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Gypsy Joe (1933-2016)

  

Real NameGilberto “Pepe” Melendez
Lifespan (listed in obituary) - 12/2/1933 - 6/16/2016
6' 240 lbs. - Orocovis, PR

Athletic Background - n/a

Teacher(s)Pampero Firpo; Pedro Morales

Professional BackgroundPuerto Rico(`51-`63), WWWF(`63), Tennessee(`66-`72), Tri-State, Detroit(`71), Toronto(`71), Hawaii(`72), Amarillo(`72-`73), Detroit(`73-`74), Toronto(`73), NWF(`74), Montreal(`74-`75), Dallas(`75), Stampede(`75), WWC(`75), Stampede(`76-`77), IWE(`77), Tennessee(`77-`80), Amarillo(`79-`80), IWE(`79-`81), Memphis(`79-`82), All Japan(`81-`85), Georgia(`81), ICW(`83), WWC(`83), Kansas City(`84-`85), Memphis(`84-`86), Hawaii(`85), USWA(`91), W*ing(`91-`93), USWA(`95-`97), IWA Japan(`02), SMASH(`10)

AliasesAzteca Joe, Blue Inferno 2, Gene Madrid, El Grande Pistolero, Pepe Figueroa

Peak Years - `73-`81

Place in HistoryIn a career that spanned seven decades, the man best known as Gypsy Joe built a reputation for toughness and viciousness the world over.  He was a few years prior to his death known as “the oldest active pro-wrestler” and he did, in fact, wrestle fairly regularly into his 80s.  Gilberto Melendez, like so many other Puerto Ricans, left the island in the 1960s to seek his fortune in New York City.  The success of Antonino Rocca and Miguel Perez led to a surge of Latino wrestlers in New York City.  While he had used several monikers previously, he settled on “Gypsy Joe.”  The name has been used about as widely as the Assassin or the Executioner, but he is the most well-known.  He worked with Pedro Morales on the undercards before hitting the road.  Working for Nick Gulas, Gypsy Joe found a degree of success, and he ultimately settled in Tullahoma, just South of Nashville.  Gypsy Joe traveled throughout the South, throughout Canada and even back to Puerto Rico to establish himself.  He worked several gimmicks, but more often than not was Gypsy Joe.  However, a Romani did not generate heat like a German, Russian or Japanese heel could and certainly not as much as Chief Chewacki did a generation earlier playing the gypsy character.  Gypsy Joe most often worked in tag team, his most famous being the “No Pain Train” with Tojo Yamamoto and with Frank Martinez as the masked Blue Infernos.  In 1975, Gypsy Joe toured Japan with the IWE and quickly stood out.  The third biggest group in Japan was heavily into violence and gimmicks, which were perfect for him.  He was more than willing to be battered with foreign objects, have his head bounced off guard rails and famously dove off a steel cage.  The Japanese loved the foreign wildman and he became a cult favorite because of his penchant for suffering.  When the IWE closed, Gypsy Joe had enough value that Giant Baba brought him into All Japan and put him on top upon his debut.  He toured with them for several years, although he was mainly in the midcards.  That exposure allowed him to keep returning to Japan for years.  In the US, finding bookings became more difficult as the territories dried up and he grew older.  Gypsy Joe, who carefully hid his age (to the extent that people are still unsure how old he was when he passed), continued to work wherever he could.  Since his reputation was most strongly established in the Tennessee area, he tended to work there with the occasional trip to Japan for a small independent group.  Not unlike Mario Galento, Bull Curry or the Sheik, aging did not hurt his character, he just gave and took hard shots.  Gypsy Joe’s name was rekindled when he and New Jack had a hardcore match that spun out of control and became viral in the Internet age.  It led him to some more opportunities leading into his sixth decade.  After his retirement in 2011, his health rapidly declined before passing in 2016.


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