Work and Shoot – Ken Patera
By Dave Newman on 6th March 2022
Babyface Ken Patera is no fun.
Cranky octogenarian Ken Patera is LOTS of fun, so here’s a recap of a shoot interview with him from 2020 with infamously terrible Hannibal, who manages to fuck up from the beginning by calling him Ken Pat-ee-ra.
Below the shoot review, some famous and infamous bits involving the Olympic strongman.
Ken bemoans lockdown and the Democrats from the start. He’s in a hotel during the daytime where it looks like someone let off a fire extinguisher and someone opened the windows to get it out.
He talks about being a shot putter and discus thrower who got into weightlifting. Coaches were wary of him getting musclebound, which was a common thing at that time.
Ken met some wrestlers in 1961 at the best gym in Portland, although they spent more time in the steam room than on the weights. One of the guys showed him some Olympic lifting techniques, which led to his Olympic success and being the first American to lift 500 pounds over his head. It wasn’t recorded technically because of not having the requisite number of judges present.
Ken’s brother Jack introduced him to Verne Gagne, who sponsored him for the Olympics. The wrestlers he’d met had encouraged him to get into wrestling once he was done as an athlete, so Verne trained him. His last significant shot put event saw him lose by a quarter inch to Dave Maggard, who had never beaten him but had turned to steroids to improve. He’d also started to succumb to wear and tear.
A quick opinion from Ken on Germany: “They all smoke and drink, but the place is spotless. I call them warriors because that Germanic race has something they want to conquer. We kicked their ass, though, so they learned their lesson!”
Ken flew into Munich early and his knee blew up like a football. The doctors were too busy with basketball players so he went to a German doctor who improved his situation to 90%. He went to warm up and hurt the knee more, but got a bronze medal in the military press then had to pull out due to injury. That was a sign to him he was done, so over to wrestling. He would’ve gotten into trouble if the judges found out he was being sponsored $100 a week, but everyone was because it wasn’t like you could work alongside training.
Part of the sponsorship deal was moving from Portland to Minnesota, and Verne set him up in a house. He also was getting cortisone shots off a doctor Gagne knew, although he found out too late that it dissolved your tendons and left scars on your bones, which is why his body started breaking down in the eighties. He runs through the laundry list of operations he’s had and warns people off excessive cortisone injections.
Bored and wanting to get out of the house, he went to George’s in the Park and met a musclebound mark doorman called Richard Fliehr, who he ended up living with. Flair was a party animal from the start and made for wrestling. Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell vouched for him to train alongside them, Patera, Bob Bruggers and Koz Vaziri, who would go on to be the Iron Sheik.
Flair had been kicked out of high school for bad behaviour, but his dad was a preeminent doctor, so that always got him back in somewhere until he got his high school diploma. Patera thinks he had too much energy in him and needed fun and attention all the time, which was fun but got him into trouble.
Patera and the rest of the guys trained from October 1st until the middle of December, then debuted before Christmas. His first match was with Rene Goulet.
Hannibal brings up a claim Sgt. Slaughter made that he turned up and stretched Billy Robinson and Ric Flair. Patera wasn’t there and can’t speak for Flair, but Slaughter did get the better of Robinson, who was one of their trainers. Robinson had abused Sheik when he was much smaller, so Patera was glad that Slaughter embarrassed him. He contrasts that with how Baron von Raschke was, another legitimate amateur guy who never took advantage of people and thought Robinson was a cheap shot artist.
Patera recalls Verne and Don Muraco also being involved in their training and having to run out in the cold in a dried out riverbed that was uneven. The big guys struggled with hauling ass in it, although Bob Bruggers adapted to it best, even though he obviously wasn’t the one who really made it big.
A fan question comes in about working for Sam Muchnick, with Ken claiming to hold the Missouri State and IC title at the same time. He loved Sam, who was a man of his word and paid him fabulously. Paul Boesch was very similar and had early in his career talked him out of quitting during the lean years. Fritz von Erich and Joe Blanchard also looked out for him. He thinks speaking up was the difference, because he went from $650 a week to double that. He could’ve been spending up to $300 a week on road expenses prior, although he does admit that for every $10 hotel room there was a lot of drinking and eating he did too because he enjoyed it.
