Thunderbolt Patterson, An American Retired Professional Wrestler



Thunderbolt Patterson, a ridiculously charismatic brawler with roughly 30 years in the wrestling business, was the promotional blueprint for many southern babyfaces.

Patterson worked for John Deere in Waterloo, Iowa, before entering wrestling. At the age of 23, he was trained by AWA and NWA World Champion Pat O’Connor and made his debut in the Kansas City territory in 1964. Patterson, a tough-looking heavyweight, was never considered the most technical wrestler in the ring, but he could throw fists against a wide range of opponents. This helped him when he went to Texas for the Amarillo territory, which was run by the Funk family, who had two NWA World Champions in brothers Dory Jr. and Terry Funk.

Thunderbolt Patterson established a base in Amarillo for a while and began showcasing his gift of gab on the microphone. Wrestlers such as future NWA World Champion and booker “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, “Boogie Man” Jimmy Valiant, Blackjack Mulligan, and others would be inspired by his work. His commercials were inspired by the delivery and cadence of Black Southern pastors, among others.

While he would later team with Rhodes and Rhodes would wrestle as a heel (bad guy) in the Texas area, Thunderbolt Patterson nailed the cocky, brawling, sharply dressed heel. Black babyfaces were appearing in the southern territories at the time.

Knowing the South in the 1960s and 1970s, he remained a heel and became a formidable foe for White babyfaces throughout the region.

He wrestled throughout the 1980s before slowing down in the early 1990s. Patterson left the business in 1994 as Ice Train’s manager in World Championship Wrestling.

Thunderbolt Patterson usually competed in the TV Title (often the second most important title in a territory), Brass Knuckles (a title that promoted more violent, brawling-style bouts), and Tag Team circles. He was given some opportunities to compete for higher-level titles in promotions and won several regional Heavyweight belts.

When pushes and opportunities were scarce—especially for wrestlers like himself who could whip up a crowd and make them sympathetic or side with the babyface—he was frequently dissatisfied with the way things were going.

While still active, Patterson has spoken out against racism in wrestling. Some historians and businesspeople attribute this to Patterson never getting an opportunity, while others attribute it to Patterson being vocal or uncooperative. According to Patterson’s account, Dory Funk Sr. I supported him on at least one occasion when he spoke out about this.

During the early 2000s, he was also outspoken about the treatment of women in wrestling. Patterson discussed it at a show in Atlanta, Georgia in late 2002.

Thunderbolt Patterson attempted to form a wrestling union.

Because promoters had complete control and blackballing was extremely effective, it did not receive widespread support.

Patterson is still active in wrestling throughout Atlanta. He is also a minister.


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