Author’s Note: In the summer of 2023, I interviewed pro wrestling legend Ken Patera about his illustrious career in an exclusive for Cageside Seats. Recently, I caught up with him, and fans of the Olympic weightlifter and ring icon will be pleased to know he is doing well. In this special edition of Real Heel Heat, I explore a remarkable 24-hour period in the life of one of wrestling’s most renowned villains.
Ken Patera was a household name in the 1970s. As a weightlifter, Patera rose to prominence after winning multiple gold medals at the 1971 Pan American Games. He qualified to represent the United States in the 1972 Olympics before an injury cut his Olympic bid short. Then, in 1977, he finished third in the inaugural World’s Strongest Man Competition.
Upon entering the world of pro wrestling in 1973, Patera’s previous achievements earned him instant credibility with fans despite his wicked demeanor and propensity to break the rules inside the squared circle. If anything, his villainous tactics made the former Olympian a more must-see attraction. And in 1976, fans in Alexandria, LA, couldn’t wait to see Patera get his skull caved in by fan favorite “Captain America” Dick Murdoch.
For that to happen, however, Patera would first have to make it to the match after surviving a car wreck that would’ve killed the average man.
As Patera was driving home during the early morning hours from Muskogee, OK, a severe thunderstorm hit, causing Patera’s brand-new Oldsmobile 442 to hydroplane across oncoming traffic.
“I went into this drainage ditch and hit a drainage culvert,” said Patera. “I was going about 70 miles an hour when I hit that culvert. My knees busted the steering wheel off and came up, knocked the dashboard off. And here I’m laying there in a goddamn car, bleeding like a pig and busted my head open.”
Unable to open the doors or windows, Patera knew if he didn’t do something soon, he was going to drown. Somehow, he remembered to snatch his gear bag from the back seat before kicking out the front windshield. As water began to flood the inside of his vehicle, he grabbed a hold of the roof and pulled himself out just as water began to wash over the top of his car.
At that moment, a state trooper pulled up and asked what happened. After Patera shared his story, the officer offered to take him to the hospital due to the large gash on his forehead. Patera declined but asked the trooper to bring him to the nearest motel.
Once there, Patera tried to get some sleep while he air-dried his clothes. After only a few hours of sleep and with his clothes still soggy, a bloodied Patera got dressed and made his way to Dallas Fort Worth Airport to catch the next flight to Shreveport, LA.
While waiting for his flight, Patera was reading the newspaper when fellow wrestler Killer Karl Kox approached him.
“I thought it was you, Patera,” said Kox. “What the fuck happened to you?”
After telling his story, Kox replied, “Jesus Christ. You’re a mess. You’re not going to work tonight, are you?”
“Yeah. I have a lumberjack match with Captain America down in Alexandria,” Patera said.
After arriving in Shreveport, Patera was driven to a trailer where fellow wrestler Bobby Jaggers was living. Upon seeing Patera, a stunned Jaggers said, “You’re a mess. You’re not going to go (to Alexandria)?”
Once more, Patera assured one of his colleagues that, yes, he was going to wrestle Dick Murdoch that night.
“And so I get in the ring with Murdoch. He knows I’m fucked up,” said Patera.
Despite being limited with what he could do that night, Patera gave the fans his best effort. Unfortunately, after 15 minutes, the crowd grew weary of his rule-breaking tactics and decided to take matters into its own hands.
“I was on top of Murdoch, pounding the dog shit out of him,” said Patera. “I was taking advantage of Murdoch, pulling his hair, giving him nut shots and all kinds of dastardly moves. And they just had enough of Ken Patera, so they decided to riot.”
By his estimation, at least 30 or 40 plastic chairs came flying into the ring as wrestlers emptied the dressing room, attempting to restore some semblance of order. But not before Patera and Murdoch had their way with those who invaded the ring.
“We had, I’d say, five or six guys in the ring. Murdoch just was having a field day, knocking them out. I dropped two of them. And then the wrestlers show up, get in the ring, clear the ring out, and help me back to the locker room,” said Patera.
Also, If you found this feature enjoyable, check out the previous entries to the Real Heel Heat series below: