Sunday, April 26, 2015

In 1988 "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert brought new life to the Continental territory in Alabama

Below is a Chapter from my as of now, never released biography on "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert.  This is the chapter on his famous stint in Continental in Alabama where he was both a wrestler and the booker.  It's still talked about to this day and really highlighted Eddie Gilbert's ability to "pop a territory" and put fans back in the seats. Some interesting insight from guys who were there and knew him as well some insight from Eddie himself taken from Bob Barnett's original shoot interview with him in 1994. I hope everyone enjoys it, if there's any interest I may share more chapters here on Wrestling News Center in the future. Also, for those who may not be familiar with some of the angles mentioned here I've included some youtube links at the end.


The Famous Continental Run

In the Spring of 1988, Eddie got the chance once again to be a booker. For years Ron Fuller (Welch) had been the owner/promoter of the Southeastern territory. He eventually renamed it Continental Championship Wrestling and in 1988, Fuller sold the promotion to David Woods, who had no experience in the wrestling business. His experience was in broadcasting. David Wood's first act as owner was to put Jack Curtis in charge of CCW. Curtis’ first act was to remove Ron's brother Robert Fuller as the booker and to call Eddie to come in and take over.

Ken Wayne- I knew he (David Woods) was a mark the first day I met him. Eddie had told me, "Man, you’ve got to meet this guy. Come on, go to the office with me." I was like, "Aw, man, look, I don’t want to go down there and hang out all day." I knew he was a mark pretty quick. It was just amazing. I was like, "God, I can’t believe this guy owns the company. He couldn’t run a TV station, how’s he going to run this?" The best thing for him to have done was to put it in Eddie’s or somebody’s hands, and left it alone. "You all run this thing, make me some money. In three months, if things aren’t coming up, we’ll negotiate, and either you’re leaving or somebody’s coming in." You need three months to be fair.

So fresh off another stint in Memphis, Eddie headed down to Alabama with his wife Missy Hyatt, brother Doug, and an upstart manager named Paul Heyman who worked under the guise of ‘Paul E. Dangerously'. While many felt it was a good move to get Fuller out as the booker, since the territory had been “on it’s a**” for quite a while, some were nervous of what it might mean to their position.

Downtown Bruno (Manager)-
I was nervous at first, because Eddie brought Paul Heyman in with him, and also being close friends with Robert Fuller, I thought I had 2 strikes against me right away. I was glad to find out that Eddie had no plans to replace me, so I stayed around for a while, but finally I gave my notice and went back to Memphis with Robert Fuller. That’s a long story, which I explained in my book, but it's not appropriate to deal with in this forum. Lets just say that I had quite a problem with Eddie’s wife at the time, Missy Hyatt.

Eddie came in with some new and exciting angles and it appeared things seemed to be improving. The first thing he did was change the name from Continental Championship Wrestling to Continental Wrestling Federation in an effort to make the promotion seem less regional. (That was his reasoning anyway) At the time the CWF had the Continental Heavyweight title, the Southeastern Heavyweight title, the Alabama Heavyweight title, the U.S. Jr Heavyweight title and the Continental Tag Team titles. Realizing this was major overkill and devalued the meaning of the titles, he did away with everything but the tag team belts and there was to be a “Road to Birmingham” tournament to crown one undisputed CWF Heavyweight Champion. This tournament was to take place in various cities over the course of a couple of months then wrap up at a big show in......well in Birmingham obviously. Due to various setbacks and Eddie’s departure during the course of it, the tournament was stretched out for months before FINALLY ending with a champion crowned after folks had long lost track of the confusing tournament brackets. Had Eddie stuck around and the tournament could have played out as originally planned it would likely have been more successful. This was just one of his first plans to turn things around.

Eddie on CWF- Continental was great because I went there and everybody said there was no way I was going to be able to bring this place back. It's dead....written off. I remember Dothan, Alabama when I went I came in was drawing $1,200 houses. After a month and half there we had it up to a $10,000 gate. We went in there and overhauled the place, just cleaned it out. They had three different title belts, we cut it down to one. We tried to change everything new background, new announcers, new everything. There was such a feeling knowing you came in and gave this place a face lift and made changes that brought rears to the seats to come watch the show you knew you'd accomplished something. My brother Doug told me, “Don't you realize you've finally turned this place around?” I was working so hard, 24 hours a day, I didn't even realize it.

