Monday, September 23, 2013



   Do you remember your first time?  Was it in an intimate setting with just you and a single partner, or did a whole group get involved?  Was there lots of sweating, lots of grunting and groaning?  Was it everything you expected?  Did it leave you wanting to come back for more?

   I can distinctly remember my first time.  I was just 3 years old.  Yeah, that’s right.  We got started early in my family.  I was 3 years old the first time I attended a live wrestling event and it definitely left me wanting to go back for more.

   I was living in East Los Angeles and I remember how excited I was that night in 1971, and my adrenaline was flowing not just from the anticipation of the upcoming live wrestling event, but because it seemed like my Stepfather and I were in danger of being late for the start of the event.  I can remember my Stepfather hopping our back fence so that we could take a shortcut to the bus stop and my Mother trying her best to help me up the side of the chain link fence so that my Stepfather could pull me over the other side.  We then crossed the huge dirt lot that was part of our neighbor’s property, a lot that would become bigger still in about a year when their house burned down.  I must have been a little bit of a sadist as a kid because I remember as the whole neighbor watched that family’s house burn to the ground; my very young uncle and I were munching on popcorn as we watched the blaze.

   My Stepfather and I had managed to catch the bus that would take us to the wrestling venue, and I would stare out the window of the bus at the lights of the city, with wonder as they contrasted with the darkness of the night while also trying to imagine what it might be like when we arrived at our destination.  Finally we had arrived at the historic Olympic Auditorium on 18th and Grand in Downtown Los Angeles.  We finally took our seats which between the fact that they were probably fairly high up in what was a packed house, and the fact that I was only a little kid, made the ring seem as if it were a world away.  I could see cigarette hovering above the ring and I stared in wonder at the men with funny little red and white striped paper hats who with unerring and amazing accuracy, could toss a bag of peanuts to the waiting hands of anyone, regardless of how far away they were.

   I slowly ate my bag of roasted peanuts while watching the wrestling matches, and I wish I could tell you who wrestled in those matches prior to the main event or even on what exact date the event took place.  But those facts escape me.  What doesn’t escape me was the fact that the main event was something I knew was of great importance.  I don’t remember what events, what angles had led up to this particular event, but I knew that it meant something.  For in the main event, the bitterest of enemies in Southern California wrestling, not only at that time, but perhaps in all of Southern California wrestling, were about to engage in a war.  And “Maniac” John Tolos and Freddie Blassie didn’t disappoint.

   What I can also tell you is that I was in the minority.  I wasn’t in the minority because I was a Mexican-American, hell, in the Olympic Auditorium you were probably in the minority if you weren’t.  I was in the minority because I was there to root for John Tolos.  Blame it on my upbringing if you will, but this 3 year old would be cheering for a man nicknamed “Maniac.”  John Tolos was the most hated wrestler in Los Angeles at this time and was the definite “heel” or “bad guy” in this feud that had stretched back to the summer of the previous year. By contrast, Freddie Blassie with his sequined and colorful outfits, sometimes accessorized with a sombrero, had definitely endeared himself to the hearts of the fans, many of whom were Latinos.

   Finally the main event began and a chill ran down my spine as the combatants were introduced.  And the match did not disappoint.  It was a melodrama, and being seated so far from the ring, the epic battle was almost a pantomime of sorts, with the only audible sounds or soundtrack being the screaming of the fans.  The match consisted of peaks and valleys and I sat with my eyes and attention riveted to the moral play unfolding in the ring.  There was blood…lots of blood…and I remember having to fight off breaking into tears as I saw Freddie Blassie bite into the head of my then-hero John Tolos. 

   If I remember correctly, Blassie won that match, much to my disappointment.  However to my delight, Tolos would return to fight another day.  Their feud would become the stuff of legend, and all throughout their 4 four years of battling off and on, they’d participate in every conceivable type of match against each other, including stretcher matches, cage matches, matches involving brass knuckles, chain matches, and “Gladiator Death matches.”  They would even return many years later in 1980 to square off in a tag team cage match.  Blassie would be in his early 60’s in this one and while the match was hardly a classic and the arena was less than half full, the “pop” they got from the crowd made it seem as if there were many more in the crowd than there actually was.

   The first wrestling “maneuver” that I ever learned was the “corkscrew” that John Tolos used on the temples of his opponents head.  My stepfather was gracious enough to demonstrate it’s effectiveness on me and I in turn couldn’t wait to show my brother how effective it was in producing a headache. 

