HISTORY: DOUG GILBERT SHOOTS ON LIVE TV
In late September of 1999, ratings had been steadily declining since Power Pro Wrestling's debut in the Spring of 1998, but viewership remained solid and the company could still claim that they outdrew the WWF's syndicated programming in the Memphis market. Randy Hale's PPW had recently been recommended by Jerry Lawler for use as a World Wrestling Federation developmental territory, and Power Pro-Wrestling along with Memphis Championship Wrestling became a final destination of sorts for talent to undergo their last evaluations before being called up to full time roles in the WWF. Kurt Angle, Russ Haas and Charlie Haas were all currently spending time paying dues in Memphis. Things were going well for Randy Hales, and also for wrestling fans in the great city of Memphis.
October 9th of 1999 was just another Saturday morning at WMC-TV studios in Memphis. The studio was set up for wrestling, fans were in the old worn down bleachers, and Power-Pro Wrestling was about to go live on Channel 5 all over Tennessee. What would occur however was anything but normal, and would play a crucial part in changes that would effect the wrestling landscape as a whole in North America.
The top feud at the time was Brian Christopher and his tag team partner The Spellbinder warring with former NWA World Heavyweight Champion Tommy Rich and "Dangerous" Doug Gilbert. Christopher was the son of local icon Jerry Lawler. Their relationship was a closely guarded secret in Memphis that almost everyone knew, but it was never acknowledged on television.
When the opening video of Power Pro-Wrestling faded to black on Channel 5 that morning, Brian Christopher and The Spellbinder were on their way to the ring. They weren't quite themselves however. Brian Christopher was dressed as Doug Gilbert, and The Spellbinder --a 6'4" African American with a freakish build-- was playing the part of Tommy Rich. "Doug Gilbert" began whining in the middle of the ring about Jerry Lawler, claiming that he had gotten him blackballed from the World Wrestling Federation. "Tommy Rich", with a pillow in his shirt to insinuate a beer gut, acted drunk and eventually started pouring whiskey down his throat before pretending to pass out. The two would wrestle that night, and faced two local jobbers. Christopher and Spellbinder laid on their backs grinning and allowed the two wrestlers who never won in Memphis to defeat "Tommy Rich" and "Doug Gilbert" easily. The rest of the show was relatively uneventful, with television announcer Dave Brown openly stating that last year's Masquerade Maul --A battle royal with a Halloween costume theme-- wouldn't be occurring again this Halloween "because it was one of the worst shows in the history of television", and Jim Cornette comparing Brandon Baxter to both Adolf Hitler and WWF scriptwriter Vince Russo.
The following Saturday morning on October 16th, Dave Brown would open the show with a pleasant announcement that Tommy and Peggy Gilbert, the parents of Doug Gilbert, would be joining Power Pro-Wrestling in the WMC-TV studios. Instead however, Memphis fans saw Spellbinder and Brian Christopher walking to the ring, dressed as an elderly couple. "Tommy Gilbert" claimed himself to be a famous legend, and pulled out a program from his first main event. The program read "Tommy Gilbert vs. Moses". Brian Christopher, playing the part of Peggy Gilbert, claimed that Doug wasn't even her son, and that she was having an affair with the local ice cream man. Christopher and The Spellbinder left the ring that morning to a loud chorus of boos from the Memphis Crowd.
On October 23rd of 1999, in a premonition of the things to come, the ring broke minutes before the show was set to go to air.
Power Pro-Wrestling hit the airwaves at 10AM with a shot of a limo pulling up to the front of the studio. When the door opened, Brian Christopher walked out in a suit with flowers in his hands. He looked like he was forcing back tears, and claimed to have bad news. Doug Gilbert and Tommy Rich had died. Television announcer Dave Brown treated the news as though he knew it was a farce, but Christopher insisted that it was serious and that he was going to hold a special memorial service for the fallen heroes. On Tommy Rich, Brian Christopher said that he was a good man who got his start in Memphis. Christopher said that he was the shortest reigning NWA Champion in history, and that he would always be remembered as a loser. Brian Christopher then raised the name of Doug Gilbert, and began a speech that would lead to what would happen unscripted several minutes later. Christopher tore into Gilbert, claiming that he came from a redneck town and only got the nickname "Dangerous" when he accidentally burned his parents trailor to the ground. Christopher then again brought up the affair Peggy Gilbert was allegedly having with the local ice cream man, and claimed that he gave her "special long popsicles". Christopher spoke negatively on Eddie Gilbert before saying that Tommy Gilbert and Doug Gilbert never drew a dime in their life in the wrestling business.
The "ashes" of Rich were then brought out in a beer can, and the ashes of Gilbert were brought out in a vacuum, as Christopher claimed that it was the only thing that sucked worse than Doug did. When the lights went out at the end of the segment, Tommy Rich and Doug Gilbert hit the ring to exact revenge on Christopher and The Spellbinder. The heels fled while Gilbert threw the vacuum cleaner clear across the studio. What happened next would result in a backlash far bigger than the participants likely ever expected.
Doug Gilbert had hated Jerry Lawler for years. Doug believed that Jerry Lawler had cheated his father and brother in the past, and also believed that Jerry Lawler made public comments about his brother Eddie's death being related to drugs. Doug would wear t-shirts to the ring with Lawler's mug shot on them and write defamatory pieces about Lawler in his promotion's souvenir programs when Lawler was facing statutory rape charges. Doug would also deliver ten minute speeches calling Lawler as a rapist on some shows on the east coast. Lawler hated Doug for this, and even more so when Doug left a message on his answering machine threatening to kill him several years later according to Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
Regardless of the reason, with a baseball bat in hand, Doug Gilbert approached Dave Brown, with Tommy Rich beside him. Gilbert knew that Lawler was only loosely associated with Power Pro-Wrestling, but had likely salivated for years over a live television platform to speak on Jerry Lawler, and Brian Christopher's comments on Doug's family probably made the choice all the easier.
