An Interview with 'Handsome' Jimmy Valiant

First of all, I'd like to think you for doing this.  I greatly appreciate it.

My pleasure, brother.  You know, I really appreciate you having an interest in BWC and anytime, any way I can help you with your project ... one hand washes the other, you know.

This is true.

You know, you're welcome here and  I'd love to have you be part of BWC and even go on our staff.  I can put you in there and put you in the book.

I appreciate that.  Thank you very much for the offer.

Yes sir.

I'm going to start out with how were you introduced to pro wrestling?

Ok ... 1964, I worked at a health club.  In fact I managed Aker's Health Club in Calumet City, IL.  The owner was an old-time professional wrestler.  His name was Frank Zela and he was one half of the famous Volkoff Brothers, the Russians Nikolai and Boris Volkoff.  I knew that he was an old-time wrestler but he was, at that period when I was working for him, he hadn't wrestled in a few years.  And Nikolai - his partner - he was touring.  You know, out like 8 weeks then home 3 weeks, then out.  But they didn't wrestle much then but Nikolai and Boris, which was Frank Zela, started to get back into it and he just, man, dropped it in my lap.  He says "You're young, Jimmy" - I was like 20, 21 years old.  "You're good looking, you have nice hair, a nice physique," - he's telling me all this that I had when I was 20 years old. And he says "This would be good for you."

At that time, Graham, there were no wrestling schools like ours at BWC.  The only way to get in as a professional wrestler, one of the old-timers or one of the other wrestlers would take you under their wing and take you into this very tight family ...

*a loud posing growl can be heard while the trainers were working in the ring, causing us both to pause and laugh*

... family-knit organization, otherwise it would be impossible to get in.

What led you to beginning in the WWWF in 1971?

In 1969/70, I was out in Dallas, TX for Fritz Von Erich.  He gave me my name as Handsome Jimmy.  Vince McMahon Sr. called and he was working for - exact words he later told me - "New York is looking for a young, good looking kid.  That's what they want."  And he said "I got one here, Handsome Jimmy Valiant".  And they called me in the office.  Years ago they swapped talent.  And I went up there and, man, Vince gave me my break.  And at that time all the publicity was out in New York as far as the magazines.  This was before cable so I was very fortunate; I was just a young kid and got my initial break in New York and the rest is history.

What did you think of Vince McMahon Sr. the first time you met him and what did you think of him as a promoter?

Graham, he was the greatest man that I ever met in my life.  And I'm telling you the truth.  Everything he told me came true and never once did he tell me something that didn't happen.  He made it happen.  He was a gentleman.  He was just a great human being.  As a promoter, he was a genius.  You know, of course out east he had the best territory in the world.  He had all the New England cities, the whole eastern seaboard, Madison Square Garden, the Boston Garden, Philadelphia, Washington DC - he had it all.

What was going through your head the first time you walked into Madison Square Garden, knowing that there were 20,000 fans watching your every move?

Back then, of course you know, we wrestled every night, seven days a week.  Of course it's a thrill but, and I didn't take anything for granted and everybody in professional wrestling wanted to wrestle at Madison Square Garden and I was in my early 20s up there in the Garden, but it didn't effect me as far as anything else.  It was just another night doing my trade but - and I'm not trying to say this loosely - but it was just another night at my trade.

If I was in North Attleboro for Vince McMahon, for the WWWF on a Friday night at the Witschi's Arena, or if I was in Madison Square Garden - what I'm saying is that I would go in there if there was only 200 people in Attleboro, MA, I would go in there like it was Madison Square Garden and give 112%, man.  Everything I had for them, 10-15 minutes in the ring from the time the door opened from the dressing room till the time the door shut.  I would just do everything I could and go in wide open, you know, so that's what I'm saying about Madison Square Garden.

What did you think of North Attleboro?

Loved it.  Loved it, brother.  You know, there's wrestling history there.  Philadelphia at the Arena ...

Before the Spectrum?

Exactly.  Before the Spectrum, brother.  It was an old building, of course, and it was falling apart but what history.  I'm walking out one time and - I'm writing a book and all this is coming out in 05, Graham - and I'm a big bad rough guy in our business and I'm opening the car and I'm getting in and a guy up there in the balcony was looking out the window - cause there was no air conditioning in the summertime - and he just pulled a brick right off the wall ...

