WWE tag team legends The Hart Foundation
Eddie Gilbert Biography
Sons often find themselves living in the shadows of their fathers. Sometimes those shadows shield. Sometimes those shadows swallow. From time to time a son steps out of those shadows and when he does, the shadows he casts often reach beyond the point of measuring. Growing up in his dad’s sheltering shadow, Eddie Gilbert watched his dad make a name for himself in professional wrestling. Eddie knew one day he would have the chance to step out from those shadows and he was determined to cast his own long shadows on the business he had fallen in love with at an early age.
Tommy Gilbert, Eddie’s dad, worked in his home circuit of Tennessee for Nick Gulas, and by 1977, Jerry Jarrett. Tommy’s father, Arley, had participated in A.T. shows, which occurred at carnivals. A carnival worker would challenge anyone from the audience to wrestle him. Often in order to drum up business another carnival worker would be planted in the audience to take that challenge and put the worker over. Many A.T. workers later became professional wrestlers.
The Gulas territory was tag team country for many years and Tommy gained much of his success as a tag mate to area stand-outs such as Johnny Walker, Bearcat Brown and most notably, Eddie Marlin. The territory also featured wild action, often with blood freely flowing. Eddie watched the action so intently he came to understand at a young age that there was more than what met his eyes when he watched a wrestling match. He grew to understand how the business worked from the creative side, mainly operated for Gulas by Jerry Jarrett.
While Eddie was a big fan of his dad, Lawler spoke to him on another level. Lawler was a gum-chewing, cocky, goateed, arrogant know-it-all bad guy. Lawler always had something to say, sometimes witty, other times brutally honest. Sometimes those comments were hurled toward his opponent and sometimes to TV announcer Lance Russell. Lawler often used illegal tactics to achieve his success. Other times Lawler’s manager Sam Bass helped gain victory. Over the years, Lawler’s image softened from his first few years in the territory but it was those first few years of Lawler’s career that Gilbert would remember for years to come and would use in storylines featuring Lawler.
Itching to become old enough to become a professional wrestler, Eddie found other ways to become involved in the business. Eddie began writing articles and taking photographs for newsstand and ringside magazines, including the Memphis area weekly program. Since professional wrestling rarely gained substantial mainstream media attention, it thrived on it’s own newsstand and ringside magazines to publicize it’s stars. The 1960s and 1970s though brought a new type of media to wrestling via fan club letters and newsletters available through the mail that provided results from various areas. This underground media provided die-hard fans with more, and sometimes fresher, information than could be gathered on their weekly TV show and in the magazines they could buy. It also often lead them to make friendships with like-minded fans from all over America. Through this avenue, and through attendance at various wrestling conventions mentioned in this underground press, Eddie came in contact with a number of people who, in and of their own right, would achieve fame in time, most notably, Jim Cornette and Brian Hildebrand.
Eddie was a senior in high school in Henderson County, Tennessee. He was anxious to graduate and get busy with his intended vocation. A springtime graduation was just too far away for Eddie who had been training with his dad. In February 1979, Eddie Gilbert made his ring debut.
The city of Malden is a small town in the southeastern corner of Missouri. For years, Henry Rogers ran a promotion here with pretty much any talent he could convince to stop for awhile. Often new talent got a chance to try out the business here. Malden and other such small promotions, then and now, give young talent a chance to work in front of an audience while also giving them real lessons about the day to day life of a wrestler. Malden was a place where newcomers began their trip down a road to fulfill their dreams. It would also be fair to say that often those trips came to a stop in Malden as many newcomers to the business woke up to some of the harsh realities of the business here. Either way, Eddie Gilbert knew Malden was just the first step in his journey.
On February 10, 1979, Eddie, wrestling as Tommy Gilbert, Jr. teamed with Ricky Reed to face Jake Dalton and Haiti Charlie in Eddie’s debut match. For the next several weeks, Eddie returned to Malden on weekends to get his feet wet in the business he had grown up loving. By his graduation night, which legend says he skipped to wrestle, Eddie already had several months of in-ring experience under his belt, even working a few dates in some small towns promoted by the Jarrett promotion.
The Memphis territory had been through some changes in the late 1970s. Nick Gulas and his booker, Jerry Jarrett, had a falling out over the use of Nick’s son, George, as a wrestler. Jarrett decided to form his own group and within a short time had secured half the Gulas territory. Memphis, Louisville, Evansville and Lexington were the key cities Jarrett promoted on a weekly basis. As the summer of 1979 started Jarrett fans were treated to the regular appearance of Eddie Gilbert.
Much of the summer, Eddie teamed with his dad, Tommy. They feuded with another father-son combination, Buddy and Ken Wayne. Eddie had known the Waynes for years and, at this point, Ken was also fairly new to the business. Eddie also teamed from time to time with another newcomer, Ricky Morton, son of area referee, Paul Morton.
Also during the summer of 1979, a card in Tupelo, Mississippi featured an out-of-control brawl between Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee and the team of Wayne Farris and Larry Latham with manager Danny Davis. The match wound up with both teams, promoters Jerry Jarrett and Eddie Marlin, referee Jerry Calhoun and a video crew which included announcer Lance Russell, in a concession stand eventually destroyed by the action. The action set the bar high for wild action in professional wrestling and is considered by some as the point in time where the roots of hardcore wrestling were planted. One can just wonder how Eddie felt watching the mayhem in Tupelo and how it would influence him in years to come.
Early in 1980, Eddie Gilbert ventured to the Central States area. The Central States area was run by Bob Geigel, a former wrestler turned promoter. Geigel had some pull in the National Wrestling Alliance having served as NWA President. Kansas City, Kansas, Wichita, Kansas and St. Joseph, Missouri were among the regular stops for this territory. The territory was also special because a number of well-qualified veterans either made their home in the area or stopped over often. A short list of the talent working in the area would include Harley Race, Bulldog Bob Brown, Bruiser Bob Sweetan, Bruiser Brody, Mike George and others.
Eddie was young and also small physically (5’9″ and under 200 pounds). Despite these factors Gilbert was successful here because youth and size didn’t really matter as much as a good work ethic. His youthful, clean-cut appearance found favor with the fans and Eddie gained more ring experience here.
Often, the Kansas City regulars filled out the Sam Muchnick-promoted cards in St. Louis. In the 1960s and 1970s, if a wrestler made it to St. Louis, he was recognized as special in the eyes of other wrestling promoters. Muchnick usually ran a couple of cards each month in St. Louis. The St. Louis cards were sprinkled with NWA stars from several territories and featured most of the business’s top attractions at the time including stars from the AWA and WWWF. Muchnick refrained from using a lot of gimmick matches and gimmick characters. He also rarely used controversial finishes, generally sticking to simple wins and losses, which gave the loyal St. Louis a sense that they were receiving their money’s worth. With this formula, St. Louis was the true professional wrestling capital in the United States usually playing to sellout crowds in the famed Kiel Auditorium. Now, with less than two years experience under his belt, Eddie Gilbert worked some of the prestigious St. Louis cards during his stay in the Central States area.
The business was changing with the expansion of cable television. Cable TV systems across the country had added stations based out of Chicago, New York and Atlanta. The station out of Atlanta, WTBS, was known by professional wrestling fans because of their weekly two-hour Saturday night wrestling show hosted by Gordon Solie called Georgia Championship Wrestling.
In the spring of 1980, Eddie went to work in the Georgia office. His stay in the area was uneventful and only a few months long. He mainly worked opening matches never receiving a push. Often, he worked TV tag matches and found himself on the losing side of the match. Despite this treatment, the Georgia office provided fans their first look at Eddie Gilbert on a national level.
Eddie returned to the Memphis territory for most of the rest of 1980. He also appeared some with Central States wrestling. During the spring of 1981, Eddie began working for Leroy McGuirk’s Tri-State promotion in Oklahoma, occasionally teaming with his dad. More often than not though he teamed with an old familiar face from Memphis named Ricky Morton. This duo formed a quick, young, energetic team the fans loved. By the end of the summer they returned to Memphis.
One of the legends Eddie grew up watching was Tojo Yamamoto. Yamamoto, at this stage in his career, served mainly as a manager although he did still work some in ring as a wrestler. Yamamoto was managing the promising Japanese duo of Masa Fuchi and Mr. Onita.
The two teams were paired against one another. Both teams were quick and about the same size so they appeared evenly matched. Gilbert and Morton both proved to be a hit with the fans due to their youthful good looks and the fact that they were both “local”. (Eddie from Lexington, TN and Ricky from Nashville.) Needless to say, Fuchi and Onita weren’t local. Add to the mix their manager, Yamamoto, who had been around long enough to be perceived as local but had turned heel, and, the sides were almost set. Both teams were also motivated. This was a chance to open some eyes and set themselves apart from others in the territory. Promoter Jerry Jarrett then suggested something that would really fire up the feud. Jarrett wanted to recreate the Tupelo concession stand brawl from 1979. Both teams jumped at the chance to see if they could live up to the standard set by Lawler, Dundee, Farris and Latham a few years earlier.
After a controversial finish the two teams made their way to the Tupelo concession stand. What followed was several minutes of pandemonium with referee Paul Morton unable to control the two teams. Trash cans were used as weapons, mustard was thrown, the wrestlers and Yamamoto slipped and slid around on the messy floor while Lance Russell called the action. Eddie Marlin and Jerry Jarrett made appearances to break things up but the action continued. The Tupelo promoter, Herman Sheffield also got in the mix but was knocked around by Yamamoto. Sheffield’s wife tried to come to her husband’s rescue but found an angry Yamamoto waiting to slap at her and shove her around. Finally, Jarrett and Marlin separate the teams.
Whether or not this brawl surpasses the 1979 brawl is all a matter of opinion. Both brawls deserve to belong in any serious tape collector’s vaults as they both hold up to time. What is interesting is the legacy left behind by the brawls, especially the 1981 brawl. Morton would go on to a successful career as part of the Rock n Roll Express tag team. Fuchi would have a successful career as well in his native Japan. However, Onita would become a superstar in Japan mainly wrestling this kind of hardcore style he learned not only in Tupelo but at the feet of Terry Funk, one of his (and Eddie’s) idols. Gilbert would regularly work the Philadelphia cards, even acting as booker there for awhile, in the early 1990s. The Philadelphia promotions eventually evolved into the current ECW, purveyors of the hardcore style of wrestling that can be traced to such wild action as that provided during two summer nights in Tupelo, Mississippi.
