“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
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
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
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 Roy 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. Cow Palace
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
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
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. San Francisco Cow
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
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. Cow Palace
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
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
“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
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
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
“(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
champ “The Great Mephisto” win week after week with his “loaded” boot. U.S.
“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
champ, after winning a tournament. He
would defend that belt in Northern California, wrestle a couple of shots in
both U.S. L.A. and New York,
and then finish out the year in . After over a dozen years working for Roy
Shire, much longer than he expected, Pat Patterson would find himself in Verne
Gagne’s AWA. Florida
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
on November 16th. Such was
his credibility as a champion. Los Angeles
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
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
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 Wrestlederbysport.com/ or on Ebay under his seller i.d. of "LPBingo".
"Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams" by Greg Oliver and Steven Johnson