He took an old angle that he used in Memphis that had worked well between he and Tommy Rich (the previously mentioned “Tag Team of the Year” angle) and used it to split up the Nightmares, Danny Davis and Ken Wayne. The Nightmares who were veterans of the territory needed something to liven things up and this certainly did the trick.

Nightmare” Ken Wayne- It come about in the back seat of the car on a trip. (laughs) There were always four of us in a car, and me and Eddie always rode in the back together. He asked me what I thought about it. (the heel turn) And actually, I was like, "Yes, please. I’m tired of signing these autographs and sh*t, I don’t care about the picture money ." We just sat and thought about it and laid it out, and … the first week of TV, I did the thing, we just started laying the groundwork. We talked about laying a solid base, which is something I wanted to do. I was like, "Let’s stretch this thing out and make a good solid base, because you don’t build a house without a foundation." We sat and talked about it, Eddie had a great mind for sh*t, man. Between the two of us, we came up with all kinds of stuff that we couldn’t do. (laughs) For everybody, I’m not talking about just us, but for everybody. I was more than willing to do it. I was looking forward to working with Danny too. Sh*t, I don’t like anybodies' work in the business better than I do his. I knew it was going to be … I knew we could tear the houses down if we wanted to. We were doing real good with it up until Eddie left, and then I tried to maintain some control on it, but it just … it wasn’t going to happen.

He brought in a young Shane Douglas who he had worked with in the U.W.F. (giving Douglas the first big win of his career taking the UWF Televison title from him). Veteran wrestler “Pistol” Pez Whatley was brought in only now under the name “Willie B. Hert”. (Well, they can’t all be gems). Gilbert who was working as the lead heel with Paul E. as his manager did an angle with Willie B. where they beat up his 14 year old son that got a lot of heat (a knife was pulled out on them) and drew pretty well for them for a time.

Another famous angle during this time frame was the “hanging” angle where the “Dirty White Boy” Tony Anthony’s valet Kimberly came out sporting a black eye that she had apparently gotten from the “Dirty White Boy”. She came out asking announcer Gordon Solie to let her “talk to Tom”, meaning Anthony’s nemesis at the time, Dr. Tom Prichard. So after some coaxing Prichard finally bit and came out to talk to her only to end up getting jumped by Tony Anthony. It would turn out it was all a set up and Kim’s black eye was only make up. Prichard was thrown through the set where the interviews were done destroying it. (conspicuously right at the same time of the name change that made the set obsolete) Anthony then dragged Prichard down to ringside where he’d take a rope and hang him from the turnbuckle which resulted in Prichard foaming at the mouth and looking like he was actually being hanged on television as he started to turn colors before the babyfaces finally made the save. This was a pretty heavy angle for the time period and it did a lot to drive the houses up as well.

Austin Idol was brought in during this time to be the top babyface which was a good choice because Idol was WAY over in Alabama. The main angle at the time was between Idol and Gilbert and it did very well. At one point during their feud another now famous stunt was done on tv , it was called $10,000 Golden Challenge”. The premise was in these matches if Eddie was defeated the opponent would win the money he and Dangerously had put up. Well on this particular night in Dothan, Paul E. came out and said that they were offering up the $10,000 Golden Challenge to anyone in the AUDIENCE who could come in the ring and beat “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert. Needless to say there were some very large country boys (and girls) in the audience who were jumping up and down to take the challenge but Paul and Eddie picked a scrawny guy from out of the sea of legit threats to come up in the ring. Now for anyone who didn’t know any better this seemed legit as this guy looked every bit the part of a “rasslin’ fan” from Alabama. Paul E. puts the microphone in his face and gets him to agree to a waiver that they are not responsible for what happens to him. Moments later the bell rings and Eddie punches him in the face and stomps on him, then rips his shirt off him. Then he pulls the guys belt off and whips him then follows up with a piledriver which leaves the guy convulsing in the middle of the ring. At this point Austin Idol strolls out to insure no further damage is done. While the guy did look like a legit Alabama wrestling fan it was actually Eddie’s longtime friend John Gilliam who would pop up in other angles down the road in other places.

Bob Barnett (Friend/Tape Dealer) – I'm not sure what he and John Gilliam's connection were or how they came to know each other but they were really tight. Eddie treated him and spoke of him as if he were another brother.

J.D. McKay (Wrestler/Friend)- John Gilliam was a good friend of Eddie's since they were kids. Eddie once told me that he first met John when they were in grade school. One day not long after they met they ducked down in a field beside the road and threw tomatoes at cars. They got caught in the act and got in big trouble and just seemed to have a bond after that. Eddie really cared about John and took him with him to shows all the time. They had a great time together.

