THE ROCK 'N' ROLL EXPRESS
Ricky Morton & Robert Gibson
NWA World Tag Team Championship (four times)
USWA World Tag Team Championship (two times)
WWE Hall of Fame
Written by Mike Rickard
The Rock 'n' Roll Express were an innovative tag team whose success led to many copycat teams yet ironically, The Rock 'n' Roll Express were thrown together to emulate the success of a wildly popular tag team. Nonetheless, they revolutionized tag team wrestling in the 1980s and not only does their legacy carry on today, but the team still wrestles.
Looking for the Missing Puzzle Pieces
While Robert Gibson and Ricky Morton are best-known for their time as The Rock 'n' Roll Express, both men had wrestling careers prior to teaming together. Like many wrestlers from their generation, they honed their skills in the territorial system as they strove for stardom. Robert Gibson trained with brother Ricky, teaming with him and working in southern promotions. Gibson wanted to be a wrestler since he was eight-years-old, but Morton had no interest in the Sport of Kings.
Morton’s father Paul was a wrestling referee so wrestling was in his blood, it just needed a push in the right direction. That push happened when 14-year-old Ricky was asked to fill in for a wrestler who failed to appear at an event. That was all it took for the wrestling bug to get ahold of Morton and he was hooked.
From “B-Team” to Superstars
As discussed in our profile on the Second Golden Age of Tag Team Wrestling and in my book Wrestling’s Greatest Moments, Memphis promoters Jerry Lawler and Jerry Jarrett capitalized on the popularity of MTV, hyping the team of Stan Lane and Steve Keirn (a/k/a The Fabulous Ones) and building them up into Memphis’ hottest babyface team. With the Fabulous Ones’ popularity soaring, Lawler and Jarrett decided to go to the well again, teaming Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson as The Rock 'n' Roll Express; the idea being that this team could work in arenas on the same night that the Fabulous Ones were working elsewhere.
According to the book The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams, Jerry Lawler felt The Rock 'n' Roll Express moniker was the worst he’d ever heard and it was only going to last until he came up with something better. While Gibson and Morton could have become a poor man’s version of The Fabulous Ones, they proved a popular act, participating in some hot angles in Memphis including one where Randy “Macho Man” Savage piledrived Ricky Morton through a bench.
The Rock 'n' Roll Express found lasting success when promoter Bill Watts engaged in a talent swap with the Memphis promotion in 1984. This led to The Express heading to Mid-South Wrestling where they quickly became popular with Mid-South fans. As many wrestling historians have noted, The Rock 'n' Roll Express were good-looking enough to bring in female fans, but tough enough to earn the respect of male fans. This would play a role in their success wherever they went.
The Rock 'n' Roll Express faced many great tag teams during their heyday, but their number one opponents were undoubtedly the Midnight Express. Interestingly enough, The Rock-n-Rollers faced various incarnations of The Midnight Express, with manager Jim Cornette being the driving force whether it was the team of Dennis Condrey and Bobby Eaton, or the later version of Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane. With Cornette’s tennis racket always ready to be used to bludgeon an opponent (Cornette loaded it in order to keep angry fans at bay, but it inevitably ended up being used by the Midnights). The Rock 'n' Roll Express crossed paths with the Midnights in Mid-South Wrestling and Jim Crockett Promotions in arguably both teams’ greatest matches. The two teams would compete in dangerous scaffold matches in both territories, just one of many specialty matches.
Jim Crockett Promotions
As promoter Jim Crockett consolidated his forces to form a national wrestling promotion, he recruited top talent from other territories including The Rock 'n' Roll Express. Crockett promised to double Gibson and Morton’s salary and the young team headed to the Carolinas.
Fans still debate whether or not Morton and Gibson could have thrived in the big man environment of the WWF, but they clearly succeeded against big opponents in JCP, whether it was the Minnesota Wrecking Crew Arn and Ole Anderson, the Russians (Ivan and Nikita Koloff and Krusher Krushchev) or the Four Horsemen’s Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson.
