Craig Wilson and James Giles
Background: Greg Valentine and Ronnie Garvin had been feuding since a match on December 30, 1988 in Madison Square Garden (MSG) which Valentine won by grabbing the tights for leverage. On the April 22, 1989 episode of Superstars, Garvin defeated Valentine in a match. On the following edition of Superstars, they both faced each other in a retirement match where the loser could not wrestle any more in WWF. Valentine won the match, sending Garvin into retirement. Garvin became a referee for WWF. During this time, he disqualified his rival Valentine in a match against Jimmy Snuka and was suspended after the match. Valentine was so irate that he demanded for Garvin to be re-instated as a professional wrestler and his request was accepted. At Survivor Series 1989, they both battled in a match on opposing teams.
Craig: The 1990 Royal Rumble is one of my favourite Rumbles of all time. Allegedly Perfect was supposed to win the Rumble but Hogan, who else, put the kibosh on that so won it and then went on to win the follow year’s event as well. Anywho, while the Rumble is good the undercard tends to get ignored. Sure, the Beefcake v Genius match was a comedy squash and one of the other matches was Bossman v Duggan but the undercard did have two other good matches – a surprisingly good match between the Fabulous Rougeau’s and the Bushwakers and this submission match between Garvin and Valentine. Before we get started, as an interesting piece of trivia, as well as being an accomplished pilot, Ronnie Garvin is also Jimmy Garvin’s, of Fabulous Freebird, fame.
Anyway, the match itself is a very brutal and extremely stiff affair with two legitimate tough men in the ring hitting lumps out of each other. There’s more to it, however, than just that with a neat storyline running through the match. A submission match at that time was a quite alien concept and during the course of this bout both men going for pinfalls which, I felt, was a nice angle.
The commentators are even taken aback by the stiffness of this encounter with Tony Schiavone saying it is “high impact” and Jesse Ventura stating that it is the “ruggedest (sic) match” he’s ever commentated on. And they aren’t wrong. From hard jabs, slaps to the face and chops that would make Ric Flair proud, this match is really unlike anything you would see at that time.
While Garvin’s good days were behind him, from his time at the NWA, this is arguably Greg Valentine’s last great match before the stupidity of the Rhythm and Blues run with Honky Tonk and the event more stupid face run. As I said, I really love this whole event and the more often I watch this match, the more and more that I appreciate it. The storytelling is tight and the stiffness of the offense is something the WWF just wasn’t known for in the early 1990s and that made this match even better. There’s also a great moment early on when Valentine has the figure-four applied but Garvin’s shin protector, the Hammer Jammer, prevents the move inflicting much damage and Garvin sits up and pulls faces at Valentine.
James: I have to confess that when Craig suggested this match, I didn’t have much knowledge or memory of either participant. All I could recall of Valentine was his series of brutal Dog Collar matches with Roddy Piper in NWA, and Garvin’s name didn’t really register at all. Considering this, and the time period in WWE the bout was from, my level of expectation was lukewarm at best. It was satisfying then that this turned out to be a pleasantly entertaining piece of work.
From the bell Valentine, accompanied by Jimmy Hart, takes the control, with stiff looking fore-arm blows, punches and knees, and heavy elbow drops. Garvin fights back with chops and punches, before they collide with an unconvincing head-butt. This is the first of several dodgy collisions throughout the match, and a few more moments are mistimed. Thankfully the intensity of the performances, and the quality selling and story-telling, engages enough to make them forgivable. There are more back and forth exchanges for a few minutes, before the script of the bout and feud comes to the fore; Valentine has a shin guard which add impact to his elbow drops and figure four leg-lock, and Garvin has a similar guard which he uses to counter the extra pressure on the submission move. This is illustrated when Valentine manages to apply the figure-four and Garvin no-sells the pain.
As things progress steadily, so does the crowd noise as they are drawn in. Neither holds anything back with their offence and they absorb some serious punishment. The Hammer eventually wears Garvin down enough, using a backdrop on the floor, for Jimmy Hart to sneakily remove Garvin’s brace, and Valentine again re-applies the move. Rugged Ron bravely holds on though and reverses it to a big pop. After working over Valentine some more, Garvin is able to apply is own submission, The Sharp Shooter, and score the popular victory when Valentine gives up. There is, unfortunately, one large gripe I have about it; despite it being a submission match, both men repeatedly go for pin-falls. Logically, they should do this maybe once or twice, probably in the heat of the moment and to remind people of the stipulation. But it happens about eight times, and makes them both look as if they can’t remember a simple rule.
Overall though, the match is a hard-hitting and gripping encounter, and holds up better than many mid-card battles from the same era. It has also increased my appreciation for Garvin and Valentine as workers, and I hope we examine more involving these two in the future.