Tommy Rogers, one half of the famed 1980s tag team, The Fantastics, died this morning in Hawaii. His partner, Bobby Fulton, made the announcement.
“I am totally devastated by this loss. Words can’t even describe it. Tommy blessed me with an opportunity to be a part of one of the great tag teams of professional wrestling,” wrote Fulton. “He was one of the best athletes in the profession.”
Rogers was born Tommy Couch, in Bradenton, Fla. in 1952. Though he was a high school jock, he was more interested in tinting car windows than pro wrestling. Rogers became a fill-in at a show before training with Jack and Jerry Brisco, and Buzz Sawyer. “I went to the matches and a guy who was supposed to wrestle got in a car wreck and couldn’t make it. I took his spot,” Rogers said in The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams.
“My prayers are for Sheila and the rest of the Couch family,” continued Fulton. “Not only was he a partner he was like a brother we travelled many miles and many different places.”
Details of his death are not known at this time. Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer wrote that Rogers “had been having legal troubles in recent years stemming from fighting” and that he “was to be sentenced tomorrow over a fight with police officers.”
Neither of the Fantastics were big men, and their skill in the ring was, well, fantastic. They had the ability to sell, both tickets and in the ring for opponents.
Cowboy Johnny Mantell, a veteran of World Class Championship Wrestling, recalled the Fantastics coming into the territory and outshining the established Von Erich brothers.
“When the Fantastics came in, I can remember sitting in the office and hearing them talking about what are they going to do, because they were worried the Fantastics were getting over the Von Erichs. I mean, the fan mail that was coming into the Sportatorium was two to three times to one for the Fantastics than it was for the Von Erichs. There was lots of rumbling about that. It was because Tommy and Bobby could really work out there and work in the ring. It was easier for the heels to get their heat on those guys than it was on the Von Erichs.”
Though they were babyfaces, modeled partly on the success of earlier heartthrob teams like the Fabulous Ones, their penchant for blood and guts belied their babyface personas.
“Bobby Fulton and Tommy Rogers were very, very hard working guys,” said Stan Lane of The Midnight Express. “They really, really loved the business and they were willing to go the extra mile as far as bumps, or whatever, to get the match over.”
Rogers and Fulton were thrown together as The Fantastics in Bill Watts’ Mid-South territory, holding down the fort as resident heartthrobs when the Rock ’n’ Roll Express was out of town. They wore tuxedo costumes, more like upscale garb of The Fabulous Ones than the tatters of the Rock ’n’ Roll Express.
Interestingly, Rogers confessed that he quite came to grips with the colorful, pin-up boy role that was to make him a lot of money. “I was from Florida. I was from black-and-white wrestling, tights and boots. That was the hardest thing for me to get used to, the gimmick … I never thought that you want to make any kind of light in any sports situation. And wearing a tuxedo to the ring is making light of what you’re doing. It’s still hard to me to figure that here we are going to the ring, trying to make these people believe it’s real, yet we’re coming out in tuxedos.”
While The Fantastics followed The Rock ’n’ Rolls in many territories, they carved out their own reputation with a blend of aerial antics and hardcore wrestling. “Carved” is the right word because blood flowed freely in their classic matches, especially a gory double disqualification battle with The Sheepherders in the 1986 Crockett Cup.
“The bloodying, I think it helped me and Tommy get over. We were put together as a team for the girls, but when we went through those matches with The Sheepherders, it helped us get respect,” Fulton said. Rogers added: “You have to take pride in mastering your craft and I really think we mastered it.”
Fulton said he loved to take a pounding in the ring, then quickly tag to Rogers, who had one of the most powerful dropkicks of his time. That formula worked well in their legendary series of matches with The Midnight Express in the late 1980s, though there were a few bobbles that probably escaped most fans’ scrutiny. Lane said he once missed a spot in a tag team match in Greensboro where he was supposed to catch Fulton, who was leaping through the ropes to the floor. Said Lane: “I forgot and so Bobby Fulton was sailing past me headfirst, and he looked up at me with this pitiful look and he went, ‘Why?’ ”
The Fantastics’ run in the NWA ended when Dusty Rhodes departed from his booking duties shortly after the company became the property of Ted Turner in 1989. Rhodes had weighed turning Fulton and Rogers into bad guys, adding Paul Jones as a manager, and pitting them against the Rock ’n’ Roll Express. The Fantastics left the national spotlight, though they teamed up in Japan through 1997, and reunited for a 17th tour of Japan in 2004.
From 1997-98, Rogers was a part of ECW, both as a wrestler and behind the scenes as an agent.
Rogers slowed down after suffering a broken neck during a swing through Japan in 1992 and ran a window tinting business in Southaven, Ms. for a time. By early 2011, Rogers was living in Hawaii.