Sunday, April 1, 2018

Johnny and Greg: The Valentines

There were quite a few Father-Son combinations that appeared in Toronto over the years though not always at the same time. There were a few that worked here in different eras, Warren and Nick Bockwinkel, Brother and Don Leo Jonathon, Bruno Sr and Bruno Jr (later David) Sammartino, and Bob Sr. and Bob Jr. Orton.

Others overlapped and worked on the same card at least once include Angelo Sr. and Angelo Jr. Mosca, Whipper and Whipper (Phil) Jr., Blackjack Sr. and Blackjack Jr. (later Barry Windham) Mulligan, Gene and Kelly (and Nick different era) Kiniski, Angelo and Randy and Lanny Poffo, and Johnny and Greg Valentine.

Over the course of their careers in Toronto the most successful of these father-son combo's as far as both careers standing on their own would have to be Johnny and Greg. Each made an impact in different eras in both single and tag team bouts and headlined their share of main events at Maple Leaf Gardens and around the Ontario scene.

Johnny would appear here over a 13 year stretch from 1962 -1975 while Greg would see action from 1970-1983 in the NWA era and continue on in 1984 for the WWF.

Greg would also prove to have one of the most successful careers of any of the 'sons' in the game, up there with the Funks, Harts, Von Erich's, Bockwinkel, Don Leo, and a short list of others.

Johnny, like other fathers including Whipper, Gene, Bruno, and Mosca would be considered a 'Toronto' regular and if compiling a top ten of Toronto stars from the 1950's up - Valentine would make that short list.

First we will look at Johnny's appearance and early years here in Toronto

Johnny Valentine
First main 1962

Johnny debuted at MLG in September 1962 with his United States Championship. He was long an established star by this time, having main evented in Chicago, New York, St Louis, and other cities. There doesn't appear to be much of a back-story for the Title he brought in. At that time the main title of the area was the British Empire Title mostly held by Whipper Watson but which had been inactive since the middle of 1961.

I asked MLG Photographer and writer Roger Baker his take on Valentine.

'Johnny Valentine was a wrestler who possessed all of the physical tools to go against any opponent and hand out a severe lesson in wrestling, and take his opponent to the point of utter exhaustion. He loved to wrestle in matches that would go on for an hour, and sometimes even longer. Valentine had all the tools to beat and wear down whoever he would face in the ring. He had long muscular arms, and he could bring down his right arm down on who he was facing so hard that they would double over from the pain. This would be followed by Valentine's dreaded elbow to the head, his own version of a 'brain buster.'

'Valentine had a lengthy stay in the Toronto area, he was main event status, and all ways managed to incite many fans who no doubt wanted to see him take a beating from one of the front line opponents that he faced at MLG. A list of the wrestlers that he had ring wars with while in the territory was lengthy, to name a few of the men he faced was as follows, Gene Kiniski, Bulldog Brower, Bruno Sammartino,and Whipper Billy Watson.'

He would beat Ray 'Flash' Gordon in his debut here and begin a long stay in the area appearing on the weekly cards for long stretches at a time and traveling the circuit around Southern Ontario.

It wasn't long before he got the main event vs Enrique Torres in his 4th bout here on Oct 18th and the two would go over 45 minutes before Valentine took the win when Torres was counted out of the ring
Stretching Baba 1964

He would start to meet the bigger stars starting with a big win over Yukon Eric. On the next card Valentine would earn his reputation as a vicious heel when he flattened Bill 'Brute' Soloweyko (later aka Klondike Bill) in a mere 6 minutes with a skullcrusher. Brute lay unconscious and wrestlers Gino Marella (later aka Gorilla Monsoon) and Tony Marino along with ring aide Phil Lisner brought out a stretcher and loaded Soloweyko on to it. As they started to take him out Valentine attacked Marino with his big elbow and they dropped the stretcher spilling Brute to the floor. Bruno ran out as well and they had to battle Valentine and take control of the poor Brute and get him to safety. The fans were said to be deeply shocked by the attack.

That card was also notable for announcer Gerry Hiff being replaced for the night suffering from sciatica. That was the first time in 6 years Hiff had missed a card and he didn't miss many between 1955-1973.

That would set up a bout against Bruno Sammartino on Nov 15 1962. Against the crowd favorite Valentine would see his win streak halted when ref Tiger Tasker was flattened and first out was Whipper Watson to rescue Bruno, then refs Cliff Worthy and Bert Maxwell to declare a no-contest.

Roger Baker remembers their match-up well!

