"Everything he did seemed meaningful." It's a statement you hear again and
again from the contemporaries of Johnny Valentine. His slow, methodical
style of beating up opponents infuriated fans, while his requests for harder
hits from his foe would thrill those same fans. Everything was designed to
make it look as real as possible.
"Johnny's way was to get a guy in a simple hold-like a hammerlock-cinch up
on it, let go, beat the &*@# out of his opponent, then clamp on the hold
again. This could go on for ten, even twenty minutes," wrote Ric Flair in
his autobiography. "But you know, the crowd got into it. They really
believed that he was hurting the guy with that hold."
"In the ring he's like a wild animal, snarling, slugging, gouging at his
victim's eyes and trying to dismember the head from the rest of the body,"
once wrote the respected Stanley Weston. The Brain Buster elbow drop was
Valentine's finisher, and he also used the Human Torture Rack and the Atomic
Skull Crusher elbow smash. But it was ring psychology that was his greatest
weapon. He would only reluctantly run the ropes or take bumps since, in his
way of thinking, that would never happen in a real fight.
Born John Wisniski on September 22, 1929 in Hobart, Washington, he got into
wrestling in 1947 and was soon travelling the world. His career began in
Argentina, but he quickly made a name for himself in the United States and
Canada, with trips to Japan mixed in. A headliner for most of his career,
the 6'4", 240-pound Valentine could be counted on to have the fans talking
about him after they left the arena.
During his illustrious career "Handsome" Johnny Valentine amassed an
impressive 50+ championships belts, varying from the Florida title-the first
he held-beating Danny Dusek on July 17, 1950 to the U.S. title in the
Mid-Atlantic territory, which he beat Harley Race for in 1975. The U.S. belt
was to be his last, as he was forced to vacate the title when injuries
sustained on a October 4, 1975 plane crash in Wilmington, North Carolina
forced him to retire.
Valentine would still be around wrestling for years, however, at ringside in
the Mid-Atlantic, and through the exploits of his son, Greg "The Hammer"
Valentine. "I never grew up with my father, but when I watched him wrestle
it was like a voice inside of me saying, 'This is you. You can do this. This
is you!' My father might have known that too," once said "The Hammer."
On April 24, 2001, the great Johnny Valentine died in River Oaks, Texas after
battling many health issues. He was 72.
- Chris Sokol and Greg Oliver