Mancuso: Valiant Was “Luscious” As They Came

This morning a pro wrestling legend and longtime friend ‘Luscious’ Johnny Valiant passed away. He was hit by a vehicle crossing a street in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and the driver stayed on the scene according to police reports.  The 71-year old WWE Hall Of Famer, Thomas Sullivan, one of the better known “Valiant Brothers” at one time also managed Hall of Famer Hulk Hogan.

Valiant won the world tag team championships in 1974 with his partner, James Fanning. Those were the “Valiant Brothers” and there was “Gentleman” Jerry Valiant that teamed with Johnny to win tag team gold in 1979.

So there is history here as one of the elite tag teams in pro wrestling history. But the star was always Johnny who later became a broadcaster on telecasts when the WWE was known as the WWF. He had the persona, could talk it up, and always went with the script, sometimes going beyond.

This columnist was not in contact with Johnny often, though pleasantries were always exchanged for special occasions and holidays, there were those memories of rehashing the great stories that pro wrestlers are accustomed to telling when traveling on the road. Johnny made them more interesting and of course with more humor.  

He performed and at the same time was a villain and hero that wrestling fans were accustomed to understand.

In other words, “Luscious” was always a fan favorite. And with his persona, he had to be a popular superstar with fans, in particular when the WWF, Hulk Hogan and pro wrestling made a comeback in the early 1980’s.

So with WrestleMania week here, Sunday is the extravaganza of the year for wrestling fans, “Luscious” Johnny Valiant will be remembered. It was always this time of year that he enjoyed, and because it brought a sometimes wrestling world together for a evening that is equivalent of “Super Bowl” football Sunday.

Later in years, this after his retirement, Valiant would take a stab at being a stand up comedian in New York City, a city he loved. It was something he always wanted to do. with cigar in hand and his beloved Yankees cap, oh he was a fan of the pinstripes and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

There were times yours truly offered encouragement and the owners of the small establishments would say,”Johnny, stand up routines telling stories about your days in the ring are not going to work.”

And they did not work. In fact, it was a short lived career after those long days and nights on the road as one of the “Valiant Brothers.”  But, Johnny, and always persistent, would not quit. Like his days in the ring, he battled through it and landed some more gigs and supplemented his income as the extra in movie scenes and television programs.

Sometimes, Valiant would reminisce and discuss how the business changed. He gave his opinions and said “It’s another world” about the wrestling industry he always loved and continued to follow.  But that persona was more evident when he had a microphone, and this columnist got more than one blast of that when doing some commentary at ringside.

We were colleagues at some of those independent shows up in the Boston area, down in Pennsylvania, and a few in New York. There were the limo rides down the NJ Turnpike and stops along the way. Johnny would greet fans and sign autographs. Recall the time he purchased a snack for two of us at a rest top on the turnpike and he said, “It’s always on me.”

And for one fan who got the autograph photo that were always in his attache case, “Here kid. This is for you. No charge. Just remember to buy a few tickets next time I’m in town.”

He said, “Richie, you got the mouth. But you need to be more of that “vicious one.” The reply, “ I can’t be.” Then he said, “Well in this business you have to be.” And from there a friendship started with more to come.

“One of the closest friends I had in WWF a good guy,” said Craig Minervini, the Miami Marlins pre and post game host for Fox Sports Florida, a former broadcaster for WWF broadcasts and known as “Craig DeGeorge.” And a friend to many still to the former legends who worked by his side in the ring.

Inside though, Valiant was never a fan of Hulk Hogan.  He felt the persona was great but ego got in the way and It is known that the Hogan ego was an issue with “Brother’s” backstage and Johnny Valiant always said that ego in the wrestling business was a killer.

But always he will be known as “Luscious” Johnny Valiant. Never a mean thing that came out of his mouth, and if so it was in front of the camera because the script said to do that.

Rest In Peace My Friend!

Comment Rich Mancuso: R[email protected] Mancuso/ Twitter@Ring786

About the Author

Rich Mancuso

Rich Mancuso is a regular contributor at NY Sports Day, covering countless New York Mets, Yankees, and MLB teams along with some of the greatest boxing matches over the years. He is an award winning sports journalist and previously worked for The Associated Press, New York Daily News, Gannett, and, in a career that spans almost 40 years.

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