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THE LEGENDARY GYPSY JOE PASSES AWAY

By Mike Johnson on 2016-06-16 12:00:00

Gilberto Melendez, known to professional wrestling fans under a multitude of names but most notably as Gypsy Joe passed away at the age of 82 years old last night after a storied career that saw him appear everywhere from the WWWF to Ring of Honor to Japan to CZW and beyond.

Joe had one of the longest careers in the business, breaking into wrestling in the early 1950 and wrestling well into the 2000s, only retiring after a portion of his foot was amputated.  He last wrestled in 2010, facing Yoshihiro Tajiri in Japan for Tajiri's SMASH promotion. 

Over the course of his career, Melendez worked under a ton of names including  Gene Madrid, El Grande Pistolero, Aztec Joe and under a mask as Inferno #1 and Blue Inferno #1.  To most, he was Gypsy Jose and was a maverick in every sense of the word.  While he never had a major run on a national scale in the United States, he worked all over the world with a hard, physical style that saw him perform internationally in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Japan. 

Originally trained by the likes of Pedro Morales and Carlos Colon, he debuted in Puerto Rico and worked for the WWWF in the early 1960s.  He found a home, however, in Southern wrestling, specifically in Tennessee, where he played a vicious heel, often teaming with the late Tojo Yamamoto working for Nick Gulas' promotion, which was later replaced by Jerry Jarrett's company.  Beyond working as Gypsy Joe, he worked under a hood as one half of the Blue Infernos with Frank Martinez. 

He was a living legend in the Memphis territory, where he worked for just about every incarnation of Jarrett Promotions and probably wrestled everyone from Jerry Lawler to Jeff Jarrett to Spaceman Frank Hickey to Tommy Rich (see above) over the course of coming in and out of the company.

Internationally, Gypsy Joe also had runs in Stampede Wrestling (working as a heel against the Harts) and was a regular for All Japan Pro Wrestling in the early to mid-1980s, where his stiff style in the ring really resonated with fans, teaming with the likes of Stan Hansen and facing Giant Baba and Jumbo Tsruta, among others over the course of a 3-5 year run with the company.

Later on, as hardcore wrestling rose in popularity, Joe was influential to an entire generation of stars who performed that style for his sheer fearlessness and ability to work that style despite his advanced age.  Think Terry Funk but on a more niche scale.

Joe would tour for W*ING and worked a number of crazier brawls and death matches there.   In 1999, I interviewed Taz and the topic of his match with Joe (seen below) came up.  Taz commented, "My first time in Japan at Korakuen Hall, my first time ever, I was the Tasmaniac, and I wrestled Gypsy Joe in Korakuen Hall. I see him at the airport, and I met him and stuff...I said to Kevin Sullivan I didn't know who this guy was, and he says this guy is a broken down wrestler, it's his last tour here, he's sick, he's dying. I said, 'Wow, sh-t.' Little did I know, Kevin was Bullsh-tting me. (Laughs).  So we get to the show, and I see the older guy, Gypsy Joe. He's minding his business, he's doing his thing. I look on the lineup sheet, and it's in Japanese, but the American guys names' are in English and I see my name...and I see versus...Gypsy Joe! Wait a minute, is this the same guy? I go up to Kevin and he says 'Yeah I guess this is the guy you're wrestling, you better be careful not to hurt him, he's really beat up and old, he's fragile. Those suplexes, you better be careful.' I go, 'Ah F-ck.' I go to Gypsy and I introduce myself again, and he's like, 'Oh Taz, we met at the airport right?' playing up the whole senile deal with me. They're just working me. They're ribbing me. Every wrestler, even the Japanese guys are telling me not to hurt him, be careful, he's fragile.  I'm thinking, God it's my first match, and I'm gonna bomb. We go out there, and they announce our names and he just gets this look in his eyes. I was ready to be gingerly in the ring. I was gonna have a bad match, but I gotta be respectful and do the right thing and I gotta put this guy over too. No problem.  (Laughs) I go to lock up with him, and he just f-cking chopped me in the chest and it felt like a shotgun hit me. I couldn't believe. I was like, what the F-ck! And then he (laughs) just started beating the f-ck out of me and caught me completely off guard and I started to get a little pissed, I started getting my bearings together and started fighting back and he kinda giggled a little bit. We had a great time in there, but for the first three minutes of the match he beat the sh-t out of me. It ended up being..what do you know?...I put him over. I did a job. Yeah, I'm a professional wrestler. Tony Atlas told me this: professional wrestlers never stop doing something: Jobs."

As Joe got older, he would work as a referee and was something of a guru for younger talents, to the point that Necro Butcher brought him in to second him at a Ring of Honor event in NYC.   He continued to work crazy brawls, including one with New Japan that was controversial in terms of the amount of brutality involved. 

In 2007, he was deemed the world's oldest wrestler by WWE Magazine.  At the time, he was 73 years old.  He wouldn't retire for another three years, at the age of 76, and only did that for health reasons.  He would have wrestled somewhere, someplace, forever, if time had allowed. 

Joe had been sick for some time and we are told his passing, while sad, was not unexpected.

On behalf of everyone associated with PWInsider.com, I'd like to express our deepest condolences to the fans, friends and family of Gypsy Joe, Gilberto Melendez.

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