Superstar Billy Graham has passed on a question to Hannibal about whether he got his torn triceps fixed, which Patera shows off a massive scar from. The injury happened at a TV taping in Madison, Wisconsin. He was slamming a job guy and his arm went dead on him and his elbow swelled up. Graham drove him to the hospital where a ruptured tendon was diagnosed. His surgeon, who had retired, came back to fix it, although he couldn’t guarantee he’d ever be able to straighten his arm properly again. The triceps pretty much hangs there now in his old age. He had to wear a massive brace to ensure he didn’t have a permanent chicken wing, although he doesn’t suffer with it now.
Graham had also reminded Hannibal of a gimmick weightlifting show they had with fake weights because Graham couldn’t lift the real ones any more. Ken got a guy to make fake wooden weights for them. They would do an angle where one would throw powder in the face of another before beating them up, with Patera having to throw the weights over him to avoid it crushing his face. One day some weightlifters came in to see the competition and called them out on the fake weights, which led to Ken calling them a bunch of “fucking assholes” and telling them to sit down.
One more from Billy, with a reminder of them competing in the tyre throw. This led to a meeting with Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion in New York. Ken rambles for a bit about a bunch of guys. It’s not especially interesting, but his mind is sharp as a tack for dates and names.
Ken used steroids a little bit, but didn’t believe in injectables or pills, so couldn’t commit to them properly. His buddy Bruce Wilhelm would have to remind him to take them, mainly Dianabol. He’d do three six week cycles a year, whereas his peers would be on them all year round despite the toxicity of them.
Back to the fan questions, with Hannibal just throwing the McDonald’s question out there (“You do a thousand good things and you fuck up ONE time!”, he laughs). He says he did nothing and went to there from the Holiday Inn, where he was sharing a room with Masa Saito, at one in the morning for some hamburgers, but they were closed. He could see lights on and that they were filming a commercial in there, so asked if he could have some off a platter that was set up. The guys said no because they were cold, so he stomped off in a mood.
Then, all of a sudden, some guy that had worked at the place and been fired the week before comes by and throws a big rock through the window. Ken was like “What the fuck?!”, but got enough of the story to work it out before the guy ran off. Patera went back to the hotel and related the story to Saito, who could understand English but couldn’t really speak it.
Half hour later, a female and male pair of police officers came to their room with guns and clubs because Ken had been recognised. They didn’t believe the story, so asked to come in the room properly. Saito was in his underwear and t-shirt and going for something to put on. The female officer sprayed Patera in the face with Mace. Saito went crazy on the pair, with fourteen more coming and getting put down by the two wrestlers until they were taken down and taken to jail. Patera recalls how the police officers were actually wrestling fans and the male police officer’s dad apparently came and got their autographs in the courtroom. Patera blames the “asshole judge” and “asshole D.A.”. He jokes it was Murphy’s Law (anything that can go wrong will go wrong) because the Judge was named Murphy. They were sent down for two years but let out eighteen months in for good behaviour. He thinks it was blown out of proportion, although the evidence to the contrary suggest otherwise (the latter being my words, not his).
Hannibal asks about his memory of teaming with Billy Jack Haynes. Patera didn’t realise how messed up on drugs he was (did he ever actually team with him, then?). Haynes would fly out of the room in the middle of the night and claim he was with girlfriends, but he was actually out getting high. Same with JYD, who once took a car in his name and went down “the hood” for crack cocaine, which he’d binge on for days. Brunzell let him in on Dog not having a driver’s license, so he had to have words with him. Roddy Piper and Buddy Rose were really bad on drugs too, hence their early demises.
How tough was Harley Race? After checking on the language parameters, he says he could out-drink, out-fight and out-fuck anyone else. He could fuck more and for longer than anyone else. He was also a fast driver and ended up in an accident that killed his first wife.
