Where Are They Now? Gillberg

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October 06, 2010

"Goldberg hates my guts," Duane Gill said. "He told me right to my face."

The former World Heavyweight Champion's animosity shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, Gill is the man who found his greatest success in WWE while portraying "Gillberg" — an over-the-top, comical spoof of Goldberg's wildly intense persona. But what the WCW powerhouse may not realize is that what he perceived as an offensive lampoon was actually a tribute from a man who has spent his life enamored with sports-entertainment. (PHOTOS)

"I love wrestling," Gill admitted. "There's nothing I love more in this life than walking out to that ring."

Growing up in Maryland in the 1970s, Gill spent countless hours in front of the television watching his favorite Superstars like Ivan Putski and Chief Jay Strongbow, but the young fan never had aspirations of making it in sports-entertainment. It wasn't until Gill saw a familiar face in WWE in the late '80s that he got the itch to try it himself.

"I was watching TV one day and I went, 'Oh my God, that's Barry Hardy! What the hell is he doing wrestling?'"

Hardy, a stocky, sandy-haired grappler from Virginia, was Gill's neighbor long before he began competing in WWE. The two had been friendly, so Gill reached out to him and within days he was training on carpet padding in Hardy's basement. The techniques came naturally to the Baltimore native and before long Gill was stepping into a WWE ring himself.

"I was actually lucky," Gill said. "I think my third professional match was in WWE."

Working as a team, Gill and Hardy competed under various personas, including the Road Warriors-inspired Lords of Darkness and the masked Executioners. Still, no matter what name they came to the ring under, the two old friends usually finished the match on the losing end of things. But no matter how many times they lost, Gill was always excited to be a part of WWE.

"To me, it's like watching Babe Ruth and then getting to play with him," the former Superstar said. "I got to wrestle all my idols — Jake "The Snake" Roberts, The Bulldogs, The Steiners, The Road Warriors, Jimmy Snuka, all of them."

Throughout the '90s, Gill made regular appearances on WWE television, but was never considered a full-time Superstar and maintained a job as a carpenter while away from the ring.

"I'd be siding a house and they'd call and say, 'We need you in Rochester tonight. We've got plane tickets at the airport,'" Gill revealed. "I didn't care what, where, when or how. I'd drop my tools and go."

Eventually, Gill and Hardy split as a team and Gill's appearances with WWE became more sporadic. But that would all change on a Friday in November of 1998 when he received a phone call that would change his life.

"I was working as a carpenter for the board of education and I got a call and I saw the number and I was like, 'That's WWE, dude!'"

On the other end of the line was WWE's Howard Finkel who informed Gill that he was needed in St. Louis for the Survivor Series pay-per-view. Gill didn't know it at the time, but he was about be revealed as Mankind's heavily-hyped mystery opponent in a tournament match for the vacant WWE Championship.

"Everyone, including myself, swore Shawn Michaels was going out there," Gill said. "Then I found out it was me and I was like, 'Well, I guess it ain't Shawn Michaels.'"

The capacity crowd expecting to see the return of an injured HBK was, unsurprisingly, disappointed by the sight of a Superstar who hadn't won a match since Zubaz pants were in style, but there was something about Gill's happy-to-be-there attitude that the WWE Universe couldn't deny.

"If you ever watched it you see me pointing up at the video screen going, 'Look, that's me, man!'"

Thanks to Gill's infectious smile and obvious enthusiasm, the veteran's one-night appearance went over so well that he was offered a three-year contract with WWE. The following night on Raw, the lifelong fan realized a dream when he defeated Christian to become the new Light Heavyweight Champion.

"I was crying my eyes out," Gill admitted. "Here I am, a carpenter for the board of education and now I'm Light Heavyweight Champion of WWE. I was dying, man."

Gill's unbelievable championship victory seemed like a fluke, but it would prove to be much more than that as he would go on to hold the title for more than 15 months — by far the longest reign in that championship's history. But this legendary title run wasn't the high point of Gill's career. Rather, it was his hilarious parody of a very big sports-entertainment star that garnered Gill his greatest fame.

"I was doing stuff on the indies like "The Under-faker" and "Stone Old," Gill explained of his propensity for imitation.  "I was talking to [fellow Superstars] and telling them that story and I said, 'Yeah, I did Gillberg.' And for the rest of the night, every time I walked by everybody would start going, 'Gillberg! Gillberg!'" 

At the time, Goldberg was the biggest star in World Championship Wrestling. A former professional football player, the big man had gained a major fan following thanks to his no-nonsense persona and his historic undefeated streak, which saw him win 173 matches without a loss. Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing in at nearly 300 pounds of solid muscle, Goldberg was nearly twice the size of Gill, but their matching bald heads and goatees gave them a similar look that couldn't be denied.

Realizing the potential for comedy, Gill soon appeared on Raw under his Gillberg persona and battled the legendarily tough female competitor Luna Vachon in his first bout. The grinning impostor received a vicious beating, but the match was nothing short of hilarious.

"When I came through the curtain, everybody was standing there, crying their eyes out with laughter and clapping," Gill remembered. "It was the highest honor I ever got."

In the years the followed, Gill would continue to send up Goldberg, imitating everything from his entrance to his facial expressions, but the two men would never cross paths. All that would change however in 2003 when Gill arrived on Raw for a showdown that everyone in the WWE Universe had been waiting to see.

Goldberg and Gillberg were about to meet.  

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