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Cook’s Top 5: Bobby Eaton Tag Team Partners

With Bobby Eaton’s passing, Cook decides to reflect on the career of the tag team specialist! Who were his best partners? Did Cook get em right?

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You often hear people pontificate about how a recently deceased figure was such a good person that nobody had a bad thing to say about them. 99 times out of 100, that’s complete malarkey. You can always find somebody that had something bad to say about a recently deceased person. They might not say it after that person passes, since that’d be considered insensitive, but most of us have rubbed some folks the wrong way at one point or another.

When I’m dead & gone and people talk about me, if they drop the old “nobody ever had a bad word to say about him” chestnut, they’re full of it.

We see this phenomenon often in wrestling as well. One person that you absolutely use the “nobody ever had a bad word to say about him” line for passed away this week. Bobby Eaton has long been cited as the nicest person in the history of the wrestling business. You heard that from everybody that knew him before he passed, and we’re re-telling the great stories about him now. Like the one about Bill Dundee, who forbade his daughter from dating wrestlers that worked for him because…well, do I really need to explain why? She finally broke that rule & confessed to him, and Bill swore he’d fire whoever it was. Then she told him it was Bobby, and Bill responded with “Well, at least you picked the best one.” Bill eventually became Bobby’s father-in-law.

Bobby was also known as one of pro wrestling’s greatest tag team wrestlers. During an era where tag team wrestling was as good as it ever was, Eaton formed successful tag teams in different territories with a number of partners. Given Bobby’s humility & willingness to put personal glory aside for the good of the collective, I think it’s fitting that we celebrate his life by ranking his best tag team partners.

5. Lord Steven Regal

After finding success as a Television Champion in WCW, Regal wanted to shift his focus to the tag team division. His search for a partner hit some bumps in the road, but Bobby Eaton saw some potential in teaming with Lord Steven. Regal needed some convincing, largely because Eaton was a hick from Alabama with an accent that nobody could understand. After wrestling Eaton, Regal decided he could work with him. Eaton just needed to be civilized and embrace British nobility. Earl Robert Eaton & Regal had a good run in the WCW mid-card, but were unable to attain the goal of the Tag Team Championship.

They had some solid matches though, and made a heck of an in-ring team. As you would expect from a team with two workers like Eaton & Regal.

4. Sweet Brown Sugar

SBS would later be known as Koko B. Ware in the World Wrestling Federation, but at this point he was a much hyped youngster in the Memphis territory. Eaton & Sugar formed the New Wave, so named because they were young wrestlers utilizing high-flying moves that Memphis wrestling fans hadn’t seen much of in the past. They won the Southern Tag Team Championship three times and were valued members of Jimmy Hart’s First Family.

Eventually they would feud with each other because that’s how things tend to go, and Eaton defeated Sugar in a Loser Leaves Town match. Shockingly, a masked wrestler named Stagger Lee that looked and wrestled a lot like Sugar showed up not long afterward. The really weird part of how this went: Eaton turned babyface after a bit and started teaming with Stagger Lee. Things were never dull in Memphis.

3. Arn Anderson

There are very few wrestlers that can be mentioned in the same breath as Bobby Eaton when it comes to excellence at tag team wrestling. One of them: The Enforcer. Arn had championship teams with his uncle Ole, Tully Blanchard & Larry Zbyszko before hooking up with Eaton while both were in Paul E. Dangerously’s Dangerous Alliance. You had a combination of the steadiest members of the Four Horsemen & Midnight Express, and towards the end of their run Michael Hayes came in to serve as an advisor. Not that they needed much advice, they were the definition of “tag team specialists”.

It also helped that Arn & Bobby were the best of friends outside the ring. They lived in the same neighborhood, their wives were best friends, it was a whole thing.

Honorable Mention: George Gulas

George was the son of longtime wrestling promoter Nick Gulas, who ran the NWA Mid-America promotion in Tennessee, Kentucky & Alabma from the 1940s until the early 1980s. It was a tag team heavy territory, and George was heavily pushed in the division, winning the company’s top tag championship eleven times with six different partners. One of his most successful partnerships was with a young Eaton, who could do all of the work for the team.

Some credit Eaton’s storied reputation in the business to the fact that he could have good matches with George as a partner. That doesn’t sound very nice though.

2. Dennis Condrey

The Midnight Express came into being as the result of a trade of talent between Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling & Jerry Jarrett’s CWA. Watts got the Rock ‘N Roll Express, who had been the #2 hot young babyface team in Memphis behind the Fabulous Ones. Watts was going to have them as his #1, but they needed opponents. He looked at a young Bobby Eaton & a veteran heel in “Loverboy” Dennis Condrey, two guys that had wrestled each other but never teamed together, and thought they would make fine opponents for Ricky Morton & Robert Gibson. Especially if they had a motormouth manager who could rile the fans up. Jim Cornette was young in the business & was a distant #2 to Jimmy Hart. A move to Mid-South with new wrestlers to manage was just what he needed.

Bobby became “Beautiful” Bobby because it went well with “Loverboy” Dennis, and the rest was history. The Midnight Express became everybody’s favorite tag team to hate. People saw they were talented, but why did they have to cheat? And couldn’t Cornette shut up for a few minutes? They served as great foils for Bill Watts & the Junkyard Dog, and their feud with Morton & Gibson didn’t really end until Eaton’s last match in 2015, a loss to Ricky Morton. They also started an issue with the Fantastics that led to classics in Mid-South, World Class & the NWA. The NWA years would also see a feud with the Road Warriors that led to one of the most famous tag team matches of all time, the Night of the Skywalkers at Starrcade 1986. They won championships & drew money everywhere they went.

Things were going along fine until Dennis had to go home. It was decided to keep the Midnight Express going with a new partner, which seemed like a difficult thing to make work. Who could fill Dennis Condrey’s shoes in the team?

1. Stan Lane

“Sweet” Stan had a pretty famous tag team of his own before being tapped to fill Condrey’s shoes. Lane & Steve Keirn (who would go on to form a team with Eaton in mid-90s WCW that sadly didn’t get a ton of attention from fans or bookers) had drawn a ton of attention in Memphis, the AWA & elsewhere as the Fabulous Ones. Keirn took some time off though, and Lane was hanging out on the Florida roster as a single when Jim Crockett Jr. bought the dying territory. I’d say that forming the second incarnation of Jim Cornette’s Midnight Express was enough to make the thing worthwhile.

Stan & Bobby didn’t win as many championships as Dennis & Bobby. They didn’t work as many places, they didn’t get the chance to draw as much money. WCW management only saw them at a certain level, which was one of the many signs of just how incompetent WCW management was. Lane & Eaton held the WCW US Tag Team Championship three times & the World Tag Team Championship once. They were out there opening PPVs with classic matches against the likes of the Fantastics, R ‘N Rs & the Southern Boys. Paul E. Dangerously brought Condrey back to WCW along with Randy Rose, representing the Original Midnight Express from back in the day. It was a nice idea, somewhat hampered by Condrey peacing out again.

So I’m doing the Internet fan thing and playing the workrate card. Many of the best tag team matches I’ve seen featured Bobby Eaton & Stan Lane. Dennis Condrey was in some too, but not as many of those made TV. Say what you will about how WCW utilized them, they did give the MX plenty of exposure. And, typically, WCW’s incompetence would light a fire under Stan & Bobby’s asses, leading to even better matches. WCW overlooked Eaton for years in the twilight of his career, which was a shame.

Beautiful Bobby might have been underrated by promoters. He may suffer in the eyes of some due to the fact he was “just” a tag team specialist. (Bobby had some great singles matches too, but the tag team division needed him more.) He wasn’t underrated by his peers, or by fans. All those people knew he was great at what he did.

And you can’t say anything bad about him. Or his tag teams.


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Opinion

The Paradox of the Wrestling War in 2021

The IWC has been talking about a certain Friday Night and what numbers matter. Tommy Starr chimes in with his perspective on this “war”.

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wwe-vs-aew-war-logo

“War is peace… freedom is slavery… ignorance is strength.”  These are among George Orwell’s key three slogans in his novel 1984, which exemplify the ideology that when one has the power to lull individuals into false senses of security, they will blissfully ignore truth and reality to serve a perpetual agenda.

Since the inception of AEW, wrestling media has insisted on this idealistic narrative of a born-again “Monday Night Wars” comparative to that of a bygone era of professional wrestling that has not been seen since and will never be seen again.  For one reason or another, modern wrestling fans have bought into this impractical religious doctrine hook, line, and sinker, despite statistical evidence that contradict this ideology.