As he did from time to time in the early part of his career, Eddie returned to wrestle some for the Central States promotion in late 1981 and into 1982. The highlight of his stay at this time was a run with Ricky Romero as Central States tag champions.
In early 1982, Eddie made his first trip to Puerto Rico to wrestle. His dad, Tommy, had taken over the booking job there and one of the first calls he made for new talent was to his son. Together, they teamed and worked mainly against The Moondogs. While in Puerto Rico, Tommy took a few weeks off. He handed the booking chores to Eddie. For the first time in his career, Eddie became the man who decided who won and who lost, if just for a short amount of time.
In the fall of 1982 Eddie made a leap to the WWF. The WWF ran monthly cards in the famed Madison Square Garden in New York City, arguably the most recognized entertainment arena in the world. Eddie realized he would gain a great amount of exposure and experience here so he jumped at the opportunity to work the area.
Much like his stay in Georgia, Eddie wasn’t given a big push, although his push in the WWF was better than his Georgia stay. Eddie found himself low on the cards but winning matches against TV jobbers while losing to proven stars who were receiving major pushes.
In May of 1983, Eddie’s life changed forever as he was involved in a near-fatal auto accident after a WWF TV taping in Allentown, Pennsylvania. His injuries were serious including a broken neck and serious injuries to his back and shoulders. The wreck also required some plastic surgery which Gilbert disguised in years to come by growing a beard. In order to deal with the physical pain of the injuries, Gilbert turned to painkillers and would deal with the pain the rest of his life in such a way.
Eddie was out of action for several months in 1983 due to the auto accident. He did return though later in the year and worked some for Jarrett, Central States and in Japan.
The serious injury was hardly behind Eddie when the wheels were turning on how to use the injury to sell a few tickets. Professional wrestling bookers like angles with at least some imbedded truth. The WWF called Eddie wanting him to return to work an angle designed to further another feud. Eddie returned, his recovery from the injury acknowledged and suddenly he was billed as a protégé of WWF champion Bob Backlund. Eddie was then attacked by The Masked Superstar, Backlund’s upcoming opponent. The Superstar gave Eddie numerous neckbreakers and Eddie’s neck was reinjured (in storyline only). Bob Backlund made the save and cried as his protégé, Gilbert, was hauled away in an ambulance. Backlund then vowed vengeance against The Superstar. (No doubt, Gilbert had seen this mentor-protégé scenario a few times in Tennessee, most notably with Tojo Yamamoto rescuing his protégé Jerry Jarrett.) As Backlund and The Superstar made the rounds against each other in the WWF, Eddie returned to Tennessee.
Return to Memphis
After recovering from his injuries Eddie found on his return to Tennessee in 1984 that one of his boyhood idols was still a presence there. The Fabulous Jackie Fargo had been around for thirty years and was still revered by area fans. A few years earlier, capitalizing off the Fargo image, promoter Jerry Jarrett introduced a new tag team to the area featuring two stars who had been in the area for awhile. Steve Keirn and Stan Lane were introduced as the Fabulous Ones via a music video set to the Billy Squier song “Everybody Wants You” complete with tuxedo jackets, bow ties and top hats. To add to the hype the team was billed as being put together and endorsed by Fargo. Over the course of time, the Fabs became the area’s most successful tag team ever, eclipsing any and all expectations the promotion had for them. Initially, they were to wrestle the New York Dolls: Rick McGraw & Troy Graham and then turn heel, be joined by young manager Jim Cornette and feud against Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee. Fan reaction changed those plans quickly as the fans, specifically young female fans, liked what they saw in Steve and Stan.
As professional wrestling moved away from the territorial system, opportunities to make a mark in the business began to dry up. By 1984, Keirn and Lane decided to move to Verne Gagne’s AWA, headquartered in Minnesota. With their departure, the Memphis promotion was left without a top babyface tag team.
To fill the void, Eddie was paired up with one-time NWA champion Tommy Rich, who had debuted in Tennessee in the mid-1970s before going on to a long, successful run with the Georgia promotion. Jackie Fargo gave his blessing and The New Fabulous Ones were born. (Brian Adias was scheduled to be Eddie’s partner but backed out right before the debut. Rich, who had just been let go by the Georgia promotion, was brought in to team with Eddie.)
The idea was not a good one. Gilbert and Rich, while a competent team, had shoes impossible to fill as fans felt that the team was a cheap imitation of the originals. Gilbert and Rich parted with Rich gaining some singles success when he won the International title. In the late summer of 1984 Rich and Gilbert’s paths would cross again.
The WFIA (Wrestling Fans International Association, an association that rarely received a great deal of press in the mainstream newsstand wrestling magazines but was better known in the underground press) held their annual convention in Memphis. Pete Lederburg and Howard Baum appeared on the TV show with Lance Russell to present the tag team of the year award to the New Fabulous Ones. (In 1983, the WFIA presented the tag team of the year award to Keirn and Lane but the trophies were stolen by The Masked Grapplers.) Gilbert came out to accept the award. He admitted he and Rich had parted ways but he was still honored to win the award. Eddie then went on to trash Rich by stating that since Rich had won the International title he had become too important to work the TV show. Rich came out and began firing away at Gilbert quickly busting him open. The two were separated and the TV show went to a commercial break.
As the show returned a bloody Eddie stood with Lance Russell and began apologizing for what he had done while he wiped away blood with a paper towel. Eddie put over how he had been jealous of Rich’s singles success but the WFIA award meant a lot to him and he hoped it also meant something to Tommy. The angle fell into place perfectly when Russell admitted it took an awful big man to admit his own mistakes. At this point the fans were hooked and cheered Gilbert, who called out Rich. Gilbert and Rich then patched up their friendship. As they walked off the set Gilbert grabbed Rich, slung him into the ringpost and proceeded to destroy Rich with a chair. Rich wound up a bloody mess. In a few minutes of TV time, Eddie Gilbert became the area’s top heel, a role once occupied by one of his childhood idols, Jerry Lawler, now the area’s top babyface.
For the next several months, Gilbert’s work was priceless, especially when paired with manic manager Jimmy Hart. He also found himself paired with Mike Sharpe, Lanny Poffo, Randy Savage and King Kong Bundy. His heel turn in Memphis was Gilbert’s first work as a heel. Everything lead to a showdown in 1985 with Gilbert losing to Lawler and forcing Jimmy Hart out of Memphis after an incredible run that started in 1979. (Hart had signed to work for the WWF.)
In Memphis though, Lawler was still king. Eddie’s first major singles run had been good but any hopes he had in following in the footsteps of Jackie Fargo and Jerry Lawler as an area legend was premature at this point in his career. He would instead follow in the footsteps of others who had earned their reputation in Memphis by traveling to Mid-South Wrestling and working for Cowboy Bill Watts.
Talkin’ ‘Bout Some Hot Stuff
The Mid-South territory was one of the most successful territories in wrestling in the 1980s. The late 70s and early 80s saw the territory catch on fire with such talent as Bob Roop, Bob Orton, Jr., Killer Karl Kox, Ted DiBiase, Ernie Ladd, Paul Orndorff, Mr. Wrestling II, Junkyard Dog and others. By 1983 the territory stalled some and promoter Cowboy Bill Watts, himself a major ring attraction as well as owner of the territory, went looking for help to re-ignite the area.
He spent some time with Memphis promoter Jerry Jarrett. Watts and Jarrett agreed to swap some talent. Longtime Tennessee star Bill Dundee was brought in as booker for the territory. Watts, who had always booked big men such as himself, Junkyard Dog, Ernie Ladd and others in prominent roles in the promotion was apparently willing to give Dundee’s booking style a chance. Dundee’s style was the Memphis style, where size didn’t matter and the action was wild and woolly. Dundee then brought in the tag team of Dennis Condrey and Bobby Eaton with manager Jim Cornette. The team was tabbed the Midnight Express and along with Dundee’s next additions, the Rock n Roll Express (Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson) helped to reinvigorate tag team wrestling during the decade. Another Jarrett talent, Terry Taylor would be added to the mix over time as well. In exchange, Jarrett received the services of Masao Ito, Jim Neidhart, Larry ‘Hacksaw’ Higgins and a young talent named Rick Rood, whose last name Jarrett would change to Rude, which would start him on the road to becoming one of the best heels in the business ever.
By 1985, Dundee’s booking had boosted business in Mid-South. Eddie Gilbert was contacted and came in to work the area. Initially, Gilbert made very little impact. He first wrestled as a heel but as the company searched for a role for Gilbert he was eventually turned face. Finally, the decision was made to turn Eddie heel again. During his entry into the area he was partnered with The Nightmare (who wrestled for awhile as The Champion, note this is Randy Colley not Ken Wayne or Danny Davis who wrestled as The Masked Nightmares for Jarrett). The Nightmare held the North American title while with Gilbert. The duo was also aligned with Sir Oliver Humperdinck during this time.
As Gilbert began to draw some attention he was given an on-air role from week to week that was designed to get him over as a heel. Gilbert began coming out on television every week with a portrait of himself. Eddie would then ask viewers to send in their names and a letter explaining why they wanted his portrait with the eventual result being that a drawing would occur to give the portrait away. Oddly though, Eddie would change the rules every week causing Cowboy Bill Watts to look into the matter. The scenario went on for several weeks before The Bruise Brothers (Porkchop Cash & Mad Dog Boyd) stole the portrait sending Gilbert into a tizzy.
Eddie began to get more attention as he came across very charismatic on television. Even though he had worked regularly as a wrestler Gilbert “retired” to become a manager. Mid-South Wrestling was now known as the UWF, and was Bill Watts’ attempt to move his company into a national spotlight to compete with both McMahon’s WWF and Crockett’s NWA. He paired up with Russian Kostia Korchenko and the fairly new tag team of The Blade Runners: Rock & Sting. A little later, the team of Ivan Koloff & Nikita Koloff would add Gilbert’s services. Watts, who as a booker had worked several patriotic angles with Nikolai Volkoff, Krusher Kruschev (a known American who denounced his citizenship to partner with Volkoff), Jim Duggan and others, was about to work another patriotic angle that would serve to get Gilbert over more than ever before.
