Eddie Gilbert Best Small Man Award
Thomas Edward Gilbert, Jr.
(1961 - 1995)
"Hotstuff" Eddie Gilbert (Thomas Edward Gilbert, Jr.) born August 14, 1961 in Lexington, Ky.; died February 18, 1995 in Puerto Rico. He was billed in wrestling as being from "Every Girl's Dream, Every Woman's Fantasy and Every Man's Nightmare." Eddie was 5'10" and weighed 222 lbs.
"I don't mind losing a match if I can seriously injure someone along the way." - Eddie after the NWA World Title Tournament on November 19, 1994
"I grew up in South Florida. I remember watching the greatest wrestling show ever to be put on television in 1984, 1985, and 1986. Many fans might be reading what I am writing and thinking to themselves, yeah, I saw it too, Hulk Hogan was "Yellow and Red" and "Hulkamania" was sweeping the nation at awesome levels! Right now, I am shaking my head to signify, "NO!". But not just a silent "NO!" but a very loud angry "OH HELL NO!!". Because it wasn't WWF I am talking about, it is Florida Championship Wrestling.
Now why would I be talking about Florida Championship Wrestling in an Eddie Gilbert tribute? It was here I first caught a glimpse of this myth. I say myth because after you read this tribute introduction message, you are going to shake your head in disbelief and think, "He is building this guy up, this guy didn't have as much of an impact on pro-wrestling as he has suggested, no way, no how!". But the truth is, Eddie "Hot Stuff" Gilbert is the "FATHER" of Hardcore Wrestling. Eddie "Hot Stuff" Gilbert is the man who had the "VISION" to market Hardcore Wrestling nationally and he is the man who eventually led to the EXTREME CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING creating a REVOLUTION in 1994 and CHANGING the face of pro-wrestling forever!
With this written, Hulk Hogan can step aside, Hulk Hogan can stop trying to claim that he was the blonde bombshell that was the "FUTURE OF PRO WRESTLING" and Hulk Hogan can realize Pro-Wrestling was shaped, and molded, by another blonde bombshell who competed in the WWF even before Hogan came on the scene, "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert.
And in Florida Championship Wrestling I saw a video tape package of this myth pre-taped in Memphis when he started teaming up with Tommy Rich as the Fargo Fabulous One's. "Wildfire" Tommy Rich and Eddie "Hot Stuff" Gilbert may not have teamed up for a great deal of time, but these two wrestlers captured my imagination. And starting out as a wrestling fan back in 1984, I would have never in a gazillion years guessed in seventeen years I would be writing an article as a pro-wrestling journalist on a web page paying proper respect and honor for Eddie "Hot Stuff" Gilbert bringing his vision of how pro-wrestling should be broadcast and booked to the entire world!
That is why I am here today. Because Eddie "Hot Stuff" Gilbert is that myth, that legend, that unfathomable individual who had a dream and did not ever let his dream vanish. And at the tail end of his career he brought that dream to life, and turned over the reigns to that dream to Paul Heyman in Extreme Championship Wrestling. In 1994, ECW was born, and in 2001 WWF and WCW are patterned solely around Eddie "Hot Stuff" Gilbert's dream. If you are a pro-wrestling fan in 2001, you MUST be an Eddie Gilbert fan too." -- CJDark (Founder of LEWD E-ZINE)
How can one man's words do another man justice? Especially when talking about a legendary superstar such as Eddie Gilbert? Many claim wrestling was always in Eddie's blood. Many of you current wrestling fans never directly got to recognize the brilliance of Eddie. Or the booking style of Eddie Gilbert for that matter either. But through this tribute, we breath life back in to Eddie Gilbert, and Eddie Gilbert's vision, his dream, and all of his accomplishments. PRO WRESTLING WOULD NOT EXIST AS IT IS TODAY without Eddie Gilbert's passion, desire, and lust to make his dreams pay off!
Eddie "Hot Stuff" Gilbert was a true pioneer of "Hardcore" wrestling and he led the resurgence of pro-wrestling which exploded in 1997 after Vince McMahon and the WWF stole ideas, concepts, and talent from ECW. Vince McMahon and the WWF branded it "WWF Attitude". But many followers of ECW knew this was actually "THE REVOLUTION" playing to a national audience and the vision of Eddie "Hot Stuff" Gilbert.
THE EARLY YEARS, BEFORE HIS DREAM
Many state the dream was formed when Eddie Gilbert was a kid. He watched his father Tommy Gilbert wrestle a brutal style across the nation in various regional promotions. He was present for the first ever "Concession Stand Brawl" in Tupelo, Miss.
The only thing young Eddie ever wanted as a kid was to be like his father, and live up to his father's legend in this industry. He had a lust and a desire and a undeniable passion to one day become an "icon" in this business.
Gilbert idolized Jerry "The King" Lawler as a kid also. He grew up watching Lawler grow to enormous levels in the Memphis area. Some say Eddie wanted to one day be known as "THE KING OF MEMPHIS WRESTLING" himself.
This, Eddie arguably grew to be obsessed with during his entire wrestling career. Something he would never be able to reach, the top of the mountain in Memphis Championship Wrestling. Some even state this is what eventually drove Eddie Gilbert over the edge and led to his death at age 33.
But first, Eddie began his wrestling career when he was in high school teaming with his father around the country. He wrestled first as Tommy Gilbert Jr. around the circuit. Eddie even skipped his own graduation ceremony to tag team with his father one year. For Eddie, Graduation was secondary to being able to perform in the greatest business ever created, pro-wrestling.
Eddie Gilbert would do anything to stay in this business, when he wasn't wrestling he was handing out black and white glossies of his father at house shows. Or was writing for numerous wrestling publications as a pro wrestling journalist. He was once even a pro-wrestling photographer (and during this stint as a photographer young Eddie met another inspiring young journalist with a undeniable lust, desire, and passion to become the best in this business, a guy named Paul Heyman).
1975-1977. It was during this period, Eddie made his initial debut in pro wrestling as Tommy Gilbert Jr. and alongside his father Tommy Gilbert won his first Pro-Wrestling Championship in Puerto Rico. The WWC Tag Team Championship (World Wrestling Council run by Carlos Colon).
In 1978 Eddie was working for the Tennessee's Henderson County Times and he penned an article called, "Gilbert on the Grit". It during this period Eddie began to build connections in the industry. Those connections eventually allowed him to propel himself right in to the center of the wrestling world, at a very young age.
In 1979, Eddie debuted with Memphis Championship Wrestling on April 20th, and the day after his debut he graduated high school but skipped the actual graduation ceremony to wrestle on a house show instead. He quickly got respect and a reputation as a quick learner and a hard worker with tons of heart and dedication to improve.
In 1981 Eddie Gilbert debuted for the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) run by Vince McMahon Sr. Gilbert quickly was on his way to being one of the top draws in the old WWF territory when fate stepped in.
Eddie was involved in a fatal automobile accident which left him with numerous injuries (several broken bone's in his back and neck).
Gilbert was informed by doctors he would never be able to wrestle again and he should seriously consider retiring. Eddie however; did not listen to their advice and decided to stay in the business. It was at this point in his young career when Eddie Gilbert became reliant on pain medication to help him survive the grueling pro-wrestling schedule, and some purists argue this is what led to Eddie Gilbert's death at age 33.
Gilbert made his eventual return to the WWF in 1992 and was filmed with Bob Backlund in vignette's with Backlund training the "miracle man". These skits eventually led to The Masked Superstar attacking Gilbert and breaking his neck again (after a series of neck breakers) and led to Backlund taking on his arch rival The Masked Superstar. It was also considered one of the angle's which helped ignite the WWF territory all over again. This would not be the last time an Eddie Gilbert vignette set the wrestling world on fire.
1984 saw Eddie return to the Mid South region and was paired off with young upstart Tommy "Wildfire" Rich as "Fargo's Fabulous One's". The team was put together because the top draw in Memphis "Fabulous One's" (Lane and Keirn) had just given notice and left for Verne Gagne's American Wrestling Alliance, and Memphis needed a top drawing tag team. It was first thought if Jackie Fargo (Memphis legend) endorsed the new tag team, the fans would flock to the team and forget about the original version of the team. This did not pan out, and Gilbert eventually was turned heel breaking away from Tommy "Wildfire" Rich and igniting the Memphis area to new heights with his promotional skills and in ring work ethic.
