Monday, December 07, 2015

Johnny "The Champ" Valentine's Final Feud Was a Memorable One

by David Chappell
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

All good things must come to an end, as the old saying goes. Johnny Valentine began his legendary wrestling career in 1949. When Valentine entered the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling area in late 1973, he was still going strong. Fast forward to the autumn of 1974, and Valentine was the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Champion and was defending his 2000 silver dollars against all comers. Against that backdrop, it’s hard to fathom that Valentine’s last wrestling feud was about to begin.

Johnny "The Champ" Valentine
On the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling television show that was taped on October 2, 1974, Johnny “The Champ” Valentine defended his 2000 silver dollars against the challenge of Tim Woods. At this juncture, Valentine was putting his fish bowl full of money up against any wrestler who could pin him or make him submit in ten minutes. Up to this point in his silver dollar challenge, Valentine had only wrestled grapplers on the regular roster of Jim Crockett Promotions.

Woods was a different opponent for Valentine in many respects. Tim was known by fans who had followed wrestling in the territory in years past, as “Mr. Wrestling.” Wearing a white mask, Mr. Wrestling was the consummate scientific grappler who had the “good guy” personality to match. But as Woods prepared to face Valentine, he came in the ring without his trademark white mask, and for the first time the area’s fans saw his face.

While the “unmasked” Woods came into the match with Valentine after being out of the area for a long while, color commentator David Crockett welcomed him back with open arms, proclaiming he was sure Woods would use his stellar amateur background to upend Valentine. And Crockett looked correct, as Woods had Valentine pinned for at least 15 seconds after a referee bump, but with no one there to count down Valentine’s shoulders.

As bad luck would have it for Woods, when he went to check on the status of the referee, Valentine recovered, caught Tim in his vertical suplex hold, and hooked the figure four leg-lock on him. Woods conceded, but Johnny would not break the hold and broke Woods’ leg. As Tim was screaming in pain, Valentine could be seen smiling. In the next few weeks, fans were told that Valentine was summoned to St. Louis to meet with NWA President Sam Muchnick to answer for his actions. Valentine was fined by the NWA, and Johnny’s defense was that he was hit in the ear and could not hear Tim’s cries that he was giving up.

'Mr. Wrestling" Tim Woods
Clearly, Tim Woods had a lot to be upset about with the way he was abused by Valentine in that fateful TV match in the Mid-Atlantic territory. But nothing was heard about or from Woods until the night of July 26, 1975, when he re-entered the Mid-Atlantic area, defeating Jerry Blackwell in the Greensboro Coliseum. Because of the length of time that had elapsed since the October 2, 1974 incident, numerous Mid-Atlantic TV shows were used to show footage of Woods’ leg being broken, to acclimate the viewers again to Valentine’s dastardly deeds.

Woods was back in the Mid-Atlantic area, and he vowed to exact revenge on Valentine, now the United States Heavyweight Champion, and was effective in expressing that sentiment to everyone. Tim showed a fire and rage that had never been seen out of him before. Valentine took notice of the “no more Mr. Nice Guy” Tim Woods, referred to him as a madman, and put a “bounty” on him to try to get Woods hurt and put out of the territory. Inexplicably, no amount of money was ever attached to Valentine’s bounty. The fans were simply told it was for a substantial amount of money!

In August of 1975 there were a number of wild “Bounty Matches” around the territory, with Ric Flair being the main man who attempted to put Woods out of wrestling for Valentine. These bounty matches continued into September, with Woods ultimately dispatching all of the bounty hunters. That led Valentine to angrily say on a local Hampton, Virginia promo, “The bounty didn’t do any good. I left all this work to boys, well, I guess it’s going to take a man to get rid of Tim Woods, and I will do that.”

August also saw lower card wrestler Bob Bruggers trick Valentine in a TV segment into signing a contract with Tim Woods’ name on it! That led to five explosive single matches between Woods and Valentine between August 19th and October 3rd, which were ferocious and bloody, and often ended in out of control disqualification finishes.

Fans were also teased with some “drama” in September to add to the intrigue of this feud. Woods said he knew a secret about Valentine, and that Valentine knew that Woods knew about this secret information. Tim thought this could have played a part in the bounty being put on his head, in addition to the fact that Valentine didn’t want to wrestle him! Also at the end of September, Valentine knocked out Woods’ two front teeth when the two passed in the hallway of the WRAL TV studios. Valentine told announcer Les Thatcher that when he saw Woods at that moment, he lost his cool and just couldn’t help himself! When Woods was interviewed on the same program, Tim made sure the fans got a big smile from him showing his front teeth missing!

Tragically, the horrific plane crash in Wilmington, NC on October 4, 1975 ended this feud, and Johnny Valentine’s wrestling career. Ironically, Tim Woods and Valentine were on the same plane that went down, along with Valentine’s chief bounty hunter, Ric Flair. That fact created more than a few anxious moments for the promotion!

Johnny Valentine’s final feud was bitter and violent, and certainly brought out the best in his opponent, Tim Woods. It’s an open question how the feud would have progressed had the events in Wilmington not intervened.  Would Tim have gotten his revenge and threatened Johnny’s prized United States Title? Or would Valentine have methodically worn down and dispatched Woods, like he did with so many others during his career? We’ll, of course, never know.

But two things we surely do know about Johnny Valentine’s final feud…it ended way too soon once it finally got going, and its sheer intensity made it a memorable one for everybody who was privileged to witness it.