I was drawn to professional wrestling because of the storytelling and the larger than life characters. One of the most charismatic stars of the 1980’s was the Boogie Woogie Man Jimmy Valiant. While I never saw him in his prime, I had the privilege of meeting him later in his career.
The Jimmy that I met was humble, quiet, almost serene. A definite departure from the over-the-top bearded warrior who delighted audiences in the Carolinas, Memphis, and the rest of the southern territories.
Valiant, of course, got his start in New York City, teaming with his “brother” Johnny Valiant. The Valiant Brothers were WWWF Tag Team Champions. They got over as pretty-boy heels and gained much notoriety in the 1960’s. This was a far cry from the everyman-wild-child that The Boogie Woogie Man would become.
My first encounter with Valiant was at a folding card table at a busy intersection in downtown Dayton, Ohio.
He was appearing for the Northern Wrestling Federation that night at the Burkhart Center, a rec center in inner city Dayton, Ohio. His booking fee was quite reasonable. That’s because Jimmy made his money at the gimmick table.
Jimmy was usually accompanied by Bruiser Graham, a wrestler from Virginia, who was Boogie’s travel partner and sometimes opponent on indy shows all around the country. He and Bruiser were two of the nicest people I’ve met in my 16 years in the business. And that’s what made Jimmy so good selling his wares. Jimmy was there to sign autographs; my job was to try to sell tickets to the event that night.
Jimmy was not only signing autographs. He had wrestling masks, video tapes, and a Polaroid camera ready to go. A biker chick drove by and circled back. She didn’t know who Jimmy was but his long beard and tattooed physique gave her pause. She bought a Polaroid.
A blind man came to the table. Jimmy was so kind to him. And the man bought two of Jimmy’s VHS Best of Collection. Yes, Jimmy Valiant was such a good worker that he sold videotapes to a blind man.
My favorite, though, was the young boy who stopped by the table and left with a couple of wrestling masks and maybe an action figure. About an hour later, his mother showed up. She was very angry. Her son took the money out of her purse without her permission and she was here to return all of the merchandise. She demanded Jimmy refund it immediately.
Like he did, he nodded at her. He then asked her name. And quietly, like a snake charmer, Jimmy smoothly sold her another mask and an autographed Polaroid. She kept what she came with and Jimmy left with even more of her money.
Valiant went on that night to have the best entrance I’d ever seen. Coming out to “The Boy From New York City,” the small but vocal audience in Dayton was thrilled to see this legendary pro wrestler in action. He sold like a champ for his opponent and made a simple comeback to win his match.
But I’ll always remember watching him sell in a whole different way that afternoon.
Tags: boogie boogie man, bruiser graham, dayton, gimmick table, jimmy valiant, northern wrestling federation, ohio, V/H/S, WWWF