How openly gay WWF legend Pat Patterson left his mark on WrestleMania

Pat Patterson made a name for himself as one of the greatest minds in the wrestling business.

An image of Pat Patterson. He is photographed from the chest up, with his bare chest on show. He also has a jacket draped over his shoulders.
Image: @WWFWrestling1 via X

As the buzz around WrestleMania grows, we look at the first openly gay wrestler Pat Patterson’s contributions to the annual event.

The main event of the first WrestleMania pitted WWF champion Hulk Hogan and TV star Mr. T against the villainous Rowdy Piper and ‘Mr. Wonderful’ Paul Orndoff, with the latter pair also having ‘Cowboy’ Bob Orton in their corner.

Such a big match needed a no-nonsense referee to maintain order, and with the first WrestleMania bringing the worlds of wrestling and celebrity together, it was decided that Muhammad Ali should be the man for the job.

However, this part of the plan had to be changed. This was 1985 and Ali had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease the year before. After talking to Ali, in stepped Pat Patterson, who told World Wrestling Federation (WWF) owner Vince McMahon that the famous boxer couldn’t referee due to his mental and physical state.

Patterson himself debuted as a wrestler in the WWF in 1979, becoming the first Intercontinental Champion in the same year. While he came out as gay in his personal life in the ’70s, it wasn’t until 2014 that it was acknowledge publicly in the sport. The revelation solidified Patterson as the first gay wrestler in the WWF.

By the time the first WrestleMania came around, he had mostly retired and worked backstage as a road agent (person who helps wrestlers with their matches), booker and right-hand man to Vince McMahon.

Having planned out the match and helped train Mr. T, Pat got the referee job and Ali was made the outside referee. This proved to be a wise move as there were a couple of points where Ali went after Roddy Piper and the other so-called ‘heels’ (aka bad guys). Patterson later said on WWE’s Legends Of Wrestling show: “He jumped in the ring. He really wanted to fight those guys!”

Fast forward to 1988. WWF was looking for a new event format for a TV special, and Vince McMahon told Pat Patterson to pitch “his stupid idea” to TV producer Dick Ebersol, which was his Royal Rumble concept.

The rules were that each wrestler had to draw a number between 1 and 20 (later changed to 30). The number 1 and 2 entrants would begin the match while the other participants would join the match every two minutes thereafter. Like a standard battle royal, participants had to eliminate their opponents by tossing them over the top rope with both feet touching the floor. The winner would be the last wrestler remaining after all others had been eliminated.

Ebersol loved the idea and the now-famous Royal Rumble was born. The event became a pay-per-view (PPV) the following year and from 1993 onwards, the winner would usually face the champion at WrestleMania. The event became known as the start of the “road to WrestleMania” and, to many peoples’ minds, the second biggest PPV of the year. (It’s also my personal favourite.)

Pat was known for having a great mind for the wrestling business, especially when it came to laying out matches. One of the biggest examples of this was the main event of WrestleMania VI.

Intercontinental Champion the Ultimate Warrior was challenging WWF Champion Hulk Hogan for his title in the Sky Dome in Toronto. Both men were fan favourites but neither were known for having classic memorable matches. However, with Pat laying out the match blow for blow with both competitors over the week prior, they had a match that defied expectations, with Pro Wrestling Illustrated readers voting it the match of the year.

If you doubt Pat’s contribution, you just have to look at their rematch at rival promotion WCW’s Halloween Havoc in 1998. Wrestling Observer Newsletter editor Dave Meltzer awarded that match a score of minus five stars out of five and WCW president Eric Bischoff later admitted that it “pretty much stunk up the joint”.

Pat was involved in a lot of other WrestleMania matches too. He guest refereed the main event of WrestleMania XI which pitted American footballer Lawrence Taylor (whom Pat helped train for the match) against Bam Bam Bigelow. Taylor was praised for his solid performance.

It was also Pat’s idea to have an Iron Man stipulation for the main event of WrestleMania XII between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. He had championed both men’s careers behind the scenes and this match helped showcase their abilities.

After Pat’s passing in 2020, Bret Hart posted on Instagram: “He had everything to do with the finish of my ‘96 WrestleMania XII Ironman Match with Shawn Michaels. In fact, I’d say it’s fair to say that both Shawn and I dedicated that match inspirationally to Pat. That match was our appreciation and gratitude from both of us.”



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Olympic gold medalist turned professional wrestler, Kurt Angle, said of his WrestleMania X-7 match: “Pat was so clever with different spots and making the match more meaningful…Pat deserves all the credit.”

Kurt also praised Pat for helping with his WrestleMania 21 match with Shawn Michaels, another highly-regarded match.

Chris Jericho said of Pat’s agenting: “Look at the modern era main-eventers. If you think who the greatest workers of the ’90s and ’00s are, it’s Shawn; it’s Bret, it’s Rock, if you put Jericho in there, thank you. You can put Kurt in there. Whoever is in there, Pat was our guy.

“If there was a match, Pat was usually the agent, and that’s just the way it was because you were working on top, and Pat was always with the top guys.”

If you would like to know more about Pat Patterson’s life and career, I recommended his 2016 autobiography Accepted which was written with Bertrand Herbert.

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