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Johnny the Champ

Johnny Valentine was the wrestler that made wrestling real for me. His matches were stiff and brutal affairs and anyone over 40 who saw one live, never and I mean NEVER forgot him. The first time I saw him was on cable television and I think it was in Florida about 1970-71. Valentine appeared in this territory for about a month. With in this short time frame Valentine would have some really hard-hitting matches, break somebody's leg, and then get suspended for life from the territory. I figured this guy was all business and nobody wanted to wrestle him.

I was not far from the truth.

I heard that Valentine was going to wrestle in the Mid-Atlantic and I couldn't wait to see him. I had to work at the Big Bear grocery store on Valentines first night in Greensboro. But I was very curious just what happened. There was this young girl that worked there who was a check out girl and somebody told me she went that night. She stopped by the bottle room to talk and I asked her if she went to the matches.

"Did you see Johnny Valentine?" I asked.
"Yes I did! And that man is the devil!"

I started joking around with her but she would not change her mind. She was totally scared of Johnny Valentine. Valentine was in the middle of the card that night and he was in the main event from then on. I knew from that moment on, I would never miss a Valentine match.

And I didn't.

Johnny Valentine was about six-two and about two-fifty. His body was always tanned and he looked chiseled in stone. He always wore a black robe with a red lining. He was the one guy that everybody feared and respected.

Valentine started this gimmick with one thousand silver dollars in a fish bowl reward for anyone who could defeat him in ten minutes. It was a brilliant idea and made all his matches seem important. Every television match was interesting and Valentine would methodically run his hands through his sliver dollars to help kill time on his match.

Trust me when I tell you that was the easy part of any Valentine match. When he got in the ring he would just crush people physically with his slow methodical style. Valentine would slowly stalk his opponents in the ring. Then he would grab them, pull them over the ropes and deliver the most punishing fore arm smash in wrestling history.

One television match Valentine was tagging with Ric Flair verses Johnny Weaver and a big young kid named Tony Atlas White. White was a body builder from Virginia and Valentine couldn't wait to teach him a punishing lesson. Valentine bent White over the top rope and delivered the Hammer-ing fore arm and he knocked the air out of him with one blow. White immediately fell to his knees trying to regain his breath. Valentine just grabbed him up and did it again. This was totally a legal move. Simple but devastating and White was pinned soon after.

I would have paid big money to see him do that to the Road Warriors.

There was a night where his next TV opponent surprised Valentine. Climbing in the ring to challenge was Tim Woods who was a big name under the mask as Mister Wrestling # 1. It was a very smartly designed match that took me by surprise.

Valentine sold everything that Tim Woods did during the match. He even took a monkey flip out of the turnbuckle which made you believe this Woods guy was the real deal and Valentine was just a bully who was picking on a bunch of jobbers all this time.

Well, it worked and the crowd was going nuts cheering for Woods.
Then Valentine bent him over the ropes and delivered the Hammer and all bets were off. Valentine jerked up Woods and then fell on his leg with an odd twisting motion and broke Tim Woods leg. Woods was lying towards the far turnbuckle screaming for help. Valentine just stood over him like a wolf over pray. Valentine was amazing with his body language. He really looked hungry and proud that he was sending a brutal message to everyone not to mess with him.
And then he did his interview telling everyone that this is what you will get if you try to embarrass him in the future. Valentine was yelling during this interview, which was not his normal composed self. Johnny even began to blame Crockett for bringing in a ringer and trying to embarrass him on television, it really worked to perfection.

That was wrestling booking at its finest and Valentine made it work because he was so legit.

Johnny Valentine always took him time in the ring. He was never in a hurry at anything he did. Harley Race was cut from the same piece of cloth. Race and Valentine had two marathon matches in Greensboro that both went fifty plus minutes. The first match Valentine won the US Title. That was a first in Greensboro on two counts. It was the first time the US strap changed hands and it was the first time Johnny Valentine was cheered. Race was brought in as Hansom Harley Race from Florida. Those two guys were arguably the two toughest wrestlers in the world at that time and the matches were like two powerful old bulls knocking the crap out of each other. Harley Race really brought out the best in Valentine every time they wrestled. This title change marked a turning of power in the NWA. And the Crockett's became real power players after that match.

The next big Valentine matches were against Dusty Rhodes and these matches were brilliant in that they were the set up matches towards the biggest most remembered feud in the nineteen seventies, Johnny Valentine verses Wahoo McDaniel.

Rhodes came into Greensboro just before his American Dream run and challenged Johnny. The first match was very odd because Dusty kicked the hell out of Valentine. The match was stopped on a count out with Valentine keeping the title. As Valentine was being helped out of the Coliseum by the referee, Dusty jumped off the ring apron and hit Valentine in the back of his head knocking him four rows into the crowd.

