Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Cane That Wouldn't Break: Greg Valentine Shatters Ric Flair's Face (1980)

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

"I was looking at that cane and I could tell that cane was gonna be brutal to break over a darn cement block, let alone somebody’s head."
   - Greg Valentine

On a recent episode of Ric Flair's podcast Woooo Nation: Uncensored, a listener sent in a question asking about the time Gene Anderson hit Ric Flair with his cane, legitimately breaking Flair's nose. It's one of the most infamous and talked about angles in Mid-Atlantic Wrestling history during that era.

Except it wasn't Gene Anderson that hit him. And the cane didn't break. And that was part of the problem.

To be fair, it was Gene Anderson's cane, and it happened back in 1980, almost 42 years ago this summer, so it's easy to understand how the details of the thing can getting a little foggy over time.

It was actually Greg Valentine who tried to break Anderson's cane over Ric's head following a tag team match between Flair and Valentine against Jimmy Snuka and the Iron Sheik, who were managed at the time by the then cane-wielding Gene Anderson. Valentine failed miserably at the task, although it wasn't really his fault. However, Ric paid the price for it with a legitimately broken nose and 30-plus stitches in his head, face, and lips.  

Ric Flair battles Greg Valentine during their bloody feud of 1980.

Sadly, as memorable as you might think something like that would be to someone, Ric didn't seem to remember the details either, except that it hurt like hell. 

One guy who did remember every detail of it was Greg "The Hammer" Valentine who perpetrated the deed. David Chappell and I asked him about it back in March of 2004, just prior to his induction to the WWE Hall of Fame at Wrestlemania 20. We had the opportunity to interview him at a legends show in Lenoir, NC, promoted by Tony Hunter.

Rather than have me tell you the story of that angle, let's let Greg tell you himself, in this edited excerpt from our Gateway Interview in 2004 with The Hammer himself:

Chappell (to Greg Valentine): When you first came back from New York at the end of 1979, you asked Ric to be your partner again, and he wouldn’t do it, right?


Valentine: Flair turned his back on me. (laughs) When I came back fr
om New York, Ric was on the other side. He was a babyface, and he wouldn’t tag with a villain like me. (laughs)


Chappell: Then for a while right after that, you went back to tag team wrestling?


Valentine: Yeah, that’s right. Ray Stevens and I held the (World) Titles at that time.


Bourne: But soon after that, you went after Flair again. And you broke his nose in that feud in 1980. Now, one of the urban legends in wrestling was that you caught Ric with Gene Anderson’s cane and legitimately broke his nose with that cane. Is that true?


Valentine: Yeah…it’s true. You know, we were sitting back in the dressing rooms getting ready for that match. Of course, Ric was on the other side of the building. We didn’t have dressing rooms together…heels were on one side and babyfaces were on the other. George Scott came in and told me what they wanted us to do. But I was never supposed to break Flair’s nose…I was supposed to break the cane!


Chappell: But didn’t that whole thing have its roots from an incident on TV, where you came out and told Ric that you’d seen the light, and that you now wanted to tag back up with him? Wrestle as a fan favorite tag team, in other words?


Valentine: (laughing) Can you believe he trusted me?! This was against…I think it was Snuka and the Iron Sheik, right? And Gene Anderson was managing Snuka and the Sheik at that time.  So I short-armed Ric and wouldn’t tag him. The place was sold out---I thought there was going to be a riot when I refused to tag him. Ric is already bleeding, and he keeps crawling on his knees trying to tag me in…and I’m walking away from him.


Chappell: You were heartless! (everybody laughs)


Valentine: I know it! (laughs) But as I was saying before, they told me back in the dressing room, ‘We want you to hit Flair over the head with Gene Anderson’s cane and make sure you break the cane over his head.’


Chappell: That cane was pretty sturdy, wasn’t it?


Valentine: Hey, I was looking at that cane and I could tell that cane was gonna be brutal to break over a darn cement block, let alone somebody’s head. (everybody laughs) I didn’t know, but I kept saying, ‘Maybe you better gimmick up the cane a little bit, so I can make sure I can break it.’ Gene said, ‘Naw, you can break it…just hit him.’


Chappell: That was easy for Gene to say!


Valentine: (laughs) Ric knew I was supposed to break the cane. But later, I found out that the cane was made out of hickory wood. You know, the hardest wood there is! They make baseball bats out of hickory.


Bourne: Oh my word!


Chappell: Flair’s nose didn’t stand a chance, did it? (everybody laughs)


Valentine: At the time I didn’t know it was hickory, but I was thinking it might be something like that.  So I was out there, and the Sheik and Snuka found out that I wouldn’t tag Ric so they worked him over pretty good. After they took the fall on Ric, Gene Anderson threw me the cane and I caught it. Ric’s hanging over there in the corner trying to get away…or acting like he’s trying to get away. Now, Flair has blood all over his face by that point, and I’m thinking if I hit him, the cane is just going to slide down. But…I went for it! (everybody laughs) WHAM! I hit him as hard as I could…and it didn’t break! (everyone laughs)


Chappell: What was running through your mind then?


Valentine: I’m just looking at that cane. Gene is looking at me from the outside on the floor. Gene yelled at me, "Break it kid, break it!"  So now I really clocked Ric hard with the cane right on top of the cranium. And he’s REALLY trying to get away when he heard Gene say again, ‘BREAK THE CANE, KID!!’ (laughs)  I tried again with a wild stroke and Ric is moving trying to avoid it and I hit him across the top of his nose…the bridge of his nose. It went right down and busted his lips open…his lips were bleeding bad.


Chappell: Did you know you had broken his nose then?


Valentine: I had no idea I had broken his nose…I didn’t find out until a few hours later that his nose was broken. And I STILL didn’t break the cane! (everyone laughs) But the damage had been done then. I think it was Mulligan that came out and ran us all off. Ric went right to the hospital. He had stitches all over his lips.


Chappell: What was Flair’s reaction to what you had done?


Valentine: I called Ric up around two o’clock in the morning, and he was already back home. I apologized for it. And he said, ‘Man, don’t worry about it. We’re gonna make lots of money from it.’ (laughs)


As our friend George Pantas pointed out to me recently, we all sure were laughing a lot at Ric's expense. You could tell Greg enjoyed remembering that time. And of course they did make lots of money off that very real angle, drawing big houses for the matches across the territory for months to follow. The angle led eventually to Valentine defeating Ric Flair for the United States Heavyweight title later that summer. The cane angle is a notable moment in the title history of the U.S. Championship and another great chapter in the tumultuous "family" relationship between Flair and his cousins the Andersons in Mid-Atlantic Wrestling lore.

You can find video of the whole thing from Mid-Atlantic TV on YouTube if you want to search for it. We won't post the links here because the date on the YouTube footage is wrong and the video quality is atrocious. But worth at least hearing Flair's interview with Bob Caudle and David Crockett in advance of looking at the film because it is one of Ric's greatest dead-serious babyface promos of that era.

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Some links to other features on the Gateway related to this story:

Greg Valentine: The Gateway Interview
(Archive site. The above edited excerpt is from Pg. 3 )

The Ric Flair/Gene Anderson Figure Four/Hair Challenge
The angle that led to Gene Anderson needing to carry a cane.