Like many wrestling fans, I was saddened to learn of the
recent passing away of Johnny "The Champ" Valentine.
Johnny was a memorable performer to me, and one of the
greatest stars to ever grace the wrestling rings of Jim
Crockett Promotions and the Mid-Atlantic area.
Johnny was a huge star in many areas of the country for
many years before I first saw him appear in the Mid-Atlantic
area in January of 1974. He was hailed on his arrival in Jim
Crockett Promotions as an "international star." No
doubt this was true, and in short order Valentine became the
Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Champion and amazingly held that belt
along with the United States Heavyweight Championship nearly
the entire length of his stay in the Mid-Atlantic area. Little
wonder that Johnny acquired the nickname "Champ," a
name that he clearly relished and certainly befit him.
While Johnny played the role of a villain in the good
versus bad wrestling battles in 1974 and 1975, there was
something about him that you just couldn’t help but be
attracted to. Johnny never took a backward step, and would
stand toe to toe with the greatest foes Jim Crockett could
throw at him. To this day, I can see Johnny with his fists
clenched and jaw jutting out, taking ten punches from his
opponent just to get one of his "sledge hammers" in!
During his two years in the Mid-Atlantic area, Johnny had a
slow and deliberate style that he characterized as "rough
and rugged and a lot of action." Johnny could get a crowd
going without uttering a word, as he had a scowl that said it
all. His interviews were straightforward and to the point, but
he had a knack for getting those points across in slow
measured tones that had you wanting to go out your local arena
to see if the "good guy" of the day could somehow
upend the "Champ." You knew that if Johnny ever got
beaten, it would take someone’s very best effort to pull it
off. Johnny was that good.
The specific Johnny Valentine memories I have from his stay
in the Mid-Atlantic area are many. A few that come immediately
to mind are his 1000 Silver Dollar Challenges on Mid-Atlantic
Television, his great battles with Wahoo McDaniel and his
winning and bringing the United States Title into Jim Crockett
Promotions in July of 1975. My lasting memory of Johnny and
more of a general one, is that he had to be pure and simple
the toughest man I ever saw climb into a Mid-Atlantic ring!
Nothing fancy, just pure toughness!
Johnny proved to all of us just how tough he was when he
fought head on against the crippling and disabling injuries
that he suffered in the October 4, 1975 plane crash that
tragically ended his wrestling career. From all accounts,
Johnny attacked his injuries and the health problems that
marked his life after the crash the same way he fought his
foes in the ring. Like a champion, with dogged determination
and an iron will to do battle until the end. Johnny Valentine,
in the ring or out of the ring, alive or in our memories, will
always be "The Champ." We’ll miss you champ, but
you’ll never, ever, be forgotten…….