Nobody had ever done that before and a re match was signed next month.
Everyone knew that was a match not to be missed and the Greensboro Coliseum was a near sell out. Dusty Rhodes got three and a half minutes of offense and then Valentine beat the hell out of him for twenty-five. This match was an assassination and Rhodes was the victim and Valentine was the angel of death. Dusty began to bleed from his head and his arm. And Johnny Valentine took sadistic glee in not attempting a pin. The referee asked Valentine to pin him and he shook his head no. He wanted to keep punishing Rhodes for the last match embarrassment and the crowd went from entertainment to amazement to fear for Rhodes well being.

Valentine then climbed to the second rope and dropped an elbow on Rhodes head and that was not a move Valentine ever did before in Greensboro. I counted at least fifteen straight elbow smashes to Dusty Rhodes that night and back then

Valentine would have pinned his opponent with just one. Valentine began to do these falling fist punches right into Rhodes bleeding arm and blood soon cover them both. Then Valentine started to bite Dusty and the blood just flowed. This match really began to get serious life and death over tones and the crowd began to yell for the match to be stopped. There was then a ref bump and no one was left to stop the carnage. Valentine just kept pounding Rhodes. Rhodes was a bloody mess and could not fight back. Suddenly, Tiger Conway did a run in and he was wearing his street clothes. Valentine saw him coming and he dropped a forearm smash on him and he fell off the ring apron in a heap. Valentine slowly walked over to Rhodes and dropped another elbow on him for good measure. Then out of the back came running Wahoo McDaniel to help Rhodes. Wahoo was wearing brown slacks, no shirt and loafers. Valentine grabbed Wahoo and ran him down into the ring post juicing him. Wahoo began to trade chops with Valentine on the ring apron.

Then the drama really began.

Out from the back came the Minnesota Wrecking Crew, Ole and Gene Anderson. They began to attack Wahoo. As they began to trash Wahoo, Ole told Valentine to return to beating Rhodes. And he did. After a couple of minutes all of the wrestlers on the card ran down to stop the match. Ole, Gene and Valentine fought everyone all across the ring with Dusty being dragged by Valentine. As Dusty was being dragged, a smear of blood ran across the ring. It looked like a Spielberg effect and added to the need to end this match. It was the moment for me as a wrestling fan. These three guys just reaching out, grabbing a wrestler and punching him in the face as Valentine continued to drag the fallen Rhodes across the ring. As a group Ole, Gene and Johnny leaped out of the ring right into a storming crowd of cops and fans. Drinks and punches were thrown both ways. Fans began taking a swing and the wrestlers and cops firing right back. They had to fight their way back to the dressing room in a hail of drinks, popcorn and punches.

It was genius.
I ran down to ringside and the EMTs asked me if it was time for them to go to the ring and help Dusty. Why they asked me is still a mystery. I guess it was because I am so tall and looked like I knew what was going on. I told them to wait. Soon a Crockett employee waved them to ring for the Rhodes stretcher job.

Man, he was a mess.

Then came the Wahoo verses Valentine feud and I am telling you, no nobody that saw a match between these two every forgot it. Every night they put on a physical display of personal destruction that really defies description and sanity. I got to talk with Wahoo one night and I gave him a choice of a wrestling poster that he could keep. One was Jack Brisco and the other was Johnny Valentine.

"I'll take Valentine! He is the one guy who everyone asks about."

So I asked him about that feud and he was happy to get the poster so he was very candid with me. Wahoo told me about his start down in Texas and his first big feud was against Valentine. Wahoo figured that Valentine just hated his professional football background and just wanted to prove to him that this was a tough business. So he beat the hell out of him every night. Wahoo said that he really fought for his life that first night and it never seemed to get any easier. So he soon left for the Carolinas

"And, damn it! Valentine soon followed!"

I said that there was no way any two guys could hit each other any harder than they did and what was the story?

Wahoo said and I quote,
"Hell, I don't know. One night I hit him so hard I thought that I knocked his head off and he just stood there. I swear he had chilly bumps on his arm and I think he liked it. He really got off on the contact. I can't begin to explain it. It just was."
I guess the poster was worth that story.

Then came the famous plane crash and the Champ never wrestled again.
That is an abrupt way to end this column but that is how the great Johnny Valentine ended his. To wrestling fans of the Mighty Mid- Atlantic, it was never quite the same.

Johnny's son Greg tried to replace his father but the reality is he looked like cardboard in comparison. Greg sold for his opponents that made him look weak. Johnny Valentine's persona was to always stand strong and deliver and take extreme amounts of punishment. Greg soon stood out with his tag team partner Ric Flair.

Next:
The Nature Boy

 

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