He was on the verge of becoming a legend, when a cruel twist of fate ended his career.
Stats: 6′ 5″ 255 lbs.
Born: May 22, 1962
By Steve Slagle
Wrestling’s “Golden Age” in the late-1940’s through the late-1950’s produced a number of legendary grapplers, and these men, by appearing on the newly-created medium of television, became household names during that era. Johnny Valentine was one of those “Golden Age” greats, one of the most hated villains (and one of its most prolific champions) in the history of wrestling. As a performer, few could match Valentine’s ability to “get his story across” to the fans, and at 6`4 and 250 lbs., with bleached blond hair, the large Valentine perpetuated a look and persona that is still part of wrestling to this day. As a testament to his staying power, Valentine was a top performer in the 1950’s, 1960’s and through the 1970’s — proving that he could adapt his style to fit any time period. During his prime, there was not a more famous wrestler in the country, and Valentine (unknowingly) became a role model for many wrestlers to come…
With his long blond hair, tanned, athletic build, and cocky mannerisms, Valentine was one of the most hated men of the era. His talent inside the ring frustrated many fans of the day, as the arrogant Valentine was as good as he bragged about being — and he never let anyone forget it. His list of championship accomplishments speaks for itself. Among other titles, Valentine won one of his first championships (the NWA U.S. Tag Team title, which later evolved into the WWF World Tag Team championship) on November 14, 1959 with partner Dr. Jerry Graham. He scored three U.S. Tag titles wins with partners Buddy Rogers (1960) and “Cowboy” Bob Ellis (1962) and Tony Parisi (1966). Valentine also held three separate versions of the United States Heavyweight championship — the Toronto version (1963, 1968), the Detroit version (1964, twice in 1973) and the Mid Atlantic version — the same US title currently defended in WCW — in 1975.
The talented Valentine also wore the prestigious Florida Heavyweight title three times between 1967-68, the Southern Tag Team title (w/Boris Malenko) in 1968, the Southern Heavyweight championship in 1973, the NWF North American title in 1972, the United National Heavyweight title in 1973, and the NWA Eastern States Heavyweight title (which was renamed the Mid Atlantic Heavyweight title) twice in 1974 and 1975. Valentine also wore several versions of the World title, including the IWA World title (1963), AWA/IWA World Heavyweight title (1972), and the NWF World Heavyweight championship (twice, in 1972 and 1973). Johnny had bloody, intense, long-running feuds with some of the greatest stars of any era; Bobo Brazil, Pat O’Conner, Antonio Rocca, Lou Thesz, Harley Race, The Sheik, Wahoo McDaniel, Bruno Sammartino, Johnny Powers, The Brisco Brothers, Paul Jones, Jacques Rougeau, Sr., Red Bastein, the Funks, and many, many others. He also produced an “heir” in the form of his very talented and successful son, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine (pictured). But on a Fall day in 1975, the life of this championship wrestler — and the world of wrestling — changed, forever…
On October 4, 1975, Valentine (along with a young Ric Flair, Mid Atlantic TV producer David Crockett, and others) were in a private plane, en route to another performance. However, while in flight, the plane literally ran out of fuel thousands of feet in the air. The result was a forgone conclusion, as it was only a matter of time before the small plane crashed to the ground below. According to one of the survivors, Ric Flair, the pilot did his best to land the aircraft, trying to save the lives of his passengers. He did so, but in the process, lost his own. Meanwhile, Flair suffered a broken back, Crockett was seriously injured too, and Johnny Valentine was partially paralyzed. It was a tragedy that, while it could have been worse, was a bitter pill to swallow for the proud Valentine. But the fates had left him with no options — his career as a main-event professional wrestler was over.
After the accident, Valentine had plenty of time to process what had happened to him. He was determined not to let it ruin his life, and after many years of therapy, he has regained some of the physical gifts the plane crash had taken from him. It’s not surprising, considering the kind of determination, will, and dedication he displayed during his 20 years as a pro wrestler. We at The Ring Chronicle are proud to induct this legendary champion and Golden Age legend — the great Johnny Valentine — into the TRC Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame…