William Regal Mourns the Loss of the Great Bobby Eaton: ‘He Was a Complete and Utter Joy to Be Around’
Eaton’s impact on his career extended far beyond the ring ropes.
from Justin Barrasso with Sports Illustrated and posted at YardBarker.com/www.yardbarker.com:
The wrestling world continues to mourn the loss of industry icon Bobby Eaton, who died in his sleep last Wednesday.
Known as “Beautiful” Bobby, Eaton starred for Jim Crockett Promotions, the NWA and World Championship Wrestling. He worked primarily outside the WWE realm, so while Eaton will never receive proper recognition on SmackDown or Raw, it does not change the fact that he left a lasting impact on the business of professional wrestling, particularly in its tag team ranks.
Eaton painted a masterpiece as part of the Midnight Express tag team. Managed by the charismatic Jim Cornette, Eaton first teamed with Dennis Condrey, and later (and more famously) with Stan Lane. Feuding with the likes of the Rock ’n’ Roll Express and the Road Warriors, the Midnights revolutionized tag team wrestling, displaying a form of the craft that remains influential. Tag team wrestling in its current form still resembles the style and approach that Eaton blazed in his trail, with every single top team—Dax Harwood and Cash Wheeler of FTR in AEW, along with WWE’s Jimmy and Jey Uso, in particular—paying homage to the great Midnights with their effervescent blend of tag team synchronization, physicality and harmony.
If Eaton ever had a flaw, it was that his work on the mike was never on the same level as someone like Ric Flair or Rick Rude. Yet he was also never presented with an opportunity to be the top heel in a major territory, so it will always remain a great mystery whether Eaton would have made a successful singles champion if someone like Jim Herd, who was WCW president for a spell in the 1990s, had taken a chance. And maybe serendipity instead worked its magic, with Eaton forever being known as the man who shaped modern-day tag team wrestling.
William Regal is a valued voice at the WWE Performance Center and one of Paul “Triple H” Levesque’s most trusted associates. In 1994, following two runs with WCW’s television title, the then 26-year-old Regal (working as “Lord” Steven Regal) was scheduled to team with Jean-Paul Levesque (who later became Triple H) in a new tag team of emerging aristocrats. But Levesque bolted for WWE before the team could take direction, leaving Regal in a quagmire to start the new year.
“I was only 24 when I came to America, and I was still trying to figure everything out,” Regal says. “Even when I lost the TV title, I was never doomy or gloomy. It was always a pleasure to me. I enjoyed the title runs, and then I had been teaming with Triple H, but I knew that he was leaving to go to the WWE. I went home for Christmas, and when I came back for the first TVs, I was at Center Stage [Theater in Atlanta] for our tapings, ready to fit in anywhere.
“[WCW head booker] Ric Flair came up to me and said, ‘Levesque’s no longer here; we need to think of something for you to do.’ Instantly, I looked around, and there, sitting in the bleacher stands, I was hit with a lightning bolt. I said, ‘Please put me with Bobby.’ ”
Regal was more than familiar with Eaton’s body of work. While touring the UK wrestling circuit, Regal had been begging for tapes of U.S. wrestling. He found the equivalent of wrestling gold when he was handed beat-up VHS tapes featuring stars of the NWA, including Eaton’s standout tag work in the Midnight Express.
“I was a huge fan of Bobby, even before I had ever met him,” Regal says. “It was so hard to watch American wrestling when I was growing up, but I ended up with these NWA tapes with Bobby on them. I remember thinking, ‘I like this fella.’ I only had a grasp of wrestling back then, but I could already tell his high flying was just spot-on.”
Now one of the most respected figures in all of wrestling, Regal looked back on his stretch with Eaton as fortuitous, especially considering he had just had the privilege of learning from another great, Jody Hamilton (who helped make the tag team The Assassins a famous act), right before teaming with Eaton.
“Jody Hamilton also passed a few days ago, and I’ve been thinking a lot about him, too,” Regal says. “There’s another wrestling great. Before I teamed with Bobby, he’d spent a lot of time working with me and Triple H, harnessing our skills as a tag team over a six-week period. Then I had the chance to work with Bobby, so it was the best thing possible for me to learn.
“When I started teaming with Bobby, immediately, we clicked. Everything we did, in the ring and out of it, I learned so much. As a travel partner, he was a complete and utter joy to be around. It was incredible for me. I got to learn tag wrestling from Bobby Eaton.”
As part of the Midnights, and later during his run in WCW with Arn Anderson as part of Paul Heyman’s Dangerous Alliance, Eaton pushed tag team wrestling to new heights. That is exactly what he did for Regal. Together, they formed the Blue Bloods, creating a set of memorable vignettes where Regal taught Eaton—the pride of Huntsville, Ala.—to become a proper Englishman.
“I had explained to WCW we could do the My Fair Lady thing, like the old movie, where we were these complete opposites,” Regal says. “We had the chance to film some stuff at Disney, and they gave me free rein to do it. So we went to Epcot, and we made these four different vignettes before we started teaming together.”
In the end, “Lord” Steven Regal and “Earl” Robert Eaton made an impressive duo, putting together solid work with the likes of the Nasty Boys and Harlem Heat. The time spent together wrestling and on the road served as a chance for Regal to soak up knowledge from Eaton. Whether it was double-team tag spots in the ring or proper etiquette on the road, Regal noted that Eaton never lectured him. Instead, he taught through his actions.
“Bobby brought such incredible precision to everything he did,” says Regal, who noted he is still amazed at the way Eaton would drop his Alabama Jam leg drop from the top. “So much so, it would take me out of the moment. I’d be standing there with my mouth open, and I’d ask myself, ‘How does he do that?’ Then I’d remind myself to get back in character and go. He had an old-school skill, and we never planned anything out. His timing was precise, and in the ring, he was in total control.
“I was so in awe of him. He was incredible to watch. His work will never go out of style. It will never run its course. If you put those matches on today, it will still draw a reaction. Bobby’s tag matches are timeless.”
Eaton leaves behind a remarkable legacy, responsible for advancing the craft of tag team wrestling unlike any other individual did.
“Tag team wrestling is a spectacular thing to watch,” Regal says. “When done right, there is nothing quite like it. Bobby laid the blueprint of what it looks like today in modern-day wrestling. The double-team moves, he was an innovator. Bobby is at the top of that list. When you talk to experts of tag team wrestling, the Midnight Express and the Rock ’n’ Roll Express will forever be the greats. It was so incredibly good. Anyone interested in wrestling, I urge them to watch that and learn.”
Taken away from the world too soon at only 62, Eaton created a treasure trove of memories for those who knew him. The wrestling innovator will always be remembered for his kind and gentle touch outside the ring, embodying all that was right in pro wrestling.
“Memories of him have been a great comfort to me the past couple days,” Regal says. “For every tear, there have been laughs thinking about the memories. I still think back to backstage, where you’d have a room full of characters. I can still picture it. People talking, playing cards, thinking about their position on the show. No matter what they were doing, when Bobby walked into that locker room, people would stop what they were doing.
“He’d take them out of whatever moment they were in. One by one, they’d stop what they were doing and say, ‘Hey, Bobby. How are you doing?’ with a smile. It’s a pretty incredible memory. There will never be another Bobby.”