Watts, aware of the Cold War that had been going on between the U.S. and the Soviet Union for decades, began denouncing the Russian trio and, in the process, got over the superiority of anything American over the course of several weeks. The impact of Watts’ comments began to hit close to home with fans especially after Korchenko began draping the Russian flag over fallen opponents. Later, an in-ring confrontation involving Gilbert, Korchenko and The Blade Runners against Steve Williams, Ted DiBiase and Jim Duggan was quelled by Watts. As he played the peacemaker he caught Korchenko attempting to sneak attack Williams. Watts then bopped Korchenko and a brawl erupted. Watts then began to question why Eddie would be involved with those so set against America.
Finally, Gilbert appeared on television and called Watts out. Gilbert said he wanted to apologize for being involved with the Koloffs and Korchenko. Watts came out but as he did The Blade Runners appeared in the aisle. Watts questioned Gilbert as to why The Blade Runners had come out. Gilbert explained that he was no longer going to be associated with the Russians but he would still manage The Blade Runners. Gilbert then went on to agree with Watts about how his involvement with the Russians was wrong and how Watts had opened his eyes to this. Gilbert then offered a Russian flag to Watts to show how sincere he was about leaving the Russians and told Watts to do with the flag whatever he wanted to do. As Watts took the flag, the Russians rushed in from the crowd and attacked Watts. Gilbert then joined in on the attack. Steve Williams, Ted DiBiase and Jim Duggan ran down the aisle to make the save but The Blade Runners were waiting for them and kept them occupied as Watts’ pounding continued in the ring as the Russians and Gilbert used a small red (symbolic of Russian communism) shovel and a chain on Watts. Finally, Gilbert and the Russians laid a Russian flag over a battered Watts. Williams, Duggan, DiBiase followed by Watts’ three sons, Joel, Micah and Erik rushed to the ring. As Joel (the TV show director) held his dad’s bloodied head in his hands, announcer Jim Ross wondered why Eddie Gilbert did what he did.
The following week, a battered Watts appeared via video tape from his home outside Tulsa and vowed revenge on Eddie Gilbert. He found himself in an awkward position though. Watts had hired Eddie’s dad, Tommy as referee. Tommy, disgusted at his son’s actions, tendered his resignation to Watts. Despite Eddie’s notorious deeds in the area, Watts found Tommy’s work as a referee to be fair and distinguished. Watts refused the resignation but told Tommy, Eddie was about to become fair game for him. Tommy then wished Watts well in attempting to straighten out his wayward son. Watts then came out of retirement (as he also did in 1984 to battle Jim Cornette and The Midnight Express) to square off against the Russians and Gilbert.
The feud with Watts culminated on TV with Sting facing Watts with the stipulation of Gilbert having to face Watts if Sting lost. Watts won the match and as he began his match against Gilbert, the trio of the Fabulous Freebirds: Buddy ‘Jack’ Roberts, Terry ‘Bamm Bamm’ Gordy and Michael P.S. Hayes hit the ring and attacked Watts, who had been a thorn in their side for years. This allowed Gilbert to save his heat in the territory and set off a Watts-Freebird feud. One very layered angle moved seamlessly into another layered angle, typical of the glory days of Bill Watts-promoted wrestling.
The angle and subsequent feud with Watts lead to Eddie Gilbert becoming a bona-fide star in the business. After the Koloffs and Korchenko and Blade Runner Rock (he would leave to wrestle as The Dingo Warrior for World Class then appear later as The Ultimate Warrior in WWF and WCW) left the area, Gilbert was left with Blade Runner Sting and another relative newcomer who had shown great potential working for a few months in the area, Rick Steiner. He also revealed that he would be forming a partnership with area newcomer Missy Hyatt.
Hyatt had entered the territory with Hollywood John Tatum and Jack Victory. This trio had just left the successful World Class promotion based in Dallas. Hyatt, along with Sunshine, Precious, Miss Elizabeth and Baby Doll were changing the role of women in wrestling from in-ring talent to ringside managers and valets.
From the very first moment Gilbert announced his partnership with Hyatt it was hinted in storylines that there might be something more than a business relationship going on between the two. The partnership, called Hyatt-Hot Stuff International, was introduced in a series of video vignettes set away from the arena. Hyatt would help Gilbert, Steiner and Sting capture the UWF tag titles while The First Family (the name Eddie attached to his stable) would assist Hyatt in her feud with Dark Journey. As the storyline continued it became apparent to viewers that Hyatt was falling for Gilbert which infuriated Tatum. In real life a similar situation was going on as Hyatt and Gilbert were becoming involved which no doubt complicated matters since Hyatt was already involved with Tatum and also since Tatum was the real life cousin of fellow UWF star Michael Hayes.
The storyline gained momentum in Tulsa on July 20, 1987 when Missy used her loaded Gucci handbag to wallop Tommy Rogers to allow Gilbert and Sting to win the UWF tag titles from Rogers and Bobby Fulton (The Fantastics). The partnership between Eddie and Missy was in bloom from week to week on TV and behind the scenes it grew as well as the couple married in New Orleans in October 1987. (The marriage would be Eddie’s second.) Missy’s good looks and spoiled-brat character made her a hot wrestling property. Eddie had also drawn a great deal of respect because of his work ethic and his ideas, some of which had been used by Watts. One day a call came from the WWF, which by this time had expanded nationally and was drawing very good business. Vince McMahon wanted to hire Gilbert and Hyatt to appear in the WWF.
The duo agreed to sign with the WWF. As Eddie prepared to give his notice to Watts, the Cowboy surprised him. Watts, who had used Ken Mantel as his booker, wanted to go in a fresh direction and had come to believe that Eddie would be a good booker. Watts offered Gilbert the UWF head booking job. Eddie accepted since this is what he had longed to do from the point in time he realized what it meant to be a booker. Missy was able to go to the WWF and tape a few “practice” interview segments that would never air. Things fell apart, and a few weeks later Missy left the WWF.
Eddie was now booker of the UWF. The company was full of super talented performers including Steve Williams, Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy, Buddy Roberts, Terry Taylor and more. Gilbert had a lot of talent at his disposal. He also had some young talent developing such as Sting, Rick Steiner and Shane Douglas.
Eddie’s crowning achievement as UWF booker came to be known as “The Battle of New Orleans.” A TV match aired involving Gilbert and Terry Taylor against Sting, who had turned face on Gilbert, and Shane Douglas. As Gilbert and Sting brawled on the outside of the ring, Rick Steiner ran in to help Taylor stuff piledrive Douglas to get the win. As Gilbert and Taylor readied to leave the ring Chris Adams appeared to explain to referee Randy ‘Pee Wee’ Anderson about Steiner’s interference. Gilbert and Taylor became upset and a brawl then started with Adams and Sting. The action spilled all over the floor of the arena even into a concession area where chairs, a hot dog bun rack, a beer keg and tables were used. It was very reminiscent of the Tupelo concession stand brawls from Eddie’s early Memphis days. The match and subsequent brawl left fans buzzing that the UWF was truly hot stuff. The buzz would soon die out though.
As the UWF moved forward with Gilbert as booker, Watts had tired of the business. Business in his home base of Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas had fallen off some. Watts attributed the business drop-off to a slumping oil business which to a great extent fueled the economy there. In the wrestling business, competition with the WWF and NWA was fierce. Wrestlers over the years had been lured away from Watts such as Jim Duggan, Junkyard Dog, Dick Slater and Jake Roberts but somehow Watts always recovered. After awhile it was bound to get old. With the costs of adding new TV stations to the UWF network, a job that fell to announcer Jim Ross, and then moving into new cities to run house shows, expenses began to mount. With attendance in the base cities he had run for years faltering Watts felt it tougher and tougher to compete with the deeper pockets McMahon and Crockett seemingly had. Watts decided to get out of the business. He sold the UWF to Jim Crockett, Jr., who operated the NWA which held down a prime TV slot on TBS.
With the buyout underway, some NWA wrestlers began to make appearances on UWF cards and vice-versa. The potential for something special was near. Imagine, some people speculated, if the NWA were to be invaded by the UWF. Look at all the potential match-ups and feuds that could come from such an idea. Imagine all the new stars that could be born and developed. Others likely thought that this was Gilbert’s time to shine as a booker.
It was never to be. Crockett booker Dusty Rhodes failed miserably with the UWF talent only getting Sting and Rick Steiner, and to a lesser degree Steve Williams, over with fans, while longtime Watts announcer Jim Ross stepped into a major role behind the mic. No hint was ever given of a NWA vs. UWF feud publicly although indications are some of the UWF talent was made to believe such a feud would develop (which would have pre-dated the successful N.W.O. vs. WCW feud by almost a decade). Instead the majority of the UWF stars were used to get over the Crockett talent by booker Rhodes. Crockett’s purchase of the UWF served to allow Crockett’s NWA to grab key syndication time slots from the UWF TV network in an attempt to add revenue to their own syndication efforts.
Eddie Gilbert’s role as UWF booker ended. Eddie worked for awhile for Crockett as in-ring talent but became frustrated at the ineptitude of the NWA. He opted to leave and return to Memphis. No doubt after his brief NWA stay, Eddie could have quoted Groucho Marx when Marx said “I’ve had a wonderful time, but this wasn’t it.”
Sweet Home Alabama
In 1988, Eddie Gilbert returned to the Jarrett promotion and renewed his feud with Jerry Lawler. Eddie was accompanied by Missy during this Memphis run. Tommy returned to pair up some with Eddie. Also debuting full-time was Eddie’s brother Doug. The Gilberts vowed to take over the Memphis wrestling scene. Eddie’s return started hot as he reappeared unannounced and threw fire at Lawler, an old Lawler trick. The stay here would only last a few months but is also remembered for a TV studio brawl between Eddie and Lawler that ended up with Eddie slamming Lawler through the windshield of a car in the parking lot.
