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5 Wrestling Firsts: Greg Valentine

Wrestling across five decades, Greg Valentine worked pretty much any and everywhere in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. Whether he was breaking Wahoo McDaniel’s leg, unofficially winning the WWF title belt, and teaming with The Honky Tonk Man in Rhythm & Blues – “The Hammer” was a constant presence in the professional wrestling world, a reliable worker with a ground-based throwback appeal. The blonde-locks, pounding grappler was thus gifted many accolades, which he was the first to attain. 

1. First United States & Intercontinental Champion

In the early 1980s, Valentine picked up three reigns with the US belt, one of which is unrecognized by the WWE. 

 Firstly, in mid-1980, Valentine followed in his father’s footsteps and won the US belt, dethroning Ric Flair in Charlotte, North Carolina. The reign lasted four months before dropping it back to “The Nature Boy”. 

Greg Valentine, with a purple gown, stands with the NWA US title over his shoulder.

In November 1982, Valentine won his second belt in Norfolk, Virginia by beating classic rival Wahoo McDaniel, beating him with aid of manager Sir Oliver Humperdinck giving Greg a foreign object to use on the native American. 

The most memorable title win came in April 1983 when a match between Valentine and old partner Roddy Piper focus a severe attack on Piper’s ear, which led to a forced forfeiting of the belt to “The Hammer”, with “Rowdy” bleeding too heavily to be allowed to continue. This bout set the stage for a huge clash between the two at Starrcade. 

Greg hugs Albano, his manager, who holds the IC title belt over his head.
Valentine won the IC belt in 1984 when it had the green strap.

Jumping to the WWF, Greg won his only Intercontinental belt on September 24th, 1984 on an episode of Maple Leaf Wrestling. Valentine dethroned Tito Santana, getting a dirty win after Tito mistakenly thought he had already won. The reign lasted 285 days. 

2. First Wrestler To Enter Both Starrcade & WrestleMania As A Titleholder

At Starrcade 1983, Greg Valentine walked into the ring for the antepenultimate bout: a gruelling, vicious Dog Collar match in which he would face arch-rival Roddy Piper. 

 The “Rowdy” one had been an ex-partner of Greg’s in the NWA’s Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling in the early ‘80s but soon the relationship turned sour and the wrestlers became bitter enemies, trading the United States title. This included the memorable match in April 1983. The attack legitimately led to Piper permanently losing 75% of hearing in that ear. Valentine later recalled: “He took a blade and just cut his ear right in half. Blood was everywhere, and I’m hitting him with the belt. It just looked horrible. It looked hideous.” 

Valentine chokes Piper over the top rope with a chain, both caked in blood.
(Photo courtesy of Tape Machines Are Rolling)

Valentine walked into the match as the US champion and lost to Piper in a famously barbaric encounter. The match was non-title though, a move to ensure babyface Piper emerged with a redemption story whilst not giving the belt to the soon-to-be-departing Scotsman.  

Greg became one of few stars – alongside Ricky Steamboat, Roddy Piper, and “Cowboy” Bob Orton (who acted as a manager at WrestleMania I) – to perform on both the first Starrcade and first WrestleMania cards. 

Greg Valentine, decked in shades, conducts an interview as manager Jimmy Hart presents the IC title.
Greg’s pre-match interview at WrestleMania I.

Not just that but Greg also walked into the inaugural WrestleMania as champion, with the WWF equivalent of the US belt, the Intercontinental title. The belt, which he had won six months earlier on the September 1984 edition of Maple Leaf Wrestling, was defended against Junkyard Dog.  

3. First Wrestler To Defend A Title At WrestleMania

Greg became the first wrestler to defend a title at ‘Mania when defending his IC belt against the ultra-popular JYD at the first event. 

Junkyard Dog holds the leg of Greg Valentine as he attempts a kick.
JYD catches “The Hammer”‘s leg when he attempts a gut kick.

In the match, Valentine originally defeated Dog, with “The Hammer” picking up the win thanks to a crafty use of the ropes during a role-up. Rival Tito Santana – who oddly was not put against Valentine – then came out to inform the referee of the underhanded tactics of the titleholder. 

The match was restarted but the champion chose to walk out, utilizing the champion’s advantage – losing the match but not the belt. 

Greg puts his feet on the second rope as he school boys JYD.

Greg was therefore also the first to retain a belt. Of the three belts defended on the night, Valentine was the only one to retain with both The U.S. Express and Leilani Kai losing their belts. 

4. First Wrestler To Defend Multiple Titles At WrestleMania

We have already covered that ‘Mania I saw an IC title defense but ‘Mania II saw a World Tag Team title defense, making Greg the first to defend multiple belts at “The Grandaddy Of Them All”. 

Greg stands on the ring steps with his belt in hand as Jimmy Hart points to the ring.
Valentine with his IC belt at ‘Mania I.

By WrestleMania II, new champions had been crowned across the board, except for the WWF title, which had not been defended the previous year. 

In August 1985, The Dream Team (Valentine & Brutus Beefcake) beat The U.S. Express for their tag title belts with aid of Johnny Valiant’s cigar in the face of Barry Windham. Fun fact: The U.S. Express’s Mike Rotunda would have his first PPV match upon return against Greg Valentine at SummerSlam 1991 when returning as Irwin R. Schyster.

The team retained their belts over teams such as The Hillbillies and The Killer Bees until ‘Mania II when The Dream Team faced The British Bulldogs in a rubber match after both sides had earned illegitimate wins over the other. 

Valentine raises his belt to the crowd as he faces off against The British Bulldogs.

The British Bulldogs won in the end in the match of the night, even if it might be the worst WrestleMania ever. Kevin Pantoja of 411Mania described as: “The best match in the short history of Mania to this point.” 

Valentine had defended the IC belt and the World Tag Team titles, I guess he might as well challenge for the WWF title next. Speaking of… 

5. First Wrestler To Wrestle For All Eligible Title Belts At WrestleMania

Technically. 

Valentine was the first to contend for every eligible belt at WrestleMania which includes the IC, World Tag Team, and WWF World Heavyweight title belt. 

Valentine lifts Dynamite Kid for a piledriver as Davey Boy Smith watches on from the apron.

At ‘Mania I, the IC belt was defended in the undercard whilst at ‘Mania II, the World Tag Team titles were defended in Chicago – both by Valentine. At WrestleMania IV, Greg challenged for the WWF title albeit in the confines of a title tournament. 

He beat Ricky Steamboat in the first round but lost to eventual winner Randy Savage in the quarterfinals.

Savage hits a small package on Valentine.
Savage cradle-pinned Valentine as he attempted the Figure-Four Leglock.

With the expansion of title belts in wrestling, many more have challenged for three or more belts at ‘Mania. Few have challenged for the three specific tag, IC, and WWE belts at many except for the likes of Bret Hart, Daniel Bryan, and even Hulk Hogan yet Greg Valentine was the first. 

Written by Griffin Kaye

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