Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Johnny Valentine Made a Lasting Impression

by Andy McDaniel
Special to the Gateway

I have been a wrestling fan for over 40 years. While I readily admit that I do not follow the product today like I once did, the fan inside me still burns with a passion when I look back at the memories that hooked me as a child.

Johnny 'The Champ" Valentine
Pro wrestling may very well not be everyone’s bonding moment with their Dad, but indeed mine was. Sitting in the balcony on Friday nights for a bell time of 8:15 was a very special time in my childhood. The venue was the historic County Hall located in Charleston, SC. To look back now and consider the number of legendary figures from the world of professional wrestling that I witnessed in person, it is truly amazing. They all, at some time, came through the hallowed Hall.

Today the fans may not recognize names like Brute Bernard or Swede Hanson, but to me they are like names of old friends. Those special moments were times of escape for a kid who had a pretty rough time in school, who had very few friends and a very shy personality. It was those Friday nights that I looked forward to the most. My entire week was built around the trip to Charleston and being able to see my heroes in person. Unlike many who found their heroes on the big screen and could only see these “characters” on TV or in a movie, I could go see mine live, in person, every week. They were real, you could touch them, get their autograph and in so many ways, it was as real as it could be.
I cherish that time of my life. However, the greatest thrill over time has been literally getting to know so many of my childhood heroes and truly being able to call them friends. I am thankful for what Dick and David do here on the Gateway and indeed, they “keep the memories alive.”

I was looking through some pictures recently and came across one of Johnny Valentine. I was blessed to see several matches with him and Wahoo McDaniel in person. For anyone who doubted pro wrestling, that doubt was extinguished during the matches between these two. Hard hitting was the norm in a Valentine/McDaniel match. If I close my eyes I can still see and hear the very real moments that took place between the ropes when these two legends faced each other. It was magic.

In 1998, I was blessed to bring so many of the greats from the past back to County Hall for a reunion. The first of its kind, and I am proud of that fact. Many reunions have followed and many still take place to this day. I am always glad to see the legends remembered for all they gave to entertain us. My moment, however, was nearly 20 years ago, and to pull it off was an enormous task. I was blessed to have the help of Mike Mooneyham and I will be forever grateful for his help and I am honored to call him one of my best friends.

Back to Johnny Valentine: we were blessed to have him as one of our special guest that weekend. I vividly remembered the plane crash that ended his career and I knew that he did not make many appearances. It was awesome when we received word back that he had accepted the invitation to come to Charleston. I was elated, it was like stepping back in time to know that once again County Hall would see Johnny Valentine in person.

I was at the airport when he arrived and although many years had passed and a wheelchair was now his mode of transportation, there was no doubt Johnny Valentine was still a larger than life figure. It was an old-school wrestling fan moment that I remember with great joy.

Johnny Valentine at the Charleston
County Hall Reunion in 1998
The reunion weekend was incredible. The cast of characters we had there was a dream come true. At that time, I was in the beginning stages of promoting and running shows. I had formed a company and was trying to bring classic wrestling back to the Charleston area. During the reunion weekend, Johnny Valentine and I really hit it off. He asked about my plans and told me he would love to help me, if possible. I could not believe my ears, a true wrestling legend was interested in what I was doing and on top of that, he was willing to help me make it happen.

After the reunion, Johnny returned to Texas, but he and I remained in contact. It would not be that long, he would return to Charleston for a meeting and a show. We talked over many ideas and about making a real run with the promotion. I had secured some dates with a local venue and had one more chance to run County Hall.

In my book, I mentioned how incredible it was to be in a match that night and having Tommy Young as the referee. I was a kid all over again, but there would be one more moment that would take place later that year and one that I will never forget.

I was planning my next show, Johnny Valentine was scheduled to be there, Swede Hanson was also making an appearance. While speaking with Johnny, he asked me if he could book the show. It was not a hard decision and I gave him all the information he needed and left it in his most capable hands.

What I did not know was his plans for the heel character that I portrayed, called the Masked Unknown. It would be on that night that Johnny Valentine decided I should win the title and create the classic babyface-chasing-the-champion scenario. So with Swede Hanson as the special referee, I, (with maybe a hand full of tights) won the match and was crowned champion. The little kid in me was turning flips. It was one of the most special and most fun times of my life.

I will never forget the special time I spent with Johnny Valentine. The wonderful stories he shared, the laughs and his advice. He even did an interview on local television and announced himself as the creative consultant of my promotion.

Looking back on that time I can say, without hesitation, that I had the time of my life. A lifelong fan of pro wrestling, I still hear the voice of Bob Caudle on Saturday mornings, I still smell the popcorn and beer at County Hall, I still see the incredible matches and legendary figures of a time that has gone by, but to be able to say I shared personal time with my heroes is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Johnny Valentine has since left us and stepped into Eternity, but his memory still lives on in this fans heart, thanks Champ!

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Order your copy of "Reunion at County Hall" on Amazon.com
Black & White Version   |   Color Version

Read the review by Mike Mooneyham of the Charleston Post & Courier
Wrestling Book Takes a Look at County Hall