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Patrick John "Pat" O'Connor (22 August 1924 – 16 August 1990), was a professional wrestler from New Zealand. O'Connor was regarded as one of the premier workers of his era. He held the AWA World Heavyweight Championship and NWA World Heavyweight Championship simultaneously, the latter of which he held for approximately two years.
Patrick John O'Connor was born on August 22, 1924 in Raetihi, New Zealand to parents John Frederick and Isabella. While he attended high school at Feilding Agricultural High School, he also helped tend to the sheep and cattle on his parents' farm. He later attended Massey University, and later served for six months in the New Zealand Royal Air Force in 1945.
Before entering the world of professional wrestling, Patrick O'Connor was an amateur wrestler. He trained under Dave Sparrow, and later Don Anderson, while working as a blacksmith to pay the bills. After a tournament in 1947, he joined the Wellington wrestling team and trained under Anton Koolmann. In 1948, he represented New Zealand in the Pan American games. O'Connor won the New Zealand Heavyweight Championship in amateur wrestling in both 1949 and 1950. The 1949 win earned him entry into the 1950 British Empire Games. At the Empire Games, O'Connor, once again representing New Zealand, won a silver medal winner in the (freestyle) heavyweight division. He later trained to be a professional wrestler under Len Levy.
Professional wrestling career
National Wrestling Alliance
On March 19, 1955, he won Jim Crockett Promotions's NWA World Tag Team Championship (Chicago version) with tag team partner Roy McClarity, and they held the title until February 1956. Later in the year, he worked for Maple Leaf Wrestling. In March, he won the NWA British Empire Heavyweight Championship (Toronto version), but lost it on May 2, 1957 to Gene Kiniski. That same month, O'Connor and Whipper Billy Watson won the NWA Canadian Open Tag Team Championship, but lost it to Gene Kiniski and Fritz Von Erich on October 31 of that year.
O'Connor held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship from 1959 to 1961. He first won the title on January 9, 1959, from Dick Hutton, who had held the title for 13 months. O'Connor's reign was recognized by both the National Wrestling Alliance and the National Wrestling Association. The title change was part of the rivalry between bookers Sam Muchnick and Fred Kohler, the latter of whom did not want to waste any money announcing O'Connor as the new champion. Kohler also wanted O'Connor to pay him $10,000 to wrestle at shows in Chicago, while being paid less than champions usually earned. O'Connor was so angry at the suggestion that he walked out of their meeting and later told Muchnick not to book him for events in Chicago. The men later worked out a deal of sorts, and on February 19, 1960, O'Connor wrestled in Chicago against Bruno Sammartino and Johnny Valentine, among others.
On July 29, at one of Fred Kohler's events, O'Connor defeated Yukon Eric at an event with an attendance of 30,275. During this time, television also became a factor in the burgeoning market for professional wrestling, and as a result, the demand to trade wrestlers, including O'Connor, throughout the territories, was eased due to Vincent McMahon's Capitol Wrestling. In December, he worked for McMahon in the Northeast. In March 1961, he was suspended for 16 days when he missed a match in New York. On June 30, 1961, O'Connor dropped the title to Buddy Rogers in front of 38,622 fans at Comiskey Park, a North American professional wrestling attendance record that lasted until Toronto's The Big Event in 1986. The ticket sells of $148,000 was a professional wrestling record for almost 20 years. The match, a two out of three falls match, was billed as the "Match of the Century". During the match, both men had gained a pinfall, when O'Connor missed a dropkick and suffered a groin injury on the ropes, after which Rogers pinned him to win the match. The entire match can be viewed on YouTube.
American Wrestling Association
In May 1960, while still the NWA Champion, the American Wrestling Association (AWA) named O'Connor as the first holder of the AWA World Heavyweight Championship when they seceded from the NWA. Therefore, he held both the AWA and NWA World Heavyweight Championships simultaneously. He never defended the AWA Championship, and was stripped of it in August, after 90 days, when Verne Gagne was recognized as the new champion.
On November 10, 1967, the team of O'Connor and Wilbur Snyder defeated Larry Hennig and Harley Race to win the AWA World Tag Team Championship. They lost the title on December 2 to Mitsu Arakawa and Dr. Moto. O'Connor and Snyder also defeated Arakawa and Moto for the World Wrestling Association's WWA World Tag Team Championship on September 24, 1968. They lost the title on October 26 to the same team.
On October 13, 1970, O'Connor was introduced as Jim Crockett Promotions's first NWA Eastern States Heavyweight Champion as part of a storyline to introduce the title. The title was later awarded to the Missouri Mauler with the announcement that Mauler won it in New York.
On January 1, 1982, O'Connor was part of the card that comprised promoter Sam Muchnick's last professional wrestling show, located in St. Louis. O'Connor was also one of the owners of the St. Louis Wrestling Club. O'Connor, along with Verne Gagne, Harley Race, and Bob Geigel purchased the territory from Sam Muchnick the day after Muchnick's retirement. On September 18, 1963, O'Connor was named as a co-conspirator in the monopoly that controlled wrestling in Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa. O'Connor filed a counterclaim. All the claims were later dismissed.
In 1990, he died of cancer. The following December, World Championship Wrestling held the Pat O'Connor Memorial International Cup Tag Team Tournament, an eight-team international tag-team memorial tournament at Starrcade in 1990 in honor of O'Connor. In 1996, he was inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame. In 2007, the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame inducted O'Connor. He is also a member of the Stampede Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Championships and accomplishments
- 1950 British Empire Games silver medal in freestyle wrestling (heavyweight)
- New Zealand Heavyweight Championship (1949, 1950)
- NWA Central States Heavyweight Championship (3 times)
- NWA Central States Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Bob Brown
- NWA North American Tag Team Championship (Central States version) (2 times) – with Sonny Myers
- NWA United States Heavyweight Championship (Central States version) (3 times)
- NWA World Tag Team Championship (Central States version) (4 times) – with Sonny Myers (1), Tiny Mills (1), Bob Geigel (1) and Omar Atlas (1)
- Midwest Wrestling Association
- Ohio Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Montreal Athletic Commission
- World Heavyweight Championship (Montreal version) (2 times)
- NWA Rocky Mountain Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Class of 2007