Eddie tells the story of 'Mr. Dothan'- So three weeks after the TV where John Gilliam was pulled out of the crowd for the 'Golden Challenge' angle, we've got a show on a Saturday night in Dothan. Idol had been “injured” on TV and was supposed to be out for a couple of weeks. So on the card in Dothan for the main event I simply put on the posters, “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert vs. Mr. Dothan”. Now I knew what I had in mind for the match but I didn't tell anyone else, I mean nobody....cause they all would have thought I was crazy so I just didn't tell anyone. Paul E., Missy, Doug, no one. So all through the week people are asking me, “Am I Mr. Dothan?” Jerry Stubbs who was working under a mask as Mr. Olympia at the time was asking if it was gonna be him with a different name and I just kept telling everybody that “you'll see who it is Saturday night.” So Saturday rolls around and we're driving to Dothan and finally Paul E. asks, “Ok Eddie, you've gone all week without telling me. I understand you not telling Missy but me I don't understand and especially Doug”, so I just tell him to trust me. We get to Dothan the place is packed, the first $10,000 house they'd had in years, and it's getting close to time for the main event go to on and still no one knows who it's gonna be. People are looking around the dressing room trying to see if there's someone new in there that hadn't been there before. Plus I had swerved everybody on TV in the promos I said, “it might be Robert Fuller, it might be Ron Fuller, it might 'Bullet' Bob Armstrong, or it may even be Austin Idol. So finally Paul goes, “Ok Eddie, it's almost time where's Mr. Dothan?”, so I tell Paul, “Go get John Gilliam.” So Paul's thinking ok it's over he's flipped, he's gonna kill this town and lose this job. So they get John Gilliam back there and we start getting gear from various people. John's wearing Ken Wayne's boots, Danny Davis' tights, Mr. Olympia's mask and so on. So I go out to the ring and I say, “So ok, I'm here where's this Mr. Dothan?” So they play this big theme music and out comes John Gilliam and if you saw the tape of the TV angle you just have to imagine him in a mask marching out in tights.....and he climbs up into the ring. So we lock up.....John Gilliam and I actually lock up and so it's starting to sink in to people that this is the main event, this is it. So John shoves me off, and I'm thinking no one will remember him from the 'golden challenge' thing. So I grab the mic after he shoves me off and I say, “Who is this guy, is he a wrestler, a boxer, or what?” At the same time this fan in the front row yells, “That's that same sumbitch you beat up on TV three weeks ago.” So now I'm thinking great they do remember him this is gonna be better than I thought. After that I give it a few more minutes to let the crowd think this is it, Eddie Gilbert is wrestling John Gilliam in the main event. You know what though, the fans were cheering him, John Gilliam was over in Dothan, Alabama. I thought hell this is proof we can get anybody over. Now I had known the stooges were already gonna be reporting back to the office that “Eddie had his buddy John Gilliam in the main event in Dothan, he killed the town. So usually all the boys leave the building before the main event, well they all stayed and were gathered around the back of the building to see what happened in what was sure to be the end of my booking career. Little did they know I had this all worked out all along. After a few minutes I laid into John and was beatin' the hell out of him until Austin Idol came in through the back of the building in a mask and made his way out to the ring, see no one else knew but me that Austin Idol was out there sitting in his car in the parking lot all night waiting to run in on this match. So Idol came in the place went crazy he had this axe handle he carried around he called Bertha or something, he “broke” Paul's arm with it. It was great, the crowd loved it.

Eddie’s brother Doug was working under a mask as “Nightmare Freddy” though ironically not in the Freddy Krueger gimmick he would go on to use in Japan (father Tommy also did Freddy Krueger in Memphis in ‘89). As a bit of useless trivia, the Nightmare Freddy outfit would go on to become the “Dark Patriot” gimmick that Doug used in the Global Wrestling Federation when Eddie got the book out there, but more on that later.

So all seemed to be going well in Continental for the first time in a while, houses were up. They landed a TV deal with FNN (the Financial News Network) that would give them exposure on a much larger scale than the small network of local affiliates they had been previously throughout parts of the southeast. However there were still problems arising. Ron West who was a referee and booked the towns at one time returned and disagreed with the way Gilbert was running things.

