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Richmond Reflections

by David Chappell


Like many wrestling fans, I was saddened to learn of the recent passing away of Johnny "The Champ" Valentine. Johnny was a memorable performer to me, and one of the greatest stars to ever grace the wrestling rings of Jim Crockett Promotions and the Mid-Atlantic area.

Johnny was a huge star in many areas of the country for many years before I first saw him appear in the Mid-Atlantic area in January of 1974. He was hailed on his arrival in Jim Crockett Promotions as an "international star." No doubt this was true, and in short order Valentine became the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Champion and amazingly held that belt along with the United States Heavyweight Championship nearly the entire length of his stay in the Mid-Atlantic area. Little wonder that Johnny acquired the nickname "Champ," a name that he clearly relished and certainly befit him.

While Johnny played the role of a villain in the good versus bad wrestling battles in 1974 and 1975, there was something about him that you just couldn’t help but be attracted to. Johnny never took a backward step, and would stand toe to toe with the greatest foes Jim Crockett could throw at him. To this day, I can see Johnny with his fists clenched and jaw jutting out, taking ten punches from his opponent just to get one of his "sledge hammers" in!

During his two years in the Mid-Atlantic area, Johnny had a slow and deliberate style that he characterized as "rough and rugged and a lot of action." Johnny could get a crowd going without uttering a word, as he had a scowl that said it all. His interviews were straightforward and to the point, but he had a knack for getting those points across in slow measured tones that had you wanting to go out your local arena to see if the "good guy" of the day could somehow upend the "Champ." You knew that if Johnny ever got beaten, it would take someone’s very best effort to pull it off. Johnny was that good.

The specific Johnny Valentine memories I have from his stay in the Mid-Atlantic area are many. A few that come immediately to mind are his 1000 Silver Dollar Challenges on Mid-Atlantic Television, his great battles with Wahoo McDaniel and his winning and bringing the United States Title into Jim Crockett Promotions in July of 1975. My lasting memory of Johnny and more of a general one, is that he had to be pure and simple the toughest man I ever saw climb into a Mid-Atlantic ring! Nothing fancy, just pure toughness!

Johnny proved to all of us just how tough he was when he fought head on against the crippling and disabling injuries that he suffered in the October 4, 1975 plane crash that tragically ended his wrestling career. From all accounts, Johnny attacked his injuries and the health problems that marked his life after the crash the same way he fought his foes in the ring. Like a champion, with dogged determination and an iron will to do battle until the end. Johnny Valentine, in the ring or out of the ring, alive or in our memories, will always be "The Champ." We’ll miss you champ, but you’ll never, ever, be forgotten…….