When Greg Valentine entered the Mid-Atlantic area in September of 1976, he had previously been a star in many other parts of the country. Ric Flair had already been in Jim Crockett Promotions for nearly two and a half years then, and the “Nature Boy” had established himself as a major force to be reckoned with. Greg entered the territory billed as the “brother” of the great Johnny “The Champ” Valentine, who Mid-Atlantic fans knew well and who had been forced to leave the area almost exactly a year prior due to injuries sustained in the infamous Wilmington, North Carolina plane crash. Ironically, Ric Flair was injured in that same crash.
The rugged outspoken Greg Valentine hit the ground running in the Mid-Atlantic area, and he and Flair quickly became fast friends. It didn’t take long for the two to start teaming, and almost immediately they set their sights on the NWA World Tag Team Championship. This happened because a surprising rift rapidly developed between the young and ambitious team of Flair and Valentine, and the veteran champions, Ric’s cousins, Gene and Ole Anderson.
The first concrete evidence that confirmed that Flair was going to side with Valentine and break with the Andersons occurred in a 6 man tag team match shown on the Wide World Wrestling television show in early November of 1976 pitting Ric, Greg and Gene Anderson against Tim Woods, Dino Bravo and Sandy Scott. Regarding the budding “family” dispute, Ric told announcer Ed Capral, “I got too big for the Andersons. Gene Anderson was trying to lead the match, telling me what to do, and by now you know as well as anybody in the wrestling world knows, and now Gene and Ole Anderson know it, nobody tells me what to do! I go my own way, do my own thing, and I know how to handle myself in that wrestling ring.”
A short film clip of the 6 man match was played which showed Flair tag in Gene Anderson, and almost simultaneously Sandy Scott hit Gene with a solid drop kick. Gene wasn’t happy with Flair for being put in that compromising position, and Gene confronted Ric about it in the ring. In response, Flair unceremoniously slapped Gene right in the face! Ric explained to Capral, “All it is, is Gene Anderson tryin’ to tell me something again. Gene and Ole Anderson tryin’ to tell the Nature Boy what to do. Can you believe that? So, I tell ya what…I slapped his face. And I showed everybody in TV-land exactly what he is…a nothin’ happenin’ gutless punk! So I hope he goes and gets his brother, because myself and Valentine are ready anytime he’s ready.”
The tension built between Flair and Valentine and the “Minnesota Wrecking Crew” over the next month and a half, but there were only a handful of matches between the new rivals initially, due to the fact that Gene and Ole had moved their base of operations to the Georgia wrestling territory. But the inaugural matches between these four rivals were absolutely stupendous.
Asheville, North Carolina saw the first two battles between these four ultra tough guys. On November 7, 1976, just a few days after the incident between Flair and Gene Anderson on television, the two teams hooked up in a fiery encounter where there was NO way the referee could keep order! This historic first bout between Valentine and Flair against the Andersons thus ended up in a double disqualification result. The combatants returned to Asheville on December 12, 1976, with each team adding a partner to make it a violent 6 man tag team match. Ric and Greg enlisted the help of the rugged Blackjack Mulligan, while Gene and Ole convinced their former rival “Chief” Wahoo McDaniel to join their side. This match was just as out-of-control as the earlier Asheville bout! A real red hot rivalry was coming to life!
Controversy reigned when Ric and Greg battled the World Champion Anderson Brothers in their next bout against each other. It was certainly not a Merry Christmas in Greenville, South Carolina for Valentine and Flair, as they dropped a disputed decision to Gene and Ole. What Flair and Valentine couldn’t stomach was that Wahoo McDaniel, the Andersons’ recent tag team partner, was assigned by the NWA as special referee for the December 25, 1976 bout in Greenville’s Memorial Auditorium. Whether Wahoo cost Flair and Valentine the Greenville match is open to debate, but the challengers were furious! Luckily, they only had to wait one day for another chance at the Andersons, and Wahoo would not be the referee in the return bout.
The parties headed north to the cavernous Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, North Carolina for an epic battle on December 26, 1976. Gene and Ole Anderson put their World Tag Team belts on the line against Flair and Valentine in a No Disqualification match. Truly, this match was a battle of the bullies! While the Andersons were within an eyelash on several occasions of retaining their belts, Valentine and Flair were able to dig deep and came up large in the bout’s biggest moments. While all four participants were bloody and exhausted, this bout of unparalleled violence and fury turned in the direction of the younger challengers as the clock ticked toward the 60 minute time limit mark. Ric and Greg would ultimately outlast the Andersons, and utter fatigue, to triumph and bring the NWA World Tag Team Titles back to the Mid-Atlantic area!
While the crowd in Greensboro was split in their rooting interest, there was nevertheless an air of amazement that the Minnesota Wrecking Crew had been dethroned in their presence. As good as Flair and Valentine were, the Anderson Brothers had dominated and controlled the NWA World Tag Team Titles for nearly two years straight. Everybody knew that it would take a herculean effort to knock them off. The “Nature Boy” and the “Bionic Elbow” somehow found it within themselves to produce that kind of resolve…and they needed it all.
On the first Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling TV show to air in the new year of 1977, Flair and Valentine triumphantly appeared on the set with their new championship hardware. Flair proudly exclaimed to announcer Bob Caudle, “For two and a half years, the Nature Boy has been walking around, lookin’ beautiful, talkin’ his stuff. And now, I can stand here and tell you, that I am a World Champion! That’s right, Valentine and I, the great Greg Valentine and I ladies and gentlemen, are now the World Tag Team Champions! And I don’t care how many announcers or how many newspapers, UPI or whatever, nobody can carry it to you, like ME! Because I know, and you know, that you get down on the ground and worship every step that Valentine and I take. You wish you were like us…everybody wants to be a World Champion; everybody wants to be number one. From now on it’s more bright lights, more pretty ladies, more big cars, more pretty clothes…and brother, we’re gonna do it all, you and me! WOOOOO!!”
Valentine gruffly added, “Just like the Nature Boy said, you know, you people for the past year have been lookin’ at the ugly faces of Ole and Gene Anderson representing the world championship tag team belts. But now you’ve got a couple of guys with a lotta class, a lotta good looks, a lotta muscles…baby we’re in shape, we are the best! That’s why we’re the World Champions, not regional champions, but the World…do ya see that right there? That’s the whole world right on that belt!”
The Nature Boy couldn’t help but take a parting shot at cousin Ole before wrapping up the interview, concluding,
“I just wanna say one thing…and I hope Ole Anderson’s listening! Ole, this is your belt baby…the Nature Boy took it away from ya, and the Nature Boy is gonna wear it as long as he wants to wear it! So Ole, take a look at this baby, and you and you nothin’ happenin’ Gene, WOOOOO, eat your hearts out!!”
To be continued!
Stay tuned for PART TWO of the story of Flair and Valentine - - The "Mid-Atlantic Dream Team!"