In the springtime, Eddie answered a call to work as booker in the Alabama territory that had come to be known as the Continental Wrestling Federation. For years, Ron Fuller had owned the territory but he had sold the territory to David Woods. Woods, a newcomer to the wrestling business, contacted Eddie about booking the territory. Eddie, in turn, brought along Missy, brother Doug and an upstart manager named Paul E. Dangerously to assist him with the work in Alabama.
The area was down, drawing poor crowds to house shows. Eddie went to work with the talent he had at his disposal, a mix and match crew of guys ranging from talented veterans to very young talent. Gilbert set things into motion quickly. He turned the Nightmares, Ken Wayne and Danny Davis, longtime tag partners, against each other. He booked Shane Douglas with newcomer Lord Humongous (a young Sid Eudy, a/k/a Sid Vicious). He took Pez Whatley, renamed him as Willie B. Hert and breathed some new life into a veteran career. He took a jobber named Alan Martin, dressed him up in some fancier duds, called him Mr. Martin and made him manager of Sika and Kokina (to gain fame later as Yokozuna) and worked an angle where Martin kissed Missy, who served as a TV announcer with Charlie Platt. Gilbert also made use of area veterans such as Mr. Olympia Jerry Stubbs, Dutch Mantel, Tim Horner, Detroit Demolition (Randy Colley, the former Nightmare Gilbert worked with in Mid-South), The Dirty White Boy Tony Anthony, Tom Prichard and Austin Idol. Gilbert also brought new AWA champion Jerry Lawler into the area for some title defenses. He added Paul E. Dangerously, himself a lifelong wrestling fan like Eddie, to the mix by having the New Yorker become his manager. Eddie also put a mask on brother Doug and used him as Nightmare Freddie.
Gilbert was the lead heel for the group and much of the best stuff the CWF produced revolved around his own antics (Although to be fair Gilbert was unlike many bookers who pushed only themselves to the exclusion of other talented performers, Gilbert gave healthy pushes to many in the CWF. Seemingly everyone in the CWF had some sort of storyline while Gilbert was booker.). Some of Gilbert’s exploits include his attack on Willie B. Hert’s teenage son. Gilbert also attacked longtime area star Burrhead Jones, who was retired at the time, and mauled him. Gilbert and Dangerously attacked a photographer. Eddie also threw fire at Austin Idol. Gilbert even took a challenge from the audience to anyone who thought they could defeat him in the ring. (Eddie called this the $50,000 Golden Challenge. The angle was an oft-used tactic in the territories over the years and also an angle very reminiscent of the A.T. shows Eddie’s grandfather worked.) After being insulted by Dangerously and Gilbert, Eddie destroyed the hapless victim (who in reality was Eddie’s longtime friend, John Gilliam).
The CWF received national TV exposure on FNN (the Financial News Network). Fans from all over the country caught onto the hottest action in the U.S. during 1988 when they watched the Eddie Gilbert-booked CWF. Wrestling’s underground media, which had developed into weekly newsletters that detailed behind the scenes happenings in most all promotions, and it’s readership fell in love with the CWF. These fans branded Gilbert’s CWF as the best in the States for 1988 hailing Gilbert as specially talented as a booker since his obvious love of the business, which often seemed to only grow stronger as he grew older, shone through in his in-ring and behind-the-scenes work. Most importantly, Gilbert turned the fortunes of the company around financially as the gates to house shows increased almost overnight.
Gilbert, as booker, devised a tournament to name a new CWF champion, that would build over the summer and conclude in the early fall. The tournament would not see it’s conclusion be booked by Gilbert. He fell out of favor with Woods and left the promotion, along with Hyatt, brother Doug and Dangerously. Eddie’s departure from the CWF remains cloudy as Woods would claim Eddie worked dates outside the CWF when he claimed he was injured while Eddie would say internal squabbles would drive him out of the promotion. The CWF would continue without Eddie but the momentum the promotion gained during the summer of 1988 stalled when Hot Stuff walked away.
Chronological Eddie Gilbert title history
(through 1988) From Duncan and Will’s Wrestling Title Histories, Fourth Edition, 2000
March 3, 1980, Tulsa, OK, won Tri-State tag titles with Tommy Gilbert over Steve Lawler & Siegfried Stanke managed by Skandor Akbar.
Date unknown, 1980, location unknown, with Tommy Gilbert lost Tri-State tag titles to Doug Somers & Ron McFarlane managed by Skandor Akbar.
Date unknown, 1980, location unknown, won Tri-State tag titles with Tommy Gilbert over Doug Somers & Ron McFarlane managed by Skandor Akbar.
Date unknown, 1980, forfeits Tri-State tag titles when Tommy Gilbert is injured. Chief Frank Hill & Terry Orndorff win a subsequent tournament.
August 25, 1980, Louisville, KY, won Southern tag titles with Tommy Gilbert from Killer Karl Krupp & El Mongol managed by Jimmy Hart.
September 15, 1980, Memphis, TN, Tommy & Eddie Gilbert lost Southern tag titles to Sonny King & The Angel.
October, 1980, exact date and location unknown, won Southern tag titles with Tommy Gilbert from Sonny King & The Angel.
October 27, 1980, Memphis, TN, Tommy & Eddie Gilbert lost Southern tag titles to Larry Latham & Bill Irwin managed by Jimmy Hart.
June, 1981, locale unknown, won Tri-State tag titles with Ricky Morton from Jerry Brown & Ron McFarlane managed by Skandor Akbar. (This title switch is unverified and the title history at this point in time is murky.)
August 31, 1981, Memphis, TN, won Southern tag titles with Ricky Morton from Masa Fuchi & Mr. Onita.
September, 1981, exact date and location unknown, Eddie Gilbert & Ricky Morton lose Southern tag titles to Nightmare & Speed.
January 14, 1982, Kansas City, KS, won Central States tag titles with Ricky Romero from Jerry Brown & Ron McFarlane.
January 25, 1982, Wichita, KS, with Ricky Romero lost Central States tag titles to Roger Kirby & Jerry Valiant.
June 5, 1982, San Juan, Puerto Rico, won WWC North American tag titles with Tommy Gilbert from Rex & Spot: The Moondogs.
August 14, 1982, San Juan, Puerto Rico, with lost WWC North American tag titles to The Fabulous Kangaroos: Don Kent & Johnny Heffernan.
March 26, 1984, Memphis, TN, won Southern tag titles with Tommy Rich as The New Fabulous Ones by defeating The Pretty Young Things: Norvell Austin & Koko Ware after the titles had been held up previously.
June 18, 1984, Memphis, TN, Eddie Gilbert & Tommy Rich lose Southern tag titles to The Masked Spoiler & Phil Hickerson.
August 27, 1984, Memphis, TN, managed by Jimmy Hart, won CWA International title from Tommy Rich.
September 17, 1984, Memphis, TN, managed by Jimmy Hart, lost CWA International title to Dutch Mantel.
September 23, 1984, Memphis, TN, managed by Jimmy Hart, won CWA International title by forfeit over Dutch Mantel after Mantel is attacked by The Nightmares.
January 27, 1985, Memphis, TN, managed by Jimmy Hart, won Southern title from Jerry Lawler.
February 12, 1985, Memphis, TN, loses Southern title to Jerry Lawler, forcing manager Jimmy Hart to leave Tennessee.
November 11, 1985, New Orleans, LA, wins Mid-South tag titles with The Nightmare (Randy Colley) from Al Perez and Wendell Cooley.
December 26, 1985, Biloxi, MSP, with Dick Murdoch (substitute for The Nightmare) loses Mid-South tag titles to Ted DiBiase & Steve Williams.
July 20, 1986, Tulsa, OK, with Sting, win UWF tag titles from The Fantastics: Bobby Fulton & Tommy Rogers.
August 17, 1986, Tulsa, OK, with Sting, UWF tag titles held up following a match against The Fantastics: Bobby Fulton & Tommy Rogers.
August 31, 1986, Tulsa, OK, with Sting, win held-up UWF tag titles in a match against The Fantastics: Bobby Fulton & Tommy Rogers.
March 8, 1987, Tulsa, OK, wins UWF TV title from Savannah Jack.
August 3, 1987, Morgan City, LA, loses UWF TV title to Shane Douglas.
Part two of this article discusses the last half of Eddie’s career including his return to the NWA, his returns to Memphis, his stay with the GWF and his involvement in the early days of ECW. Part one left off in the fall of 1988 after Eddie had left the CWF. CWF officials claim Eddie worked outside the territory when he claimed he was too injured to work for the CWF, Eddie said he left the CWF because the internal squabbling was more than he wanted to deal with anymore.
Good Times, Bad Times
It didn’t take long for Eddie to find steady employment. He returned to the NWA promotion, which by this time was being bought out by media mogul Ted Turner. In the fall of 1988, Gilbert returned and found himself first avenging the injury of “friend” Jim Garvin (how Garvin and Gilbert were friends was never established) at the hands of Kevin Sullivan, Mike Rotondo and Rick Steiner, a trio billed as The Varsity Club whom Gilbert referred to as The Home Shopping Club. Whatever momentum he could gain from working with this crew was cut off as Steiner was being turned babyface by booker Dusty Rhodes, although Gilbert’s past association with Steiner was mentioned. Gilbert wound up teaming with Ron Simmons in the U.S. tag title tournament and losing in the finals on the nationally televised Clash of the Champions telecast on December 7, 1988 from Chattanooga, Tennessee to the Fantastics (Tommy Rogers & Bobby Fulton). 1989 started with the NWA in a flux. Booker Dusty Rhodes was let go and the search for his replacement began. In the meantime, weekly TV had to be cranked out as the new ownership tried to get it’s bearings after years of Rhodes’ booking had nearly bankrupted Crockett which lead to his selling of the company to Turner. Eddie found himself entangled in a mini-feud against the Four Horsemen duo of Barry Windham and Nature Boy Ric Flair. Gilbert gave Windham fits on TV one week and Windham’s saving grace was the interference of Flair. Undeterred, Gilbert vowed a mystery partner the following week to battle Windham and Flair.
