by David Chappell
An exciting newcomer by the name of Ken Patera came onto the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling landscape in February of 1975. Ken came to the territory with great credentials, primarily from the world of amateur weightlifting. Ken won a gold medal at the Pan American games in 1971, and participated in the 1972 Olympic Games in the sport of weightlifting. Patera, rightly so, was introduced as “Wrestling’s Strongest Man” during his first Mid-Atlantic stint, which lasted for about a year.
Patera’s in-ring feats were also noteworthy during his first stint with Jim Crockett Promotions. Ken was an excellent tag team wrestler, and came close numerous times to dethroning World Tag Team Champions Gene and Ole Anderson with a series of partners from the “good guy” side of the fence. On the singles side of things, Patera had interesting feuds with none other than Johnny “The Champ” Valentine during the spring and summer of 1975, and with Blackjack Mulligan and Steve Strong during the fall of 1975.
Patera tricked Valentine on a TV segment where Johnny was putting lower card wrestlers’ names in a fish bowl, saying he would randomly draw a name out and give the lucky man a shot at his 2000 silver dollars. Valentine’s 2000 silver dollar TV challenge was legendary around the area at this time. During a commercial break, Ken exchanged all the names in the fish bowl with his own name, and Valentine about had a coronary when he drew the name “KEN PATERA” out of the fish bowl! This led to a silver dollar match on TV where Ken had Johnny flat out in the ring at the 10 minute mark, but the referee decided that Valentine didn’t submit so the “Champ” kept his money.
The two battled evenly in the areas’ arenas over the next few months, with Patera getting a number of shots at Johnny’s prestigious United States Title. These bouts had tremendous intensity, and often revolved around Patera cinching Valentine in a headlock or bear hug with his powerful arms sapping the strength out of the “Champ.” Valentine would often somehow manage to pull out a victory, but Ken typically walked out of the ring immediately while Johnny lay motionless on the canvas for a number of minutes!
Ken’s last major angle during his first run in Jim Crockett Promotions played off of his weightlifting background. In October of 1975, Superstar Billy Graham challenged Patera to a bench press weightlifting contest on TV. Graham put forth his friend, the muscular Mid-Atlantic newcomer Steve Strong, to actually participate in the competition. By the time the contest actually took place, a couple of weeks later, Blackjack Mulligan had joined Patera and Strong in the contest to see who could bench press the most weight. After the weight had risen to over 400 pounds, Mulligan and Strong attacked Patera as he was attempting to lift, with the result being that the weight crashed down on Ken’s neck and chest. Patera was out of action for about a week, but it was amazing that he wasn’t hurt more seriously. This incident led to a brief feud in November and December where Patera attempted to exact revenge on Mulligan and Strong.
The “World’s Strongest Wrestler” was then deemphasized and left the Mid-Atlantic area in February of 1976. Other than making a couple of “guest” appearances in the territory later in the year, Mid-Atlantic fans didn’t see Patera again in the territory until the early months of 1978. During the interim, fans saw Ken participate in the CBS “World’s Strongest Man” contest and for the fans that read the national wrestling magazines, they saw that Patera was wrestling in the WWWF territory in the northeast.
The Ken Patera that was wrestling in New York was a far different grappler than the one Mid-Atlantic fans grew to love in 1975, in appearance, personality and wrestling style. The hair had become long and blonde, the modesty had been replaced by arrogance and the scientific wrestling had been replaced by ruthless rulebreaking. The question then became, if Ken Patera came back to the Mid-Atlantic area, which version of the Olympic strongman would we get? It wouldn’t take long to find out!
... To be continued in Part Two Next Week!