Ken Wayne (Friend)- I wish they had left him alone. It would have been a lot longer run. I thought he did a hell of a job, considering what he was up against, with David Woods, I mean. David Woods just does not have a clue about the wrestling business. David Woods did things that would just tear down morale and sh*t and cost himself money. Things like, we had that FNN deal, and syndication like in Louisiana and Biloxi. (MS). We' d go in there, and he wanted to go in with three or four weeks of TV. I'd sit in the office with Eddie, because I'd stay with Eddie like if we were in Birmingham, instead of going back to Pensacola, we'd stay over if we had to be in Florence (AL) or something the next day. Eddie had an apartment in Montgomery, so I'd go to the office with him. I'd see it before my own eyes what was going on. We tried to tell David, "Look, you can t go into these markets with three or four weeks of TV. You need like twelve weeks of TV." He'd [say], "We can do it, we can do it." Well, we went in and bombed. I mean, man, there were more people at a one-car funeral. It was bad. Like we went to Biloxi, man, that was a big old empty building. It just bombed. Finally David Woods came in and apologized. "I thought we could do this," dah-dah-dah-dah. I said, "Well, you dumba**, you don t know anything about it, and here's guys trying to tell you, you can t do it that way." So when the guys go in like that, and you end up in God, what s the name of that town in Louisiana, it was a long ass trip when you go in like that and you've made the long trip and you're being paid on the door, and there's nobody there, you know you aren't going to make anything. That decreases your morale. Not that the guys really worked any less, they still worked hard, but it was just something was missing, in those towns especially. David Woods caused a lot of the problems. He really did. He didn't mean to do it, he just didn't know what the hell he was doing. If he had left Eddie alone, it'd would have probably lasted many years longer than it ended up going.

Brent West (son of Ron West)-
Eddie had a great mind for this business. I thought he did a good job while he booked for Continental. People have always thought that the West Family had it out for Eddie when he was booking for Continental, but that was not the truth at all.

We have always been about the bottom line and Eddie really did not understand the business side, he understood the wrestling side, but never was about the bottom line. Eddie's biggest house during his booking was a $10,000 gate in Dothan, Alabama. What people did not know was that Jack Curtis had spent $5000.00 in advertising for the show. Dothan always drew $5000.00 gate (Author's note: this was debated by many who were there at the time who said Dothan had not drawn a $5000 house in quite some time before Eddie's arrival), so there was more people, but the bottom line was less profit for David Woods.

During Eddie's booking, the gates did come up, but the profit margin went down. They were spending money on advertising in every town, something Ron Fuller or Dad never did. So when David Woods asked Dad to come back to Continental. The first thing he did was cut the advertising they were doing and did tell Eddie no more big guarantees.

Ken Wayne- I really don't know what it was on the money end of it. I never saw any problem with money, but that doesn't mean anything either. Even though I was in on a lot of conversations, money wasn't one of them. Anytime Eddie and I had been together, he was kind of like Ron, he kind of let me do what I wanted. "Hey, let's do this, let's do that." We always rode in the back seat together and talked about the territory. "What about this guy, what about this," you know, stuff like that. So I'd do those things, and as far as the money, I looked at it as that's Eddie's job to worry about that deal, not mine. It wasn't my job to any of it, but I had no problem, I ve never had a problem with throwing out ideas for booking or something or TV s or if this guy sucks, you know. If I ve got an opinion of somebody, I m pretty opinionated, I'll tell you exactly what I think. I'd rather hurt your feelings rather than lie to you. That's kind of the way Eddie and I always were. That's how I ended up in Puerto Rico doing the booking, because of Eddie.

But the thing [in Alabama] was David Woods. And Ron West had a lot to do with it, because he didn't like Eddie either. I don't know if he didn't like him or what, Ron wanted to book or whatever, but Ron knows better. I don't know what was going through his mind. He wasn't a help, he was a hindrance. That s just bullsh*t. You can't have that.

Thing were rocky after Ron West came back to Continental. Eddie told David Woods that he was going to have to miss a few cards because he was injured. Others claimed while this went on he was actually working in Kansas City. Eddie neither really confirmed or denied it when asked about it during his shoot interview. Eddie says he left the territory because he couldn't run with people undermining his decisions. Others say he was forced due to problems mentioned earlier.

Brent West- What caused a problem is when Eddie told Dad that he was sick and could not make some of the towns, to find out he was in Kansas working for Bob Giegel. That is when Eddie was asked to leave. That is bad business.