The next week found Flair and Windham waiting in the ring anxious to battle Gilbert and his mystery partner. Flair grew upset when music began airing that he recognized signaling an old rival had returned to create grief in his life. Eddie’s mystery partner turned out to be Ricky Steamboat, a Flair rival dating back to 1977. In a fantastic TV tag match, Steamboat pinned Flair as Gilbert held off Windham setting up a series of Flair-Steamboat matches that may never be rivaled again in the U.S. The Flair-Steamboat feud breathed new life into the NWA which had all but died in 1988 and at least some of the success the NWA achieved in 1989 (the company had a banner year artistically) should be attributed to Gilbert’s work at getting over Flair and Steamboat early in the year.
Former Mid-Atlantic and WWF booker George Scott took over the creative reigns of the NWA. Scott’s stay lasted just a few months before he was let go. In his place a booking committee was formed that during various times would include such wrestling luminaries as Jim Ross, Ric Flair, Jim Cornette, Jim Crockett, Jr., Jim Barnette, Kevin Sullivan and others including Gilbert, added no doubt due to his UWF and CWF booking success. In ring, Gilbert wound up feuding some with Kevin Sullivan. Gilbert reunited with Rick Steiner to win the U.S. tag titles while Missy Hyatt was reintroduced into things as a manager and, for a brief time, The First Family was reformed. In the spring of 1989 Gilbert also had a brief run against The Great Muta, one of the business’s hottest attractions at the time. The summer found Gilbert reuniting some with Sting but it was only an attempt to raise Sting to an even higher level as Sting would eventually be paired with Ric Flair against Muta and the legendary Terry Funk as Sting was being groomed to become the company’s major star. Gilbert’s partnership with Rick Steiner ended when Rick’s brother, Scott, debuted in WCW. Missy, who also had a TV role as an announcer, was added as their manager. Eddie, meantime, began to slip into mid-card status.
Eddie’s fall from the main events can be attributed to office politics. The committee approach to booking was loaded with landmines. Committee members had their own agendas. Often members were pitted against each other. Friendships were tossed aside in favor of power. Flair ascended to the head booker slot eliminating the need for a committee and leaving Gilbert to test his wares in the ring. It is fair to say from this point forward Gilbert’s views toward the committee approach of booking and in particular the machinations of Jim Ross, Kevin Sullivan and Ric Flair in such an environment left him very disillusioned and disappointed with the whole process.
Eddie remained in the NWA (to eventually be renamed WCW) for a few more months but was never used to his potential. Gilbert played a subtle heel in a few exciting TV matches with Brian Pillman. The short series featured several controversial finishes but after a few of these decisions, Pillman got a decisive win and the mini-feud was dropped. Gilbert also feuded some with Samoan Samu (notable for Samu hitting Gilbert with a pineapple in an interview segment with Jim Cornette). Eddie also reunited with Tommy Rich for some tag matches against Samu and Joel Deaton and also against The Samoan Swat Team: The Samoan Savage & Fatu. By 1990, Eddie’s life was drastically changing. He packed up and left WCW. His marriage to Hyatt had fallen apart and ended in divorce. As he often did when the road turned an unsure way, he returned to Tennessee to try to get his bearings after being one of the first, but hardly last, victims of the corporate train wreck known as WCW.
Eddie Gilbert’s return to Memphis was clouded with controversy. Some say he used injuries to get out of his contract with WCW and then quickly returned to ring action once out of the contract. If this is the case it placed doubt on whether or not Gilbert was injured seriously at all. Such controversy had followed Gilbert for awhile and would prove to be a frequent companion to Gilbert. Gilbert would turn to wrestling’s underground press (another controversial move at the time) to explain his side of the story. While it was a move frowned on by many in the business since wrestlers had traditionally not broken character to anyone outside the business it was a move that endeared Eddie to many who counted on the underground press to provide them with insights into a world they knew little about but longed to understand better.
Eddie’s 1990 Memphis run remains underrated. He returned and said he was back in Memphis so Jerry Lawler could pass the torch of the area’s top wrestler to him like Jackie Fargo had passed the torch to Lawler. Eddie’s fascination with this angle even lead to him hiring a manager for much of his Memphis stay in 1990 who was billed as Sam Bass Lowe. Sam Bass, of course, was Lawler’s longtime manager. In reality, Gilbert and Lowe, a photographer, were longtime friends. It was just one of several memorable moments during Eddie’s 1990 Memphis stay.
As the Gilbert-Lawler feud kicked in, a major hardcore angle was plotted by Gilbert and Lawler. Eddie and brother Doug would be “fired” by promoter Eddie Marlin during the weekly live Memphis TV show. The Gilberts would argue with Marlin who would begin leading them out of the studio and into the parking lot. As Doug left to retrieve their transportation Eddie continued to argue with Marlin. The argument escalated as Eddie shoved Marlin to the ground and verbally assaulted him. Lawler raced out of the building forcing Eddie to back away to the waiting car. Eddie hopped in the car, gunned the engine and sent a speeding auto directly for Marlin and Lawler. Marlin gets out of the way but the Gilberts hit Lawler, who takes a tumble onto the car’s hood and windshield. The Gilberts then speed away as wrestlers rush out to check on Lawler.
Viewers were stunned. Some viewers called an ambulance to assist Lawler. Others called the police to report a hit and run. Lawler, literally bruised and battered from the incident, returned to the TV show a few minutes later to show fans he was not injured seriously which took the heat off Gilbert with the police but may have also hurt the angle in the short run by spoiling the intended level of deviousness of Gilbert’s deed. During the 1990 Memphis run Eddie often teamed with brother Doug and also some with Dirty White Boy Tony Anthony. Eddie even teamed a few times with Hollywood John Tatum, whom he once competed with for the affections of Missy Hyatt in real life. The Gilberts and their partners mainly feuded with Lawler and Bill Dundee. Eddie served as booker during part of 1990 for Memphis. He had lofty goals for the fall of the year. The USWA title had been in turmoil much of the summer and Eddie, as booker, felt a tournament with several quality wrestlers and the proper build-up would mean something. Eddie played the event up by bringing in several stars who had either never worked the territory or rarely worked the territory such as Dick Murdoch, Dick Slater, Mark Callous (who would leave afterwards to begin his stint as the WWF’s Undertaker), Terry Funk and Steve Keirn. He also threw in area veterans such as himself, Lawler, Dundee, Gary Young, Austin Idol, Jeff Jarrett and others.
The result was one of the biggest crowds and largest gates the territory had seen in several years. The tournament was well-booked providing great drama and some surprises with Lawler winning the tournament. Politics reared it’s ugly head again though as some of the talent wasn’t pleased with how they were booked by Gilbert. Gilbert turned in his booking pencil but remained in the area. As 1991 came around Gilbert found himself working with and against such talent as Robert Fuller, Eric Embry, Dr. Tom Prichard, Tony Anthony and even a rising star known as Steve Austin. One of the highlights of this time frame was the return to the area of The Fabulous Ones: Steve Keirn and Stan Lane with their new manager Jim Cornette. This time the Fabs did turn heel and Gilbert often faced them in tag matches.
While Gilbert continued to work USWA cards he also found himself traveling north to work frequent dates in Philadelphia. Philadelphia had become a city that liked their certain brand of wrestling. Philadelphia fans didn’t care for wrestlers who phoned in an in-ring performance. If you busted your rear-end you were not only appreciated but in some cases, worshipped. For years, the WWF (and their predecessor, the WWWF) had operated regular cards in Philadelphia. As the business changed in the mid-1980s, Jim Crockett, Jr.’s NWA began running shows there and attracted fans who liked the wild action the NWA provided (compared to the cartoon-like product the WWF pushed at this time). By 1990 though the WWF and WCW provided action many longtime Philadelphia fans found boring. The independent wrestling scene, in search of wrestling it craved, began to thrive in the city.
With no ties to either major group Eddie was free to work such independent groups. He began working for the Tri-State Wrestling Alliance in 1990. During September he squared off with a relative newcomer many fans were raving about billed as Cactus Jack. Later in 1990, the Gilbert-Lawler feud found it’s way to Philadelphia with Lawler taking a win. Since Gilbert’s style favored brawling he was often matched against fellow brawler Cactus Jack in his Philadelphia appearances in 1991. During the year Gilbert and Jack would engage in a feud that would get fans talking about the physical punishment the two inflicted on each other. The highlight of their feud was a best of three falls match on August 3, 1991 with each fall having a different and unique stipulation. The first fall was a “Falls Count Anywhere” match won by Jack. The second fall was a “Stretcher Match” won by Gilbert. The third fall was a “Steel Cage Match” which wound up a double disqualification. The matches caught the attention of a lot of fans and even some personnel in WCW. The matches against Gilbert helped seal a WCW offer to Jack. WCW also offered a deal to Gilbert, who initially agreed to return but then backed out fearful WCW, back under the booking control of Dusty Rhodes, would misuse him like they had earlier.
1991 also found Eddie’s personal life changing as he married female superstar Debra Miceli, known in the business as Madusa. (Later known as Alundra Blayze in the WWF.) The marriage only lasted four months. Eddie also traveled to Japan during the fall of 1991 to work some dates for the W*ING group. Global Warming
By October 1991 Eddie traveled into Texas to work with the fledgling Global Wrestling Federation (GWF). The GWF had been formed with intentions on becoming a major player in the American wrestling scene. The group claimed to have serious major financial backing. They even brokered a deal with cable network ESPN to air original TV shows five afternoons a week. To seal the TV deal, GWF personnel lead by former WCW announcer and longtime Atlanta announcer Joe Pedicino purchased the USWA syndicated TV network from Jerry Jarrett providing dozens of TV clearances for the GWF TV product. The promotion was based in one of wrestling’s most famous venues, the Dallas (Texas) Sportatorium, renamed the Global Dome. For awhile the group did quite well and provided work for some talented performers such as Al Perez, Makhan Singh (who had worked WCW as Norman the Lunatic), Skandor Akbar, Cactus Jack and others. The group also provided breaks for promising talent such as The Masked Patriot (Del Wilkes), Scott Anthony (later ECW’s Raven), The Lightning Kid (later 1-2-3 Kid/Syxx/X-Pac), The Handsome Stranger (later Buff Bagwell), Jerry Lynn and others.
Eddie came into the GWF and won a TV title tournament by downing The Handsome Stranger. The next day Gilbert flew from Dallas to Memphis with the title to challenge USWA champion Jerry Lawler. During his GWF stay, Eddie brought in brother Doug to work under a mask as The Dark Patriot in a program against GWF North American champion The Patriot. Eddie would end up booking the GWF.
As all this was ongoing, Eddie found himself smack dab in the middle of a controversy in WCW, where he wasn’t even employed. Gilbert had heard of a secretive deal involving WCW and Jerry Jarrett’s USWA with a proposed world title match pitting WCW champion Lex Luger against Memphis icon Jerry Lawler. He mentioned the deal in passing to Lawler. Lawler, fearful the deal would be made public if the underground press, whom he knew Gilbert was chummy with, picked up the story, was furious. When word got back to WCW that Gilbert knew of the deal, fingers were pointed at Gilbert friend Paul E. Dangerously, who was serving as a WCW announcer. Dangerously was then let go, only to be reinstated a few weeks later for a major run managing Ravishing Rick Rude, Larry Zbyszko, Stunning Steve Austin, Enforcer Arn Anderson, Beautiful Bobby Eaton and former Gilbert wife Madusa as The Dangerous Alliance.
Gilbert, meanwhile continued booking the GWF. He was able to put former WWF front office employee Bruce Prichard to work as a manager. Prichard had a big run in the WWF as Brother Love but had known Gilbert from their days together in the UWF when Prichard served as second-string announcer to Jim Ross. Prichard, as manager, placed a bounty on Gilbert during his GWF stay turning Gilbert into a fan favorite. Eddie then squared off against Prichard’s top charge, The Dark Patriot, Doug Gilbert under a mask. Gilbert even found work for long time friend, Sam Lowe. He brought Lowe into the GWF, renamed him Sam Esposito, and made him a heel referee. With Gilbert’s booking, the GWF was an entertaining product. Trouble was looming though. The promotion was heavily reliant on their TV show. House show business had not been successful for the GWF, and with the bad press professional wrestling was receiving in the traditional press due to a series of scandals, business was bad all over. Expenses mounted for the group. By April 1992, GWF owner Max Andrews began cutting expenses and let announcers Joe Pedicino, Boni Blackstone and Craig Johnson go, along with Gilbert. On his final night in the GWF, Gilbert grabbed the microphone and in a shoot-style (meaning it was based on reality not a storyline) promo ran down Andrews and his cost-cutting measures. The GWF replaced Gilbert with longtime area star Skandor Akbar as booker. The GWF would continue but the excitement was gone and most of the talent that remained was unproved or stale to the Dallas fans. The company would fold for good later in the year.
Doors Open and Doors Close
The day after his GWF departure Gilbert showed up on the live Memphis TV show with the GWF North American belt (calling it the GWF World title) and challenged USWA champion Jerry Lawler to a title vs. title match. With this move, Eddie returned to Memphis. The next few months saw Gilbert in his old stomping grounds.
Eddie ran into a feud in July against one time tag partner Ricky Morton over the USWA title. The feud lead to Eddie attacking Ricky’s father, area refereeing legend Paul Morton and later to the return of brother Doug to help Eddie. To even the odds, Morton summoned long time tag partner Robert Gibson to reform the Rock n Roll Express to feud with the Gilberts, who were managed in some of these matches by father Tommy.
In August, the WWF ran a house show in Memphis. USWA star Jeff Jarrett appeared at the show in the audience. He eventually got a microphone and challenged WWF star Bret Hart sending shockwaves throughout the business. The move signaled the apparent willingness of the WWF to work with other wrestling organizations, a move they had shunned since 1983. While the move paved the way for Jarrett to enter the WWF and also later for Lawler to go there as well (despite his many and vociferous statements that he would never work for the WWF) they were the only Memphis area stars to directly benefit from the WWF-USWA partnership at this time. Gilbert though did participate in a September match against WWF star Sgt. Slaughter in Memphis to further the WWF-USWA relationship. Gilbert would leave Memphis in the fall. He spent a few weeks wrestling in Germany. Changes though were afoot for him in 1993.
Gilbert could still depend on wrestling in Philadelphia although things there had changed some. During the early part of 1992, Gilbert’s Philadelphia employer, the Tri-State Wrestling Alliance, headed by Joel Goodhart, folded. Following Tri-State’s demise, Tod Gordon began promoting wrestling under the banner of ECW (Eastern Championship Wrestling). By 1993 he was ready to step things up in his promotion. Gordon named Gilbert ECW booker.
Gilbert was esteemed by Philadelphia fans. He rarely disappointed them in his matches. He worked hard. He was funny and inventive on interviews. One of his most remembered interviews from the Philadelphia days had him wearing a crown and robe in a busy part of downtown Philadelphia. As a booker, he often emulated the Tennessee style of action he grew up watching but took it to a much more extreme tangent. In so doing, the Philadelphia fans felt as if Gilbert wanted to please them, the fans who loved professional wrestling on a level above those fans who only casually followed the business and who seemingly mandated the watered down product of the country’s two largest wrestling companies, the WWF and WCW. Gilbert’s relationship with the Philadelphia fans seemed to fly in the face of the braintrusts running WWF and WCW who appeared to go out of their way to continually ignore and disappoint the longtime fans of the business. Eddie was, they felt, a true star, not a prima donna working for some of the other companies. He was born to be in the business and belonged there. He didn’t get in the business because some trainer saw him on the beach and felt they could make a buck with him because he had the physical requirements (but not necessarily the love of the business and it’s history) to do well in the business. Eddie loved the business, warts and all, good and bad. He lived it, he ate it and he breathed it, just like the Philly fans did, and in so doing, it made him one of them.
With ECW (sometimes referred to as Eddie’s Championship Wrestling), Eddie was able to book such talent as Paul E. Dangerously (let go again by WCW), Superfly Jimmy Snuka, Terry Funk, Don Muraco and local talent such as The Sandman, J.T. Smith and others. Gilbert even found room for Kevin Christian, son of Jerry Lawler, to work as Freddie Gilbert.
Eddie’s ECW run at one time saw him owning 49% of the company. Gordon though was wanting to make changes. Dangerously did work some ECW shows during the year but most of the year saw him trying to get a new promotion off the ground in Texas with Jim Crockett, Jr. The effort would not fly and, by October, Gordon wanted Dangerously brought into ECW. Gilbert, Gordon and Dangerously could not agree on the direction the company needed to go, so, Eddie resigned. On his last night in the promotion Gilbert announced he was leaving and then asked Philadelphia fans to continue to support ECW. Apparently smarting from the split with his employer (Gordon) and from his one-time CWF booking assistant (Dangerously, who no doubt learned a lot at the feet of Gilbert during their 1988 CWF tenure), he then sold his wrestling gear at the back of the arena claiming he was through with the business.
Gilbert though was not finished with wrestling or with controversy. In November he and brother Doug worked some dates for the W*ING promotion in Japan. Doug was working as Freddy Krueger while Eddie was working as Michael Myers. Krueger and Myers are both horror movie characters. Feeling they and others were being misused there by the promotion (led by Victor Quinones) Doug and Eddie decided to quit the promotion—in the middle of a match. Doug allowed Eddie to roll him up unexpectedly and win the match (the finish was scheduled to see Doug win.). Eddie and Doug then unmasked, revealed they were brothers and told the fans the promotion was low class and then pledged their allegiance to Shohei Baba’s All-Japan Wrestling, the premier wrestling organization in Japan, if not the world at this point in time. The move was controversial and sealed their departure from W*ING and probably any other major group in Japan. During 1993 Eddie also worked a few dates in Minnesota for the NWA (which had split with the Ted Turner-owned WCW). Eddie and his dad, Tommy, also made an April appearance at the National Wrestling Collectors Association convention in Nashville. Eddie, who gave a brief speech thanking the veterans of the business for all they had done for the business, was well-received, especially by those he honored. In attendance were several former mat stars, many of whom Eddie had grown up watching such as Don and Al Greene, Jim White, Len Rossi, Buddy Wayne and others.
The Last Great Run
Back in Memphis as the year wound down, Toni Adams, ex-wife of Chris Adams, had just fallen out of favor with the man she had managed, Brian Christopher. Toni hooked up with Doug Gilbert and, in a surprise, a few weeks before Christmas, brought in Eddie to help her in her vendetta against Christopher (the unacknowledged son of Jerry Lawler). Adams managed the Gilberts for a few weeks, as did Chris “Big Business” Brown, but soon a slow building storyline began taking shape involving Eddie and Jerry Lawler. The Memphis promotion decided to honor it’s glorious past with a March house show at the Mid-South Coliseum called
“Monday Night Memories
Several vignettes were aired to promote the event that featured highlights of Memphis stars from days gone by, complete with a brief history of the TV show and promotion. Figurehead promoter Eddie Marlin then announced the “Monday Night Memories” card would be topped off with a Memphis Hall of Fame ceremony.
The Gilbert-Lawler feud began cooking again with Gilbert chasing Lawler and his USWA title. Eddie defeated Lawler in a Texas Death Match making him the number one contender to the title. Despite this, Eddie claimed Lawler wanted nothing to do with him and along with promoter Eddie Marlin was conspiring against him. Gilbert then said he had to get on his knees and beg Marlin to give him a title match. He said he even offered to put up his hair, his car and his house to get a shot at Lawler’s title but Lawler had refused all such offers. Lawler did suggest though that Gilbert put a black and silver ring jacket on the line.
The jacket belonged to Lawler’s manager from the 1970s, Sam Bass. Gilbert then insinuated that Bass, who died in a 1976 automobile accident, had a drinking problem that lead to the accident. Eddie then said his dad, Tommy, ended up with the jacket when one night years ago Bass approached him and sold the jacket for twenty dollars, implying Sam needed the money to buy alcohol.
