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AS I SEE IT
As the fans of Extreme Championship Wrestling approach this coming Friday, August 27th, and the debut of ECW coverage across the United States and Canada on TNN...I think it's important to remember the man who is truly responsible for all that has happened over the last six plus years of the promotion's history...a man who left this world in 1995, Eddie Gilbert.
Eddie Gilbert was brought in by ECW founder Tod Gordon in 1993 to take what was nothing more than a once-a-month bar promotion to a higher level. Eddie was the man who together with Mick (Cactus Jack) Foley, brought the tradition of hardcore wrestling into Philadelphia in 1991 with their legendary matches in Joel Goodhart's Tri-State Wrestling Alliance, including the legendary best of three falls match between the two at Philadelphia's Convention Hall. Gilbert brought instant credibility to this upstart promotion. With Eddie also came Terry Funk, who had recently done an interview in the Pro Wrestling Torch about his idea for a "hardcore" style wrestling TV show.
Gilbert also brought in Paul Heyman, the man most identify with ECW's success. Many newer fans have conveniently forgotten the fact that without Eddie Gilbert bringing Heyman in, Heyman would have never had the opportunity to create the vision for ECW that has taken them to PPV and to nationwide TV coverage in the United States and Canada.
The promotion, then called Eastern Championship Wrestling took what was a giant step...going on TV on SportsChannel Philadelphia, a new tiny part-time basic cable channel. Eastern Championship Wrestling held its first TV taping at Cabrini College in suburban Delaware County in front of an audience of 60 people. But even then, the signs were out in the crowd..."Eddie's Championship Wrestling".
With Gilbert's popularity, the small promotion quickly attracted attention far out of proportion to its size, including mention in major Japanese wrestling magazines. In May 1993, ECW moved its shows from Cabrini College to the place that's been called "the world's most famous Bingo Hall", Viking Hall... otherwise known as the ECW Arena. Then, in June 1993, when Eddie Gilbert and Terry Funk went at it in the "Texas Chain Match Massacre"; the promotion had what was then its largest crowd in history, with the match seen across the country via the commercial tape that followed of the show. In August 1993, many ECW fans got their first live exposure to Japanese wrestling through W*ING workers The Headhunters, Miguelito Perez, Crash the Terminator (WCW's Hugh Morris), and Mitsuhiro Matsunaga.
What some ECW fans remember best, though, is not just Eddie Gilbert's Memphis-flavored in-ring product; but the humor Eddie featured on TV, and his sense of humor in person. My personal favorites are the times he went to Philadelphia's South Street and Delaware Avenue's Katmandu club posing as the "King of Philadelphia" in full gimmick. Another classic was Eddie's weekly on-air torturing of co-host Jay Sulli that left Sulli with the nickname "Six Pack" that has lasted him to this day. One of his last classic moments was his "match" with former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski at Jaworski's "Eagles Nest" restaurant...
On a more serious side, some of those who worked in ECW remember Eddie's lessons on loyalty. Eddie had a last lesson to teach, in the way he left ECW in September 1993 over personal and professional differences with Tod Gordon and Paul Heyman. His last appearance was at UltraClash, where he made an unannounced farewell from the ring. Gilbert had the perfect opportunity to air dirty laundry and to bury the still-young company in the eyes of its fans. He didn't. Instead, he explained that he was leaving, but told fans to keep supporting the company. There should be no question in the mind of any intelligent wrestling fan that what Eddie Gilbert did paved the way for the later successes of ECW, its entrance into the PPV market, and this coming Friday's TV debut throughout the United States and Canada.
Eddie Gilbert was never a saint. He'd be the first to tell you that. His excesses are well-known, and require no comment. But Eddie's death in 1995 left many who loved him and his style with a empty feeling in their hearts that will never be truly filled. It can safely be said that no one of his generation loved the business more than Thomas Edward Gilbert, Jr. did. I can say that personally from all the people I know who worked for and with Eddie. I can also say that he touched those people with his lessons of staying loyal, of always remembering to laugh, and of always being a fan of the business he worked in.
All of those qualities, and all of those memories, will be celebrated on Friday, October 1 and Saturday, October 2; at the Fourth Annual Eddie Gilbert Memorial Weekend, held this year at the Ramada Inn in Vineland, NJ; and at Vineland Senior High School. The Memorial will begin with a Memorial Banquet on Friday evening at the Ramada Inn at 8:00 pm. Tickets are priced at $50.
On Saturday, the day will begin with a Fan Convention from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Tickets for the Eddie Gilbert Memorial Convention, held at Vineland Senior High School, are $8 in advance, $10 at door. There will be Eddie Gilbert Memorial Weekend merchandise as well as other merchandise available at the Convention. For those wishing to operate a vendor table, please contact Kathy Fitzpatrick at (609) 627-5123.
The Memorial Weekend will finish with the fourth annual Eddie Gilbert Memorial Brawl, also held at Vineland Senior High School, with a bell time of 8:00 pm. Tickets are $18 Golden Ringside/$16 Ringside/$13 General Admission. A combo ringside/golden ringside and dinner gets you a free Convention pass.
Other wrestlers and those within the wrestling business will be honored at the Eddie Gilbert Memorial Weekend, including former WWF referee Joey Marella (who I spoke about in my July 4th PWBTS As I See It column) who died in July 1994 in an automobile accident.
Those planning to stay at the Ramada Inn in Vineland should make reservations directly with the Ramada at (609) 692-8600. Please note that the Ramada Inn is smaller than last year's site, the Radisson Hotel in Philadelphia. If you're choosing to stay there for the Gilbert Weekend, reservations are recommended immediately.
If you were ever a fan of Eddie Gilbert, or if you consider yourself a fan of the wrestling business, you need to stop and remember someone who loved the business more than anything in his life, and who contributed everything he had to it.
For information on the Eddie Gilbert Memorial, call the NWA offices at (609) 848-4708 or (609) 627-5123.
Until next time.....
If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org