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Pat Patterson passes away at 79 years old

Pat Patterson, who was a major name in pro wrestling in a number of capacities, an all-time great wrestler, a booking savante, and Vince McMahon's right-hand man in building the WWF in the 80s, passed away earlier today at 79.

Patterson, whose real name was Pierre Clermont, was rushed to the hospital on November 27 with a blood clot in his liver.

Patterson, like his most famous tag team partner Ray Stevens, had a natural knack at working in the ring. He could work face or heel, was one of the great tag team wrestlers who ever lived, and was the top singles star in Northern California from 1972 to 1977.

He'll get a lot of headlines for being the first openly gay wrestler, which is something that was the theme of his autobiography, "Accepted." But within the business there were openly gay wrestlers and office people well known long before him. He was a part of the Attitude Era as a television character as one of Vince McMahon's stooges with Gerald Brisco. He was the first Intercontinental Champion having won it in a fictitious tournament in Rio de Janeiro. He was the creator of the Royal Rumble, which conceptually as the big January kicking off of the year was taken from working for Roy Shire and his Cow Palace Battle Royal.

Patterson gained a booking education in his dozen years working for Shire. He was lauded as the best finish man in the business after the death of Eddie Graham, although those finishes routinely revolved around referee bumps. A lot of that was his Shire education since Shire was meticulous in doing finishes that made sense to build for the next show and having all gimmick matches mean something.

He was the referee in the main event of the first WrestleMania in Madison Square Garden. Muhammad Ali was advertised to referee the Hulk Hogan & Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper & Paul Orndorff match, but it was clear Ali could not get what he needed to do. It was changed at the last minute with Ali as the outside the ring referee. Patterson was also there to help if Mr. T forgot what he was supposed to do.

He helped lay out most of WWE's biggest matches from the mid-80s and through the early 00s, including his role in the infamous Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels match in Montreal. He sold Hart on the spot where Michaels would get him in the sharpshooter. For what it is worth, he always claimed innocence in knowing about the double-cross. The story was that McMahon never told him about the double-cross to protect him because he was so well liked by the wrestlers, and in his role, needed to be.

He went from someone who started pro wrestling knowing no English and having little in the way of formal education to being Vice President of Talent Relations heading up that division in the biggest wrestling company ever up until that point in time.

He was known for hitting the bars and singing "My Way" at karaoke places, and in the ring, his ability to visualize a match and have classics, no matter what the style and the opponent, was near the top of the charts.

He was already a great worker when he came to San Francisco in 1965 and was quickly made tag team partner of Stevens, who was the area's top wrestler. The Blond Bombers were, by a wide margin, considered the greatest tag team in the history of wrestling until the 80s, largely for their 1965-67 run in San Francisco. Matches against Stevens were also among the best matches anywhere in the world after their split, when Stevens went babyface. In the late 70s, they held the AWA World Tag Team titles.

Patterson inherited the mantle as the top star of the company when Stevens left for the AWA. While the company did have short-term success after he left, most would tell you the death of Shire's territory came from when he and Patterson had their falling out and Patterson left for Florida.

Patterson eventually wound up working for Vince McMahon's father, and still holds the record for he and Bob Backlund headlining four consecutive Madison Square Garden sellouts, including a cage match that was far beyond the usual standard of that promotion in that era. He later became a television announcer, and while not his forte, there were many angles built around him in that role. The biggest was with Sgt. Slaughter. His 1981 Alley Fight with Slaughter was one of the early most collectable matches with early tape traders and was that year's Match of the Year. The IC title as the workers belt stemmed from his run as the first champion.

Patterson was an old school guy who always liked to laugh and joke. Where he differed from Shire in booking is Shire was always serious and Patterson loved to put comedy into the shows. He wasn't the stickler on realistic wrestling. In fact, even with his Shire background, he didn't really like it. He was not a fan of many forms of wrestling. He never enjoyed the serious athletic style of Japan, and would constantly say about the modern style that it was like Cirque du Soleil and never believed wrestling could sustain without the hard and fast babyface vs. heel dynamic he grew up with.

Even though he and Stevens in the 70s had classic matches where both were babyfaces and neither turned, they were not technical matches, but the idea was they were two kickass babyfaces breaking every rule. Even as a face, while he sold more, he was always portrayed more as a brawler, but it was more fists (his punches from the mount may have been the best in pro wrestling history) and kicks but always with wrestling thrown in. Yet at the same time, he'd knock pure brawlers, saying anyone can do that.

The irony was in his day, Shire would throw fits at some of his matches with Stevens as a team, thinking they were doing too many big moves. Even though the crowd would go crazy because both were masters at manipulating the audience, that they were ruining things long-term because they did a style others couldn't keep up with or follow, and always went long in their main event matches. But they became known as the best tag team in the business, and became huge stars in Hawaii where they, as World Tag Team Champions, would be flown in as special attractions whenever there was a major show.

The reality is that because his run as a wrestler was so long ago and most talk about his booking, finishes and teaching, that his in-ring ability is in many circles highly underrated. Bobby Heenan, who managed Patterson in the late 70s, ranked him as the fourth best wrestler he ever managed, behind only Stevens, Ric Flair, and Curt Hennig, and as better than Nick Bockwinkel.

Patterson would be automatic for every pro wrestling Hall of Fame (he's in every major one except Tragos/Thesz, which focuses on amateur wrestlers), as a singles wrestler, a tag team wrestler, and an executive.

Virtually every major star in WWE of the last 36 years will tell you positive stories about how he helped their careers, and was the personal mentor of Dwayne Johnson, who he immediately signed after seeing him in one workout and said that he had more potential for the business than any wrestler he had ever seen.

The reality is that few men ever wore so many different hats in pro wrestling and did them at such a high level.