Orlando Sentinel – September 1, 2000
By Ric Russo
It was his enjoyment of the art of pure wrestling that kept Johnny Walker in the business for 36 years.
“I competed in a lot of matches against a lot of different guys, with a lot of different styles,” said Walker of his career as wrestling legend Mr. Wrestling II. “The ones [matches] that stand out the most in my mind are the ones that featured a lot of scientific wrestling moves and countermoves.”
Former National Wrestling Alliance World Champion Jack Brisco, a collegiate wrestling champion at Oklahoma State, was one of Walker’s favorite foes. The two had some classic battles that featured holds used in the early days of the sport.
“The bout took place in Orlando back in the early ’70s. At the time I was wrestling as the Grappler,” Walker recalled. “We wrestled for 52 minutes, back and forth, I’d take him down, he would counter and so on and so forth. Great match. Jack was the champ and took a fall on me late.”
Milo Steinborn was promoting the action back then in the old Orlando Sports Stadium. In the mid-’70s Walker often came through Central Florida as one-half of one of the top tag-teams of the era.
With Tim “Mr. Wrestling” Woods as his partner, the duo captured the NWA World belts on several occasions.
Today, those days are a distant memory for Walker, 66. He works in the real estate business near where he grew up in Hawaii, matching vacationers with rental condos.
“It’s beautiful here, people want to come here to spend time and that makes my job easy,” he said.
Much easier than his early days in pro wrestling, when Walker sometimes got $25 for a 45-minute match and directions to the next town from an unscrupulous promoter. A very small number of wrestlers commanded the big dollar in those days.
Walker, who played the role of heel early in his career, then donned a mask and became Mr. Wrestling II, and the change of identity made him a main-event talent. When he teamed with Woods in the mid-’70s they brought attention to scientific wrestling in a time when wild, brawling styles were becoming a hot trend. It was a style that worked extremely well for the pair, both of whom had solid amateur backgrounds.
“We both knew the basics better than anybody around at the time, and we had good chemistry,” said Woods, a collegiate star at Michigan State. “We were a good team. It [teaming with Woods] was one of the true highlights of my career.”
In 1978 Woods was injured in a plane crash that ended the careers of Bob Bruggers and Johnny Valentine. It also scarred a young Ric Flair and killed the pilot. The wrestlers were on their way to a show in North Carolina.
“He [Woods] wasn’t the same after that, and I started doing more singles stuff,” Walker said. “I did hook up with a couple of different partners, but nothing clicked. Not like Tim and I did.”
Walker held many title belts when he competed alone: Mississippi Heavyweight Championship, Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship, Florida Television Championship,U.S. Heavyweight Championship.
And more than once Walker was the Georgia Heavyweight Champion, an achievement that made him the favorite wrestler of then president and Georgia native Jimmy Carter.
In 1980 Mr. Wrestling II had a better election year than Carter, who was ousted from the White House by Ronald Reagan. Walker was named Most Popular Wrestler by several pro wrestling publications in voting by wrestling fans.
During his stint in the Peach State, Walker worked with the late announcer Gordon Solie. One of his most embarrassing moments happened during an interview segment with Solie.
“I was feuding with the Anderson Brothers [Ole and Gene], and we were really hyping it up on TV,” Walker said.
“Gordon was interviewing me in the ring and they attacked me. In the melee I accidentally hit Gordon and he went down hard. My heart sank in my chest, I was really scared that I may have hurt him.”
Fortunately “order was restored,” and Solie recovered.
Walker is enjoying his “golden years,” with his wife on the islands. Their three sons are grown and, after being on the road and living out of a suitcase for so many years, Walker has no intentions of going anywhere.
“It’s like I said: It’s beautiful here, a lot of people come here for vacation and I am fortunate enough to live here all year round,” he said.