Eddie Gilbert: Pre-Heyman ECW Innovator
I’d been planning for the longest time to give ECW a shot. I missed it the first time around, for many reasons. For one, I was a WCW fan and was glued to the TV thanks to a lot of their storylines. Feel free to laugh; looking back, some of those storylines weren’t so great. I understand why I liked them. I liked WCW, but that didn’t mean I was anti-ECW. I just didn’t see a need to seek out ‘more,’ because I was content with what I was seeing. Another reason was that I didn’t like the extreme realism presented in some matches. I was never a fan of hardcore wrestling.
Years have passed, and I have become the modern equivalent of a tape-trader. After getting ahold of the entire run of ECW’s Hardcore TV, I decided to give it a go. If you’re thinking of giving ECW a try, be on the lookout for more posts like this one. Or, if you’re a longtime fan, feel free to comment as I go through the years.
1993: ”Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert
What may strike first-time viewers as odd is the realization that Paul Heyman was not present in ECW for most of 1993. In fact, ECW was lead by a completely different loud-mouthed heel: Eddie Gilbert.
Billed as being from ‘Every Girl’s Dream’ or ‘Every Woman’s Fantasy,’ Eddie Gilbert’s arrogant persona perfectly wove itself into the fabric of Eastern Championship Wrestling. Before the barbed wire and flaming tables, ECW was a family-friendly indy promotion. This wasn’t an overnight change, but it was a gradual progression as directions started to change. In early 1993, Eddie Gilbert served as one of the top heels in the company as well as the booker.
On the first episode of Hardcore TV, Gilbert is immediately thrust into a storyline with Terry Funk. Terry Funk and Eddie Gilbert would face off in the main event of Summer Sizzler, a supercard held at the ECW Arena on June 19, 1993. At first glance, viewers might write Eddie Gilbert off as ‘Jerry Lawler Lite,’ and Eddie Gilbert would probably take that as a compliment, being that Jerry Lawler was his idol. Eddie Gilbert’s pro-wrestling resume had included Mid-South, CWA, and Jim Crockett Promotions, and he learned how to be an old-school heel from the best in the business.
As great as Terry Funk is or was, the real star throughout this entire angle was Eddie Gilbert. Gilbert had a persona that had viewers shaking their heads in annoyance yet still wanting to see more. Coming out to Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff,” Eddie Gilbert was victorious versus Terry Funk in their Summer Sizzler “Texas Chain Massacre” match. This match was your standard strap match, but the strap was a chain, instead. Critics may have been annoyed that Gilbert won the high-profile match that he himself booked, but what was great about it was that Terry Funk was booked very strongly, and Eddie Gilbert still won by underhanded tactics, like a true heel should, while keeping the babyface strong.
After this, Eddie Gilbert (along with manager Paul Heyman) would film skits in public places in Philadelphia, with Gilbert flaunting his newly-crowned title of “King of Philadelphia.” This to me was the highlight of 1993, and I noticed a change when Eddie Gilbert left. Apparently there was a falling out between Gilbert and ECW owner Todd Gordon, and Paul Heyman took over as booker in September. Paul Heyman was very rusty, at first, and it took him a while to find his rhythm, so to speak.
Eddie Gilbert would go on to work for Smoky Mountain Wrestling for the remaining months of his career, which would be cut short due to a heart attack. Eddie Gilbert died on February 18, 1995, in Puerto Rico; he was 33.