'The one match that I vividly recall, was one that I was covering for a major wrestling magazine of this era, Valentine was billed to meet Bruno Sammartino in the main go at MLG. Thousands of fans were in attendance at The Gardens to witness this highly anticipated clash.

'As expected the meeting of these two titans of the mat proved to be as violent and exciting as expected. Bruno repeatedly trapped Valentine in headlocks, hammer locks, and his rib crushing bear hugs. In retaliation Valentine pounded Bruno with left and right uppercuts to his sternum and jaw. Valentine also brought down his elbow on Bruno's head whenever he had the opportunity.'

'The end of the match was very violent. Bruno had whip sawed Valentine across the ring probably with the intention to catch him coming back off the ropes into a bearhug, however Valentine hit the ropes so hard and in such a way that he was bounced backwards half the length of the ring. Referee Tiger Tasker who was in the center of the ring was hit full force by by Valentine due to the velocity of the speed that Valentine hit the ref with. As a result of this collision Tasker was knocked unconscious. He was lying on his back and obviously injured. Bruno seeing that Tasker was injured went over to pick the referee up and carry him out of harms way.'

'At this point Valentine rushed Bruno while he was holding Tasker who was in obvious distress. An enraged Valentine began punching and stomping on Bruno. A fan seeing that Tasker was in such a bad way entered the ring and pulled him out of the way and rolled him over to lie face first on the canvas. Meanwhile Bruno was still not on his feet when suddenly an enraged Whipper Watson invaded the ring dressed in a suit and tie. He rushed Valentine and clipped him on his head with at least a dozen elbow smashes. Whippers cuff links managed to open a number of gashes on Valentine's forehead. The Whipper let Valentine know that he was not going to let Valentine's actions go unpunished.'

'It was later revealed that because of the force that Valentine hit Tasker, a dental plate that was in his mouth at the time of the match was forced down Taskers throat. The unknown fan saved Tasker from possibly choking because of the obstruction of his dental plate'

He and Bruno would meet again a week later and this time Bruno would get the win and be awarded the title. However Bulldog Brower, himself a rival of the popular Bruno, would rush the ring and tell ref Bunny Dunlop that Valentine's foot was on the ropes. Dunlop declared the decision held up and took the title belt back to the dressing room. He claimed as he couldn't see if his leg was on the ropes that the win was still going to Bruno but not the belt and that he was turning over the decision to the NWA.

The real story was that Valentine did have his leg on the rope to the count of 2 but lifted it before the 3 count after Bruno had weakened him with a bear-hug.
vs Professor Hiro/Miyaki 1964

That set up a grudge tag bout with Brower and Valentine vs Bruno and a surprise partner - heel Gene Kiniski - on the next card. Kiniski hears cheers for the first time in Toronto which leads to his turn a few months down the road. Back to the bout, Valentine gets the pin on Kiniski while Bruno and the crowd roars its displeasure saying Kiniski's foot was on the ropes. The win stands and it sets up a re-match for the next card, this time with 'Jersey' Joe Walcott as special ref and Whipper replacing Gene as Bruno's tag partner.

That tag bout ends with a chaotic finish with Valentine laying Bruno out for the count as 'Jersey' Joe is again officiating and declares the heels the winners. Whipper argues that Valentine had cheated with a leap from the top rope and Walcott reverses the finish and declares Whip and Bruno the winners.

Prior to the bout Bobby Bruns representing the NWA had come to the ring with the belt and announced that Bruno was indeed the U.S. Champion after the held up finish 2 weeks before, and would be until someone beat him again. Valentine didn't take kindly to this proclamation and threatened to flatten Bruns. Sammartino defended Bruns and took a couple of clips to the chin from Brower and delayed the start of the bout while Walcott sought peace.

In Jan 1963 Tunney matched Valentine up against tag partner Brower and the fans chose to cheer the normally hated Bulldog. It was remarked that Brower had 'more cheers at the end than he has for all his other matches put together.' Valentine was now known as the '#1 bad man in this area.' The bout was also notable for being the second to last bout. It was still billed as the main but was followed by the midget stars.

By February Valentine was back teamed with the Bulldog and on Feb 28 the duo beat Watson and Bruno to take the International Tag Titles. They would hold them until July losing them to Art Thomas and John Paul Henning, but would only make a few defenses as Valentine was busy with his U.S. championship.
Battling Kiniski for NWA Title 1966

In early June John Paul Henning appeared at MLG as the U.S. champ. It was said that he had beaten Valentine for the title in Washington and made his first defense against Fred Atkins. Valentine re-appeared on the next card with his arm in a cast and got involved in a Brower - Beast (John Yachetti) matchup knocking the Beast out with a forearm shot so hard it 'knocked him flatter than the 401' (Toronto highway). Valentine had last wrestled in Washington a few days prior to Henning appearing as champ here, and was likely injured there.