To put this in perspective, if there is a genuine wrestling “war” in the wrestling market today, it is not merely a war of the companies of AEW vs. WWE, rather it is a frivolous war between the oppositional fans of AEW and WWE.  The center of authority that continues to drive this animosity amongst the opposing fan bases rests at the helm of the wrestling media and the individuals within the business itself.  The manipulative narrative of the wrestling media and wrestlers in the business have managed to perpetrate a falsified creed that AEW and WWE are “at war.”  It is interesting to note that this blanket statement hedges the particular element of what both companies are at war with. The common implication is the war of competition, particularly competition for viewership.  And while this narrative carries some validity, it misses the key detail of what this abstractive war revolves around.  It is a waging fight among AEW and WWE fans to try and claim superiority over the other, despite the apparent truth that both sides are failing to expand beyond their niche audiences.  Hence, neither party can credibly claim any form of superiority.  In essence, this religious irrationality to suggest that one company is directly “winning” over the other continues to miss the essential endgame of what winning a war truly looks like.

In the business world, “smart companies” understand and invest in long-term strategies of acknowledging that when they lose small battles, they allow their opposition to enjoy those smaller victories; meanwhile, they do not allow those battle losses to obstruct their long-standing progress.  So contextually, AEW would be wiser to accept that their Friday night edition of Rampage show running head to head with SmackDown lost in overall viewership numbers by approximately 288,000 viewers, despite the fact that not only was SmackDown running on a different network due to Fox coverage of the 2021 American League Championship Series, but that AEW Rampage had actually gained viewership from the previous week by about 15.14%.  Instead, wrestling media continues to propagate that overall viewership is subordinate to what truly matters in this equation, that being the key male 18-49 demographic.  What this discounts is that when one analyzes actual numbers, both shows essentially tied in the target 18-49 demographic at a 0.24.

A strategic business owner obsessed with “winning wars” understands his opposition’s leader and avoids engaging in projecting irrational and petty beliefs in order to stir up his or her army.  Rather, it would be wiser to quietly and cautiously observe the opposition’s decision-making to effectively counter-program and capture the attention of potential consumers.  This does not bode well for Tony Khan when he engages in social media warfare with the opposition to try and stoke a fire that merely exists in a metaphorical fantasy.  All the while, the rival niche audiences partake in nonsensical arguments over which organization “won” a war that has not, does not, and will not exist, despite a genuine hope that professional wrestling will ever reach that level of popularity again worth necessitating a war.

A true and authentic wrestling war in today’s culture should be the fight to reassemble a lost and/or new audience. Per discussion of a lost audience, that insinuates both parties fight for the admiration and trust of disgruntled audiences that have since tuned the product off from their habitual consumption.  Arguably, this can be seen as a lost cause, considering most of these wrestling fans have long since distanced themselves from professional wrestling. However, a business that can successfully earn back that trust of disassociated consumers is a fruitful investment. Catering to loyal and clinging fan bases may be short-term goals, but they are not expansive business strategies.  And based on the weekly viewership numbers, ratings, and key demos for both parties, AEW and WWE continue to cater short-term appeal to their niche audiences instead of investing in long-term strategic outreach to new audiences.  The art of mastery on this level is a war worth fighting for.

Sources:

  • Casey, C. (2021, October 18). Who won Friday night’s ratings battle between WWE smackdown and AEW Rampage? WWE. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://comicbook.com/wwe/news/wwe-smackdown-aew-rampage-oct-15-ratings-war-who-win-tied-demographic-smackdown-wins-audience/.
  • Feloni, R. (2014, August 14). 33 war strategies that will help you win in business. Business Insider. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://www.businessinsider.com/war-strategies-to-win-in-business-2014-8.
  • Thurston, B. (2021, January 15). Key demo and total audience: What are they and how much do they matter? Wrestlenomics. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://wrestlenomics.com/2020/07/14/key-demo-and-total-audience-what-are-they-and-how-much-do-they-matter/#:~:text=With%20a%20new%20head%2Dto,advertisers%20to%20the%20programs’%20networks.


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Steve Cook’s Fave Five: October 2021

From the Head Of The Table to the Future Head Of The Table, and more, Steve Cook has his Fave Five for October!

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Bron Breakker

From the Head Of The Table to the Future Head Of The Table, and more, Steve Cook has his Fave Five for October!

We’re more than halfway through October, and you know what that means! It’s time to make a list of my five favorite wrestlers! It’s either do this or write about the latest wrestling news, and as fun as it is to talk about television ratings, this seems more productive at the moment.

