the team picked up right where the old one left off, having numerous matches with the Armstrongs, the Garvins, and, of course, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express. They became multiple-time NWA United States Tag Team Champions, holding the belts for a combined 505 days across three reigns between 1987 and 1990. Eaton and Lane would also get loaned out to the Bill Watts version of the UWF during this time, which was the former Mid-South territory where Eaton and Condrey had first gotten together.

During the summer of 1987, while Lane and Eaton were tearing it up in Mid-Atlantic, Dennis Condrey returned from his self-imposed exile, showing up in the AWA with Randy Rose as his partner and Paul Heyman as his manager, billing themselves as the Original Midnight Express. The Original Midnights were only in the AWA for about five months, though in that time they did manage to defeat Jerry Lawler and Jim Dundee for the AWA Tag Titles on October 30, 1987, holding the belts until December 27 of the same year, when they dropped them to Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty, then known as the Midnight Rockers.

At that point, Dennis Condrey disappeared from the sport again, not wrestling until November 1988, when he, Rose, and Heyman reformed the Original Midnight Express team, this time in Jim Crockett Promotions. They were brought in specifically to feud with the Lane/Eaton Midnight Express and kicked it off with a memorable angle (shown above) in which the “Original” team jumped the younger crew, leaving Jim Cornette badly bleeding all over his white shirt and jacket. Though this had the makings of a memorable feud early on, it ultimately fizzled when, believe it or not, Dennis Condrey pulled his disappearing act yet again, no-showing the Chi-Town Rumble pay per view on February 20, 1989, where the two Midnight Expresses were scheduled to meet in a loser leaves town match. Condrey was replaced by Jack Victory, who had absolutely no prior ties to the Midnight Express, and he’s the guy who wound up taking the fall.

Ultimately, Eaton and Lane left Crockett and all of the NWA affiliates in October 1990, with their last match being a loss to the future York Foundation team of Ricky Morton and Tommy Rich at that year’s Halloween Havoc pay per view. Cornette has explained that the reason for their departure was poor booking, as they had been frustrated with the direction of the company for some time and the final straw was coming to a television taping and finding that they were booked to lose four matches in a row. Lane and Cornette both quit at that time, though Eaton stayed behind with their blessing, because he had three children that he was trying to support and needed the paycheck.

And that is really the end of what I would call the mainline versions of the Midnight Express, though there have been numerous spinoffs and revivals in the years since. Quickly, those include:

1. When Cornette started up Smoky Mountain Wrestling, the promotion was based heavily around its tag team division, with the lead heel team being the Heavenly Bodies of Stan Lane and Tom Prichard. Eventually, Bobby Eaton was brought in as the third Heavenly Body, reuniting the Lane/Eaton team, although it was under a different name. (Lane would eventually leave the Heavenly Bodies and would be replaced by Jimmy Del Ray.)

2. In 1998, Jim Cornette lead an NWA “invasion” of the WWF, which included a New Midnight Express team of “Bodacious” Bart Gunn and “Bombastic” Bob Holly. The team lasted less than six months. They were NWA Tag Team Champions and did defend those titles against old Midnight rivals the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, but they were basically glorified indy belts by this point.

3. From the mid-2000s through the early 2010s, various combinations of Midnight Express members were in demand on the indy scene. Rose and Condrey had two matches back together in Georgia in 2006; Eaton and Condrey had numerous matches together throughout the south from 2006 through 2008, including for the Insane Clown Posse’s Juggalo Championship Wrestling; Lane and Eaton reunited for a match against the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express on a 2008 indy show that also featured appearances by Hulk Hogan and Rick Flair; and Lane, Eaton, and Condrey also formed a three-man unit on a trio of indy shows in 2005 and 2006, one of which was a low-level pay per view card called World Wrestling Legends.

And there you have it, a once sentence question about the Midnight Express turning into a three-page history of the team. I didn’t mean for this to run quite this long when I first started writing it, but sometimes you never know what you’re going to get.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected].