Monday, February 03, 2020

Mystery Solved? The 1975 United States Tournament Belt

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Can you imagine at what point in the evening that George Scott, Sandy Scott, David Crockett and Jim Crockett were all standing around looking at each other asking, "Who brought the belt?"

One of the longest unsolved mysteries in Mid-Atlantic Wrestling history, especially for belt enthusiasts, involved trying to figure out what belt Terry Funk held high over his head the night he won the United States title tournament in November of 1975. Because it wasn't the United States title belt.

This tournament was held as a result of the October 1975 plane crash in Wilmington, NC that ended the career of then reigning U.S. champion Johnny Valentine. The tournament George Scott booked is the most famous and, arguably, the best tournament ever held in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling history.

Not only were the area's top wrestlers involved, but Scott booked some of the top wrestlers from other territories around the country including Red Bastien, Dusty Rhodes, Harley Race, Ray Stevens, Terry Funk and Blackjack Mulligan. Mulligan wound up staying in the territory taking Valentine's spot as the area's top heel. But it was another Texan that wound up capturing the U.S. championship that night - Terry Funk.

Terry Funk holds up the "mystery" belt after
winning the U.S. tournament in in 1975
(from pg. 59 in the book)
Funk wrestled four matches in that tournament, defeating Bastien, Rufus Jones, and Rhodes before topping Paul Jones in the tournament final.

But when the referee raised Funk's hand, the belt he handed him was not the United States Championship belt.

Oddly, there have never been many photos published from that night, but there was one key photo documenting Funk's win that was published in an early 1976 issue of "Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Magazine," JCP's in-house publication sold at the matches. There, bloodied and exhausted and leaning against the ring ropes in the Greensboro Coliseum, Funk holds the belt high above his head after defeating Paul Jones in the tournament's final match. But it was nearly impossible to tell in the low-resolution photograph just what belt this was standing in for the United States championship.
Apparently, the real U.S. belt was not in the building for a reason we will likely never precisely know. Johnny Valentine was the reigning champion at the time of the plane crash and had the belt in his possession at the time of the accident. The most reasonable and likely explanation is that, in the chaos that ensued following that tragedy, the office simply failed to get the belt back from him in the weeks between the crash and the tournament. But regardless of the reason, it clearly wasn't there.

Can you imagine at what point in the evening that George Scott, Sandy Scott, David Crockett, and Jim Crockett were all standing around looking at each other asking, "Who brought the belt?"

The promoters had a big problem on their hands. They had a high profile tournament taking place in front of a sold-out Greensboro Coliseum and on the night of the tournament had no belt to present to the winner.

So what explains the photo of Terry Funk holding a belt high over his head? What belt was it? 

While working on his book about the Canadian Heavyweight title in 2019, my friend Andrew Calvert (who publishes the respected Maple Leaf Wrestling website) wrote me that he thought perhaps he and some of his friends had solved the mystery.

Andrew had just finished reading my book "United States Championship." He closely inspected the photo of Funk and thought the belt looked familiar. He consulted two of his friends who were knowledgeable about Mulkovich belts, Chris Kovachis and Griff Henderson. They both concluded independently from each other that they thought  the belt was one of the WWWF Tag Team championship belts.

But what could possibly explain why a WWWF tag team belt would be in the Greensboro Coliseum that night?

When Andrew presented their theory, it immediately made sense to me. One of the "outside" wrestlers working that show that night was Blackjack Mulligan, who just happened to currently be one half of the WWWF Tag Team champions with partner Blackjack Lanza. Mulligan had worked for Jim Crockett Promotions for a three-month span in the spring of that year, but left to go to the WWWF to reunite the famous team of the Blackjacks.

Blackjack Mulligan on WWWF television wearing his WWWF Tag Team title belt.

For context, booker George Scott had already arranged to bring Blackjack Mulligan back to the Mid-Atlantic territory to take Johnny Valentine's spot as the top "heel" in the territory. But Mulligan was presently still working out his notice with Vince McMahon, Sr. at the time of the U.S. tournament in Greensboro. During the months of November and December, he was back and forth between both promotions. And the night of the tournament, he was in for a single-night shot, his belt in his bag.

One can only speculate at what point that day everyone figured out that this was the belt they could use, but it seems clear that Blackjack Mulligan had reached into his bag and pulled out a WWWF belt that could be recognized as the United States championship - - at least for that one night.

Judge for yourself. Take a look at the belt Funk is holding in the photo above and compare it to the collage of photos of various WWWF Tag Team champions of that era below.

Three different teams wearing the WWWF Tag Team championship belts.
Mr. Fuji and Toru Tanaka, the Valiant Brothers, Sonny King and Chief Jay Strongbow

The photos seem to provide visual confirmation at the very least, and the argument is further buttressed by the fact Mulligan was on the Greensboro show and was the only possible connection to those belts at that point in time.

By the time Terry Funk returned to Greensboro three weeks later to defend the U.S. title against Paul Jones on the annual Thanksgiving night card in Greensboro, the company had regained possession of the original U.S. belt from Johnny Valentine.

For the better part of the last 45 years, I've wondered what belt Funk held over his head in Greensboro. No one had ever been able to provide a viable answer until now. PWInsider's Mike Johnson once wrote after reviewing my book Big Gold that I was the "Indiana Jones of title belt archaeology." That was a very nice compliment. I wish I had uncovered this information on the U.S. belt on my own, but all credit goes to the Canadian raiders of the lost ark, Andrew, Chris, and Griff. I will always be grateful to them. (Visit Andrew Calvert's website at

While we can't be 100% certain the mystery is solved, it's as close as we've ever come, and it's hard to imagine any other possibility at this point. But we are always open to further information.

I regret not having this information before finishing my book on the United States title history. But I hope to include it in an updated volume at some point. 

For all the details on the rich history of JCP's United States Heavyweight Championship, the champions, and the five belts that represented the title, check out our book "United States Championship" available via he Mid-Atlantic Gateway Book Store and on