The SmarK Rant for WWE Network Hidden Gems – Happy Valentine’s Day! (02.14.19)
I guess the theme of this week’s uploads should be pretty obvious.
A Valentine for Thesz
Lou Thesz v. Johnny Valentine (09.01.73)
So this is footage from Florida in 73, with no sound, sadly, which makes it kind of weird. They fight for the lockup and Valentine pounds on him in the corner and goes to a cravat before switching to a standing armbar, until Lou makes the ropes. Johnny hammers on him in the corner again, but Thesz fires back with HARD forearms and the Thesz Press for two. We cut to Valentine working him over on the apron, but Thesz gets all fired up again and they do the test of strength. Thesz is having trouble winning, so he batters Valentine in the corner with short punches and we’re clipped to him holding a hammerlock on the mat. And then we’re clipped to Johnny with the headlock and he gets two off that, and a slam for two. He gets another slam and Lou takes him down with a headscissors in a slick reversal and then hits him with a backdrop suplex for the pin at 8:23. This Thesz guy is a pretty, pretty, pretty good worker. 1 for 1. And then we get a cool second-unit style series of alternate angles of the match from the floor perspective that they would have edited into the match for TV. Really neat and I give it a bonus point for including this kind of awesome extra touch! 2 for 1. I hope they find more Johnny Valentine footage because I’ve always heard he was a hell of a worker but there’s very little available featuring him before the plane crash ended his career.
A Little Elbow Grease (09.15.76)
More from Florida, as young Greg Valentine demonstrates the awesome power of the elbowdrop by using it to break boards like a karate champion. I don’t care if they were gimmicked, that is BADASS. 3 for 2.
Masters of the Figure-Four
NWA US title: Ric Flair v. Greg Valentine (07.17.80)
The date might be wrong here according to Cagematch.net, as it might actually be 07.12.80. Off to Mid-Atlantic for some choppily-edited footage from the Scope in Norfolk, and it’s some REALLY jarring cuts, which make it mostly unwatchable and impossible to tell what’s happening. Flair of course gets busted open after controlling the first few minutes, and then makes the comeback with the figure-four, only to have Greg make the ropes and haul him to the floor for a beating. Valentine suplexes him back in, but Flair falls on top for the pin to retain at 8:00 shown or so. The editing just made it too hard to watch, but it seemed good enough. 3 for 3 thanks to the previous bonus point.
WWWF title: Bob Backlund v. Greg Valentine (02.19.79)
From MSG in 1979, and as the name suggests, this would be one of the rare occasions where Greg Valentine finally gets to properly warm up. Vince on commentary suggests that Greg is a “surly cuss”, which is certainly a description you don’t hear every day. Bob grabs the headlock to start and Greg tries a kneecrusher to escape, so Backlund counters with a monkey flip and goes back to the headlock on the mat. Valentine escapes that, so Bob dropkicks him into a Flair Flop and goes right back to the headlock again. They do a nice little series off that and then Greg just knees him down and drops a knee to take over. “Break his leg!” yells out some guy in the front row, showing the awesome babyface drawing power of Backlund. Greg works on the ribs for a bit and Bob fights back before going back to the headlock on the mat. Bob misses a dropkick, however, and Valentine drops an elbow on him and goes to work on the legs. “Break his leg, Greg!” continues the Valentine cheering section while Greg wraps him up in a hold, but he misses another elbowdrop and Bob is back to the headlock.
Valentine puts him down with a knee to the gut and moves to a full nelson, but Backlund reverses it to his own and stymies all of Greg’s attempts to reverse out of it. Finally Valentine just retreats to the apron to take a break. Back in, Valentine drops the hammer and goes to work with the short arm scissors. And then Backlund reverses to his own version and we get a unique visual of Bob rolling around the ring while holding the move, until Greg finally lands in the ropes and forces the break. Bob goes to the arm next and works on that with a cross-armbreaker while “rowing the boat” with it. Bob continues working the arm, but he collides with Greg and lands on the floor. Valentine slams him back into the ring and now he goes to work on the arm with the short-arm scissors again. Well, we’re 25:00 into the match, so Greg is definitely warmed up by now. Bob is unable to kip up, so he rolls backwards instead and tries a crotch lift, but Greg blocks that as well and goes back to the hold. At this point, Bob finally gets his trademark crotch lift to escape the hold and Greg bails to the apron, so Bob slams him back into the ring and comes back with dropkicks and back to the armbar. And then Greg throws him out to the floor to cut off that comeback.
Back in, Greg chokes him out on the ropes and goes to work on the leg, but Bob fights back in with a sunset flip for two. Valentine pounds him with elbows, but Bob fights back with his own and Greg takes him down with a drop toehold into a leglock on the mat as the tape seemingly breaks and then restores itself. Bob lands on the floor again and Valentine suplexes him back in and returns to softening up the leg, but Bob cradles him to counter the figure-four and gets two. Valentine decides that the leg is not ready yet, so he goes to a half-crab and Backlund freakishly contorts out of it and comes back with a huge suplex for two. He tries a slam and the knee gives way, allowing Greg to fall on top for two. Vince notes that Greg is “really like a wet dishrag thus far”, which I’m assuming is old-timey talk for someone who keeps smothering the comebacks of the babyface.
Greg keeps beating on the knee and tries the figure-four again as we hit 40:00, but Bob shoves him off and then misses a blind charge. So Valentine tries it again and gets blocked, and so goes back to the knee to work on it some more. Bob kicks out of it from the mat and comes back with the ATOMIC DROP OF DOOM, but Greg lands on the floor and of course Bob hurts his injured knee by delivering the move. Greg hauls him to the apron and beats on him some more, but tries a splash and lands on the knees. Bob tries a butterfly suplex and can’t get any leverage on the move, so they slug it out and Bob wins that one. Valentine tries a piledriver and Backlund backdrops out of it and makes the comeback, trying his own figure-four, but Valentine kicks away from it and Bob hits the butterfly suplex instead for two.
Valentine bails to the floor and works on the leg from the apron, but he pounds away in the corner and misses a blind charge. Backlund makes another comeback with a legdrop for two and whips Valentine into the abdominal stretch, which Valentine quickly reverses to his own. Backlund escapes, but Valentine takes him down again and goes back to the legs, then hits a backdrop suplex and drops the hammer for two. Bob suddenly hurks him over with a gut wrench for two in an impressive show of strength for a guy nearly an hour into the match, and a backslide gets two. Valentine goes up and gets nailed coming down, but catches Bob with an elbow for two and they collide for the double down. Bob recovers first and gets two, but Valentine goes for the figure-four again and Backlund reverses for two. They slug it out again and Bob wins that one for two. Piledriver and time expires at 60:00 for the draw. And then at that point, sore loser Valentine puts him in the figure-four, prompting Arnold Skaaland to come in and clobber Greg with the title belt and break the hold. It doesn’t sound exciting on paper, but it was a really compelling match throughout that never bored me and nicely built to a rematch. I’d say give it a look! 4 for 4.
So some really good additions to the Hidden Gems this week, and Happy Valentine’s Day!