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Johnny Valentine (born John Theodore Wisniski,(September 22, 1928 – April 24, 2001) was a professional wrestler with a career spanning almost three decades. He has been inducted into four halls of fame for his achievements in wrestling. Wisniski is the father of professional wrestler Greg "The Hammer" Valentine.
He held numerous world champion and regional titles, including the NWA United States Championship and the World Heavyweight title. He had long running rivalries with Bobo Brazil, Pat O'Connor, Buddy Rogers, Antonio Rocca, Lou Thesz, Harley Race, The Sheik, Wahoo McDaniel, Fritz von Erich, Bruno Sammartino, Johnny Powers, Antonio Inoki and Jack & Jerry Brisco. He alternated between being a villain and a hero (babyface) during the Golden Era in the 1940s through 1960s of wrestling.
In 1975, he was injured in a plane crash; he suffered a broken back and was forced to retire from wrestling. He worked briefly as a manager before retiring altogether. He suffered from several health problems during his career, which worsened considerably after a fall in 2000. He died the following year.
Professional wrestling career
Wisniski debuted as a professional wrestler in 1947, wrestling Karl Nowena in Buenos Aires. On New Year's Day, 1950, Buddy Rogers defeated Wisniski in the finals of a United States title tournament. In 1958, he won a tournament in Chicago, Illinois to gain the NWA United States Television Championship. He also competed in the NWA's Capitol Wrestling territory. Jerry Graham, who was a co-holder of the Northeast version of the NWA United States Tag Team Championship, selected Wisniski in November 1959 to take over the title from Graham's injured partner. They were beaten for the title belts the following April, but Wisniski took on a new partner, Buddy Rogers, to regain the championship by defeating The Fabulous Kangaroos on November 19, 1960. Wisniski's rivalry with the Kangaroos continued, as the Kangaroos regained the belts in a rematch one week later. Wisniski went over one year without holding a championship before teaming with a new partner, this time Bob Ellis, to defeat the Kangaroos and take back the championship.
In Toronto, Wisniski and three different partners won the International Tag Team title during 1963. Wisniski left the territory without dropping the title. He wrestled in Japan in the mid-1960s and had a series of matches against Antonio Inoki. Those matches are regarded as the bouts that helped build Inoki into an elite wrestler in Japan, as Valentine was the highest-profile foreign wrestler Inoki had ever faced at the time. Valentine put over Inoki in the matches, dropping the Toronto version of the NWA United States Heavyweight Championship to him catapulting Inoki's career in the process. Wisniski also continued to wrestle in the former Capitol Wrestling territory, which had since been renamed the World Wide Wrestling Federation. While there, he had one last reign with what was then known as the WWWF United States Tag Team Championship, as he teamed with Tony Parisi to hold the belts for seven months in 1966. Wisniski later turned on Parisi, however. This ignited a brief feud with Bruno Sammartino, who was billed as Parisi's cousin. Because Wisniski was also wrestling in Texas at the same time, he got only sporadic main event matches against Sammartino during this feud.
Wisniski then moved on to the Florida territory, where he won the NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship three times. In Georgia, he defeated Tim Woods for the NWA Georgia Heavyweight title, on May 10, 1968, and repeated his win in a match against Doug Gilbert to retake the title. In Missouri, Wisniski competed for the Missouri Heavyweight Championship in a tournament to determine the inaugural champion. He defeated Baron Von Raschke before withdrawing from the tournament due to focus his efforts on the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. After Harley Race won the tournament and the title belt, Valentine defeated him to win the championship on January 19, 1973. He dropped the belt to Terry Funk the following month. Because Funk used a chair as a weapon in front of the referee, fans demanded a rematch. Valentine was unable to compete due to heart problems, however, so Gene Kiniski took his place and won the belt from Funk. In October 1972, Wisniski defeated Jacques Rougeau for the International Heavyweight Championship, but was stripped of the title in January 1973, after he no-showed the rematch.
In the National Wrestling Federation, Wisniski defeated Johnny Powers for the NWF North American Heavyweight Championship on September 1, 1972. Powers beat Wisniski for the title in October, but Wisniski won the title again from Abdullah the Butcher on October 19. He was stripped of the title following a match with Johnny Powers. On November 23, he captured the title from Powers, but lost it again in January. In the Japan Wrestling Association, Wisniski won the International Tag Team title on February 22, 1973, and then the United National Heavyweight Championship on March 2. He lost the Tag title on March 6, and the United Heavyweight title on March 8. Back in the National Wrestling Federation, in August 1973, Wisniski beat Jacques Rougeau, Sr. to win the North American Heavyweight Championship. He lost it to Johnny Powers in late 1973.
In Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, Wisniski was awarded the Mid Atlantic Heavyweight Championship in January 1974, after Jerry Brisco left to work in Japan. Bearcat Wright defeated Wisniski in a boxing match to win the title on May 13, 1974. He won the championship from Sonny King on November 4, and won the United States Heavyweight Championship on July 4, 1975.
After Wisniski was paralyzed in a plane crash, he remained active in professional wrestling as a manager in Jim Crockett, Jr.'s Texas-based promotion. From his wheelchair, Wisniski managed Dale Hey, who competed as Buddy Valentine in a storyline that saw the two promoted as brothers. The storyline did not last long, however.
Wisniski was originally from [Maple Valley, Washington]. He was a devout Christian for many years. He was married to a woman named Sharon, who plans to write a book titled A Never Ending Love Story of a Wrestler and His Wife about their life together. He also had a son, Greg Valentine, who has wrestled professionally since 1970 and is best known as Greg "The Hammer" Valentine. Ric Flair, who wrestled with Wisniski, has described him as a quiet person who kept to himself. He was also known for making his demands clear to employers and not backing down, and many stories continue to circulate about practical jokes, or ribs, that he played on his fellow wrestlers.
On October 4, 1975, Wisniski was in a private airplane (a twin-engined Cessna 310) with Ric Flair, David Crockett, Bob Bruggers, and Tim Woods. Because of the weight of the passengers, the pilot realized that he could not take off without reducing the amount of fuel the plane was carrying. Part way through the flight, the aircraft ran out of fuel and crashed near Wilmington, North Carolina. The crash broke Flair's back, killed the pilot, and broke Wisniski's back. A bone fragment became embedded in his spinal column, paralyzing him for life and forcing him to have a clamp implanted to hold the bones in his back together.
In August 2000, Wisniski fell from his front porch, and had a number of injuries and complications. These included a fractured back, pneumonia, staph infection, collapsed lungs and kidney failure. He was originally hospitalized for a high fever, but died when his heart gave out. His wife had purchased medical insurance through a health maintenance organization (HMO), but the organization was unwilling to pay for Wiskiski's extended stay in the hospital. As a result, Lou Thesz's wife convinced the Cauliflower Alley Club to help contribute to Wisniski's medical bills. He died in River Oaks, Texas on April 24, 2001.
Valentine has been recognized for his wrestling career by several sources. Shortly after his death, he was named the 2001 recipient of Pro Wrestling Illustrated's Stanley Weston Award, a recognition given for lifetime achievement in professional wrestling. He has also been inducted into several halls of fame. He was a member of the inaugural class of inductees to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame in 1996. He is also a member of the Stampede Wrestling Hall of Fame. In 2006, he was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, and he joined the St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame the following year.
- Finishing moves
- The Brainbuster (Valentine slams his elbow over an opponent's head)
- Signature moves
- Flying elbow
- Vertical suplex
- "Handsome" Johnny Valentine
Championships and accomplishments
- International Wrestling Association (Chicago)
- IWA International Heavyweight Championship (Chicago version) (1 time)
- International Wrestling Association (Montreal)
- IWA International Heavyweight Championship (Montreal version) (1 time)
- NWA International Tag Team Championship (Toronto version) (5 times) – with Bulldog Brower (1), The Beast (1), Jim Hady (1), and Whipper Billy Watson (2)
- NWA United States Heavyweight Championship (Toronto version) (7 times)
- NWA United States Heavyweight Championship (Detroit version) (3 times)
- NWA United States Television Championship (3 times)
- NWA Hawaii Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Ripper Collins
- NWA World Tag Team Championship (Minneapolis version) (1 time) – with Chet Wallick
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- NWA Brass Knuckles Championship (Texas version) (2 times)
- NWA American Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- NWA American Tag Team Championship (3 times) – with Wahoo McDaniel (2) and Thunderbolt Patterson (1)
- NWA Texas Heavyweight Championship (8 times)
- NWA Texas Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Rip Rogers
- NWA United States Heavyweight Championship (Texas version) (1 time)1
- St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame
- (Class of 2007)
1This championship would be renamed the NWA American Heavyweight Championship in May 1968. It would go on to be renamed the WCWA World Heavyweight Championship after World Class' withdrawal from the NWA in February 1986.