Lawler, wearing an exact copy of the jacket, told a different story. Lawler told the fans that Tommy Gilbert borrowed the jacket from Bass one night when Gilbert had forgotten his own ring jacket and never returned it. Lawler said if anyone deserved possessing the jacket, it was him since Bass had been his manager. Lawler then relayed how Bass (and Pepe Lopez and Frank Hester) died in a car accident (Lawler apparently didn’t remember all the facts as he claimed he had wrestled NWA champion Harley Race in Memphis the night Bass died in July 1976. The only problem is that Race was not NWA champion in 1976.) and how the jacket did mean something to him and that he wanted it back to avenge Bass’s honor which was being smeared by Gilbert’s accusations. To add an exclamation point to his side of the story, Lawler brought out Superstar Bill Dundee, who was around to work a WCW card in Tupelo, Mississippi, to verify his story.
Gilbert won the USWA title and retained the ring jacket. Lawler wanted another shot. Now it was Eddie’s turn to make the demands. Eddie was willing to put up Bass’s ring jacket against Lawler’s ring jacket and the Lord of the Rings ring Lawler had won a few years earlier. Eddie claimed he would win the match, the ring and the other jacket. He would give Bass’s jacket to his brother Doug then he would take Lawler’s jacket for himself and, symbolically, a new generation of wrestlers would begin ruling the Memphis wrestling scene lead by the Gilberts. To get over how important the jackets were to Eddie, he showed old photos of Lawler wearing the jacket causing Dave Brown to wonder how Gilbert had come across these old photos, suggesting Gilbert was obsessed with Lawler. Eddie, with a faraway look in his eyes, shrugged Brown’s comments off.
Lawler won the rematch but Eddie wound up with both jackets. On the TV show, Eddie Marlin demanded Gilbert return the jackets. Gilbert came out with yet another photo, this one of Bass wearing the ring jacket. He then showed a photo, obviously doctored, of Bass, whom Gilbert said had a drinking problem, offering Lawler, whom Gilbert claimed had never drank alcohol, a bottle of beer. Marlin grew outraged, called Gilbert a Lawler wanna-be and demanded that Gilbert return the ring jackets before the end of the TV show or be fired. Gilbert shrugged off Marlin’s demands and said he would get revenge against Lawler in a scheduled TV match where Lawler would put up his crown against Gilbert’s mother’s van. Marlin did a double take and wondered out loud if Gilbert’s mother knew her son was risking her van. Again, Eddie lost. As Lawler took the keys to Peggy Gilbert’s van, Eddie pitched a fit. Lawler got to the van, taunted Eddie and then stepped underneath the driver’s seat. As Lawler became comfortable in his new vehicle, Eddie rushed out and repeatedly threw a fire extinguisher at the windshield causing Lawler to be blinded.
The ring jackets were still an issue though. Gilbert still had to return them. Eddie came out with the jackets and had a zoned-out look on his face. He began rambling about how the right thing to do was to return the jackets. Gilbert then turned his attention back to the jackets and said if he couldn’t keep the jackets no one would. He then pulled out a pair of scissors and snipped one of the jackets to shreds. Lawler rushed out furious that his memento tied to an old friend had been destroyed and cut a short, yet strong, promo on Gilbert. As “Monday Night Memories” approached, the promotion was able to bring longtime announcer Lance Russell back after a five year absence. With Russell’s return, it was announced the promotion would make the first Memphis Hall of Fame induction on the TV show.
Eddie ran out after the announcement all excited saying his dad would be so proud about being placed in the Hall of Fame. Of course, no one had said anything about Tommy Gilbert being placed in the Hall of Fame. As Lance and co-host Dave Brown tried to explain this, Eddie rushed away saying he would call his dad to make sure he was on his way from Lexington (a hundred miles away) to accept the honor before the TV show ended.
A few minutes later, Lance along with Jerry Lawler were set to make the first induction into the Hall. The first induction was not Tommy Gilbert but Lawler’s one-time manager Sam Bass. A plaque was given to Lawler and a photo of Bass was left at the desk. Moments later, Eddie and Doug rush out furious that Lawler had stolen their spotlight and that Bass, not their dad was the first Hall of Fame inductee. They then break the glass frame holding Bass’s photo and rip the photo to shreds. Lawler and Brian Christopher run out to chase them away.
The feud was a classic on several different levels. The mic work, especially by Gilbert, was nothing short of incredible. The angle played out over the course of a few weeks and actually built interest in the “Monday Night Memories” show. The angle also dug deep into the history of the territory and helped introduce new fans to the history of the classic Memphis promotion while at the same time proved to be a nice payoff for fans who had followed the promotion for years. The angle also had some truth attached as Gilbert and many of his fans felt as if it was indeed time for Gilbert to get his time at the top replacing Lawler. Such shoot-like angles, not so common then, became more commonplace in the business as the 1990s progressed.
“Monday Night Memories” was a major success. Longtime office employee Randy Hales was credited for much of the success of the event. Due to his hard work he was rewarded with the head booker job. Eddie, upset because he had been passed over for the job, quit the promotion for a few weeks.
Eddie’s disappearance lasted a few weeks before he came back. This time he came back as a fan favorite. There was a reason for this. Eddie was trying his hand at another venture other than professional wrestling. The other venture was politics. Eddie ran for County Clerk in the May 3rd Henderson County, Tennessee Republican primary. Eddie, who was a political buff from high school and whose mother had been involved in Henderson County politics for years, lost in his bid to win the election, finishing sixth in a field of six. After the election, Gilbert, who turned face in order to portray a nicer image for his political campaign, turned heel again. Eddie remained in the area until June when he left the territory for good. Hales made Troy Graham, once a star in the territory as The Dream Machine, lead heel. Eddie, feeling he should have been offered that role, left. Ironically, Graham left the territory a few months later in August.
Eddie then got a call from Dutch Mantel. Dutch was booking the Puerto Rico territory and wanted Eddie to work some dates for him. Gilbert agreed and worked in front of some of the biggest crowds Puerto Rico had seen in years. Despite the good crowds there Gilbert appeared for a few months before telling Mantel not to book him anymore.
As the fall came, Eddie turned his attention to the NWA title tournament in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He competed in the tournament but failed to win the tournament. Eddie also worked some for a Jackson, Tennessee (Jackson is the nearest major city to Eddie’s hometown of Lexington) news radio station providing political commentary during the November political season. As the year wound down, Eddie disappeared from sight. He apparently tried to get work in the Memphis office again but his lack of reliability did not appeal to anyone there. Longtime friends would go weeks without hearing from him. Finally, he turned to someone from his days as a budding photographer and wrestling magazine reporter for work.
The Bell Tolls
On January 2, 1995, Eddie Gilbert appeared at a Smoky Mountain Wrestling TV taping in Sevierville, Tennessee. SMW was operated by Jim Cornette, whom Gilbert met in the 1970s when both were ringside photographers. Their photos, and often articles, appeared in Wrestling News magazines and in programs around the Jarrett territory. Also working for SMW was another face Gilbert met at wrestling conventions in the 1970s, SMW referee Mark Curtis (Brian Hildebrand) In SMW, Gilbert appeared with Unabom (Glen Jacobs, the WWF’s Kane) and challenged The Rock n Roll Express: Robert Gibson and Ricky Morton. In one night, enough footage was shot for several weeks and immediately placed Eddie in the middle of a promising storyline with the area’s top babyface team.
Eddie would not return to SMW, solidifying his increasing reputation for burning bridges in the business. Dutch Mantel, who had left SMW in 1994 to book Puerto Rico was leaving there for a stint in the WWF. This left the booking slot open and Gilbert jumped at the chance to return to the place where his dad had first given him the chance to book, if only for a few weeks, in 1982. Ironically, this booking stint would also last a few weeks as well.
On February 17, in Humacao, Puerto Rico against a live bear, Gilbert wrestled his last match. While odd for the 1990s, the wrestling bear gimmick had been a staple of the Nick Gulas-promoted cards Eddie grew up watching. At the end of that night, Gilbert and his booking assistant, Ken Wayne, returned to their respective apartments in Isla Verde, Puerto Rico. The next morning Wayne was scheduled to meet Gilbert to discuss booking plans but Eddie did not show. Several times during the day, Wayne went to Gilbert’s apartment and knocked on the door, but no one answered. Finally, late in the afternoon, Wayne, the man who Gilbert ran his first major angle against, got into Gilbert’s apartment. Once inside, he found Eddie dead on his bed. Eddie Gilbert was 33 years old. He was survived by his mother and father, a brother and a sister.
Eddie’s funeral was held on February 24 in Lexington, Tennessee. Among those present were Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee, Tommy Rich, Terry Funk, Lance Russell, Dave Brown, Eddie Marlin, Sam Lowe, Randy Hales, Buddy Wayne and others. An estimated four hundred people attended the funeral. Eddie was buried with his wrestling boots and various wrestling memorabilia just outside Lexington.
The WWF and WCW, both recipients of Gilbert’s talents and both full of stars who were directly influenced by Gilbert, failed to recognize Gilbert’s death on their TV programs. The move showed their lack of class and lack of respect to one of the business’s biggest fans and most creative stars and to his fans. The USWA and ECW did provide video tributes on their TV shows (USWA, ECW, SMW and various independent promotions, the lifeblood of Eddie’s career since 1990, held house show tributes after his death). Other tributes would follow in the “dirt sheets” Eddie embraced at various times during his career.
Eddie’s death raised flags in some corners of the mainstream media. A few years earlier they had picked up on a story about the use of drugs in professional wrestling, including the use of steroids.
Anabolic steroids improved the physical appearance of the taker. The business of professional wrestling relied more and more on television from the 1980s forward. Since television is a visual medium, appearance or image became more important than ever. Bigger was better. By 1983, the business was beginning to rely more on image than athleticism as Hulk Hogan (who was influenced by one of the first steroid users in professional wrestling, Superstar Billy Graham) and The Road Warriors became household names, mainly because of their physical appearance. Professional wrestling was hardly a drug-free zone. The physical nature of the business is such that painkillers are needed for the relief they offer. The WWF throughout the 1980s, according to some who were there, had a ready supply of painkillers…and a rarely mentioned drug at this point in time, steroids. The WWF employed Dr. George Zahorian who often dished out such drugs, usually at TV tapings, in the dressing room.
