Tuesday, September 08, 2015

A Proud Moment for Buddy Rogers

"If you were my son, I couldn't love you more, baby." - Buddy Rogers to Greg Valentine

Greg Valentine spent most of the year of 1979 wrestling in the WWWF.  The year long tour included two main events in Madison Square Garden against WWWF champion Bob Backlund, including a one-hour time limit draw. It also included a feud with Chief Strongbow, where Valentine broke the Indian's leg in a story similar to his more famous feud with Wahoo McDaniel in the Mid-Atlantic area in 1977.

Greg was set to return to the Mid-Atlantic territory in December. But a couple of months in advance of that he made a special one-week appearance on Mid-Atlantic television set the stage for that return.

Here is how David Chappell described it in his Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Almanac entry for October of 1979:
The October 10th taping of the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling TV show had its fair share of surprises. In the first match, the “Hammer” Greg Valentine returned, defeating Coco Samoa easily. When Valentine was interviewed, he told Bob Caudle that while he was preparing to wrestle Bruno Sammartino in a couple of weeks in New York, he was on his way back to the Mid-Atlantic area. Valentine was also perplexed by the “good guy” metamorphosis that Ric Flair had undergone since Greg departed the Mid-Atlantic area, but told Caudle that all he wanted to do was talk with Ric, suggesting he could reform Flair back to the “dark side.”

Buddy Rogers interjected himself into Valentine’s interview, giving the fans a very different glimpse into the personality of the original “Nature Boy.” Rogers said he was instrumental in Greg’s father, Johnny Valentine, becoming as great a wrestler as Johnny became. As great as Johnny was, Rogers said Greg Valentine would be even greater. Buddy said Greg was developing fabulously, and he couldn’t love him any more if he was his own son.
Here is rare audio of the "halftime" interview segment on "Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling," hosted by Bob Caudle and featuring "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers and Greg "The Hammer" Valentine:

Buddy Rogers talks about Johnny and Greg Valentine

That was an amazing moment, and seemed to be almost a break from Kayfabe, and perhaps caught Valentine by surprise. Greg seemed a little subdued, likely somewhat moved by Roger's statements but also puzzled by the current state of affairs with his former best-friend and partner Ric Flair.

The Rogers appearance with Valentine in this interview didn't lead to anything between the two. I have speculated that Rogers was laying the groundwork to manage Valentine on his return to Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, likely in a feud with Flair. But Rogers left the territory suddenly around the time Greg returned in December.

Historical Perspectives

Rogers was in the middle of a program with Flair, not only managing U.S. champ Jimmy Snuka against Flair, but he also a couple of rare singles matches with Flair, too. The last "Nature Boy vs. Nature Boy" confrontation took place in Norfolk, Virginia on Thanksgiving night. The finish to that match had Rogers caught in Flair's figure-four leglock only to have Rogers take out a pair of brass-knucks and bust Flair open resulting in DQ. That was to surely set up a return match, but Rogers departed suddenly thereafter.

Valentine had a brief series of matches with Flair on his return, and then the two would go their separate ways for about 5 months - - Flair chasing Snuka's U.S. title (Snuka now managed by Gene Anderson) and Valentine teaming up with Ray Stevens to feud with Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood over the world tag team titles.

Eventually Flair and Valentine would collide over the U.S. championship, a story thoroughly explored as part of the history of Crockett's U.S. title in an upcoming book about that championship and the belts that represented it.

The reference Greg made to wrestling Bruno Sammartino at Madison Square Garden in a few weeks was true. Greg wrestled Bruno on the October 10, 1979 MSG show. The match was reportedly stopped for blood after Bruno rammed Valentine's head into the exposed metal turnbuckle. (The WWE has a brief clip of this match on its website.)

- Dick Bourne