WWE legend Pat Patterson, first intercontinental champion and creative force, dead at 79

WWE Hall of Famer Pat Patterson died at age 79 following a battle with cancer. Patterson was the first WWE (then WWF) intercontinental champion, the inventor of the Royal Rumble and one of the most influential creative forces in the history of professional wrestling.

Patterson was born in Montreal in 1941 as Pierre Clermont. His wrestling career began in 1958 and eventually led him to San Francisco where he formed The Blond Bombers tag team with Ray Stevens. Arguably the best tag team of the 1970s, the pair had multiple reigns with the NWA world tag team championships. During his time in San Francisco, he also won the NWA North American championship.

Patterson make his WWF debut in 1979, eventually defeating Ted DiBiase to win the promotion’s North American championship. That was the title Patterson would unify with the South American championship during a tournament in Rio de Janeiro to create the intercontinental championship that is still defended today. (Technically, there was no South American championship, nor was there a tournament in Rio, but the story became canon in the creation of one of the most prestigious championships in wrestling history.)

In 1980, Patterson transitioned to a role as commentator before officially retiring from in-ring competition in 1984, though he wrestled in occasional matches over the following years. He would take on an increasingly bigger role backstage with WWF leading to becoming Vince McMahon’s right-hand man and one of the architects of the company’s biggest successes.

“[McMahon] made me quit wrestling and work in an office, something I had never liked,” Patterson said of the transition to a backstage role in a book. “… I didn’t like working in an office — I mean, I quit school so I wouldn’t have to work in an office. I became senior vice president, and I had no idea what that meant. The only thing I knew was pro wrestling. My vision of wrestling impressed him. He learned with me how wrestling should work, how to put a match together and how to create a finish.”

Many who have been through the WWE have credited Patterson with their successes while citing him as one of the most creative men in wrestling history.

“He’s a wrestling Jedi and the smartest man I’ve ever met in wrestling,” Chris Jericho wrote of Patterson in his biography “Undisputed”. “He taught me 90 percent of the things I know about how to put together a match, and when I first approached him, I had no idea how little I really knew about the psychology of the business.”

Patterson was known as one of the best “finish men” in wrestling for his ability to create innovative and entertaining ends to matches. In a radio interview, Bret Hart once said that Patterson was “the most creative person in the history of wrestling in putting a finish together.”

He was also an innovator of new match ideas. Perhaps Patterson’s most notable contribution to the business is the creation of the Royal Rumble, one of the most iconic matches on WWE’s yearly calendar.

“We had this meeting with Dick Ebersol, president of NBC Sports with whom we worked on ‘Saturday Night’s Main Event’, who was looking at doing a three-hour special for the USA Network,” Patterson said of the creation of the match ahead of its debut. WWF used it to counter-program Jim Crockett’s Bunkhouse Stampede pay-per-view.

“We needed an idea, so Vince told me, ‘Pat, pitch him that f—ing idea of yours!’ Ebersol went crazy for it, so Vince told me to write it. I put everything together by myself that first night. I didn’t come up with the name, though we had people in the office for that. We didn’t want it to be battle royal; they came up with ‘Royal Rumble’, and it was perfect!”

Patterson eventually took on an on-screen role again during the Attitude Era alongside Gerald Brisco as one of McMahon’s “stooges,” a pair of yes men who helped the Mr. McMahon character in feuds with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and others. During that period, Patterson won the WWF hardcore championship. That was not be his last title, however, as Patterson actually won WWE’s 24/7 title in 2019, making him the oldest man to ever hold a WWE championship.

Patterson was openly gay and was partners with Louie Dondero for 40 years before Dondero died in 1998.

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