At the beginning of July 1963 Valentine would regain the title from Henning in a 20 minute bout at MLG to begin his 3rd reign as champ. To relieve the pressure he and Brower lose the tag titles 2 weeks later and Valentine reclaims his spot at the top of the cards and the wins keep piling up. Thomas, Henning, and Watson all fall in the coming months.

In addition to the Gardens, Valentine was a regular in the outer towns of Niagara Falls, London, and Hamilton, taking on the likes of Tony Parisi, Yukon Eric, and Jim Hady, among others.

In the meantime Lou Thesz had regained his NWA Title by beating Buddy Rogers at MLG back in January and had been through Bruno, Brower, and Henning in Toronto. It was Valentine's turn in October.

A preview writeup noted that Valentine would need more than his 'usual roughhouse tactics when he trades holds with the master Thesz.' Thesz would leave with his title after Valentine was disqualified and the fall would continue when he lost his U.S. Title to the Beast on the following card.

Valentine would challenge Thesz again for the World Title in 1965 at MLG and also face Gene Kiniski (4 times), Dory Funk Jr., and Jack Brisco (twice) during their visits here in the later years.

It was the series against the Beast and his manager Martino Angelo that turned Valentine into a fan favorite here. The Beast was hated but the fans really despised Angelo who was constantly interfering in the bouts. One bout had Angelo handcuffed to Jim Hady to stop him from causing trouble and that led to Valentine teaming with 'Gentleman' Jim.

Valentine would travel extensively throughout North America but would remain a valuable commodity in Toronto when back here.

In 1967 he would enter into a long series with upstart Tiger Jeet Singh, now U.S. champ, and his manager Fred Atkins. Singh had won the U.S. Title at MLG on June 4 1967 - without the help of Atkins who had been barred from ringside for previously interfering on his proteges behalf.

In the re-match on June 18 the bout ends in a 31 minute draw because of the 11pm curfew. Valentine had Singh trapped in his abdominal stretch as the time counted down. Singh wouldn't concede but had to be carried from the ring by Atkins and Mohan Singh as Johnny, glaring, stood over him.

Tunney would line the two up again on the 25th with the stipulation that the bout start by 10pm. The two would battle the full 60 min again ending in a draw.

During the summer when Tunney would hold cards at the old Maple Leaf Stadium on the Toronto lakeshore, the two would battle in some epic contests.

A bout at the end of July 1967 saw the two in a rare 90 minute time limit bout at the outdoor venue. The bout would go to an 89:27 curfew draw. The re-match a week later with 2 referees was set for a 2 hour limit to start at 9pm. Singh would be disqualified to set up a return bout. They would meet in a third match with the same stipulations as well as Tiger Jeet to lose his title if he was to lose by dq. This time they went the full 2 hours to a draw. They would close out the feud back at MLG on Aug 27 in a Sicilian Death Match where Valentine got the win but the belt was not at stake

As the 1960's turned to the 1970's his role would be mostly reduced working in the middle of the cards though he would see main events again. In the coming years he would face The Sheik and challenge for the NWA Title again vs Dory Jr. and Brisco. A 1974 bout vs Brisco would be his last main event at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Greg Valentine

As Fargo 1972
On July 26 1970 veteran Lou Klein opened the MLG card with a bout against a young wrestler by the name of Babyface Nelson. Greg would use this persona again in December teamed with Baron Mikel Scicluna against the Love Brothers.

Greg would return to MLG in March 1972 this time as Johnny Fargo, wrestling 'brother' to Don Fargo. He would team with Chris (as Christopher) Colt against Haystack Calhoun and Ben Justice. Also on the card was father Johnny marking the first time the father-son combo appeared at MLG on the same night.

The following month Greg as Fargo would take on Danny Hodge in what was Hodge's only appearance at the Gardens. Hodge billed as Junior Heavyweight champ would get the win over the rookie. Greg would continue to appear sporadically through 1974 with father Johnny also on many of the same cards.

Johnny Valentine would make his last appearance in Toronto on July 20 1975. The fateful plane crash which ended his career happened in October of that year. Also on the plane was Valentine devotee Ric Flair who would come to play a big part in the career of Greg.

In all Johnny would work at MLG close to 200 times in many main events and another 100 bouts around the area during his career here.

