Memorial Day 1994: Eddie Gilbert’s last Memphis Wrestling match
On Memorial Day 1994, “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert wrestled his last match at the Memphis Mid-South Coliseum, going out a winner with a victory over rival and former childhood idol Jerry Lawler–and saving my neck in the process. The bout was set up the week before during a main event of Lawler and Jeff Jarrett vs. the Dream Machine and Gilbert. Because my girlfriend and some of my buddies were in the audience that night, I asked Gilbert to involve me in the finish in some controversial way. Almost immediately, he broke into a devilish grin and said, “Let me think of something.” What he came up with exceeded my expectations.
Frank Morrell, the assigned ref for the bout, is bumped (knocked senseless), which is my cue to get ready. After Lawler piledrives Gilbert, I make my move down to ringside. I begin to count three as Lawler covers a prone Gilbert. Instead, I rise up and deliver a stiff shot to Lawler’s neck with my Doc Marten boot. I place Gilbert on top and register a quick three count. Lawler and I butt heads afterward, which ends with me shoving Lawler on his ass and running for my life. Stunned and suddenly fearing for her life, my girlfriend makes a beeline for my car and ducks down in the backseat. Fans pelt my car with debris as we leave the parking lot. I love every minute of it–my childhood dream has become a reality–all thanks to Eddie.
I regret that Eddie and I didn’t have more time to work together. Two weeks after my heel turn, on May 27, 1994, Eddie and I conducted only our second promo together, building up his match with Lawler on Memorial Day at the Coliseum. As a stipulation of the bout, I would be forced into the ring with Lawler for five minutes should he defeat Hot Stuff. The previous Saturday, during a TV main event between Lawler and Gilbert, I had thrown powder into the King’s eyes right after his introduction, enabling “my new best friend” to steal the win in about six seconds. The King was hot on my trail.
During our promo two days before our Memorial Day showdown (billed as “D-Day for Bowden”), Lance played it up as if I were at death’s door, insinuating I wouldn’t survive the encounter if Jerry Lawler got his hands on me, which I shrugged off with a line I had lifted from Apter-mag heel columnist Dan Shocket, “The only reason Lawler’s not over the hill is because he never climbed it in the first place.” I didn’t realize then how sensitive Lawler was about his age—I’m sure he winced backstage at that one. But the worst was yet to come.
Prior to the interview, Eddie had confided in me backstage that he was livid his bout with Lawler wasn’t the main event. As part of their working relationship with the WWF, Bam Bam Bigelow was heading back in to team with the Dream Machine to work with Jerry and Brian in the last match. Eddie felt he should be in the tag main event with Bigelow—not wrestling a singles bout with Lawler, especially since Lawler wasn’t putting up the Unified World title. Gilbert desperately wanted that strap back so he could “get his heat back.”
Perhaps the most agonizing part for Gilbert in May 1994: Lawler was showing no signs of slowing down, or abdicating the Memphis Rasslin’ throne any time soon. And to make matters worse, Lawler’s kingdom had expanded to the WWF, where he was firmly entrenched not only as a heel color commentator alongside Vince McMahon but also a wrestler fresh off a high-profile feud with Bret Hart and still receiving nice PPV paydays.
So as I stood by Gilbert’s side on May 27, he was a powder keg waiting to explode—and on live TV, no less. In a classic example of art imitating life, he questioned why Jerry Lawler wasn’t putting the title up and that he was sick of Brian Christopher being “Lawler’s handpicked successor.” He also bemoaned the backstage politics and that he wouldn’t be around much longer, comparing himself to Emmit Smith, the Dallas Cowboys’ franchise player who sat out the first two games of the 1993 NFL season until he got a new contract. I was thinking to myself, “Oh, shit. This is a shoot. Lawler’s gonna kill us when we get backstage.” I just knew any minute that Gilbert was going to reveal that Brian was Jerry’s son, which was already one of the worst-kept secrets in town, but he didn’t. Gilbert was dressed to wrestle in the show later, but instead he made a beeline for the exit, leaving me to explain things to Lawler. With a concerned look on his face, Lawler asked me, “You think that was a shoot?” Gulp. I muttered, “I…I think so.” Then Lawler asked me if I thought Eddie would show up Monday night for the match. To that one, I had no answer. Gilbert probably didn’t even know—it all depended on how he felt 48 hours later.
Hours before the show Monday, Lawler called me to ask if I’d heard from Gilbert. After I explained that I hadn’t, Lawler asked if I could round up the crutches, leg brace and wheelchair he’d seen me use in an outlaw-show performance on one of Brian’s videotapes. Lawler was hatching a contingency plan in case Gilbert didn’t make it. In the event of the no-show, the Dream Machine would wheel me down to ringside, and I’d claim that Eddie and I were seriously injured in a car accident when a drunkard–most likely a Memphis wrestling fan–ran my car off the road. Alas, Gilbert did arrive at the building shortly before the 8 o’clock bell time, so instead Eddie wheeled me down wearing a neckbrace and delivered the spiel as Lance held the microphone. Eddie turned things over to me, and as I noted the cruel irony of being stuck in a wheelchair along with all the war veterans on Memorial Day, Hot Stuff sneaked up behind the preoccupied Lawler and attacked him to start the match. The scenario was illogical since Lawler had pulled nearly the exact same attack months earlier on Bret at SummerSlam ’93.
During the bout, Gilbert kept feeding Lawler to me, unselfishly putting even more heat on his young, cocky manager. At different points, I ran over Lawler in the wheelchair, gouged his eyes and choked him. And the ref, Lawler’s other son, Kevin Christian Lawler, never saw a damned thing. After the patented Lawler ref bump out of a headlock, I made my move out of the wheelchair. I stood on the ring apron, and tossed my thick, heavy leg brace to Eddie, who clotheslined Lawler with it, seemingly knocking him out for the pin.
Little did we all know that was to be Eddie’s last match ever in Memphis. Days later, Gilbert walked out on the promotion and Jerry Lawler; less than nine months later, he was found dead in a Puerto Rico hotel room…gone but never forgotten.