Who was his strongest opponent? Hard to tell, because of it being a work. He thinks Bruno Sammartino was very snug from the lockup. Wahoo was similar, although he wasn’t a powerhouse. This leads to a brief history of Wahoo, who was a teammate of Joe Namath.
Hannibal goes for one more question, but the handler runs in and gimmicks it that he’s taken too much of Patera’s time, so they reconvene for another time. Patera apologises for getting a bit long-winded at times, which he did but he was finding his flow with the quickfire questions.
Now, some matches and bits.
Ken Patera vs. Judo Joe Black
I do love the cape jacket on Patera. Judo Joe Black is in a gi and bouncing around, playing up to the Weasel chants for Bobby Heenan. You can tell straight away that Black is bouncing around unnaturally and his body language is all wrong, but nothing too egregious. Bruno on commentary starts snickering a bit, then Ken puts the boots to him and he goes from a kneeling position to flat out. Then the head is rammed into the corner and he does a completely fake flat chest bump off that TWICE, with the crowd spotting it and getting onto him. “I think he’s a little lost!”, says Bruno. Big slam across the ring, then he’s hoisted up to the top for an even bigger slam off there and he has enough sense to stay down for the match winning elbowdrop. When Bruno of all people is calling you out you know you’re in trouble. Vince stays quiet, but you can tell he was pissed off.
Demolition on Ken Patera’s Jail Sentence
Both knew Ken before and don’t know the full particulars, although Ax believes Patera and Saito had been drinking. He knows, with a smile on his face, that a brick was thrown through the window, which Smash quickly upgrades to a landscaping rock (so you know the mystery man wasn’t the one who did it). They don’t know much of the rest of it, but the assault charges on the cops far outweighed the criminal damage. “If they’re closed, they’re closed! Even if it’s two minutes past them closing, they’re closed!”
Ken Patera Buries Jesse Ventura
From his famous prior Ring of Honor shoot interview. Jesse ran for governor off the strength of his radio show. The sure thing candidate ended up being blindsided by it. Ventura and that guy ended up switching places in the poll, resulting in Minnesota getting a “rehabilitated drug addict airhead ex-wrestler” as a governor. Jim Brunzell thought it was a neat thing, but Patera thought it was a disgrace. Patera would tell people that if you asked Jesse a question he’d talk about himself for thirty minutes and never answer it before letting you ask him another one to launch another tirade, then maybe a third question or he’d just wander off as he was want to do. Pretty funny summing up of the Body.
Ken Patera Murders a Promo
The famous one, with Gene setting it up as fabulously as he always did, then Ken trying to act earnest but uttering something incomprehensible in the first sentence. Then an attempt to call the Heenan Family a goon squad. “They whipped me like a dirty yard dog”, with Gene popping round the back to check the welts and reacting to them, then never turning back to the front as he starts corpsing. Gene regains it, but then purses his lips as Ken stumbles and falls over his lines, ranting and raving about being whipped “like a red setter… a red-headed stepson!”, looking off to someone with his chin in his chest. Great cover by trying to turn it back to the scars on the back, but Ken cuts him off and they just fade out before doubtless breaking out into laughter after the cut.
More promo comedy gold…
Gene brings in Don Muraco “from Sunset Beach, Hawaii”, who talks about his tremendous training regiment, before switching to his diet, pulling a box of donuts out of his sweatshirt, talking while eating as many in one go as he can, spitting a few out to take more. Someone off camera is already laughing. Gene is offered one out of the box while Don spits into it, throws it back in, then Don walks off in a huff.
In come Ken Patera and Bobby Heenan, with Gene excusing himself for having powdered sugar all over him, which they both share a snigger about when they realise what it looks like. Patera walks into shot and kisses his bicep, triggering Gene into more hysterics, so Bobby walks off to regain his own composure. Ken is struggling to keep a straight face too. Bobby runs straight into top tier promo mode about himself, Patera and Big John Studd while the other pair giggle to themselves. Excellent callback when Bobby targets Andre the Giant, post his big beating from the Heenan Family, with him saying he’ll get Muraco’s box of donuts as a consolation prize when he retires as Axel F starts bleeding in (Gene: “There’s not much left of ’em!”, Bobby: “There’s not going to be much left of Andre the Giant either!”). Ken gets an understated punchline as they close out too asking “Why don’t you get a bib?” to Gene’s disgust. Brilliant stuff that you’d never be able to write.