   But why did a 3 year cheer for such a hated guy like John Tolos?  I guess I didn’t know any better.  On the other hand, I think I did.  Tolos was compelling, magnetic, and both his presence in the ring as well as his unique and intense interviews made you want to watch his every move, hang on his every word.  While the goal of Tolos and the storylines may have been to make the fans hate him, more importantly, the goal was to get us to watch him.  And watch him we did, he and Blassie both.  That year in 1971, the two would meet at the Los Angeles Coliseum in August and set what was then a record gate for a wrestling event as 25,847 fans paid $142,158.50 to watch Blassie defeat Tolos 2 falls to one in their “battle of the century”.

   And as a whole, pro wrestling itself was still very compelling at that time.  Even if we had the technology available back then, I guarantee you that no one would have been sending or checking their text messages or updating their facebook status.  For the only status they were concerned about was what was going on in a 20 x 20 foot ring and the only world they knew for 2 hours or so was the world within that arena.  And just as the world outside the wrestling arenas have changed so have the worlds inside them.  - RR

Saturday, September 7, 2013



     “You look like shit.  Do you ever work out?”  Not exactly the kind of greeting an incoming wrestler hopes to hear from his new boss but it was exactly what Pat Patterson got from Roy Shire when he arrived in Northern California in 1965.  By this time Ray Stevens had already established himself as the “Golden Goose”, the top heel of the “Big Time Wrestling” promotion in Northern California.  He could always provide a reason for the fans to lay down their hard earned money in hopes of finally seeing him go down in defeat.

   And now a 24 year old  Patterson who had been wrestling for about 7 years including the last few years in Don Owen’s Pacific Northwest territory, and had in the span of 2 months had lost a hair match, his Pacific Northwest heavyweight title, and a “Loser Leave Town” match, had  come to town looking to gain something.  Only at first, he didn’t get what he was looking for. 

    Before working his first show Patterson had written Shire, requesting to be paired up with Ray Stevens, saying that many in-the-know in Portland felt that with their similar styles, they’d make a great pairing.  Patterson would later say that Shire didn’t give him the response that he’d been hoping for, and besides the critique regarding physique Patterson would also recall:  “He said, ‘The boys don’t make the decisions here, I make the decisions.’  Roy Shire was very hard to work for.”

     As it turned out, Stevens had just left to work an extended tour of Australia just before Pat had arrived, so initially Pat was working in some singles as well as being paired with Dan Manoukian in a tag team.  Manoukian had previously been ½ of the World tag team champions with Stevens before losing it in a “Phantom change” to Billy Red Lyons and the Destroyer on March 1985.  3 months after Pat’s arrival, Roy relented, telling Patterson to dye his hair as the new tag team of Patterson and Stevens was to be known as “The Blond Bombers.”   Longtime wrestling fan Robert Counts lived near the Cow Palace and remembers “In a promo Patterson had dark hair and was bragging about what he was going to do to Stevens and the next week his hair was blond and he was teaming up with Stevens.”  The team didn’t waste any time in making an impact as they quickly won the A.W.A. (not Verne Gagne’s group) World Tag Team titles on April 17, 1965 from Billy Red Lyons and The Destroyer and would hold the titles for an astounding 623 straight days.

   It was a dynamite combination and a match made in heaven as the “Blonde Bombers” were exciting to watch, whether you were rooting for them or against them.  They were masters of their craft who were willing to sell for their opponents and take big bumps, and they combined these assets with great ring psychology and promos that would both insult and incite the local fans, putting butts in seats time and time again.  The compelling, logical, and realistic storylines that promoter Roy Shire devised in combination with the realism with which Patterson and Stevens performed in the ring just sucked the fans in and still brings smiles to their faces decades later.

   “They got heat.  They got natural heat.  They could work with anybody,” said Red Bastien.  And they worked with quite a few tag teams during that first run as the tag champs including Kinji Shibuya and Mitsu Arakawa, as well as against old Stevens’s foe Pepper Gomez and numerous different partners he would pair with.  Their ability to draw didn’t confine them to Northern California either as they would occasionally go on the road to defend their tag titles in such places as Hawaii, Phoenix, and the Pacific Northwest.

