WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) A groundbreaking career in professional wrestling started right in Waterloo, Iowa. Thunderbolt Pattersons career went through everything from fighting racial discrimination to advocating for wrestling working conditions.
Claude Thunderbolt Patterson was actually kicked out of school and never earned a high school diploma. Patterson didnt let lack of education get in his way, he went on to pursue his passion of wrestling.
The first job Patterson every took in the work force was with John Deere. His passion for boxing eventually got him recognized by a Midwest wrestling promoter, Gus Karras. Karras welcomed Patterson to the world of wrestling in Kansas City.
Gus Karras and Bob Geigel, those two individuals, are jam up individuals, says Patterson.
After Pattersons first time in Kansas City he knew it was what he wanted to do. He quit John Deere and began his wrestling journey, on his way to becoming Thunderbolt Patterson.
Patterson traveled all over the U.S. for wrestling. He was able to play the villain or the hero in each match. He says the crowd-filled arenas and management had a special knack for recognizing his ability.
You have to ask most people there was electricity in the seats, all of them, says Patterson. There was some promoters who were just dogs.
After years in the business, Patterson noticed injustice in the wrestling community from racism to poor working conditions. He spoke up trying to unionize the sport, and eventually was blackballed because of it.
Do I not have a privilege to think for myself and say what I think? says Patterson. But if I say something about somebody, thats what we call prejudice and racism.
During the time when Thunderbolt wrestled there were no contracts or benefits. Fighting in the ring was half the battle, the other half, the push to get paid.
Just pay me fair, thats all I ask, says Patterson. Thats all I ever asked, to be fair with me.
Patterson said when he finally was allowed to return to the ring it was all strictly business.
Hush mouthed, says Patterson. I was there for a purpose, nobody pretended to be, they didnt pretend to be my friends or nothing, nobody called me for nothing.
In the early 90s Thunderbolt realized it was time to retire. His dedication to the sport and honor to other wrestlers 25 years ago brought him back to his hometown for a weekend-long induction into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame.
He was born and raised here, says Paul Farber. He has accomplished more things than people have done in their lifetime.
Paul Farber is the Pro Wrestling Historian at the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. He was a reason behind giving Thunderbolt the Lou Thesz Award, an award based on character of the wrestler.
A lot of those people who receive that for their integrity, says Farber. Respect for others, giving of themselves to others these are all different factors because thats what Lou Thesz was all about.
Recognition came in from all over including the world renown wrestler Sergeant Slaughter. One tribute that hit home was from Gerry Brisco, a former tag team partner with Thunderbolt.
This was Dusty Rhodes the American dream, says Brisco. Before Dusty Rhodes the American dream began.
Thunderbolt hasnt been back to Waterloo since 2004, and his homecoming was his most iconic moment in his career. He only wrestled once in his home state of Iowa during his career.