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First of all, I'd like to think
you for doing this. I
greatly appreciate it.
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
you be part of BWC and even go on our staff. I can put you in
there and put you in the book.
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
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.
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
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 ...
... 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
They took it pretty seriously back
You started off in the WWWF as
a babyface. Is that correct?
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.
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
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?
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
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?