After Eddie’s 1983 car accident he was in contact with WWF physician Dr. George Zahorian (ironically, in the 1983 TV angle where Gilbert was injured by The Masked Superstar, Zahorian made an appearance as attending physician). Eddie began picking up painkillers from Dr. Zahorian and steroids as well. Apparently, Eddie felt the pressure to bulk up some, maybe because of his lack of physical size or maybe because of limitations he felt the injuries would leave with him that he felt could be overcome by increasing his size. Eddie’s use of both the painkillers and steroids beginning in 1983 was now coming back to haunt him and his family, friends and fans at his death.
The media blitz about steroid usage began in the early 1990s as Dr. George Zahorian went on trial, charged with sixteen counts of various charges including distributing steroids. Of the sixteen counts, Zahorian was found guilty on twelve. Several current and former WWF stars testified that Zahorian had provided steroids to WWF stars. At the time wrestling’s underground press covered the story thoroughly. Normally such coverage by the “dirt sheets” didn’t create a panic since their subscription totals were only a drop in the bucket compared to the number of total wrestling fans. This time was different though as the mainstream media began to notice the Zahorian trial since such big names as Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper were bandied about during the trial (Piper testified, Hogan did not.). Both Hogan and Piper had achieved fame away from the ring which caused the mainstream media to pick up the story as opposed to their traditional stance of ridiculing the business. With the mainstream media smelling out the story, the WWF, Zahorian’s one-time employer, went into defense mode. After the trial they announced they would expand their drug testing program to include steroids. With the announcement, the hub-bub from the media died down although the WWF announcement was viewed by most in the business as nothing more than a public relations move.
1992 saw the steroid story dominate the wrestling business. Mainstream media clamped onto the story and in the process uncovered some more of wrestling’s unsavory side including cases of sexual harassment.
1993 saw Vince McMahon stand trial on charges that he conspired to distribute steroids. McMahon was judged “not guilty” but the media crush which had been building for several years had led to a closer examination of the professional wrestling business. It was noted that several wrestlers died at a young age, and some under suspicious circumstances, implying drug use and/or steroid abuse.
After Gilbert’s death, the media connected Gilbert with Vince McMahon and Dr. George Zahorian via the 1983 auto accident. Gilbert’s death was also sandwiched in between the deaths of two other wrestling stars, both of whom died young, Art Barr (died in December, 1994 at the age of twenty eight after mixing prescription medication and alcohol) and John Studd (died in March, 1995 at the age of forty seven from Hodgkins Disease, although he had testified at the Zahorian trial that he had taken steroids, a point the media quickly discovered). The media, a few years into exposing wrestling’s dirty laundry, speculated that such deaths could have been attributed to the lifestyle wrestlers live. It was a lifestyle where the performers must look superhuman for the TV cameras which could lead to steroid use which in turn could lead to serious health problems. It was a lifestyle where the physical pain from the day-to-day rigors of the business often led to use of deadly painkillers to ease the pain, and, in turn, could lead to addiction to such medicine. It was a lifestyle full of stress which often led to use of illegal drugs to release the tension. It was a lifestyle which saw performers disconnected from their families by their constant travel and, in turn, turned them into lonely figures who grew angry, depressed and withdrawn.
Those close to Eddie say he battled pain from the 1983 car accident the rest of his life, so, he did use painkillers. His brawling style only created more physical pain which likely caused more dependence on painkillers. Some say Eddie’s steroid use contributed to his death. Some say Eddie was still looking for a break with the WWF or WCW so he continued to push himself physically which, naturally, would lead to more wear and tear on his body, and more painkillers. While waiting for the return of Eddie’s body from Puerto Rico, Tommy Gilbert would reveal in a Jackson, Tennessee newspaper article that Eddie’s chest and heart were also injured during the 1983 auto accident and that Eddie was taking medicine for high blood pressure at the time of his death. Some would put all this together to conclude Eddie’s weak heart could not put up with the constant physical nature of wrestling added to use of the painkillers and medicine and that Eddie’s death was due to those factors. What led to Eddie’s death is a point that could be debated endlessly. For the record, medical personnel in Puerto Rico determined Gilbert died from a heart attack. Any other ideas about how Eddie Gilbert died is mere speculation.
The mainstream media, for all their vigor at uncovering wrestling scandal after scandal, eventually let go of the steroid story, and by implication, the story of Eddie’s death, for some other scandal elsewhere. The major wrestling companies in turn, for the most part, sensing the media heat had subsided over steroids and other drug usage, began selectively enforcing, if even that, the drug testing they were so adamant about when faced with heat from the media. The companies were free to ignore whatever problem existed, a policy they generally follow even to this day.
On June 10, 1995, the USWA promoted Memphis Memories II at the famed Mid-South Coliseum. Wrestlers from the past returned and several were inducted into the Memphis Hall of Fame. Among the inductees that night was Eddie Gilbert. His dad, Tommy, accepted the honor in his memory. In 1996, the first Eddie Gilbert Memorial Brawl occurred in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The event has occurred yearly since 1996 in several locations. Over the years it has featured such talented wrestlers as Tommy Rich, Debbie Combs (Debbie and especially her mother, Cora, were mainstays in the Nick Gulas-area Eddie grew up watching), Jerry Lawler, Al Snow (who replaced Eddie in SMW), NWA champion Dan Severn, King Kong Bundy, Marty Jannetty, Buddy Landell, Flash Funk, Sid Vicious, George Steele, Kronus, Public Enemy: Rocco Rock & Johnny Grunge, Dory Funk, Jr. and of course, Tommy and Doug Gilbert, as well as talented newcomers some of who no doubt were influenced by Eddie.
On August 5, 2000, Tommy and Doug Gilbert appeared and wrestled at the NWA World Wide card called Tennessee Legends in Nashville, Tennessee. They were also on hand to see Eddie inducted into their Hall of Fame. Years removed from Eddie’s untimely death, he is still remembered by fans all over the world and in his own backyard.
At a young age, Eddie Gilbert knew what he wanted to do with his life. He idolized his father and grandfather and the business of professional wrestling and many of it’s top stars. Despite his lack of physical size, he became a major name in the business. He helped break down barriers by his association with wrestling’s underground press. He became known as one of the most creative minds and most solid performers in the business. His antics, from shoot-style interviews (including his “I am the USWA” and “Jerry Lawler, This Is Your Life”, promos not discussed here) to his ground-breaking video shoot interview tape to some of the business’s most creative angles ever to unique hardcore matches, are the stuff fans still talk about today. Eddie’s career was also riddled with serious injuries and disappointments that may have had a deeper influence on Eddie than any of us will ever know. Yet, from a young age, Eddie Gilbert knew what he wanted to do with his life, and, at a young age, he did those things, and at a young age, he left us much too soon.
Now in the glare of modern professional wrestling’s spotlight, abounding with hardcore angles, hardcore matches and shoot-style interviews, the fans roar their approval, most of them unaware of the nearby shadows. There, in those shadows, reaching back two generations yet stretching forward and embracing those who look beyond the glare like a long lost friend, rests the legacy of Eddie Gilbert.
Chronological Eddie Gilbert title history (from 1989)
From Duncan and Will’s Wrestling Title Histories, Fourth Edition, 2000
February 28, 1989, Columbia, SC, with Rick Steiner win the NWA U.S. tag titles from Kevin Sullivan & Steve Williams.
April, 1989, NWA U.S. tag titles become inactive.
October 29, 1990, Memphis, TN, wins USWA Southern title from Jeff Jarrett.
December, 1990, Gilbert leaves the promotion leaving the USWA Southern title vacant. Jeff Jarrett would win a January Memphis tournament to name a new champion.
October 4, 1991, Dallas, TX, wins the GWF TV title after defeating The Handsome Stranger (Marcus Bagwell) in the finals of a six man tournament.
January 17, 1992, Dallas, TX, GWF TV title is held up after a match between champion Gilbert and challenger Terry Garvin.
January 24, 1992, Dallas, TX, wins the held-up GWF TV title defeating Terry Garvin.
March 20, 1992, Dallas, TX, Gilbert is stripped of the GWF TV title after hitting referee Sam Esposito (Sam Lowe).
March 27, 1992, Dallas, TX, wins GWF North American title from The Dark Patriot (Doug Gilbert).
May 24, 1992, Gilbert leaves the GWF with the GWF North American title and briefly defends it, as the GWF title, in the USWA where it is eventually unified with the USWA title.
June 15, 1992, Memphis, TN, wins USWA Unified World title from Jerry Lawler.
July 13, 1992, Memphis, TN, loses USWA Unified World title to Ricky Morton.
July 20, 1992, Memphis, TN, wins USWA Unified World title from Ricky Morton.
September 21, 1992, Memphis, TN, loses USWA Unified World title to Junkyard Dog.
August 7, 1993, Philadelphia, PA, with The Dark Patriot (Doug Gilbert) win vacant ECW tag titles from The Masked Super Destroyers.
October 1, 1993, Philadelphia, PA, ECW tag titles are awarded to Johnny Hot Body & Tony Stetson, after Eddie and Doug Gilbert leave ECW.
January 31, 1994, Memphis, TN, wins USWA Unified World title from Jerry Lawler.
February 7, 1994, Memphis, TN, loses USWA Unified World title to Jerry Lawler.
February 14, 1994, Memphis, TN, wins USWA Unified World title from Jerry Lawler.
March 14, 1994, Memphis, TN, wins USWA title (formerly USWA Southern title) from Brian Christopher.
March 19, 1994, Memphis, TN, loses USWA title (formerly USWA Southern title) to Brian Christopher via countout.
March 25, 1994, Senatobia, MSP, loses USWA Unified World title to Jerry Lawler.
April 23, 1994, Jonesboro, ARK, with Brian Christopher, wins USWA tag titles by defeating The Eliminators (Perry Saturn & John Kronus) in a tournament final.
May 2, 1994, Memphis, TN, Eddie Gilbert & Brian Christopher lose USWA tag titles to The Eliminators (Perry Saturn & John Kronus) managed by Bert Prentice.