Modern fans might look at Ken Patera’s WWF run in 1987/88 on youtube or in small doses on the WWE Network and wonder why this guy was getting such a big push as a babyface. At the point that Patera was leaving prison for his 1984 assault on small town police officers in Wisconsin, the WWF was facing a crisis on the babyface side. In the late spring/early summer of 1987, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan had just been arrested and subsequently fired by the WWF for being caught with drugs while riding with his sworn enemy the Iron Sheik. Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat asked for time off to be with his newborn son, effectively ending any good will the WWF had towards wanting to push him. The JYD was a shell of himself, lost in drugs and food binges, and he reportedly was on the verge of being fired. Jake “the Snake” Roberts missed a ton of dates due to dealing with neck injuries he suffered when a guitar shot from the Honky Tonk Man was much stiffer than expected. Roddy Piper had just retired at Wrestlemania 3 and Billy Jack Haynes wasn’t exactly turning them away at the box office. So, with that laid out, you can see there was a need for a strong upper card babyface to help draw houses, at least until Randy Savage could turn babyface in the latter part of summer.
Of course, Patera had been one of the hottest heels in the business in the early 80’s, capturing top titles in the AWA, WWF and NWA as he worked on top everywhere. In his last months before his arrest Patera had been losing to Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant in main events across the country, so what might have become of him after working with the biggest names around is debatable.
Ultimately, the WWF’s plan to make Patera a top guy again fizzled out, at least in part due to Patera suffering an arm injury that limited his dates for several months in August and September. His feud with Bobby Heenan was dropped by the time the October TV tapings went down. After having him headline the “Survivor Series” with Hogan and others against the top heels of the era, Patera was moved into a feud with Demolition and eventually into a full time role putting over heels by the summer of 1988. He was released in late 1988 and minus a run with the AWA and later the UWF, he did really nothing of note in his later days as a worker.
Craig DeGeorge and Johnny V play host.
Intercontinental champion Pat Patterson vs. Ken Patera (1981)
This is joined in progress, as we see Patera miss a charge in the corner, eliciting a big pop from the crowd. The ref ends up bumped and the fans smell a rat. Patera drops a knee on Patterson and wins the gold, even though the dazed ref didn’t see Patterson’s foot on the rope.
We fast forward all the way to 1985, where we join Patera and Bobby Heenan chatting with Vince McMahon on “Tuesday Night Titans”.
On to 1987 – “Mean” Gene does a fluff piece on Patera’s legit athletic background, including his Olympic appearance. They move on to his arrest, blaming Bobby Heenan’s influence on Patera going from being a hero for America and turning into a “monster”. Mr. Saito is simply referred to as a “co-defendant”. Okerlund questions how a justice system can let rapists, murderers and kidnappers off while an American hero was sentenced to two hard years behind bars.
Patera is interviewed in “prison” and chastises Heenan for not giving him emotional support. He promises to redeem himself by eliminating people like Heenan from wrestling.
– Patera and Heenan “debate” in the ring. Heenan is bleeped for the offensive nature of his comments. They pipe in boos, but the crowd is clearly sitting on their hands. Patera winces whenever Heenan calls him an “ex-con” which is a nice subtle touch for his character. Patera complains that Heenan let him rot alone in prison and never supported him. Heenan rightfully points out that as his manager, his job was to get Patera booked, not coddle him. Patera repeats himself several times about being an Olympian and how he loves the redemption America offers people who serve their time and try to reconcile their lives.
“All you were ever good for was pressing weights, now your only good for pressing licence plates.” – Bobby Heenan, being awesome.
Heenan ends the debate by trying to whip Patera, but Patera grabs his belt, wraps it around the Brain’s neck, and whips him across the ring. It looked like Heenan was preparing to take a bump in the turnbuckle, but Patera hung on to the belt and whiplashed Heenan to the mat instead. Given that Heenan suffered a legit broken neck in Japan in 1984 and never had it fixed, that’s a cringey spot to watch. Patera did not come off well in this segment.
