The sudden passing of someone you grew up watching, such as both Bobby Eaton and Bert Prentice, often brings back unique memories, especially when you encounter the person later on in life.
One such memory is attending a 2001 taping of Smackdown in Nashville, Tenn. Eaton had been hired by the WWE to work with developmental in Memphis, and later Ohio Valley Wrestling, after being unceremoniously released the previous year from WCW. My friends and my teenage self were seated on the side, close to the entranceway. A nearby spectator pointed and said, “Hey, look, it’s Bobby Eaton!”
One by one, people turned their heads to see Eaton watching the in-ring action from the sidelines. An immediate “Bobby, Bobby” chant commenced and grew louder and louder. Eaton waved to the crowd, but the chant continued, which forced the former tag champ to head backstage and avoid distracting the audience. I do not remember much more about that particular show, but I do remember the Bobby chants.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I am a ring announcer for the now defunct independent organization IWF-TN. I arrived at the National Guard Armory in Cookeville, Tenn., for that night’s show and discovered Eaton was on the card – and booked to work a few more shows.
Part of me wanted to mark out, but I also wanted to sit under the proverbial learning tree. I thought on my feet and introduced myself with, “Hey Bobby, I’m going to McDonald’s. Do you want anything?” He gave me his order and off I went.
Eaton is infamous for being a man of few words, and I had lengthier conversations with his son Dylan – who also later became a pro wrestler – compared to Bobby. Eaton’s love for his wife Donna, who recently passed away June 26, 2021, and their children (Dustin, Dylan, and Taryn) was quite apparent from our conversations.
— WCW Deep Cuts (@DeepCutsWCW) August 5, 2021
Eaton was also both gracious in and out of the ring. I was amazed at just how giving the former WCW World Television Champion was with up-and-comers, myself included. Eaton bumped and fed while doing his best to get the hometown crew over, and I was fortunate enough to have the best seat in the house.
“Beautiful” Bobby Eaton’s style of wrestling and personality were just that: beautiful. Do yourself a favor and listen to Jim Cornette’s podcast tribute episode to his fallen friend.
Another name synonymous with Tennessee wrestling, albeit in a different context with a contrasting disposition, is Bert Prentice. My earliest memories of Prentice are watching him in USWA but also in local television commercials and even in a country music video.
After the collapse of USWA, Prentice also promoted wrestling at the Nashville Fairgrounds, which is where I met him in 2002. After the HealthSouth Corporation pulled out as a financial backer of TNA, the company was forced to reduce costs by moving its weekly PPVs from the Nashville Municipal Auditorium and sublease the Nashville Fairgrounds Sports Arena from Prentice.
Prentice reminded me of a pit boss in a casino roaming to and from the box office and helping fans find their seats during the early TNA Asylum era. Prentice was also helpful with my previous stories about Corsica Joe and Sara Lee. I briefly discussed the late couple with him at USA Championship’s New Year Eve Bash held December 31, 2018, which also ended well before midnight. Prentice was carnie through and through but in an almost lovable scamp kind of way. Somehow, he always landed on his feet and returned to promoting wrestling events, usually in the Tennessee area, even after claiming he was done with the business.
Personality wise, I do not think could find two individuals more different than Eaton and Prentice. However, both were their authentic selves, could work a crowd and represent a bygone era.
Bobby Eaton helped perfect southern wrestling with his smooth style, knee drops and Alabama Jams, and Bert Prentice mastered promoting southern wrasslin’ with his carnival barker approach, raffle tickets and grab bags.