*laughs*

... and threw it at me.  And I just happened to bend down to put the key in there and it hit the quarter panel, there's this big dent.

They took it pretty seriously back then.

Yes sir.

You started off in the WWWF as a babyface.  Is that correct?

Yes.

What led to the heel turn and how did the fans react to the Handsome Jimmy character?

Right.  What happened there is when I came in, Vince McMahon had me booked every night wrestling Tony Nero - which was the Black Demon.  So I asked Vince, because I was more comfortable as a rough guy, and he says "Jimmy, this is what we need, it's what we're looking for, it's what we want.  If you get over as something where the people accept you as a fan favorite then down the road in six months then we can do different things to bring you back around."  He must have wrote it in his book because it was six months to the day.  My tag team partner was Strongbow, he taught me the sleeper - the Indian sleeper, and I turned on him and I put him to sleep.  Of course Morales was the champion and I had my shots with him at the Boston Garden and in Phili.

Which brings me to my next question.  In your first few months with the company, you had a three match series with Morales in Boston and, like you said, in Phili.  What was it like to come in, just a few months earlier, and now you're headlining against the champion?

It was thrilling.  I was there 15 months and in 15 months I must have had 12 covers.  Again, I say all the magazines were there, Graham, in New York so everything was built up.  Other people got publicity like Dick the Bruiser and Verne Gagne, but only a certain few in those territories.  Like Dusty Rhodes, and the Sheik in Detroit, and wherever.  In New York, it was not only the top boys ... all the photographers were at the Garden and would come to the shows and this all helped me too.  It was just thrilling.

Many guys couldn't handle stuff like that and I did handle it.  Today, after 40 years, nothing ever went to my head.  And the reason for many guys is that you start believing your own publicity and believing you're the greatest and de-de-de, da-da-da, with people right in the wings waiting for their shot.  You can't do that.  You've just got to be a business person and give your 112% when you get in there and just work hard and prove yourself every night, prove yourself in the next territory, and I was very fortunate to stay on top 30 years and go to the biggest and the best territories.  There's two things that can ruin success - the glory and the publicity and another thing is money.  All of a sudden you go from making a few hundred dollars a week to a few thousand a week and that could blow somebody away too.  I was just able to keep everything altogether and it all worked out.

Well Vince must have had a lot of confidence in you to throw you up there so early.

Yeah he did, I'm sure.  Again, you know, he gave me my break.  Even if he didn't give me my break I would have said the same thing about him because he told me from there, he says "Jimmy, you go now" - he sent me to Japan for the first time - "you go now and come back every 3-4 years", and I did right until he passed away.

Who was your favorite travel partner back then?

Probably Gorilla Monsoon.  He was such a gentleman and such a knowledgeable wrestler, from the amateur all the way to the pros.

I heard he was sometimes sent in the ring to clear up any problems backstage ...

*smiling*  He could do it ... he could do it.

How well was kayfabe protected back then?

It was protected so well that I still protect it.  I'm writing a book, Graham, and it's out in 05.  I have this wrestling camp, this is our twelfth anniversary / graduation.  My kids they talk it when they come in.  Man, I don't even talk about it when they come in.  I say "Come here, son.  Tie up, just be real loose, you know, be like a wet rag, like we're dancing."  And I show them.  I don't tell them nothing.  And it's just because that's the way I was taught.  It was such a close-knit fraternity.  Now people talk about it, that's fine, that's fine.  Brother, I still believe in Santa Claus.  When you stop believing in Santa Claus, you know what?

What?

He stops coming.  Me and Angel went to Vegas last year for the Cauliflower Alley Club and there we saw the illusionist Copperfield.  I really enjoyed it.  You pay big money to see his deal.  And you know what?  I don't want to know how he did all that stuff.  If I knew, then I wouldn't go or I wouldn't enjoy it.  I want to be part of that thing.  It's okay, whatever.  I'm not behind times, I'm with it, I'm going with the flow, I'm changing with the times and everything else.  But this is just my personal thing.

I understand.

PART 2

wordpress stats plugin