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 Mid-Atlantic Gateway
Jimmy Snuka Remembers
U.S. Title Belt
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.
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 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
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
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 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
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
“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
* * * * *
The replica of the U.S.
heavyweight belt was crafted by Dave Millican
Dave Millican Belts.com. Photos were taken by
Legends Fanfest photographers.
Copyright © 2010 Mid-Atlantic