My knowledge of professional wrestling really starts at Wrestlemania 1. Honestly, I didn’t even see it. Through watching the Saturday programming on network television in the mid-80s, I started filling in my knowledge of 70’s and 80’s pro wrestling. I know bits and pieces about the 70’s.
One thing I know is that there was a guy named Ken Patera, who was billed as an olympic bodybuilder (big surprise) and wrestler, who was getting a pretty heavy push as a heel in the 70s. The heels in the 70s and 80s really didn’t do much in the title scene. They did draw lots of heat; but they were fodder for the faces. Oddly enough, in the years that Patera bounced around the major regional circuits, he managed to have a memorable WWF Intercontinental Championship Run, the one belt that, until the mid 90s, actually was fairly prestigious and meant your talent was recognized worldwide.
My first exposure to Ken Patera was in the mid 80s. I thought he came out of nowhere and started a feud with Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, who, at the time was the manager for many of the heels. As the story developed, it was obvious that there was history between the two, and, now, having the access to information at the touch of my fingertips, I know that Heenan was his manager in the 70s, during his stints in the different circuits. That kind of explains the title run.
More digging has brought to light that, prior to Patera’s return to WWF in 1987, he spent 2 years in jail for assaulting a police officer after allegedly throwing a rock through a McDonalds window. You really can’t make this stuff up.
Anyway, the feud with Heenan hit a climax when there was a debate between Patera and Heenan on the WWF show. Yes, they had a debate between two enemies. Actually, it was really interesting. Heenan starts off with a shoot comment about Patera’s tenure in jail. Looking back, in the days of kayfabe, this makes what they’re trying to do in WWE right now look like a joke. That’s how you shoot interview!
Watch it for yourself; you’re gonna have to (or at least the last 2 minutes) to get some of the rest of what I have to say.
When I was a kid, I really believed that he decimated Heenan. Even though the way he flipped Heenan around with that belt looked really hokie, the fact that Heenan was shown in subsequent weeks with a neck brace really did a lot to sell me on it. There really was a magic to the storytelling of that era, and being a kid during that is a really special thing.
What I used to love about Patera was his finishing maneuver, the full nelson. It was kind of a boring move that looked like it could really hurt someone if done right. What was special about his was that he swung the opponent around like a rag doll until the opponent submitted. (start video at 2 min 25 sec)
Patera’s stint in WWF lasted only a few months after the debate, as a torn bicep injury put him on the shelf. He never returned to mainstream pro wrestling.
However, in the mid 90s, when I used to love watching strongman competitions on ESPN, I saw him, with bleached blonde hair, compete in a regional strongman competition. I don’t recall much of it, but he had to do things like carry big boulders onto tree stumps and squat thousands of pounds. It was really surprising to see a wrestler on a different competitive sport.
Lots of fun! Good times!