I only tell you this because we have always had respect for Eddie Gilbert. He was a talented performer, with good booking ideas and a really decent guy. So sad that his life had to end so young. So when a book is written about his time in Continental, I don't want it to read that we (Dad foremost) had it out for Eddie. That was never the case.

Who is right or wrong about the money issues at this point is debatable but what most people won't debate is that some of the greatest angles and shows that Continental Wrestling ever presented were with Eddie Gilbert as the booker. Due to the added exposure on FNN, a whole new audience who up to this point only had knowledge of Continental Wrestling through magazines and tape trading had the chance to follow what was going in the southeast.

Wrestling Observer Newsletter (WON) writer David Meltzer whose opinions expressed in his newsletter were highly valued throughout the industry (regardless of what many will claim) was really impressed with Eddie's booking and he wrote about it frequently in his newsletter to the point that the CWF that so few knew about previously was considered by readers of the WON to be one of the top promotions in the US in 1988 with Eddie Gilbert at the helm. If anyone tried to deny that it was Eddie Gilbert's booking that turned around this once dying promotion they were quickly proven wrong as business fell off rather rapidly after Eddie's departure. The houses went down, much of the talent left and there was a very obvious change in the quality of the television that was presented. After struggling through the remainder of 1988, the CWF was finally laid to rest for good in 1989. Ken Wayne was asked about why the 'Road to Birmingham' was so badly fumbled after Eddie left and what his account of Eddie leaving the CWF was.

Ken Wayne- I’m going to tell you the truth. I was there, and I still don’t understand exactly what happened. I have to lay the blame back on Ron West, because he was the one controlling that kind of deal, that part of it. I don’t know what his reasoning was. I just don’t understand. To this day, I still don’t quite understand why they kept changing the date. You go a month plugging something, and then you change it to two weeks later, then a week before you change it for two weeks after that … I mean, you can’t do that. It just didn’t happen. I think some guys were going to come in, and after Eddie wasn’t there, of course they weren’t going to come. It really was Eddie’s fault that they ended up pretty much making him leave. He told them he had a neck injury, then he went to Kansas City and worked, and they got pissed about it and told him not to come back. I think Eddie did wrong, and I think they did wrong. There should have been some sort of a negotiation there, because Eddie was doing good for the territory. The only problems we were really having in any towns was Birmingham, because one week we’d be in Boutwell Auditorium, then we’d be out at the Fairgrounds, and the Fairgrounds is in a pretty bad neighborhood, and I don’t think anything draws out there. Not that Boutwell’s in the greatest part of town, but it’s right downtown, there’s parking right there next to it. It’s right there. Big garage, it’s more secure, plus wrestling had been there for a hundred years. I think that has a lot to do with it. I think their time slot got changed in Birmingham. The TV thing, that’ll kill you. But the booking just wasn’t going to happen, and I think if they had left Eddie alone, I think … and I hate to say this, because I like Ron West a lot, but I think if Ron hadn’t have come in down there, things would have been better, because he was in David Woods’ ear knocking Eddie hard, left and right, all the time. All he did was prime David Woods for Eddie to slip up, then, "Hey, let’s get rid of him." And that’s pretty much what happened. I’m sure there’s more to it than I know, but that’s pretty much what happened. I hated it, man. It was the death of a great territory. Man, it was great, I loved it.

Eddie on what ended his stay in Alabama- I wanted to expand and so did David. The wrestling business is a cutthroat business. In the wrestling business if someone sees someone else getting ahead then they get into the owner's ear saying, “Don't trust him, be careful, he's trying to take over.” And that's happened in a lot of different places I've been in. We started making headway and Ron West who was now general manager of the company saw me taking that slot and he didn't like it and he led a group of guys kind of against me. So when I saw there was nothing more I could do and it was just arguing and arguing, I just threw up my hands and said it's not worth it anymore.

So with another run as booker behind him Eddie quickly landed back on his feet in the NWA that by this point was being bought out by Ted Turner making things quite different than they had been at the end of the UWF when he was there previously.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you just sold a few copies of this book before it's even published.....great stuff! I distinctly remember the last Continental show I attended in Pensacola....was supposed to be Austin Idol vs Eddie Gilbert in the main event, instead Paul E comes out with Dirty White Boy. I remember being quite confused at the time, but it all makes sense now...Eddie must have been in Kansas City that weekend, lol. Oddly enough, the only wrestling I saw in that building since then was the infamous ECW show. Best regards...."Mike in Pensacola"