New Zealand native Pat O’Connor held the NWA and the AWA World Heavyweight Championships.

Pat O’Connor Death – Cancer

1924-1990 (Age 66)

New Zealand native Pat O’Connor would set several major records in professional wrestling, including becoming the first man to win the NWA and AWA World Heavyweight Championships. O’Connor also helped set a box office record in professional wrestling.

New Zealand Native

Pat O’Connor was born on August 22, 1924, in New Zealand. A skilled amateur wrestler, he competed in his homeland winning the New Zealand national title twice in freestyle wrestling before earning a silver medal at the 1950 British Empire Games.

Taking Notice of His Skills

Like other gifted amateur wrestlers, O’Connor proved a natural in the pro ranks. Pat won title after title as promoters realized all that he had to offer. On January 9, 1959,

O’Connor defeated Dick Hutton for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.

O’Connor wrestled the biggest stars of his era, including Bruno Sammartino, Bob Orton Sr., Johnny Valentine, Lou Thesz, Bob Geigel, Yukon Eric, and Killer Kowalski.

A Record-Setting Reign

O’Connor was a top draw, so much so that when Verne Gagne started his own wrestling promotion, the American Wrestling Association, he chose O’Connor as his first champion during O’Connor’s reign as NWA World Champion.

While Gagne did so as a ploy to put the belt on himself (the AWA stated that since O’Connor hadn’t defended the AWA title, he was stripped of it and the belt awarded to Gagne.

Nonetheless, O’Connor has the distinction of not only holding both belts, but doing so at the same time, a record that may seem dubious but that reflects how highly esteemed O’Connor was amongst fans and peers.

Making History Again

On June 30, 1961, O’Connor made history again. This occurred when he defended his NWA World title against “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers. The event was held at Chicago’s Comisky Park.

This wrestling card drew over 38,000 fans, setting a box office record of $125,000. This wrestling box office record lasted until 1986’ The Big Event stadium show in Toronto, Canada.

In addition to the two world singles titles, Pat O’Connor held a variety of regional belts in the singles and tag team ranks. His reputation as a gifted grappler lent instant credibility to any title he held.

O’Connor’s accomplishments were recognized in numerous ways including inductions into several wrestling Halls of Fame (including the WWE Hall of Fame and the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame).

Pat O’Connor’s Last Days

Continuing to wrestle, O’Connor also promoted wrestling in Central States Wrestling and St. Louis. Although the former world champion no longer main evented, he seemed content to help elevate new stars by putting them over.

The Death of Pat O’Connor

Pat O’Connor died on August 15, 1990, from cancer. He was 66. Pat O’Connor was cremated and his ashes scattered. Wrestling lore has it that O’Connor was cremated while wearing his iconic green wrestling trunks.

What do you think about Pat O’Connor’s amazing career?  Let us know in the comments below.

Other pro wrestlers who died in 1990 include Ed “The Bull” Gantner, Bronko Nagurski, and Jack Pesek.