The Rock 'n' Roll Express are the latest inductees in the WWE Hall of Fame's Class of 2017, CBS Sports has confirmed.
The tag team of Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson thrilled fans for years as one of the most successful babyface tandems in the world. They were one of the National Wrestling Alliance's hottest acts in the 1980s with eight reigns as NWA world tag team champions, four between 1985-87 while working for Jim Crockett Promotions.
The phone call from WWE to extend the hall of fame invitation caught Morton and Gibson off guard. Morton considers it a dream come true.
"It was a surprise," he told CBS Sports. "I had a message on my phone [from WWE] to call the number back. I think they got ahold of Robert at the time. When they called, it was just like a suckerpunch. It just knocked us off our feet."
"It's an honor for Ricky and me to go into the hall of fame," Gibson added.
The Rock 'n' Roll Express were the prototypical 1980s good-guy duo, using fast tags and double-team offense to propel them to victory. Most of their opponents were larger and more vicious than they, which only helped feed their popularity as the presumed underdogs who feared no challenge and somehow found ways to win.
In their roughly 40-year careers, the Rock 'n' Roll Express worked all over the world, including various NWA-affiliated territories, the AWA, Smoky Mountain Wrestling and a series of WWE appearances in the 1990s. In all, the duo has held dozens of tag team titles spanning more than 15 organizations.
While Morton and Gibson were already skilled in the ring, it was the Rock 'n' Roll Express gimmick that made them very popular with fans, first in Memphis and later in the Mid-South territory in Louisiana.
When they made the jump to the Crockett promotion, their popularity soared, thanks to a major boost in nationwide television exposure and the company pushing them to the top immediately. Morton and Gibson won the NWA tag team titles on their very first night wrestling for Crockett, beating Ivan Koloff and Krusher Khruschev in Shelby, North Carolina.
"Robert and I were just there the other night in the same building," Morton said. "It's cool to go back and see stuff like that. Winning the belts at that moment was one of the biggest highlights of our careers."
In the 1980s, two themes were commonplace in sports entertainment: The Russian bad guy and the patriotic, good-looking hero. In 1985, the Rock 'n' Roll Express vs. The Russians was a safe bet to make money. Nobody knew that better than the man known as "The American Dream," Dusty Rhodes.
"Dusty Rhodes was the booker and Robert and I were the All-American babyfaces," Morton said. "That's the part that you gotta know about Dusty Rhodes. He was smart about everything. The United States had a little heat with Russia. We had this [feud] going on with Ivan Koloff and Barry Darsow [as Khruschev] and Nikita Koloff, the Russians. Man, they had so much heat. It made it a lot easier. But all the talent in those days were great entertainers."
The Morton and Gibson that fans saw on TV at 6:05 p.m. every Saturday on WTBS were a pair of care-free, colorfully-clothed, bandana-wearing, mullet-headed youths. In terms of appearance, they would have fit in just as well opening for Def Leppard as they did double-dropkicking Ole Anderson in the mouth in a wrestling ring.
Ricky & Robert were looking for a fight, then a party -- in that order. They became wildly popular with fans and attracted a large female following.
"It was crazy, man," Gibson said. "It was like we shocked the wrestling world. We were like rock stars back then. The fans were great everywhere we went. It was unreal."
"When Robert and I hit TV on TBS, when this rock thing come on, buddy, I'm telling you," Morton said with a laugh. "You didn't have all the beefed-up security when you went in the building. Man, it would be so packed. You'd be lucky to get to the ring with your tights on."
As their fame grew, so did the safety risks associated with drawing large crowds of wrestling fans wherever they went.
"It was kind of crazy, because some places we had to go to, we had to meet with the police officers to get escorted into town," Gibson said. "Then they would escort us out of town because the fans would line up as soon as the matches were over. They were in their cars trying to follow us out, and the police had to actually escort us in and out of the buildings."
One time, Morton and Gibson arrived at a scheduled show in Greensboro and were trapped in their vehicle by a swarm of fans.
"Robert had just bought a brand new Trans Am," Morton recalled. "Man, when you got 4,000 people and they rush, their faces was pushed up against the windows. It took 45 minutes for the police to get to the car to get them off. Robert's brand new car looked like it had been in one of them derby things. It was beat all to hell."
"Yeah, me and Ricky pulled in the parking lot and they swamped the car," Gibson said. "I'm blowing the horn, 'Get off my car!' They couldn't move. The people up front couldn't move, because like Ricky said, it was probably 40, 50 people deep, on top of each other."
Morton and Gibson's greatest rivals were the Midnight Express, managed by loudmouth, tennis-racket-wielding Jim Cornette. The Midnight Express underwent a few personnel changes over the years but were most successful with two specific lineups: first with "Beautiful" Bobby Eaton and "Loverboy" Dennis Condrey, and later with Eaton and "Sweet" Stan Lane.
Both of those versions of the Midnight Express feuded with Morton and Gibson in the Crockett promotion. Some battles happened on top of a scaffold, some in a steel cage, but they were all classics, and the fans ate it up.
