AS I SEE IT
THE HUMAN SIDE OF THE BUSINESS...AT ITS BEST...
November 29th, Knoxville Civic Coliseum.
Many from World Championship Wrestling, as well as from the former Smoky Mountain Wrestling promotion created a night to remember for a person who deserves to be remembered, WCW Referee Brian (Mark Curtis) Hildebrand.
The setting for this special evening was appropriate, given that Tennessee has become Brian's adopted home after his three years working for Smoky Mountain Wrestling from 1992-1995, and the place where he fell in love with and married his bride, Pam Murphy.
As readers know, Brian was previously operated on last year for stomach cancer, which he took several months to recover from. He re-appeared at one or two events, including the 1998 Eddie Gilbert Memorial Brawl, where he received an award from friend from former boss and longtime friend Jim Cornette. He had been back working as a WCW referee since then.
But in October, I'd spoken by phone to Pam at their house in Tennessee. Brian had just had tests done earlier in the day, and wasn't up to getting on the phone. But she mentioned that Brian had troubles digesting food for some time...and they were wondering what the obstruction is, hopefully being nothing more serious than scar tissue from his previous operation.
But sadly, instead of scar tissue, it was Brianís cancer that had returned. As Tracy Smothers said to me at the ECW Arena after learning of the news that "Brian has a great heart, and sounds like he is keeping right on fighting." It can safely be said that if courage and determination could be measured, my friend Brian seems to have the most of anyone I've ever met.
I first met Brian during stints he'd worked for the NWA and Dennis Coraluzzo as "Dr. Mark 'EKG' Curtis". I got to know him through Smoky Mountain Wrestlingís Fanweek in August 1993. For those who arenít familiar with them, SMW Fanweek was held every summer from 1993-1995. It was made up of a traveling road show, combined with barbecues, Q&A sessions, and marathon videotape parties.
Brian Hildebrand was the reason these yearly celebrations were possible because of his non-stop organizational work during the weeks leading up to the events; and during the moment to moment problems that occur when one is trying to please 55 human beings and Jim Cornette, AND work as referee 'Mark Curtis' all at the same time.
So it seems especially appropriate that someone who loves the business so much and who shows such courage in his fight is honored by those within it. The honors for Brian on the November 29th show were broken up into two separate ceremonies, one before the show and one before the night's main event. Mike Tenay served as master of ceremonies. Those in the ceremony from Smoky Mountain Wrestling included Tim Horner, Sandy Scott, Les Thatcher, Tony (Dirty White Boy) Anthony, and his wife Kim.
Then Tony Schiavone, Larry Zbyszko, and Bobby Heenan came representing World Championship Wrestling. Schiavone told the story of how Brian came to earn the nickname within the company, "the shooter", during a match on a Monday Nitro when a fan ran in the ring and Brian took him down almost immediately.
Then, Brian was presented with the Referee of the Year award and the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Man of the Year Award, a special award given out only three times in history by the PWI magazines. Brian and Pam then received a standing ovation from the Knoxville crowd.
Brian later said at the ceremonies, as he has frequently to friends that "he had lucked out twice in his life, when he got into wrestling and when he met and married Pam." Despite dealing with what doctors have said to be inoperable cancer, it's his goal to return to the other love of his life, professional wrestling within two months.
The second half of the ceremony was held prior to the main event match of Chris Jericho/Eddie Guerrero-Chris Benoit/Dean Malenko. Brian and Pam were awarded an all-expenses paid honeymoon vacation in Las Vegas....according to his wife Pam, to replace the honeymoon vacation Brian had originally set up for he and Pam to go on at Halloween Havoc.
Arn Anderson, Chris Benoit, and Dean Malenko then arrived, with comments by each. Ric Flair then appeared unannounced to a standing ovation awarding a replica of the WCW title belt to Brian.
Then there was the main event... Benoit, Malenko, Jericho and Guerrero are among Brianís favorites in the ring and close friends out of it (readers may recall my column on Eddie's reaction to Brian's original cancer diagnosis).
Those of us in Philadelphia may get this Jericho/Guerrero-Benoit/ Malenko tag match later this month, but it's hard to imagine that they will be able to top this match in Knoxville...a match with all their signature spots, and with dedication and emotion befitting the moment.
Appropriately, the finish saw Jericho involve referee Mickey Jay in a ref bump. Benoit then hooked the Crippler Crossface on Jericho as Malenko put the Texas Cloverleaf on Guerrero. Brian then came out, ran in and signaled in his trademark demonstrative fashion for the bell. Brian then took off his shirt to reveal a Horsemen shirt underneath. The show concluded with Brian, Benoit, and Malenko doing the Horsemen sign.
To close, let me retell one of my favorite Fanweek stories from an earlier AS I SEE IT. It involves the time I had to go with Brian to Knoxville's West Town Mall to get Jim Cornette a new tennis racquet. It seemed a local fan had taken it upon himself to steal Jim's racquet at a SMW house show the night before. Brian and I went to a sporting goods store and got the racquet. The clerk fell all over himself meeting "Mark Curtis". I stood and watched.
As the clerk rang up the purchase, he asked me "Can I help you, sir". I replied "I'm just here with Mr. Curtis". We walked away into the Mall to grab lunch, and Brian asked me (referring to my keeping kayfabe) "How in hell did you just do that?" My reply: "Because you and Jimmy taught us to remember that your folks down here 'still believe'." It can be said, Brian, so have you, for your entire career in the industry.
Like Eddie Gilbert, Terry Funk, Mick Foley, and some of the best... Brian Hildebrand has always been a mark FOR the business, not about it. So his love and dedication for the wrestling business, right down to the word "mark" in his ring name; his love for his lady Pam, his friendship to others, and the heart he's shown fighting his cancer in the last year make him a truly exceptional individual thought of highly by nearly everyone in the industry.
As I said the last time I wrote about Brian, please continue to keep him in all your prayers. I can tell you, as did all of his friends on November 29th in Knoxville, that there are few people like him around. This world can't afford to lose him.
If you'd like to send your prayers and thoughts to Brian, you can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next time...
[Thanks to Tim Whitehead of 1wrestling.com and Real Wrestling Info Newsboard for information on the Hildebrand ceremonies]
If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com