Ken Patera vs. Hercules
Heenan is sporting a neck brace due to the attack stated above. Hercules attacks Patera quickly at the bell. This was Patera’s return match. Commentator Jesse Ventura is all over him for having ring rust. According to records, this match was actually taped on back to back days because their first match was such a stinker it had to be redone.
Patera is battered for several minutes, but he rallies with a series of impressive slams where he sends Hercules flying several feet across the ring. Patera locks on a bear hug, prompting Harley Race to run in and wipe Patera out. Billy Jack Haynes makes the save for Patera. This was about as good as you’d expect from this era of Patera against a roided up monster. This is to say it was passable and mercifully short.
Ken Patera vs. Jimmy Jack Funk
Funk pounces on Patera at the start, but soon succumbs to Patera’s strength. Ken wins via a bear hug in short order after that. Just a squash.
Ken Patera vs. Frankie Lane
DeGeorge points out that this match is a squash, but they are airing it due to the Heenan Family giving Patera a beatdown. Lane is 44-years-old here, at the back end of a several decade long career that saw him find success in a few smaller territories, but never catch on in the big time. As promised, Patera batters Lane, but then King Kong Bundy, Paul Orndorff, Hercules, and Harley Race come down and maul Patera. Heenan takes off his belt and gives his men all a chance to whip the strongman. The crowd chants for Hogan, but only a slew of refs come to Patera’s aid.
The Snake Pit with the Heenan Family
Jake the Snake interviews Heenan, with the Brain introducing each man one by one to canned boos. Heenan again promises to end Patera’s career due to Ken putting his hands on him. I’m not sure why this was added on here, as it wasn’t anything different than the earlier promo work.
Ken Patera vs. Intercontinental champion the Honky Tonk Man
This is from MSG. Patera was only a few weeks into his return here, and is subbing for Jake Roberts. The commentary is redubbed by Johnny V and Craig DeGeorge for reasons unknown. Patera tosses Honky around, forcing the champ to take a time out. Patera thumps him again, leading to more Honky stalling. Patera misses the corner charge, which sets up HTM’s heat segment. The champ works his shoulder with kicks, elbows and punches. The fans toss garbage as Honky dances.
Patera fires up, actually leaping in the air like he’s Ricky Morton or something. Jimmy Hart tries to distract Patera, but Ken traps Honky in a bear hug anyway. Hart runs in for a DQ. Honky and Hart are then both scooped up at once as Patera puts a double squeeze on them. The crowd LOVES seeing the heels getting their comeuppance. A nothing match, but the crowd responded well to what they did.
Hulk Hogan and Ken Patera vs. Harley Race and Hercules
I can’t help but smile watching a few little kids in Hulkamania shirts lose their minds when the Hulkster’s music plays. The camera follows the baby faces to the ring through the sea of cheering fans in a wonderful bit of camera work.
Everybody brawls right off, with the heels being forced to retreat. Race and Hogan start things formally, with Race quickly taking command. Hogan quickly fires up and dumps Race to the floor, smacking Hercules for good measure.
Patera gives it a go, knocking the heels together. Hogan returns to continue the face’s dominance. The heels double up on Hogan in order to take command. Hogan endures a piledriver from Race and a bear hug courtesy of Hercules.
Hogan breaks free and manages to tag Patera, who gives Hercules some hot bear hug action. Race breaks that up, then tosses Patera to the mat with several suplex variants. Hogan gets in and faces another brief beating before all four men go at it. Heenan gets smacked and Race is double clotheslined for the feel good finish. This was fun for what it was, a simple but effective formulaic tag bout.
Final thoughts: This VHS came out after Patera’s push was finished, so I’d be surprised if this sold very well. The line up is fairly uninspired, with almost all the matches coming from Patera’s first two months back. I guess it was a solid idea to build up the Heenan feud for most of the tape and then give the fans watching a taste at the blow off with the final match that aired.