Renowned as one of the top tag teams of all time, Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson, as the Rock n Roll Express, were one of the most popular acts of the 80s. In fact, Morton came very close to being NWA champion. Today, Brian takes a look at what led to that and why Morton said no to being world champion.
Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson aka ‘The Rock N Roll Express’ were arguably one of the most popular duos in the 1980’s, heck, probably of all time! While both were wrestling independently from one another for a while, it was Jerry ‘the King’ Lawler who initially paired the team up in 1983. The Rock N Roll Express went from territory to territory winning titles and selling out arenas everywhere they went.
Perhaps their biggest success and exposure came with Jim Crockett Promotions in the Mid-Atlantic area. They went on to win their version of the world tag team titles 4 different times. They R N R Express could rival any of the top babyfaces in the popularity department. According to both Ricky and Robert, Jim Crockett Jr. made millions off of their success with the promotion. By the time the late 1980’s started, the landscape of Jim Crockett Promotions began to change.
Crockett for all of his success, had an equal, if not more, numbers of failures and his wrestling empire began to show cracks. In jeopardy of losing everything, Crockett and billionaire TV mogul Ted Turner began to discuss a takeover. Rumors were swirling that Ted Turner wanted to see a big title change at the NWA’s premiere pay per event: Starrcade ’87. The higher ups wanted their biggest star ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair to win the NWA world title at this event.
The thing was, Flair was already world champion, so Flair would have to lose the belt first and then regain it at Starrcade. The big question is who would the NWA choose to win one of the industry’s biggest and most prestigious of prizes. That decision would fall on Crockett’s booker ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes. Many names were discussed and many names were considered but, in the end, Dusty decided to pick someone out of the box.
Re-enter the Rock N Roll Express and in particular Ricky Morton. Now there was no question that the bulk of R n R’s popularity stemmed from the long, flowing blonde mullet of Morton. Dusty saw him as an obvious choice to push as the next top babyface within the company. So slowly, but surely Morton was booked tougher and more resilient. He would take finishing moves from other tag teams and kick out of them. He was in the ring longer than Gibson as a way to showcase his singles potential. In other words, he was being groomed as the next big thing.
When Dusty sat down with Morton to go over his plans for him to win the NWA world title from Flair. Morton was somewhat surprised. After all, he had a very good thing going in the tag team division with his friend Gibson. It was relayed to Morton that the title victory was only going to last about two months. In the end, Morton turned down Dusty’s plan and said no to winning the NWA title. But why?
Ricky Morton, as much as becoming world champion intrigued him – even if it was only for a couple of months – believed it would’ve done him more harm than good. Morton says the real reason why Dusty was so keen on maworldhim a qorld champion was not to reward him but to ultimately split up the Rock N Roll Express. Morton insists that Dusty was always jealous of their success and popularity. Ricky said that Dusty felt threatened by other wrestlers who may be just as popular, if not more than he was.
Ricky Morton knew he had a great thing still going with Robert Gibson and if he had agreed to become NWA world champion, it would leave Robert Gibson high and dry. Morton was ready to say goodbye to his team and what they had worked so hard for in their respective careers. He certainly wasn’t willing to screw over his best friend either. So the answer from Morton was no.
So after turning down what appeared to be an opportunity of a lifetime, Morton was ready to resume his successful run with Gibson. Later that year, however, the Rock N Roll Express were fired from the company. It was never really explained why such a popular and successful tag team could just be let go just like that but Morton had a pretty good idea. If Dusty couldn’t break up the team his way, he would just simply cut them.
Just like that the Rock N Roll Express went from the penthouse to the outhouse, just by simply saying no. The story of the NWA world title doesn’t end there however. Other wrestlers were offered the opportunity to become world champion and all said no as well. Their decisions were based on simply business. Many felt that winning the world title and only holding it for a short amount of time would kill their popularity.
Dusty finally approached a solid, but aging mid card performer named ‘The Hands of Stone’ Ronnie Garvin. While others like Morton suspected ulterior motives in winning the NWA world championship, Garvin said yes. He felt that since his career was winding down, this was the only opportunity to become a world champion and so he agreed. After winning and then losing the belt from and to Ric Flair, Garvin himself was eventually phased out of the company.
Was Ricky Morton right about Dusty Rhodes all along? If Morton had agreed to win the NWA belt, would his fate been sealed? Would the Rock N Roll Express ever recover from Morton’s title victory? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, the Rock N Roll Express still continue wrestle to this day all over the country and later this year will enter the WWE Hall of Fame.
Rock N Roll will truly never die.