Name: Pat O'Connor
Year Inducted: 2007
Induction Category: Television Era
Without a doubt, the greatest wrestler ever to hail from New Zealand was the
late Patrick J. O'Connor, who was born on August 22, 1924. He was a veteran
of the New Zealand Royal Air Force and served during World War II. Following
his military service, Pat competed as a world-class amateur wrestler in the
1948 Pan American Games and the 1950 British Empire Games.
Joe Pazandak and Butch Levy, who were participating in a professional
wrestling tour of New Zealand, discovered Pat. At the suggestion of the two
Minnesota wrestling greats, Pat was brought to the United States by famed
Minneapolis wrestling promoter Tony Stecher. Under Pazandak's guidance, Pat
was trained to make the transition from amateur to professional wrestler.
Pat made his pro debut in St. Paul on September 24, 1950 with a victory over
veteran Stan Mayslack. It didn't take long before the handsome Irishman
became the toast of the upper Midwest wrestling circles. His matches against
top stars of the day such as Gorgeous George, Hans Hermann, and The Zebra
Kid proved right from the start that Pat had what it took to become a major
star in professional wrestling.
Through the combined efforts of promoters Fred Kohler and Wally Karbo there
was an effort to make O'Connor a nationally recognized face. Utilizing the
old Dumont Network's weekly broadcast of matches televised from Chicago's
Marigold Arena, the promoters formed a strategic campaign to gain Pat a
solid ring reputation. With six successful ring victories over wrestlers
Firpo Zbyszko, Tiny Mills, Johnny Moochy, Rudy Kay, Rebel Russell, and
Barney "Chest" Bernard that goal was efficiently accomplished.
With newfound status, Pat was booked into main events against the other
superstars of the day such as Lou Thesz, Verne Gagne, Killer Kowalski, Hans
Schmidt, Yukon Eric, and The Mighty Atlas. O'Connor won recognition in
Montreal as the Heavyweight Champion and shared the Canadian Open Tag Team
Championship with "Whipper" Billy Watson.
It was Pat's stunning victory over Dick Hutton on January 9, 1959, in
St. Louis, Missouri, capturing the coveted N.W.A. World's Heavyweight
Championship, that established his legend for all time. As World's Champion,
O'Connor was booked to defend his title laurels against the cream of the
crop including Gene Kiniski, Don Leo Jonathan, Fritz Von Erich, Fred
Blassie, Dr. Bill Miller, Johnny Valentine, Cowboy Bob Ellis, Dick The
Bruiser, The Crusher, Danny Hodge, Jackie Fargo, and countless other top
hands. In losing the title to "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers on June 30, 1961
at Chicago's Comiskey Park, a record paid crowd of 38,622 fans was present.
That attendance mark was a great testimonial to the drawing power of both
O'Connor and Rogers.
Since Rogers had been recognized as the N.W.A. United States Champion at the
time, that title reverted to O'Connor. Pat held many major championships
during his illustrious career, including the A.W.A. World's Tag Team Title
with partner Wilbur Snyder. Prior to cutting back on his ring appearances,
O'Connor was part of a group that promoted matches in St. Louis and Kansas
City. Pat's final match occurred on December 7, 1982, in Auckland, New Zealand.
Pat O'Connor passed away at age of 65 from cancer on August 16, 1990 in
St. Louis, Missouri.
- James C. Melby