"Dude, we'd have matches where they'd be getting the heat on me and the fans would hit the ring and everything," Morton said. "Bobby and Dennis, or Bobby and Stan Lane, with Cornette, I think we had some of the greatest matches of all time. It comes up a lot when I'm on the road, with every fan just about every night, man. 'Gosh, I remember those matches with y'all and the Midnight Express!' And they'd go through a whole bunch of 'em. It was one of the best times and one of the best rivalries, I think, of all time."
As if being locked in perpetual battle with the Midnights wasn't enough, the Rock 'n' Roll Express were also challengers to the empire of Ric Flair and his Four Horsemen pals.
"They were a pleasure to work with," Gibson said of the original Horsemen. "You had Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, then you had Arn and Flair, then you had Arn and Ole. Back then there was a lot of good tag teams. We were fortunate to be able to work with all of them and have tremendous matches with them. We could adjust our style."
|Groups in the WWE Hall of Fame|
|The Valiant Brothers||1996||Jimmy Valiant, Johnny Valiant|
|The Blackjacks||2006||Blackjack Mulligan, Blackjack Lanza|
|The Wild Samoans||2007||Afa, Sika|
|The Brisco Brothers||2008||Jack Brisco, Gerald Brisco|
|The Funks||2009||Terry Funk, Dory Funk Jr.|
|The Von Erichs||2009||Fritz Von Erich, Kevin Von Erich, David Von Erich, Kerry Von Erich, Mike Von Erich, Chris Von Erich|
|The Road Warriors||2011||Road Warrior Hawk, Road Warrior Animal, Paul Ellering|
|The Four Horsemen||2012||Ric Flair, Barry Windham, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, James J. Dillon|
|The Bushwhackers||2015||Luke Williams, Butch Miller|
|The Fabulous Freebirds||2016||Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy, Buddy Roberts, Jimmy Garvin|
|The Rock 'n' Roll Express||2017||Ricky Morton, Robert Gibson|
In the 1980s, being a superstar on "the SuperStation" meant cutting interviews on set with Tony Schiavone and David Crockett. It meant starting feuds, like the infamous time Flair mocked the age of Morton's female fans by displaying a training bra (Morton fired back by removing Flair's designer sunglasses from his face and stomping on them). And in Morton and Gibson's case, it meant fame and success.
Being thought of as one of the top tag teams of their era is no small accomplishment considering who else was around in those days This was the era of the Road Warriors, the British Bulldogs, the Fabulous Freebirds and the Hart Foundation, to name just a handful of teams.
But the Rock 'n' Roll Express were as influential as any of their peers. Just ask Shawn Michaels or Marty Jannetty, who saw their careers take off once they started dressing like Morton and Gibson and referring to themselves as the Midnight Rockers.
Morton and Gibson were so influential that a tried-and-true method of working a tag team match became known in the wrestling business as "playing Ricky Morton." Simply put, when one member of a babyface tag team spends the majority of the match getting beaten up, unable to tag out to his partner, he's playing Ricky Morton. Fans become involved in the drama of him trying to tag out. When he finally succeeds -- making what's known as a "hot tag" -- the heels are in for a rapid beat-down.
"I would sell, and I'd give Robert a hot tag," Morton said. "To me, Robert was one of the best comeback wrestlers in our business. I'd give him that tag and the roof would come off the building. People would be so excited. Watch some of the old tapes when I'm selling and I give Robert a hot tag. You can see people all the way up through the building jumping straight up in the air."
Morton said that having a fundamental storytelling device of tag team wrestling unofficially named after him is a major honor.
"That's one of the greatest compliments in the business," he said. "I've heard several people say that at their training facilities, they say that. To me and Robert both, you know, gosh. You can't get a better compliment than that."
It's been 34 years since Morton and Gibson first teamed up as the Rock 'n' Roll Express. Through changes in the wrestling business, personal issues and other obstacles, Ricky and Robert remain close.
"We've been together for so long," Gibson said. "When we had our differences, you know, we rode in different cars. But we always knew business is business, and we did our job. I'm just happy to say he's my best friend."
"I know we're not blood brothers, but we are brothers," Morton said. "I love him as much as I do any of my brothers. We became family. Don't get me wrong, every day's not a picnic. It's still hard. You still have personal problems. But we went through all of that together. We've walked through gardens, and we've walked through graves together, with us both. Robert knew my parents real good, and you know, they passed away, and Robert's [did], too. We both come from wrestling families. Robert's brother, Ricky Gibson, he was a great entertainer. My dad was in the business for 40 years."
When they step out onto the stage on March 31 to take their place in the WWE Hall of Fame, the Rock 'n' Roll Express will add one more chapter to their legacy.
They'll have one more story to tell and do it in front of one more capacity crowd. And perhaps they'll hear a chant that's become very popular during WWE Hall of Fame acceptance speeches.
"When you go back and watch the tapes, when Robert and I come out, the chant goes 'ROCK AND ROLL! ROCK AND ROLL!'" Morton said. "But 'One More Match?' Oh, buddy. We're still very active. Hey, we'll have four matches this week."
One gets the impression it wouldn't take much coaxing to add another WWE cameo to their schedules.
"We can still hit the double dropkick," Gibson said.
The Rock 'N' Roll Express will join fellow inductee Kurt Angle in this year's class. The 2017 Hall of Fame induction ceremony takes place on March 31 at the Amway Center in Orlando as part of the WrestleMania 33 weekend. You can watch the entire ceremony live on WWE Network.