Tommy Rich began with a promo uncharacteristic for wrestling. He spoke directly into the camera to The Spellbinder, calling him "boy", and claiming that if he wasn't doing so many steroids he would only weigh 130lbs. Rich was only following directions. He and Gilbert had been told to be a little controversial, it was that kind of a feud. To say that Doug Gilbert took it too far would be an understatement.
"Brian Christopher, you do not talk about my family" were the first words that left Gilbert's mouth that he actually seemed to mean. The following is a the transcript of the statement that followed from Doug Gilbert:
Doug Gilbert: "You do not talk about my family. You do not talk about me. Listen, you want to play the family card? He wants to play the family card with me? Oh Brian, that card can hurt you so bad son. I'm out on the street and people say 'Doug Gilbert, why was Brian Christopher dragging those four or five belts around?' Oh he was so successful here in Memphis. Brian, it kind of hurts. You know Dave there's things we aren't supposed to talk about out here. They told me a few things in the back I couldn't talk about, but I don't really remember what they was. One of them might have been, the only reason is that Brian Christopher was champion for so long was because his daddy--"
Dave Brown: (yanks the microphone away looking stunned) "Wait...wait...wait"
Doug Gilbert: (yanks the microphone back) "Because his daddy Jerry Lawler owned the company."
(The Studio Crowd is stunned)
Doug Gilbert: "I'm sorry Dave, I know I wasn't supposed to say anything. Now let me ask you something Dave, as a guy who works at WMC-TV, you can change things around, you can keep things from happening on this show right?
Dave Brown: "Well I couldn't just keep what happened off the show. We are live"
Doug Gilbert: "Well that's fine, you can't tell me when Brian Christopher comes out here, and you're going to be disrespectful to my mom or my dad? You know what, you know that little thing in your ear that people are talking to you upstairs from Dave? I think maybe you should have said it's time to go to break. See I'm not holding anyone personally responsible for what I'm saying. See, Randy Hales is upstairs with his hand on that little button that can cut me off. See Randy, if I start saying something again, and I should talk about you up there right now smoking crack--"
Dave Brown: (Pulls the microphone away) "Alright, alright now, that's not true--"
Doug Gilbert: "Oh, oh yeah Dave it is true"
Dave Brown: "Alright, you have a point, there are certain things we can't control, there are certain times that we can't--"
Doug Gilbert: "Alright Dave, let me say one more thing, you give everyone else there chance didn't you?"
Dave Brown: (looking concerned) "Watch what you say"
Doug Gilbert: "Alright, I will watch what I say. You see, someone showed me a tape with Jerry Lawler holding his fist up saying 'Doug Gilbert...I'm going to put my first in your mouth'. Now come on Dave, I ain't that corny. I would say 'You know, I'm Doug Gilbert, and Jerry Lawler raped a thirteen year old girl!'."
At that point, Doug Gilbert rushed towards the cameraman and Dave Brown frantically sent the show to an early commercial break as the live studio audience and those watching at home sat in shock of what they had just seen. When Power-Pro Wrestling came back from break, Randy Hales announced that Doug Gilbert had been suspended.
Jerry Lawler was already at odds with promoter Randy Hales, whose idea the whole angle was. Lawler was watching the show live from his home that morning, and immediately drove down to the studio and demanded a copy of the video. His behavior was so erratic that he was said to have been asked to leave the studio, and he ended up being banned from the TV5 station. This incident is thought to have played a large part in souring the relationship between Power-Pr0 Wrestling and Channel 5.
Randy Hales luck continued to get worse. What was supposed to be the hottest angle of the fall had become an enormous embarrassment to all involved. Business continued to get worse. The Occupational Health and Safety Association evaluated Power Pro-Wrestling and determined that they were severely under-insured, and wanted Channel 5 to pay $100,000 more per year. Channel 5 wanted Randy Hales to cover this increase, as well as purchase $30,000 worth of new curtains and new bleachers to upgrade the look and comfort of the facilities. Hales, largely due to his relationship with Jerry Lawler falling apart due to the angle, soon had his relationship with the WWF as a developmental territory dissolved. With Power Pro-Wrestling no longer in business, Hales now works as the manager of a Sonic Burger in the Memphis area.
Legal action stemmed from the angle as well. Jerry Lawler strongly considered pressing defamation charges against Doug Gilbert, but Gilbert didn't have any money to sue for so Lawler quietly dropped the suit. Even Peggy Gilbert got into the action, exploring legal action against Randy Hales over his promotion claiming that she was messing around with the local ice cream man.
And Doug Gilbert and Jerry Lawler are still said to hate each other. Doug Gilbert and Tommy Rich would start an opposition group to Power Pro-Wrestling several months later. The promotion, dubbed Kick Ass Wrestling, incorporated elements of groups such as Extreme Championship Wrestling. In a local radio interview promoting the groups debut event, Gilbert spent most of the time running down Jerry Lawler. Needless to say, Kick Ass Wrestling was a short lived concept. Gilbert still wrestles occasional shows for Supreme Championship Wrestling.
The aftermath of Doug Gilbert's outburst may have been the most notable impact of his career. He had gotten himself fired, created a divide between Jerry Lawler and Randy Hales that resulted in two new major promotions sprouting up in Memphis, lended a major hand in the WWF pulling out of PPW and indirectly weakened the relationship between Channel 5 and Randy Hales. Not bad for ten minutes work.
On the Saturday morning following Doug Gilbert's tirade, no mention was made of he, Tommy Rich, or the entire episode that unfolded at WMC-TV studios the week before.
Some things are better off forgotten.