It was during this heel turn Gilbert was paired up with longtime heel Jimmy Hart and the concept of the "First Family" was developed.
In 1985 Eddie Gilbert got his first victory of his idol Jerry "The King" Lawler and won the Mid-Southern Heavyweight Championship. Gilbert was on his way to the top of the Memphis area.
In 1986 Gilbert left Memphis to travel to Bill Watts Universal Wrestling Federation run out of New Orleans. It was currently the hottest promotion in the history of pro-wrestling. Even drawing an estimated 60,000 raving fans at the Super Dome for a house show.
Gilbert quickly was put in to an angle starting his own stable of wrestler's known as "Hot Stuff International". Watts fresh off of naming his company Universal Wrestling from Mid South Wrestling, had seen his business start to die down.
Gilbert was brought in with the visions of turning business back around, and quickly gained the respect of Watts and other UWF mainstays for his creativity and passion for the business.
Gilbert eventually met his match in UWF when John Tatum and his girlfriend Melissa Hyatt jumped from Dallas to UWF. Gilbert was taken in by Hyatt's good looks and intelligence off camera, and on camera he was booked to pair up with her and form an alliance known as "Hot Stuff Hyatt Inc". This on camera relationship eventually turned to an off camera romance, and Eddie Gilbert married Melissa Hyatt.
Gilbert eventually became one of the main bookers for Bill Watts region and the business was well on its way to turning itself around when Watts decided he wanted to get out of the pro-wrestling business. Watts made a decision to sell his company to Jim Crockett Promotions.
In 1987 it became apparent Crockett's decision to keep UWF separate from NWA/WCW wasn't true and he dissolved UWF in to NWA/WCW. Gilbert and other wrestler's working for the UWF territory didn't like the way Crockett was ditching all of the UWF components and jobbing all of the top UWF talent to NWA/WCW talent and eventually Gilbert quit the company.
Gilbert did appear on the inaugural PPV show "Starrcade" pitting WCW v UWF (WCW destroyed UWF, and eventually UWF was never mentioned again on WCW TV). Part of the UWF dissolved in to WCW was Jim Ross among other notable talents which turned WCW in to a major force to go head to head against the WWF.
Gilbert again returned to Memphis and feuded with his idol Jerry Lawler and even culminated the long time feud in an angle which shocked the world. The angle was set up to have Doug Gilbert and Eddie Gilbert both fired on live TV by Eddie Marlin. Eddie and Doug argued with Marlin as he escorted them outside the arena. Eventually Eddie attacked Marlin and Lawler ran out for the save. Gilbert dashed to his awaiting automobile and sped towards the promoter (Marlin) who had just fired him and his brother on live TV. Jerry Lawler pushed Marlin aside and was hit by the oncoming car driven by Gilbert.
This was the first time in the history of pro-wrestling an angle such as this was run on a LIVE TV show. The reaction at home saw fans think what they saw was a shoot, and fans called local authorities. The police showed up at the studio's and arrested Eddie Gilbert for attempted homicide. Lawler and Eddie Marlin broke kayfabe and explained to the live audience that Lawler was okay and explained to the police the entire matter was simply an angle. Gilbert was released and Lawler and Gilbert both promised not to do anything like this in the future.
Late in 1987 Gilbert vanished from Memphis again (as usual was the case) and started turning up more and more on Joel Goodheart shows in Philadelphia. He brought the Memphis style with him and envisioned the southern brawling style made famous by his father (Tommy Gilbert) and idol (Jerry Lawler) becoming marketable in the north-east. To this point, the style had not been marketed in the north-east successfully. Eventually Gilbert was helping with the booking of Tri--State Wrestling Alliance (Goodheart's company) and booked a series of intense matches against Cactus Jack Manson.