The fans quickly learned that The Rock 'n' Roll Express packed quite a punch, with their double-dropkick ending matches against their opponents. Gibson and Morton could take a beating while they bided their time fighting a way to victory and Morton’s ability to sell became legendary with the term “playing Ricky Morton” entering the pro wrestling lexicon as a situation where a babyface is repeatedly battered in a seemingly hopeless situation that nonetheless ends with him making the hot tag to his partner.
Ricky Morton’s selling abilities led to a classic feud with “Nature Boy” Ric Flair where the NWA World Heavyweight Champion mocked Morton and Gibson’s teenage fans, leading to Morton smashing Flair’s sunglasses and challenging Flair for the world championship. Flair has repeatedly praised Morton as one of his best opponents and anyone who has watched the two wrestle can see why.
Of course, it was as a tag team that The Rock 'n' Roll Express would best be known and they thrived in Jim Crockett Promotions, winning the NWA World Tag Team Championship on four occasions including impressive wins over the Russians and The Midnight Express.
After a falling out with management at Jim Crockett Promotions, Ricky and Robert appeared elsewhere, including a run in the dying American Wrestling Association. The team returned to the Carolinas, continuing to work after Ted Turner purchased JCP, transforming it into World Championship Wrestling. While the Rock-n-Roll Express continued performing, they didn’t seem to enjoy the same push as before. A knee injury sidelined Robert Gibson and Morton teamed with other WCW babyfaces before Gibson returned. However, Morton shocked the world when he attacked Gibson, turning heel and joining Alexandra York’s (a/k/a Terri Runnels) York Foundation as “Richard Morton.” Gibson and Morton feuded in WCW before leaving the promotion.
Smoky Mountain Wrestling and the WWF
Anyone who knew The Rock 'n' Roll Express’ history knew it was only logical for the team to work in Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling. Gibson and Morton renewed their battles with Cornette, with “The Louisville Lip” sending two different Heavenly Bodies team to make life miserable for his hated rivals. Ricky and Robert also battled the Gangstas in some memorable matches. The Rock 'n' Roll Express also campaigned in the USWA and in WCW from 1996-1997.
The mid-90s was a strange time for the WWF, with Vince McMahon concocting whatever he thought might help him compete against WCW and the white-hot New World Order angle. McMahon brought in National Wrestling Alliance wrestlers, staging an “NWA Invasion” of the WWF (undoubtedly hoping to capitalize on fans who might confuse the NWA with the NWO). The Rock 'n' Roll Express battled the “New” Midnight Express and participated in the Tag Team Battle Royal at WrestleMania XIV.
Always in demand, The Rock 'n' Roll Express continued working into the 21st century, appearing in Total Nonstop Action and a host of independent promotions. In 2017, the WWE honored the team’s many accomplishments by inducting them into its Hall of Fame. Ironically, longtime rival Jim Cornette would deliver the team’s induction speech.
Rock 'n' Roll Will Never Die
The Rock 'n' Roll Express have defied Father Time and continue to wrestle. Recently, they competed in the 2019 Crockett Cup, losing to the Briscoe Brothers in the tournament’s second round. The Rock 'n' Roll Express show no sign of retiring soon and they still enjoy a strong fanbase. After teaming up in March 1983, The Rock 'n' Roll Express still entertain fans and there appears to be no end in sight to their legendary team.
Campbell, Brian. “Rock 'n' Roll Express to be inducted into WWE Hall of Fame.” ESPN. WWE. 6 Feb. 2017. Accessed 6 May 2019.
LaBlanc, M.A. “Rock’n’Roll Express.” Online World of Wrestling. Professional Wrestler Profiles. 23 Apr. 2018. Accessed 6 May 2019.
Oliver, Greg and Steven Johnson. The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams. ECW Press, 2005.
Rickard, Michael. Wrestling’s Greatest Moments. ECW Press, 2008.
“The Rock-n-Roll Express.” WWE.com. Accessed 6 May 2019.
Wikipedia contributors. "The Rock 'n' Roll Express." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 6 May. 2019.