Ken Patera vs. One Man Gang
From the later days of both guys on Saturday Night’s Main Event, with Gang at least having the comparative dignity of a renewed push as Akeem. Gang catches Patera with his trousers down but gets caught in a bearhug and wails away. Poke to the eye breaks, and he goes for a shot but gets caught in the full nelson before getting to the rope. Patera’s brace goes from almost his shoulder to the wrist. Patera beats away on Gang, but throws him in for a clothesline and gets caught with a hooking clothesline by Gang for the pinfall, with the weight just holding him over. Incredibly weird impromptu finish. The match never really got started. Patera gets a shot with the brace to save face and almost gets a slam, but Slick breaks it up with a shot to the head with the cane.
Gorilla Monsoon vs. Ken Patera
From the Classics On Demand strand, a retirement match from the Spectrum in Philadelphia, August 23rd of 1980, with Dick Graham and Kal Rudman on commentary. Gorilla catches a kick and kicks Patera in the thigh, then chops away and rakes the face on the top rope. The Intercontinental championship of the sign, shown on camera, looks incredibly different in its nascent state. Kal claims “Gorilla is in there to kill him”, which probably wouldn’t fly later. Big slam and Gorilla, obviously a monster heel in his early days, wrestles very heelishly still in his last match. The cranium crush, Crush’s babyface finisher, gets used, the only other time I’ve seen someone do that other than the big tall guy with the matchstick legs. “He should disable him”, adds Rudman. “He’ll be in WEIRD City soon!” Where was Kal getting this stuff from?
Graham brings up the background for this match, with Gorilla refereeing the prior Patera/Backlund match. Gorilla, who had two volumes (impossible to not hear and screaming), actually calls for the house lights to be put on while he ties Patera in the ropes. Patera, as a heel IC champ, actually resembles Shawn Michaels a lot with his selling against a far bigger opponent. Gorilla locks in the full nelson until Ken gets the ropes. Ken then gets a blatant low shot to finally take Monsoon to the mat. Stomps away. Kal complains about the referee, who I believe is Mario Savoldi, getting on Gorilla throughout his attack but allowing Ken to hit Gorilla “in his genital area!”. I can’t imagine Vince McMahon was producing this commentary. Full nelson locked in to try and finish.
The hand drops twice, but Gorilla has had his can of spinach, according to Kal, and keeps it up on the third drop, but can’t break. Almost down to a pinning position, but Monsoon gets a break in the corner, which also hits Ken in the head too. To the outside, where Patera rams Gorilla’s head into the ring post (protecting Gorilla’s head with his hand in the way), then Gorilla goes down and quite obviously blades while down on his front as Ken poses. Kal actually comes off mic to cheerlead for Gorilla. Back in, Ken bites away, then threatens Mario for getting on him. Gorilla comes back up in a zombie lurch before throwing rights and chops in response. “He’s got him in queer street now!”, says guess who. Irish whip of Ken into the ropes to be caught in a bearhug.
Patera tries to punch out of the bearhug and does eventually. Mario tries to check on Gorilla, seeing if he wants to call it. Gorilla shoves him out of the way, allowing for Patera to pull a foreign object out of his singlet and hit Monsoon with it to knock him out for the pinfall and end his career. And Gorilla did stayed retired. Patera rubs salt in the wound by stealing the mic and shouting at him that he’s done and that he got his ass kicked, like a true heel. Really good match for the time, with lots of drama and action, despite the insane rambling of Rudman.
Melting it down: If there’s interest on this one I’ll try and review the second Hannibal shoot next weekend too, but Patera is absolutely a guy worthy of study despite his more dubious moments.