On August 4, 2021, eWrestlingNews reported that one-half of the famed Midnight Express, “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton, had passed away peacefully in his sleep. This news came only one month after the passing of his beloved wife Donna. In honor of this underrated performer’s passing, we here at eWrestlingNews present our deep dive into the life and career of wrestling’s most “Beautiful” performer.
Growing Up Eaton
On August 14, 1958, Robert Lee Eaton would be born in Huntsville, Alabama. Not much is known about Eaton’s childhood. However, it is known that Eaton was a huge professional wrestling fan. Eaton’s favorite promotion was NWA Mid-America, which was owned and operated by “The Dean of Promoters” Nick Gulas. While attending Chapman Middle School, at the age of thirteen, Eaton began setting up rings in his hometown for local shows. He later began training under Tojo Yamamoto to become a professional wrestler.
In May 1976, at 17 years old, Bobby Eaton made his in-ring debut – under his given name – with NWA Mid-America. In his first match, he would lose to Bearcat Wright. Eaton was allegedly a last-minute substitute for Wright’s missing opponent on the evening. It would not take long for fans, wrestlers, and Gulas himself to take note of Eaton’s in-ring acumen and athleticism. Thus, Gulas began to book Eaton in higher profile competitions on NWA Mid-America cards.
In Eaton’s major “breakthrough angle”, Eaton partnered with a variety of wrestlers against The Hollywood Blonds. No, not Pillman and Austin! It was none other than Jerry Brown and Buddy Roberts teaming under the name. Eaton cycled through multiple partners and picked up significant victories. When The Hollywood Blonds decided to move territories, the storyline maintained that Eaton was responsible for driving the tandem out of NWA Mid-America.
In 1978, Eaton would partner with “Leapin'” Lanny Poffo to earn his first taste of championship gold in pro wrestling. In this match, Poffo and Eaton defeated Gypsy Joe and Leroy Rochester to win the NWA Mid-America Tag Team Championship. Eaton and Poffo would hold the NWA Mid-America Tag Team Championship for a little over one month. Eaton would later go on to form a team with Nick Gulas’s son, George Gulas. This team, known as The Jet Set, would win the NWA Mid-America Tag Team Championship three times throughout 1978 and 1979.
Near the end of 1979, Eaton would turn heel for the first time in his career by joining Tojo Yamamota’s stable. Eaton’s heel run did not last through the year, however, as he would rescue his former Jet Set teammate, George Gulas, from a two-on-one beatdown from The Blond Bombers (Larry Latham and Wayne Ferris). Eaton and Gulas would go on to engage in a brutal feud with Latham Farris, winning the NWA Mid-America Tag Team Championship once again. Eaton would also win the NWA World Six-Man Tag Team Championships three times, and the NWA Mid-America Heavyweight Championship four times. However, the NWA Mid-America promotion would come to a close very soon.
Continental Wrestling Association
In 1980, Gulas’s NWA Mid-America closed due to dwindling ticket sales. In the downfall of NWA Mid-America, Eaton would begin working for Jerry Jarrett’s Continental Wrestling Association in Memphis, Tennessee. On October 20, 1980, Bobby Eaton would win the CWA World Heavyweight Championship from Austin Idol. However, his reign would be short-lived, dropping it 7 days later to Billy Robinson. Eaton would win the title back next month, only to drop it directly back to Robinson again.
In 1981, Eaton would take a brief hiatus from CWA to compete in Georgia Championship Wrestling. On January 31, 1981, Bobby Eaton defeated Steve O to win the NWA National Championship. Eaton would successfully defend this championship against Charlie Cook, Steve O, and Steve Keirn. However, Steve O would win the championship back one month later at a GCW event in Atlanta, Georgia.
At the turn of the new year, Eaton would make his return to CWA and begin competing alongside Sweet Brown Sugar (the future Koko B. Ware). This team, known as “The New Wave” blended their athleticism and high-flying abilities to form a wildly successful team. The two men would win the AWA Southern Tag Team Championship twice. Jimmy Hart would soon begin managing the group, leading to one more AWA Southern Tag Team Championship reign. Eaton and Sugar would later split up and feud, ending with Sugar leaving CWA via a Loser Leaves Town match. Despite this, Sugar would return to the promotion under the name “Stagger Lee”, which led to Eaton and Lee picking up the AWA Southern Tag Team Championship one more time.
The Dynamic Duo
Eaton would join the go on to join Bill Watts’s Mid-South Wrestling promotion. He would join The Midnight Express with Dennis Condrey under the management of Jim Cornette. Interestingly enough, this is not the first rendition of The Midnight Express. The Midnight Express had previously been composed of Randy Rose, Norvell Austin, and Dennis Condrey. However, Condrey and Eaton would go on to form a two-man team. It was at this point where Eaton would adopt the nickname “Beautiful”, bouncing off of Condrey’s already-established “Lover Boy” nickname.
In their first angle as a team, Eaton and Condrey faced off against the Mid-South Tag Team Champions, Magnum T.A. and Mr. Wrestling II. The duo would eventually win the titles when Mr. Wrestling II turned on Magnum T.A., attacking him during the championship contest. Afterward, The Midnight Express would begin a long series of matches against The Rock ‘N Roll Express, running deep into the 1990s and spanning over several promotions. The two teams would feud in Mid-South until Condrey and Eaton left the promotion in 1984. This would only be the beginning for The Midnight Express in professional wrestling.
Paving The Way
In 1985, Eaton, Condrey, and their manager, Jim Cornette, would sign with Jim Crockett Promotions; thus, giving them national exposure on TBS. Soon after signing with JCP, Condrey and Eaton would reignite their feud with The Rock ‘N Roll Express. This would lead to February 1986, at Superstars on the Superstation, where Condrey and Eaton would defeat Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson to win the NWA World Tag Team Championship. They would spend the next six months defending the championship against their bitter rivals, eventually losing it to the duo.
Keeping The Magic
In early 1987, Dennis Condrey would withdraw from JCP. In his absence, “Sweet” Stan Lane would become Eaton’s partner in The Midnight Express. It would not take long for the team to claim gold, winning the NWA United States Tag Team Championship two months later. This would be the first of three NWA United States Tag Team Championship reigns for Eaton and Lane. The pair would begin working heel, winning the NWA World Tag Team Championship from Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard on September 10, 1988. Just as the feud began to heat up, Anderson and Blanchard would sign with the WWF, citing financial disagreements with Jim Crockett Promotions. This would lead to Lane and Eaton dropping the titles to Animal and Hawk in a brutal match one month later.