5. Mercedes Martinez

It’s considered impolite to discuss age. At least it used to be. I’m not sure anything’s considered impolite anymore based off of what I read on the Internet & see on television. People have pitched manners out the window as they’ve become accustomed to not worrying about getting punched in the face. There’s a point I’m trying to get to here, and that point is that it’s nice that women’s wrestling has arrived at a place where I can write about somebody that’s been wrestling about as long as I’ve been an online wrestling journalist, and they’re kicking ass & taking names. Makes me feel a bit less creepy.

Martinez’s return to the indies & emergence in Impact Wrestling has gone well. What Impact is doing with her isn’t exactly rocket science: have Mercedes Martinez destroy everybody in her path to a title shot, and make people believe that whoever the champion will be between Mickie James & Deonna Purrazzo will have a difficult test on their hands. Simple, right? Throw in the incoming debut of the IInspiration, and it’s pretty easy to get excited about the Knockouts Division & where it’s headed.

4. Bron Breakker

Yes, the name is pretty awful. Yes, NXT 2.0 isn’t exactly setting the world on fire after a few weeks. But it’s tough to deny the talent of the son of Rick Steiner. Dude has the physicality & the speaking tone of his father & uncle. Not quite the size of Rick or Scott in later years, but if genetics are any indication he’ll get there. It won’t be long before he’s NXT Champion, heck, I’m kind of surprised he didn’t get drafted to Raw or SmackDown already. He’s got money written all over him.

As for that pesky name issue…names aren’t as big of an issue as we like to think they are. Dolph Ziggler would have been future endeavored years ago if bad names held talent back. You also have to keep in mind that WWE will probably change his name before he gets to the main roster. No need to sweat the small stuff here. This guy will be a star somewhere under some name. Probably for the best the longer he holds off using the Steiner name, given how the wrestling business works.

3. Junior Dos Santos

If you’ve followed mixed martial arts for any length of time, you know that most fighters’ careers don’t end in a blaze of glory. Fighters want to keep fighting, and even if the losses keep stacking up they still think they’re one win away from getting back to the top. Young fighters are looking to make their names, and beating the brakes off of fighters with track records is a good way to do that. At age 37, JDS has entered that phase of his MMA career. He’s lost four straight fights, all via TKO, all to younger fighters looking to make a name. He could keep doing that, or he could move on to something else while his name still has value.

Why not pro wrestling? Granted, I seem to be one of the few people writing words on wrestling websites that actually like AEW’s angle with American Top Team & Dan Lambert, but JDS is the perfect fit for something like this. He’s a large human being, wrestling fans by & large know who he is, and he has the type of athletic ability that should transition well to pro wrestling. He’s lost a few fights, but the people he lost to are doing pretty well in UFC’s heavyweight division. I’m willing to give it a chance. Also, when the inevitable AEW vs. WWE shootfight rumble happens, AEW’s going to need him around.

2. Roman Reigns

It’s like we said years & years ago: Turn Roman Reigns heel and people will start to like him. I don’t know why the idea took so long to enact, but WWE finally turned Roman Reigns heel and people have started liking him. How about that? Amazing how these things happen. Roman’s charisma has become much more apparent in his role as the Tribal Chief, Head of the Table, Big Dog, Island of Relevancy or whatever else they’re calling him this week. The interactions between Roman & Brock Lesnar have made for good television, so good that I think even Patrick O’Dowd is on the Paul Heyman bandwagon these days.

That all being said, I think I’m enjoying his off-screen character more than his on-screen character these days. Reigns has taken the baton from Seth Rollins & become Mr. WWE Defender, and does it in a way that’s less whiny than what Seth used to do. Perhaps a bit delusional, but much more convincing. Who would win in a shootfight between Roman & CM Punk is completely irrelevant, as last I checked none of these people were shooting in WWE or AEW rings, but he managed to make people care about it somehow. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

1. Bryan Danielson

I know we’re supposed to care first & foremost about what company somebody works for these days. So I’m sure there are some of you out there that have decided that the man formerly known as Daniel Bryan has to be washed up and no longer one of the best wrestlers in the world. Or he’s unfairly putting his life on the line outside of the welcoming bosom of WWE. Nah, it’s probably just the easy “B+ player” talking point that most of the same folks went with when Bryan was still with WWE.

Me, I just care about what’s going on in the ring. Whether other people like it or not has never been one of my main problems. As I’ve pointed out before: I don’t get paid by any of these companies, and I don’t get paid by other people to shill for them. All I know is that it’s a joy to have Bryan Danielson back on my television, and his matches have been as good as expected. It really doesn’t take all that much to make me happy, just good wrestlers doing good things.


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