   The working arrangement between Pacific Northwest promoter Don Owen and Northern California promoter Roy Shire not only allowed for Patterson and Stevens to defend their World tag team titles but also allowed Pat to challenge Gene Kiniski for the NWA World Heavyweight title in Portland, Oregon on December 2, 1966.  Indeed, it was a safe bet that Shire no loner felt that Pat looked like “shit”.  Also during that December tour of the Pacific Northwest Pat would regain the Pacific Northwest Heavyweight title by beating Tony Borne.  It was the belt he had lost shortly before leaving Portland 2 years before.  It didn’t last long of course as Pat would drop the belt back to Borne 9 days later on December 18th, and the Blonde Bombers were soon back in San Francisco.

   Not long after the arrived back in Northern California Ray and Pat would lose their belts to two very tough customers in the team of Cyclone Negro and the Mongolian Stomper at the San Francisco Cow Palace on New Year Eve.  Negro and the Stomper were merely keeping the belts warm for them however as they made short work of them in the rematch 3 weeks later at the Cow Palace’s first show of the New Year on January 21, 1967, winning 2 out of the 3 falls in less than 16 minutes.

   Their second reign as champs didn’t last nearly as long as the first one however as  the all time best draw in San Francisco, Ray Stevens was needed back in singles. He would recapture the U.S. Heavyweight title from Bill Watts in March and at the next Cow Palace show on April the 8th, The Bombers dropped the tag belts to the popular team of Pedro Morales and Pepper Gomez.  Ray and Pat would still team together on occasion but Roy Shire may also have felt that the team was getting a bit stale in the eyes of the fans and Pat was wrestling more singles as well.

   For most of 1968 Pat Patterson was doing tours in Australia and Japan as well as having a run for several months in Amarillo where he suddenly had become a "Lord".  He would return to Northern California in 1969 only to find that his old partner Stevens had a change of heart and was now wrestling as a “good guy.”  It was quite the shock for Patterson as wrestling fan and announcer Joe Sousa recalls: “When Pat came back he wanted to resume teaming with Stevens but he couldn’t believe what he was hearing about Ray and said, ‘I don’t know what’s got into the guy and why he’s acting like a sissy!  I’m going to have to knock some sense into the guy!”

  Patterson didn’t have to wait long as the two would begin facing each other in the ring at the end of February in a heated feud that would continue for over 2 years.  Whether it was in singles matches or tag matches, matches for the U.S. title or for the World Tag Team titles, non-title matches or Death matches, it was a rivalry that kept fans gravitated throughout Northern California, Reno, Nevada, and even Hawaii.  It involved two master psychologists and workers in the ring, and it captivated the imaginations of those who witnessed their battles.

   “I was extremely lucky to have seen both of their careers in the Bay area from start to finish and it would do extreme injustice to pick one over the other” say Les Puskas, a lifelong wrestling fan who deals in Northern California wrestling memorabilia.  “They were both naturals.  Together they had chemistry like no other.  They were simply artists in action and against each other it was like 2 dancers at the top of their routine.  Patterson was lucky enough to be able to learn things from Stevens but Stevens was also lucky enough to learn from Patterson.  Honestly, I do not know if I would have been so obsessed with the sport had it not been for both of them.”

   Whether they worked as partners or as opponents, the two had a great mutual respect for each other and as Pat would later say regarding working with Stevens, “In the ring, he was a master, no question about it.  I learned a lot from him.  And I learned a lot from Roy Shire.”  

   Superstar Billy Graham had come in from Los Angeles in October of 1970 and had been paired with Patterson so that he could learn from a master worker and psychologist.  He also took part in the Patterson/Stevens feud and learned from them both, referring to his time in San Francisco as earning his degree in “mark psychology.”  He had the utmost respect for the work of his tag partner Patterson and expressed some of those sentiments in his autobiography “Tangled Ropes”.

     “He was a flawless heel, vicious, and aggressive, and did everything with precise timing.  To this day, there’s never been anybody who can throw better mounted punches from the ropes.  When his head ran into the ring post, it recoiled, with hair flying backward, like it was about to pop off.” 

   Eventually the feud would come to an end as Ray would head to the Midwest to work for Verne Gagne’s AWA, although he’d return a few times to resume the feud.  In the end he and Pat would kiss and make up before Pat would eventually join him in the AWA.  But before that happened, Patterson would enjoy the “single life” as he held the U.S. Heavyweight title a half dozen times in Roy Shire’s territory, and was involved in memorable feuds with Rocky Johnson, “Moondog” Lonnie Mayne, Mr. Fuji, and “The Great Mephisto” Frankie Caine.  It was that feud with Caine that made Rod Higashino a lifelong fan of both Pat Patterson and classic pro wrestling.

