16 May 1952

Pat O'Connor vs The Mighty Atlas, Jack Dempsey officiating, 16 May 1952 (Chicago Wrestling)

In March I compared O'Connor to Hollywood leading men of the silent era. This two-out-of-three-fall match, when he was 27, demonstrates his skill as a physical actor, selling the drama of honest ring worker versus vain and pampered strongman Atlas, whose short temper and sadistic punishments eventually lead to his own undoing.

Note the arch of the back as O'Connor locks up with Atlas, chest forward, pelvis thrusting, heels dug into the mat. We see the same posture as he grinds Atlas in a long side headlock and again as he falls, after taking a chop to the chest. With similar heroic vigor, he bounces Atlas out of the ring with four rhythmic closed-fist punches.

Pat reinforces each moment through highly theatrical use of his body. Frequently his physical attitude reminds me of ancient Roman sculpture. The hyperbolized head-to-toe body language conveys his heroism in victory and suffering. This kind of self-display works best before big energized crowds. I almost never see it in later television wrestling, where tight close-ups and rapid edits do the work of selling the drama to viewers at home. Today, even live wrestling shows rely on jumbotron technology to convey the action to the cheap seats.


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