Johnny Valentine in Toronto

Johnny Valentine was already an established star by the time of his MLG debut in September 1962. He brought with him a United States Championship of which there isn’t much of a back-story. He was said to be from Seattle and was the current U.S. champ. Good enough. 

At that time the main title of the area was the British Empire Title mostly held by Whipper 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 faced 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.

Main pic: laying the hammer on Professor Hiro MLG 1964

He 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 went for over 45 minutes before Valentine took the win when Torres was counted out of the ring. 

He started to meet the bigger stars 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 to battle Valentine and they finally got poor Brute 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 from 1955-1973. His replacement? Frank Tunney's nephew Jack. 

That set up a bout against Bruno Sammartino on Nov 15 1962. Against the crowd favorite Valentine sees 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 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 harm's 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'


Challenging for the World title at MLG vs Kiniski 1966

He and Bruno meet again a week later and this time Bruno gets the win and is 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.

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 than he has for all his other matches put together.’ Valentine was now known as the '#1 bad man in this area.’

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 hold them until July losing them to Art Thomas and John Paul Henning but only make a few defenses as Valentine was busy with his U.S. championship.

MLG program 1963

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' (a 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 regains 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 write-up noted that Valentine would need more than his 'usual roughhouse tactics when he trades holds with the master Thesz.' Thesz leaves with his title after Valentine was disqualified and the fall continued when he lost his U.S. Title to the Beast on the following card.

Valentine challenged Thesz again for the World Title in 1965 at MLG and also faces 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 travelled extensively throughout North America but remained a valuable commodity in Toronto when back here. In 1967 he entered 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 in June 1967- without the help of Atkins who had been barred from ringside for previously interfering on his protégé’s 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 lined the two up again on the 25th with the stipulation that the bout start by 10pm. The two battled the full 60 min again ending in a draw.

During the summer when Tunney held cards at the old Maple Leaf Stadium on the Toronto lakeshore, the two 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 goes 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 is disqualified to set up a return bout. They 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 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 is reduced to working in the middle of the cards though he did see main events again. 

In the coming years he faces The Sheik and challenges for the NWA Title again vs Dory Jr. and Brisco. A 1974 bout vs Brisco is his last main event at Maple Leaf Gardens.


Thanks to and photos by Roger Baker
There are some clips of Valentine and Hiro beating the stuffing out of each other on the MLG Film