Friday, January 18, 2019

Classic Poster Friday: Harley Race Brings the U.S. Title to the Mid-Atlantic Area

Poster from the collection of Brack Beasley


by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

The title of this series is called "Classic Poster Friday", and this particular poster lives up to that name better than most. It is one of the most historic nights in Greensboro and Mid-Atlantic Wrestling history. Fitting that the poster has a different look to it as well.

Brack Beasley selected this poster from his vast collection as one of his favorites, not only because the historical nature of the card, but also stylistically, it stands out almost as an anomaly. The poster background is white and uses all red and blue inks. There is no black ink at all, and as a result the poster has a much different look to it than other from that era.  We guess that the red, white, and blue color scheme had something to do with the card being on the big Independence Day weekend.

Historically, the card is important because it was the night the United States heavyweight championship was introduced to the area. it became the top singles title for the company, and the U.S. title in WWE today traces its lineage directly back to the Crockett U.S. title.

To introduce the championship, booker George Scott created the story that former NWA World Champion Harley Race was the reigning U.S. champion, having defeated Johnny Weaver for it in a tournament in Florida. All of that was fictitious, of course, and was part of the story to build up interest in Race and the U.S. championship.

Race was a great choice to be the inaugural champion and to bring the belt into the area. He was a former NWA World champion, holding that prestigious title for a few months in the spring and early summer of 1973. He had defeated Dory Funk, Jr. for the honors and that victory that ended Funk’s 4-year run as champion had given Race a measure of national notoriety.  He had a reputation in the national wrestling magazines, which were an important part of the wrestling business at that time, and had been pushed by the NWA promoters to the wrestling press as a perennial top candidate for the NWA championship. Race gave the U.S. title tremendous credibility even before it had ever been defended.

In late May, announcers started including Harley Race as United States champion in their weekly rundown of the area champions on the TV shows. Soon after, they started talking about Race coming to the area to defend the title, and showed tapes of Race in matches from Florida.

Finally, the date was then set for Race’s title defense on July 3 at the Greensboro Coliseum, home to most of the major cards in the area. Mid-Atlantic champion Johnny Valentine was selected as the number one contender based on the fact that at the time of the first announcement he held the area’s top singles championship, the Mid-Atlantic heavyweight title.

Four days before Valentine was to meet Race in Greensboro, he lost the Mid-Atlantic title to arch-rival Wahoo McDaniel in Asheville, NC, on June 29 at the Asheville Civic Center. On the following week’s TV, taped 7/2 before the U.S. title match the following night in Greensboro, Wahoo celebrated his win over Valentine for the Mid-Atlantic title. But Valentine told fans he wouldn’t be down for long. And one night later he would be proven correct as he prepared to walk the aisle in Greensboro to meet Harley Race.

Johnny Valentine’s epic win over Harley Race for the United States championship was by all accounts a classic. Jim Crockett, Jr. gave the event first class treatment, with more TV coverage than was usual for a typical big show there. While most big title changes were recorded on 16mm film with no commentary, this match was video-taped and David Crockett and Sandy Scott were on hand to do live commentary for the match, which would be shown on Mid-Atlantic TV several weeks later.

The match had an interesting feel to it. Valentine was and had been the top heel in the territory since entering in October of 1973. He was the most despised, reviled, and hated man in the area. However, the fans had gained a measure of respect for him over time as he had proven to be one of the toughest wrestlers ever seen there. On this one evening, the fans put aside feelings of antipathy and got behind him as he represented their territory in the match with U.S. champion Harley Race. The general feeling at the time, I’m told, was that Valentine may have been a dirty old bastard, but he was our dirty old bastard. And during the long 51-minute battle fans slowly turned in support of Valentine. When he scored the pin on Race, the capacity crowd in the Coliseum exploded with cheers, and offered an extended standing ovation.  One of their own had just brought the United States championship into their home area.

The office made sure that warm feeling held by the fans for their new champion was short lived. Fellow “bad-guys” Mr. Fuji and Frank Monte were sent to ringside to congratulate Valentine and escort him from the ring back to the locker room. Fans were still happy Valentine had won, but there was no misunderstanding as to whose camp he was still in.

I've always hated that the Race/Valentine title match wasn't billed as the main event on this poster. In the newspaper ads, it did get top billing, but for some reason, it was listed second on the poster. The Andersons were NWA World Tag Team champs and defending against Andre the Giant and Paul Jones, but the match selling the show was Valentine challenging for the U.S. title.

Elsewhere in the territory on that same night, JCP held a big card in Norfolk, VA. Headiling that card was Wahoo McDaniel vs. Ric Flair, plus Sonny King vs. The Super Destroyer (Don Jardine), Swede Hanson, Bob Bruggers, Doug Gilbert, the Blue Scorpion and others. 

Worth noting also for historical purposes that Valentine was almost exactly 3 months away from his career ending plane crash in Wilmington, NC.

The entire story of the build to this U.S. title match, the tale of the Florida tournament and Johnny Weaver, and photos of Valentine leaving the ring that night ion Greensboro are part of the book "Jim Crockett Promotions' United States Championship", which chronicles the entire history, both fact and myth, of the U.S. title.