Following a 4 year absence Greg would appear first on Maple Leaf TV as part of the new arrangement Tunney made with the Jim Crockett promotion based in the Carolinas. Mid Atlantic Championship as we knew it.

The first card associated with Crockett came on Oct 22 1978 and featured Mid-Atlantic stars including Flair and Ricky Steamboat and The Anderson Brothers, but Greg wouldn't appear at MLG until the big Dec 17 card.
Canadian Champ 1979 

His first appearance as Greg at MLG was as half of the NWA Tag champions along with partner Baron Von Raschke against Tony Atlas and Jay Youngblood. The champs lost but it was a non tile bout. On the same card Ric Flair lost his U.S. Title to Ricky Steamboat. All three wrestlers would be a big part of the next few years in Toronto.

By this time the U.S. Title had switched lineages twice since Johnny held it here. That version passed to Tiger Jeet and disappeared in 1972 when The Sheik and his Detroit based U.S. Title took over. Up here The Sheik used a different physical belt but that's another story. When The Sheik moved out in the summer of 1977 and the Mid Atlantic stars came in in Oct 1978 Tunney recognized their U.S. Title. As we didn't have one of our own he then created the Canadian Heavyweight Title which Bravo won to kick it off on that Dec 17 card

Greg was an instant hit with the fans. Some of the older fans no doubt remembered Johnny and Greg was very similar to his father in style and appearance. The newer fans could appreciate his skills and tough demeanor in the ring. While a heel the fans still respected the style as they did with Flair and the Anderson's. The term 'remarkable talent in both the brawling and scientific category's' would be used.

The next night the champions took on Atlas and Ricky Steamboat in Kitchener in the main event marking the return of the circuit for Tunney.

When Valentine returned to MLG in February he was in the main vs U.S. champ Steamboat. His frequent partner Flair would interfere in the bout after earlier losing to Dino Bravo getting Valentine disqualified.

Valentine would frequent the Maple Leaf TV and we would also see him on the Mid-Atlantic show which was a must see for the Toronto fans.

We would also get to see the great tag of Valentine and Flair that we had only read about or seen previously on TV when they faced Canadian champ Bravo and partner Steamboat in March. The Mid Atlantic stars were so hot here they main-evented over AWA champ Nick Bockwinkel vs Billy Robinson in the semi in what had become a regular occurrence.

While Flair went back at Steamboat, Valentine would move on to Bravo and his title. Just as Johnny had ruled in his day Greg would beat Bravo in his second try and claim the Canadian title and the #1 spot locally.

It wouldn't last long however with Bravo winning the belt back in a Lumberjack bout in June and Valentine was onto his next challenge.

Valentine had also been appearing in the WWF rings as a great contender to champ Bob Backlund and on June 24 would face Backlund at MLG for the WWF title. This was their first of three bouts against each other here and they were matched well. Valentine could really wrestle and was a good storyteller as Johnny had been before him. Some fans would cheer Greg as they did with Flair, guys you loved to hate.

Backlund would stay on after an appearance in July beating Flair at MLG to wrestle in Oshawa in a sort of dream time of the time. The WWF champ would tag with Canadian champ Bravo to face Valentine and Ken Patera.

After Bravo had been stripped of the title for not appearing Tunney held a tournament in September 1979. Valentine, as an ex-champ was heavily favored among a mix of M-A stars, local guys, and a few surprises. Alongside Gene Kiniski, Mad Dog Vachon, Angelo Mosca, Jimmy Snuka, Steamboat, and others Valentine would win his first round bout against Pedro Morales. In the second round he beat Vachon and was awarded the third round bout by forfeit when scheduled opponent Steamboat had been injured in his second round bout vs Snuka. That set up a final of Valentine against local favorite and former Crusader Dewey Robertson. Dewey got the win but Valentine was acknowledged as one of the best in the area.

Through 1980 Greg would continue to be a big part of the local scene both on his own and in tags with Jimmy Snuka. After an unsuccessful try at Canadian champ Robertson in March 1980 Greg would team with Ray Stevens to take on the new NWA tag champs Steamboat and Jay Youngblood. They wouldn't wrest the belts away but when Greg returned in May he and Stevens were the new champs. This time they wore the belts in a defense against Ricky and Jay.
Up the ramp 1981

The latest feud tearing up the Carolina's was between former tag partners Valentine and Flair. The broken nose angle was one of the best ever. They would bring the battle here in July with Flair now getting all the cheers at MLG. Flair would wear a nose protector and Greg would try to re break it while the two went after each other with full ferocity. They would tear it up again in a Texas Death match but Flair would come out on top both times. That would lead to tag match ups, Flair with Mosca and Valentine with Hossein The Arab/The Iron Sheik.

