Three U.S. Champs That Never
Had their Photos Made With the Red Strap
U.S. Belt - Until Now
by Dick Bourne,
Return to the
The U.S. Title
History of the original Red-Strap
version of the U.S. belt
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.
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.
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
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 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 then, 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
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
Eleven Men Who Held the 'Red Strap' U.S.
Harley Race • Johnny
Valentine • Terry Funk • Paul Jones •
Blackjack Mulligan • Bobo Brazil • Ric
Flair • Ricky Steamboat • "Mr. Wrestling"
Tim Woods • Jimmy Snuka • Greg Valentine
* * * *
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.
Copyright © 2010 Mid-Atlantic Gateway