REAPER GOES BANANA
Regardless of your opinions of the man himself, there was no denying that Pat Patterson, who has died aged 79, was one of the most influential figures in pro-wrestling history. As the right hand man to Vince McMahon for thirty years, he helped shape the entire landscape of wrestling, and as inventor of the Royal Rumble match, came up with one of the most popular match concepts. As a sneaky, technical villain in the ring, he was the prototype for 99% of wrestling villains that are around today. And as an openly gay man (within the industry only until he publicly came out in 2014) in a position of power within a notoriously homophobic arena, he ought to be seen as a trailblazer. Yet its the long standing rumours about what happened with that power that leads to qualified and careful praise even today.
His career started in the late 1950s and in 1962, the French Canadian moved to Boston, speaking not a word of English. He self taught himself the language, but never got plurals, leading to commentator lines such as “And watch Jimmy Snuka go banana on Don Muraco!” [A runnning joke was the fake Pat Patterson phone call, only adding plurals to everything instead and seeing who noticed.] In 1965, he teamed up with the late Ray “Crippler” Stevens to form the Blond Bombers. Even by this point he was going a reputation for match insight and comic timing, as seen in the tag team match where he and Stevens made Andre the Giant corpse. Andre was teaming with similar giant Haystacks Calhoun. Patterson looked at both and then in a stage whisper to the referee went: “Give us a chance. Make the little guy start off!”
He floated around the territories winning several titles before debuting in the then WWF in 1979, quickly winning the brand new Intercontinental Championship in a “tournament” during a “steamy night in Rio”. If you think the tournament was fictitious, you’d be right, and if you think the latter bit is public innuendo, we couldn’t comment…
There was, after all, a lot of innuendo about Pat Patterson. Most of it directly linked to his homosexuality. His grimmest moment was when he was fired in 1992 by the company after being linked to the WWF sex abuse scandal. He was accused of sexual harrassement by a former announcer, and a former WWF Champion claimed on the Phil Donohue Show that Patterson was linked to underage abuse. The former was later seen as an unreliable witness due to his habit of suing for harassment in multiple jobs, and the latter later admitted he made up the whole thing. [Incidentally, last week that Superstar came out and said that Patterson had never forgiven him for the whole “pretend you saw him abuse underage kids” thing. Funny that.] There were abusers in the WWF at the time: former ring announcer Mel Philips (almost erased from all archive footage WWE release now) and backstage worker Terry Garvin (number 2 to Pat Patterson!) were blacklisted from the company. Pat Patterson’s name being linked alongside them had a strong degree of homophobia…
And yet… when Tom Cole (the whistleblower in the abuse case) was interviewed he stated that, while Patterson didn’t attack people, he was known for being rather handsy (ie grope-y) and flirty (to put it kindly) with the younger ring hands. So at the very least, his behaviour was rather inappropriate and the sort of thing that would get you sacked in 2020. Also, as Vince McMahons 2nd in command since the mid 1980s, there is a question to be asked about how much Patterson (and indeed McMahon) knew about Garvin and co and why they didn’t act far sooner. [Recent history shows no one in any part of society did at all at the time of course, hence Weinstein and Saville and Cosby and all of those cunts, but that doesn’t make Gorilla Monsoons running TV gag about the “Terry Garvin school of self defence” age any better…]
There’s also the Roddy Piper interview which could be construed as Patterson having made a unwanted pass at Roddy, or much worse, depending on how you see things. (And Roddy, who isn’t around to defend himself, did claim when sober he didn’t mean there was abuse, but because he’s dead we don’t know if that was damage control or hiding a bad experience..) There’s also dark stories in shoot interviews but the shit/truth ratio in wrestling shoot interviews is too skewed to be a smoking gun. But this helps paint the muddied picture. A man beset by bigots spreading rumours, who was still inappropriate with young men. If you can separate the man from the art is probably similar to your views on Dave Lee Travis and Johnny Depp these days.
Because in his art, the man was a genius. The Royal Rumble is now the biggest wrestling event of the year, a staggered battle royal copied by every other wrestling federation in the universe. Patterson invented it. He was the man who laid out every major Hogan title match, so if you ever wonder how the hell Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior could put together a WrestleMania classic, Pat Patterson is the man to thank. He was the go to man for match ideas for the best in the business, from Ric Flair to The Rock, The Undertaker to John Cena, Bret Hart to Stone Cold Steve Austin. His guidance led to two of wrestlings hottest periods. He helped train The Rock, now the biggest star in Hollywood, and his wars with Sgt Slaughter inspired every hardcore match ever since. In his late 50s, he and fellow old timer Gerry Brisco took on two young guys who had never wrestled in their lives on a live episode of RAW and got one of the biggest TV ratings in the history of the company! He wrestled in drag to win titles, entered the Hall of Fame, and came out on a reality TV show.
Essentially, there is no modern pro-wrestling without Pat Patterson. He is the good, the bad and the ugly all in one package. He inspired and repelled at the same time. His legacy as a creative force is sound, if not his legacy as a man. And we write that in the hope there isn’t a smoking gun revelation hiding around the corner.
He was picked by three teams: Apricot Crumble, Grappling with Mortality and theme team theme team Gris Gris.
19 January 1941 – 2 December 2020