Images Reclaimed

Three U.S. Champs That Never Had their Photos Made With the Red Strap U.S. Belt - Until Now

by Dick Bourne, Mid-Atlantic Gateway


 

 


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Title History of the original Red-Strap  version of the U.S. belt

 

NWA Fanfest


The United States heavyweight championship was defended in Jim Crockett Promotions from the birth of the title in 1975 until the company folded in 1988. While the title lived on in WCW and WWE, its 13 year history in Crockett's NWA promotion was arguably it's most storied period, during a time when wrestling titles actually meant something. During those 13 years, there were 5 different versions of the belt, the first being cast plates on red crocodile leather used from 1975-1980. 

When you think of that famous original red-strap belt, you typically remember the great United States champions like Blackjack Mulligan, Paul Jones, Ricky Steamboat, Jimmy Snuka, and Ric Flair. These men each held the title for many months, and on several occasions, and there are many familiar photographs of them with the belt.

There were a few U.S. champions that held the red belt, however, for which no photograph exists at all, or at least none that we have ever been able to find. Two of those men were Harley Race and Terry Funk. Race only had the belt in his possession one night, and Funk only twice. Even Greg Valentine, who held the United States title on multiple occasions over a four year period, never had his photo made with the original red strap version of the belt.

The 2010 Fanfest in Charlotte presented a unique opportunity to finally capture that image of these great wrestlers with a replica version of the red U.S. belt. All three men had interesting reactions to seeing the replica and seemed pleased to have that photo made.

 

Greg Valentine

Greg didn’t have the red strap version of the U.S. belt very long because a new belt was put in service the week after he first won it.  He defeated Ric Flair for the title in Charlotte in the summer of 1980, and appeared on television only once with the red U.S. belt. Valentine announced on television the belt still “smelled like Ric Flair” and he was having the NWA make him a new belt of a different color. A week later he appeared on TV with the brand new U.S. belt, a cast very close to the original and on a black strap. No photo was made of Greg with the red-strap belt.

When I asked Greg to hold the replica for a photograph, he looked at it as if he was reuniting with a long lost friend.

 

You see, Greg had kept the original red belt after it was replaced with the similar black-strap version.

“I had this one for a long time,” he said. “It was all busted up. Florida was broken off.”


We talked about how his Dad was one of the first to hold it, and that he was the last. I asked him what happened to the original, and he admitted that he no longer had it and didn’t recall who he had sold it to.

He then held the belt up in front of him, and even managed a bit of a smile.

 

 

Terry Funk

Terry Funk held the U.S. title for less than three weeks. He won the title in the huge Greensboro tournament that took place following the airplane crash that ended the career of then-reigning champ Johnny Valentine in 1975. He defeated Paul Jones in the finals of that tournament and then faced Jones in a rematch weeks later on Thanksgiving night, dropping the title to him. A few more weeks after that, Funk defeated Jack Brisco for the NWA world title. The matches for the U.S. belt weeks earlier had set Jones up as Funk’s number one contender.

When I handed the replica belt to Terry, he looked at it for a moment. “Do you remember that?” I asked.

He looked at it a moment longer and said, “This was Paul Jones’, right? Did I beat him or did he beat me?”

“Both.” I replied, and reminded him of the scenario that took place 35 years earlier. He held the belt out in front of him and smiled for the photo.

“There was never a photo of you with that belt,” I said.

“Oh, yeah?” Funk said, and with that he pulled the snaps apart and put the belt over his shoulder. “Well, get this close.”

 

And with that he posed for another photo with the belt much as he might have done in 1975.


 

Harley Race

Harley Race was the very first U.S. champion for Jim Crockett Promotions. Race was brought into Greensboro for the purpose of establishing the title and giving it instant credibility. It was announced on Mid-Atlantic television that Race had defeated Johnny Weaver in the finals of a tournament in Florida and would be defending it against Johnny Valentine in Greensboro. Race and Valentine wrestled in a classic 53 minute match, Valentine pinning Race to a huge ovation from the Mid-Atlantic faithful. He was the “bad guy”, but Mid-Atlantic fans were happy that one of their own had defeated Race for the title.

When I showed the replica belt to Harley, while he remembered the match with Valentine, I'm not sure he remembered the belt at all, and in the end, that’s to be forgiven since he probably only had it in his possession for a few moments, walking to the ring with it and handing it to the referee before wrestling Valentine.

“You want me to hold this?” he asked.

“Well, there is no known photo of you with the belt,” I replied.

In a manner very similar to Terry Funk earlier, he said “Well, there will be now.”

At that moment, the photographer said “Let’s go guys...” - - I was holding up the line talking with Race. I handed him the belt and, not thinking, I failed to step out of the photo as I had with Greg Valentine and Terry Funk.

I very much regret that I'm in that photo; I really wanted it with Race by himself. Maybe I’ll catch him again at Fanfest in 2011 for that elusive solo photo. After all, he was there when the original belt made its first appearance 35 years earlier, the first man to carry it to the ring and step through the ropes with it as champion.

I will always treasure the very brief moments I had with these great champions talking about my favorite belt of them all.

- Dick Bourne

August 27, 2010

 


The Eleven Men Who Held the 'Red Strap' U.S. Championship Belt

Harley Race • Johnny Valentine • Terry Funk • Paul Jones • Blackjack Mulligan • Bobo Brazil • Ric Flair • Ricky Steamboat • "Mr. Wrestling" Tim Woods • Jimmy Snuka • Greg Valentine


 

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The replica of the U.S. heavyweight belt was crafted by Dave Millican of Dave Millican Belts.com. Photos were taken by NWA Legends Fanfest photographers.

 

Article published 8/27/2010.

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