Gypsy Joe
Joe in 1975
Birth nameGilberto Meléndez
Born(1933-12-02)December 2, 1933
Orocovis, Puerto Rico
DiedJune 15, 2016(2016-06-15) (aged 82)
Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s)Aztec Joe
Blue Inferno
El Grande Pistolero
Gene Madrid
Gypsy Joe
Jan Madrid
Inferno I
Baby Grandpa
Billed height5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)
Billed weight224 lb (102 kg)
Billed fromVillalba, Puerto Rico
Trained byPampero Firpo

Gilberto Meléndez (December 2, 1933 – June 15, 2016) was a Puerto Rican professional wrestler better known under the ring name Gypsy Joe. While attaining much of his United States success in the Tennessee area, Meléndez also gained a following in Japan. His career lasted six decades, and his highly physical brawling style and tough reputation made him an early pioneer of the hardcore wrestling scene.[1]

Professional wrestling career

Early career

Meléndez began his wrestling career in 1951 at age 18. During a lengthy tenure in his native Puerto Rico, he went under various monikers and learned the ropes with the likes of Pedro Morales and Carlos Colón Sr. Meléndez made his United States debut at Sunnyside Garden in Long Island, New York in 1963. Primarily using the name Gypsy Joe by this point, he mainly worked for Nick Gulas and later Jerry Jarrett in the Southeastern region, particularly Mid-Southern Wrestling. During his Gulas run, he was often teamed with heels like Tojo Yamamoto, with whom he formed the No Pain Train, and The Cuban Assassin. He also joined forces with Frank Martinez to be collectively known as the Blue Infernos. The masked duo would attain tag team championships on numerous occasions. By the 1970s, Gypsy Joe was a local star of Chattanooga, Tennessee, regularly performing at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium on Saturdays and appearing on local WDEF-TV. His career wasn't limited to the South, however, winning championships around the country as well as in Canada's Stampede Wrestling.

However, with the rise of national promotions like the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling in the 1980s, the local industry that Joe had developed a career in began to dwindle. He would not be among those fortunate enough to find success in the major US promotions. Joe eventually made his way overseas into the Japanese wrestling scene, to work for All Japan Pro Wrestling where his highly physical brawling style akin to The Sheik and Abdullah the Butcher was met with success. Bloody encounters with the likes of Mr. Pogo and a penchant for taunting his opponents to attack him with weapons earned Joe a strong reputation in the death match scene and helped solidify his cult following in the region. Despite his aging body, Joe remained active in Japan throughout the '80s and '90s where he also refereed and mentored upcoming stars of the hardcore style.

Return to the United States and retirement

After many taxing years in the ring, an elderly Gypsy Joe returned to the United States in the 2000s where he performed on the independent circuit primarily in the Southeast.[2] In 2001, he attended the International Wrestling Association's Juicio Final event held in his native Puerto Rico, where he received the recognition of the promotion.[3]

In April 2003, a 69-year-old Joe faced New Jack in an infamous hardcore match before a small crowd. Due to Joe's no-selling throughout the match and headbutting New Jack hard on the nose, New Jack legitimately attacked Joe with a chain, a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire, and several other weapons. With audience members angrily shouting racial slurs at Jack, the match ended in a chaotic no-contest and became a widely circulated viral video.[4][5] New Jack was then arrested and charged with assault with a weapon.

During this period, although mainly working in his home state of Tennessee, the haggard Gypsy Joe maintained his reputation as a resilient veteran with indie appearances throughout the US. On July 30, 2005, he was enlisted as the special guest referee for CZW Tournament of Death IV held in New Castle, Delaware. The tournament featured various performers that credit Joe for pioneering the in-ring style they now emulate. In 2007, WWE Magazine named Gypsy Joe the world's oldest wrestler at the age of 73. On February 13, 2010, he appeared in the corner of Eddie Kingston and Necro Butcher as Butcher's mentor for their No Rules tag team match at the Ring of Honor 8th Anniversary Show in New York City.

Joe wrestled his last match at the Gypsy Joe retirement show on January 7, 2011. Held in Tullahoma, Tennessee by the Southern Wrestling Federation, the bout marked an end to a career which began 60 years prior.[6]


Although he never found success in major American promotions, Gypsy Joe is known for his longevity in the wrestling business, which spanned seven decades, as well as his innate toughness as a hardcore brawler. According to legend, he was the first wrestler ever to jump successfully off a steel cage onto an opponent. Joe's extensive career in Japan and participation in death matches solidified this fierce reputation, and his highly physical in-ring approach helped popularize the hardcore style.

Gypsy Joe was inducted into the Tennessee Wrestling Hall of Fame on November 7, 2015, by Mick Foley at Money Mark Productions' event "A Night with Foley" at the Nashville Fairgrounds.

Personal life

Meléndez was born in Orocovis, Puerto Rico[7] and then moved to Tullahoma, Tennessee where he gained much of his US career success.

In August 2013, reports surfaced that, after a five-year struggle with gout, Meléndez had his right foot amputated. It was elaborated that the veteran wrestler had also been struggling with rickets and that his entire leg may need amputation.[1] He died on June 15, 2016, from complications following an extended illness. He was buried at Maury Memorial Gardens in Columbia, Tennessee.

He was survived by a daughter named Jenee Beal and a nephew, Dan Wilson, who also served as his manager.[1] He also has a first-born daughter by the name of Debralee Suzette Meléndez, born in New York, on November 4, 1953, and known as Debra S. Anello (her married name), and a daughter and son by another union: Jeannette Melendez and Gilberto Melendez Jr..

Championships and accomplishments

See also


  1. ^ a b c LaFave, Jeff Wrestling legend Gypsy Joe now battling for life: Medical bills benefit show Saturday in Rossville Times Free Press (August 9, 2013). Retrieved on 3-15-2014.
  2. ^ Online World of Wrestling
  3. ^ Francisco "McGyver" Gaztambide (2016-06-16). "Fallece el boricua Gypsy Joe" (in Spanish). Puerto Rico Wrestling. Retrieved 2016-06-16.
  4. ^ "New Jack attacks Gypsy Joe". Wrestling Gone Wrong. Archived from the original on 2006-05-04. Retrieved 2008-06-15.
  5. ^ "New Jack vs Gypsy Joe - NWA Main Event Wrestling Columbia, TN 4/05/2003 - UNRELEASED MASTER FOOTAGE". YouTube.
  6. ^ "Results". Archived from the original on 2012-09-11. Retrieved 2011-04-05.
  7. ^ "Obituary for Gilberto Melendez "Gypsy Joe"". Heritage Funeral Home & Cremation Services, LLC. June 16, 2016. Retrieved September 3, 2022.
  8. ^ "NWA Southern Tag Team Title (Georgia)". Wrestling Titles. Retrieved 2009-01-22.
  9. ^ a b Hoops, Brian (January 17, 2019). "Pro wrestling history (01/17): Vader wins IWGP heavyweight title". Wrestling Observer Figure Four Online. Retrieved January 18, 2019.