In September they went at it again, this time Flair with heavy tape over his nose and the fans went crazy when he hit the ramp. The two fought in and out of the ring, a couple of times Valentine had Flair ready for a pin but would pull him up and continue the assault.

As with most bouts between the two the blood was soon pouring from both wrestlers. Flair would capture Greg in his figure-four but Valentine would make it to the ropes. When the action again went outside the ring Valentine climbed back up and dragged Flair along He set up to deliver a reverse back suplex on Flair who was on the ring apron outside the ropes. As Valentine had him in the air Flair shifted his weight, kicked the ring ropes and turned it into a cradle and pin.

The two would continue to battle after the verdict and the other wrestlers on the card ran in to attempt to stop it, they would battle right back down the ramp.

As father Johnny had done in the 60's Greg would travel the area appearing also in Niagara Falls, Brantford, Hamilton and the other towns as well as in Buffalo when Tunney started running across the border in mid 1980.

Most of the feuds mirrored what was going on down South and on TV so Valentine would face Sweet Ebony Diamond (Rocky Johnson) and Flair through the summer but also take part in some local flavor bouts against Mosca and teaming with Iron Sheik against Mosca and Tiger Jeet Singh.

Occasionally the legacy of Johnny would be brought up in the programs or promos, comparing Greg to his father in terms of how vicious Greg was. Greg was often also billed from Seattle, WA as his father had been back in the '60s.

The feud with Flair raged on through the summer on 1980. They would appear on TV matches too in tags and 3 man tag combinations. Usually the heel team of Valentine and Hossein would team with a veteran like Swede Hansen and Hansen would be the one who got pinned. On the July 20 card Flair would get the pin in a bloody bout over the U.S. belt and again the two would continue to battle causing the prelim guys to come out and break it up.

Greg would also play a part in the Angelo Mosca-Hossein The Arab feud over the Canadian Title interfering in their bouts. On Nov 16 1980 U.S. champ Valentine was battling Mosca when Canadian champ Hossein charged the ring just as Mosca had a sleeper on Greg. Hossein whacked Mosca with a boot and the two continued a beat-down on Mosca leading to a long feud between Mosca and Hossein.

Valentine and Flair would meet all over the circuit until a bout on Feb 1 1982 at MLG sealed the Toronto feud and Flair would go on to pursue the World Title soon thereafter.

Of all the opponents Valentine faced here, besides Flair and maybe Bravo, in the top 3 would have to be Backlund. The two met again twice during 1982 and were great bouts with lots of near pins and with the belief that Greg could -and may- lift the title of the champ. In thinking about 'dream teams' at the time these two would have made a great tag team. As would Valentine with Bravo. Later when Greg teamed with former rival Bravo years down the road in the new WWF they actually were called 'The Dream Team.'

In 1982 the Wrestler magazine in it's 'out of the ring' photos page had a pic of Valentine at the counter at Toronto Airport (saw a few wrestlers there back in the day) with the caption 'the courageous woman behind the counter said to Greg's face, 'I'm finally glad you're leaving.'

After Flair had won the NWA World Title he would defend here 10 times between 1981-1984 on his different reigns. Valentine would earn one of those title shots in May 1983. He would get billing as #1 contender and the play-up to the bout would press the fact that the two former partners knew each other so well the fans were due for a good battle.
with Canadian belt 2003

In the summer of 1983 as U.S. champ Valentine would appear on the big 'Night Of Champions' card at Exhibition Stadium. He and arch-rival Wahoo McDaniel would have a brawl that ended with both being counted out of the ring. The follow up card 'Return of the Champions' had Valentine defending against one Cy Jergensen, an opener type from the Carolina's in his only appearance in Toronto

A feud with Roddy Piper would close out the year culminating with a bloody dog-collar match. That would mark the last appearance for Greg in the NWA days here. When Jack Tunney aligned with the WWF exclusively in July 1984 Greg would appear on that first card facing another ex Canadian champ Sgt Slaughter. When new champ Hulk Hogan made hist first WWF appearance on the next card he would face - Greg Valentine. A new chapter would be written.

Thanks to Roger Baker for his memories of Johnny !

All Photos by Roger Baker
G Valentine champ, G Valentine Promo, Flair-Valentine is a mag shot
G Valentine ramp - MLW
G Valentine 2003 - Chris Kovachis