The Early Years
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.
Eddie grew to idolize many of the stars who passed through the area including Tojo Yamamoto, Jackie Fargo, and others he read about in magazines and saw on occasional stopovers in the area such as The Brisco Brothers and The Funk Brothers. Eddie’s world really lit up in 1974 when Jackie Fargo, the area’s top attraction since the 1950s, waged a war against the upstart Jerry Lawler. Often the area’s Southern title was at stake. It became more personal though as they also fought over the title "King of Memphis", an implication by Lawler that it was time for Fargo to step aside and to pass the torch to the area’s next top star (Lawler).
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 nWo 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.
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