As I See It: Remembering Brian Hildebrand

My frequently-told and favorite Fanweek story involves the time in August 1994 at Fanweek that I had to go with Brian to Knoxville's West Town Mall to get Jim Cornette a new tennis racquet (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, in full kayfabe mode, "I'm just here with Mr. Curtis". We walked away into the Mall to grab lunch, and Brian asked me, "How in hell did you just do that?" My reply was "Because you and Jimmy taught us to remember that your folks down here 'still believe'." It can safely be said that Brian Hildebrand did that very thing for his entire career in the wrestling industry.

It's the reason that he was honored at the Eddie Gilbert Memorial Weekend in Philadelphia in February 1998. He was the surprise honoree at the Gilbert Memorial Banquet on February 27, 1998. Brian had called me days before the Banquet, wondering why Jim Cornette and then NWA-New Jersey promoter Dennis Coraluzzo were calling him numerous times to make sure he was coming.

Brian said "Bob, what in hell is up here?" I replied, not wanting to ruin the surprise, but knowing he'd smell me fudging a mile away... "Well, if you actually got Dennis to return a phone call...if you got Corny calling that many times in a week...I'd bring a suit... and be prepared to say something".

The tribute that Jim Cornette did for him at that Gilbert Banquet was pure Cornette, totally irreverent as usual, but also done with a great deal of feeling.

Who Brian was is also the reason that WCW honored him with a night dedicated to him later that year on Sunday, November 29, 1998 at WCW's show in Knoxville, Tennessee; with a still-classic match of Chris Jericho/Eddie Guerrero against Dean Malenko/Chris Benoit... and with Ric Flair and the Four Horsemen presenting Brian with a championship belt, then getting Brian involved in the finish to count the pin. That Knoxville show was an event reported all over the wrestling world, and not just for the quality of the matches.

Then on July 30, 1999, there was the "Curtis Comes Home" benefit show in Rostraver, PA. Jim Cornette, Shane Douglas, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Mick Foley, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Tracy Smothers, Chris Candido, Tammy Sytch, Public Enemy, Dominic DeNucci, Al Snow, D-Lo Brown, Terry Taylor, Les Thatcher, and Sandy Scott took part in this tribute in Brian's hometown.

Brian kept himself going through such sheer will and determination despite a physically devastating form of cancer that he actually refereed a match for Southern States Wrestling only days before his death. He had the often-expressed hope of returning to work fulltime for WCW, and never gave up that dream.

Even after his death, Brian kept inspiring people. At the 2001 Brian Pillman Memorial Weekend, the "Mark Curtis" Memorial Pro Wrestling Fantasy Camp was held. Featured trainers were were Ricky Steamboat, Terry Taylor, Bill Alfonzo, Bill "Hugh Morris" DeMott, Les Thatcher and the stars of the Heartland Wrestling Association; along with Les Thatcher.

Years ago, I spoke about Liz Malone, one of those attending the Camp. I imagine that as he watched from a better place, Brian was getting a kick out of Liz Malone, the only woman among a group of guys, smaller than all the rest...not giving up on her dreams. No doubt, she reminded Brian very much of himself.

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