Where Wrestling's Regional History Lives!
A Look at Pat O'Connor
- John Edwards
What kind of a wrestler and
businessman was Pat O’Connor? Von Raschke recalls the beginnings of
his version of the clawhold:
"I wound up wrestling
against Pat O'Connor at the Kiel Auditorium. He was a master, just
excellent. During the match, he said, "Put the claw on me." I
asked, (whispers) "What's the claw?" He guided me through it
and it seemed to get over pretty good. We had a real good
match."– credit: http://baronvonraschke.com/history/
This month’s article is a
combination of personal memories and articles I found while researching
the life and career of Pat O’Connor. I give full credit to the authors
of any material referenced.
By the time I was old enough to
enjoy Wrestling at the Chase and the twice-monthly cards at the Kiel,
(mid-70s thru 1984) Pat’s best days were behind him. Even then,
though, I could tell he was something special. Even into his 50s, Pat
could still go. Even at the twilight of his career he could carry others
to good matches and put on a good 7-10 minute match on television.
Working with him held the cachet of competing against a “Former
World’s Champion”. Every time a Lou Thesz, Gene Kiniski, Jack Brisco,
Dory Funk, Jr, Harley Race and so on worked (as a wrestler or referee)
St. Louis TV at the Chase, the Kiel, or the Arena, they always
got introduced as a “Former World’s Champion” on the program and
by the ring announcer. Even though by this time Pat was carrying and
putting others over, he never came across as a “jobber” or
“enhancement talent” – even until the final match at Sam
Muchnick’s retirement card – January 1, 1982 where (at the age of
58!) he defeated Bob Sweetan at the Arena in front of 19,000 fans.
On the business end, Pat was heavily
involved in both the Central States (Bob Geigel) promotion and, later
on, the St. Louis promotion. Pat was part of the group that bought out
Sam Muchnick and took over in 1982 and owned/ran Central States and St.
Louis until the promotions closed.
Pat had many career highlights which
will be looked at more in depth below. The crowning moment of his career
was his NWA Title reign which began in St. Louis (where else?) in 1959
and ended in Chicago in 1961 in the “Match of the Century” against
“Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers in front of 30,000 people at Comiskey
Park. Buddy Rogers reign would eventually result in the NWA/WWWF split
O`Connor was one of the absolute best wrestlers on the planet (as well
as one of the most famous and popular) during the 1940's, 1950's, and
through the 1960's. His time in the ring actually lasted until the
mid-1970's, marking a career spanning some 30 years! Throughout his
career, the athletic New Zealander was a loved hero known worldwide for
his skill and sportsmanship, not to mention being renowned as a
multi-time World Champion and regional titleholder. Always the
consummate champion, O`Connor -- with his friendly New Zealander accent
-- was known as a true professional, both in and out of the ring. His
reputation proceeded him, and through his worldwide travels, he
established himself as unquestionably one of pro wrestling's biggest
attractions during his day.
O`Connor won one of his first championships, the Florida Heavyweight title, in 1944. He also won the prestigious AWA/IWA (Montreal) World Heavyweight title twice -- both by defeating his longtime nemesis Killer Kowalski, once in 1954 and again in 1955. Among other titles O`Connor won throughout his illustrious career were two Central States Heavyweight championships in 1962 and 1963, two Missouri Heavyweight titles in 1962 and 1967, and the A.W.A. World Tag Team title on November 11, 1967 in Chicago with partner Wilber Snyder.More...