Let’s Look Back At The Life And Career Of Greg ‘The Hammer’ Valentine

Jonathan Anthony Wisniski was born on Sept. 20th, 1951 in Seattle. He wrestled for more than 40 years and won more than 40 championships during that time. On his birthday, let’s take a look back at the man who would become known as “The Hammer,” even though his elbow was “Bionic.”

The Theme

His WWF theme music is generic goodness preceded by what I think we all assumed was an actual hammer striking something but who can really tell? We humbly request that you loop it in the background as you read this piece. It’s probably been recycled a dozen times already on Main Event or 205 Live and none of us even noticed.

The Look

His robes weren’t as glorious as (former tag team partner) Ric Flair’s, but his hair was more immortal than Hulk Hogan’s. He likely rolled out of bed looking exactly the same every single morning. Not saying he would dominate a WWE Legends Best Hair Tournament but if he doesn’t have home field advantage in the first couple of rounds I’d be surprised.

Greg never competed in a Hair vs. Hair match because he is intelligent. At his best, he was biker bar handsome, rugged and confident with a classic air of confidence. At his worst, he was a HHH who really let himself go. Most of the time, he just looked sleepy.

The Rivalries

During the late 70’s The Hammer feuded extensively with Chief Wahoo McDaniel over the NWA Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship, breaking his leg in the process. Then Greg, crossing his pettiness with his eye for fashion, made a shirt that said “I broke Wahoo’s leg” on the front and “No more Wahoo” on the back. This shirt is, of course, available on Barber Shop Window. The video is, of course, embedded right here at the perfect spot because we care:

He held the Intercontinental Championship only once, but that reign lasted for 285 days, with Valentine eventually losing it in a steel cage to Tito Santana. After the loss Valentine destroyed the belt, which is pretty metal IMO. Hands down the best way to deal with losing a championship is to destroy the literal representation of the championship. This is one of my favorite Greg Valentine facts.

Another fun Hammer fact: Greg walked into the very first WrestleMania as the Intercontinental champ (losing to Junkyard Dog by count out) and WrestleMania II as one half of the Tag Team Champs (with Brutus Beefcake). The only other wrestler to walk into the first two WrestleManias with gold around their waist was Hulk Hogan.

He also appeared at the inaugural Starrcade as the United States Champion, losing to Roddy Piper in a gruesome collar match. Dude rep’d hard as a formidable force in the 80’s.

Other WrestleMania highlights for Greg included pulling double duty at WrestleMania IV beating Ricky Steamboat in the first round of the Heavyweight Title tournament and losing to eventual winner Macho Man via small package – perhaps the worst moment of his in-ring career in terms of kayfabe competition.

Ronnie Garvin and the “Hammer Jammer”

His program with Rugged Ronnie Garvin started around Wrestlemania 5 and culminated in an “I Quit” match at the 1990 Royal Rumble that saw Garvin wear a “hammer jammer” to counter Greg’s deadly figure-four leg lock. The match also saw both guys repeatedly go for pin-falls leaving Jesse Ventura scrambling for ways to justify the missteps. Did these guys really work small packages and roll-ups into the match on purpose? Why?

When the leg lock was finally implemented Ronnie couldn’t feel a thing because of the “hammer jammer” and saw it fit to rub it in The Hammer’s face.

The Less-Savory Stuff

He clumsily called his manager Jimmy Hart his “rock and roll man” and then inappropriately called the Junkyard Dog a “nasty black person” in this unfortunate backstage promo. In the second half of the clip he reveals that he doesn’t like Junkyard Dog’s entrance music because it’s a “horrible rock and roll song” and then says more racist stuff. It’s … not good. He would later say more not good stuff about women in wrestling.

Eventually Valentine embraced “rock and roll” as a musical genre, way of life, and a tag team partner. He teamed with the Honky Tonk Man for a few years and dyed his hair jet black. He brought a guitar to the ring, wore sunglasses and never looked comfortable, not even once.

If you were a kid in the 80’s you were probably a little intimidated by Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, because the commentary team were always putting him over as a semi-underrated crafty sorta-monster who knew how to break your legs (unless you were Hulk Hogan). Whoever was interviewing him in the back always gave an “uh-oh” side eye to the camera crew whenever he was being extra racist. And nobody ever thought to let him use a literal hammer.

He looked like everyone’s not-giving-a-f*ck uncle. He had an above-average and probably underrated career that included a decorated run pre-WWF followed by a handful of WrestleMania paydays. After being inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2004 he had a brief legacy run, appearing on WWE programming in October 2005.

He said some pretty bad stuff, he got over as a heel, he retired, he said some more really, really bad stuff, and he’s turning 65 this year. That’s pretty much all you could ask for in a pro wrestling career (sans sexism and racism).