   “(Patterson) was part of the defining moment for me becoming a full blown wrestling fan.  As a little kid I remember being at my neighbor’s house while they were watching 'Big Time Wrestling' and they explained to me who were the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’”.  Rod became frustrated as he saw top heel and current U.S. champ “The Great Mephisto” win week after week with his “loaded” boot.

   “He never did lose, but one week on TV Patterson attacked him, body slammed him on the ‘hard, concrete floor’, as announcer Hank Renner would always call it, and jumped off the ring apron with a ‘Bombs Away’ to Mephisto’s throat.  As I sat there mesmerized, Patterson began unlacing Mephisto’s ‘loaded’ boot and eventually took off with it!  Mephisto came out complaining that one of his legs was shorter than the other and without his special boot he would lose his equilibrium.  Patterson came out saying that his leg had been a little sore lately and if his leg hurt before a match with Mephisto, he would wear the boot.  That was it- I was hooked!  That was the angle that got me watching each and every week and made Patterson my 'all time favorite'”.

   While they made a great team and Patterson had learned much from Ray Stevens, he would continue to develop and perfect his craft and identity on his own.  In 1977 he would be involved in the “Masked Fuji” fiasco before having his final run in the early part of the years as the U.S. champ, after winning a tournament.  He would defend that belt in Northern California, wrestle a couple of shots in both L.A. and New York, and then finish out the year in Florida.  After over a dozen years working for Roy Shire, much longer than he expected, Pat Patterson would find himself in Verne Gagne’s AWA.

   His appeal was so vast, his talent so immensely appreciated by fans and promoters alike, that after a year and a half, he would find himself splitting time between Gagne’s AWA and Vince McMahon Sr.’s WWF.  On June 19, 1979 he would beat Ted DiBiase for the WWF North American Heavyweight title, which would soon morph into the WWF Intercontinental title, while simultaneously holding the AWA World tag team titles with Ray Stevens.  While they would lose the belts 9 days after Patterson’s North American title win, he would continue as a singles champion in the WWF and was a top challenger for Bob Backlund’s WWF Heavyweight title.  He was even awarded the NWA America’s title after a fictitious match in Hawaii before defending and losing the title against Chavo Guerrero in Los Angeles on November 16th.  Such was his credibility as a champion.

   For the next few years he would split time between the WWF and the AWA.  Pat Patterson was such a hot commodity that the promoters were willing to share, and to an extent that was very rare, especially considering that the WWF was on the cusp of it’s nationwide expansion.  Before their expansion however, the AWA was doing some expanding itself and would begin running shows in Patterson’s old stomping grounds, as Roy Shire’s Northern California promotion was getting ready to fold.

   On January 15, 1981, Pat would team up with old partner Stevens to beat Adrian Adonis and Jesse Ventura on a wrestling card that Verne Gagne held at the Oakland Coliseum.  The man who had settled down in San Francisco would return one more time for Roy Shire however, as he would participate in and win the 1981 San Francisco Battle Royal on January 24, 1981.  He would also beat NWA World Champion Harley Race by count out on what was to be Roy Shire’s last wrestling card.

      Patterson, who at one time helped Shire with booking his territory, had developed into one of the greatest minds in wrestling.  This would not only benefit his career, but would contribute greatly to Pro Wrestling entertainment as he would go on to be a key figure behind the scenes in the WWE for many years, helping greatly to develop compelling angles and finishes. 

   On May 27, 2013 The WWE was in Calgary, Alberta, Canada for a taping of their flagship television show “RAW” and what was to be “The Bret Hart Appreciation Night”.  Many current and former prominent Canadian wrestlers were on hand to pay tribute to the worthy 5 time former WWE Champion and pro wrestling legend.  Foremost among them was Pat Patterson, who referred to Bret as “The greatest Canadian of all time.”  While perhaps no one would argue that Hart was deserving of the tribute and recognition, some might contend that Pat himself was in fact the greatest Canadian, or at the very least, “The Greatest Canadian Wrestler of all time.”

   Nearly 50 years before (I bet that just made some people feel old) “The Genius” Ray Stevens, received a new partner, a man who would become a genius in his own right, to the delight of all who would watch him. - RR


Special thanks to Rod Higashino, Robert Counts, Joe Sousa, and Les Puskas for sharing their memories of Ray Stevens and Pat Patterson.
Les Puskas deals in Classic California Wrestling pictures, programs, and magazines which you can view at or on Ebay under his seller i.d. of "LPBingo".
"Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams" by Greg Oliver and Steven Johnson