The series today is still considered the best series of matches both Cactus Jack (Mick Foley) and Eddie Gilbert have ever had in pro-wrestling. One of the booked concepts Gilbert came up with was booking himself v Foley in a series of three matches on the same show. It would be a best two out of three falls contest, with a twist. Each match would be increasingly more dangerous then the last.
The first fall was a "falls counts anywhere" match, the second fall was a "Texas Death Stretcher Match" and the final fall (if needed) was a steel cage match. Cactus won the first fall, Gilbert won the second fall and injured Cactus in the match so bad Cactus was taken to the hospital. As the final fall began, Gilbert came down to the ring and proclaimed that he was the greatest wrestler alive and he won by forfeit. Of course Jack returned at the last moment to surprise a shocked audience. The final fall saw both wrestler's disqualified for excessive violence.
In 1991, Eddie Gilbert got his dream come true. He was hired by the Global Wrestling Federation to be their head booker. The company was failing, and needed to bring in creative minds to turn the entire territory around. Eddie booked the company to the best of his abilities and actually began to turn the company around when the promoter decided to downsize and cut talent. It led to Gilbert walking out on his deal once again and vanishing from another wrestling company.
Gilbert's connections had exceedingly been tested for the past twelve years and he seemingly burned every bridge that he had made. He ended up working in Japan in 1992 under a hood for W*NG and Mike Myers (rip off of the horror films in the U.S.) and his brother was booked under a hood as Freddy Krueger (another rip off of a horror film character in the U.S.). When both Eddie and Doug decided Victor Quinonnes was booking the product the wrong way, they decided to pull a 'shoot' during a match pitting Myers (Eddie) against Krueger (Doug). Doug was supposed to go over and about ten seconds in to the contest laid down and let Eddie get the victory. A shocked crowd looked on as Eddie and Doug unmasked in the middle of the ring and pulled a shoot against W*ING and praised rival promoter Giant Baba and All Japan.
Baba and All Japan however for political reasons did not bring in Eddie or Doug. And again Eddie burnt another bridge and was gone from pro wrestling for a while.
In 1993, Eddie Gilbert got another gig helping with booking a promotion which was failing. This promotion was known as "Eastern Championship Wrestling" and was being run out of Philadelphia. Eddie renewed his vision of bringing back the old school Memphis style of pro-wrestling in the north east, and quickly began booking the show with those standards. In late 1993 the financial backer for the Eastern group pulled out and the company was set to go under for good.
Paul Heyman (who Gilbert was really good buddies with ever since they met early on in their careers as journalists) came to Eastern Championship Wrestling to help book the product with Eddie Gilbert and Todd Gordon became the major financial backer for the group. It was around this time that Extreme Championship Wrestling was born pulling a shoot on the NWA at the expense of long time NWA Promoter Dennis Coraluzzo.
Gilbert was contacted by WWC promoter Carlos Colon and informed on the departure of then booker Dutch Mantell to the WWF, Colon offered Gilbert a position booking the entire company. Gilbert having his first taste of success on the island decided to quit Extreme Championship Wrestling and head off to Puerto Rico. Paul Heyman subsequently took over booking ECW.
Gilbert also appeared for Jim Cornette's Smokey Mountain Wrestling during his leave from ECW and impending return to Puerto Rico. Cornette actually had plans to give Gilbert free reign with the SMW territory but Gilbert accepted the WWC job over Cornette's offer and quit SMW after only a few weeks in the territory (something his reputation was known for him doing).
On February 17th 1995 in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Eddie Gilbert booked himself against a live wrestling bear. His last match in the wrestling world took him full circle in a sense. His father began his wrestling career working carnivals and conning unsuspecting fans in to putting up cash against him in the hopes of winning monetary prizes. The typical carny trick. Eddie Gilbert's last match in pro wrestling before his death was also a typical carny trick of pitting a man against a trained wrestling bear.
On February 18th, 1995 Ken Wayne discovered Eddie Gilbert's dead body in his hotel room. He was 33.
Special thanks to Patrick A. Riley for contributing information to this special tribute to Thomas Edward Gilbert, Jr. You can visit his site by clicking on the banner below.