Name: Joseph Malcewicz
Year Inducted: 2015
Joe Malcewicz was the ultimate no-frills wrestler. A pair of black trunks was all he needed; mostly, he wrestled without even wearing boots. But his minimalist style earned him plaudits from serious observers of the mat sport, such as Lloyd Larson of the Milwaukee Sentinel. “Of all the big names who helped packed the Auditorium off and on, I always considered Malcewicz No. 1- THE wrestler despite the fact that he did not fit the pattern of champion as decreed by the powers that be,” Larson wrote.
For nearly half-a-century, the “Utica Panther” was a key figure in the sport, first as a top-flight wrestler and later as promoter in San Francisco. The son of Polish immigrants, Malcewicz was born on March 17, 1897 in Utica. He attended Utica Free Academy and started to make a name for himself in local amateur circles even as he labored by day as a grocer’s son. He turned pro as a light-heavyweight not long after his 18th birthday, and by 1917 was more than holding his own with competitors such as Jim Londos and Dr. B.F. Roller. A stint in the military in World War I earned him the rank of sergeant and he resumed his rise to the top after the conflict was over.
During the 1920s, Malcewicz, who stood about 6’1” and weighed approximately 200 pounds, always seemed to be knocking on the world championship door. Although Bowser did bill him as world champion, Joe did not attain the fully recognized heavyweight crown. He staked a claim to the title on at least three occasions, including one in 1926 when champion Joe Stecher, perhaps sensing a double-cross, forfeited a bout by refusing to meet him in Boston. When Malcewicz got a shot at Ed “Strangler” Lewis a couple months later in Boston, he split two falls en route to a three-and-a-half hour draw. Malcewicz was considered to be one of the prizes in Boston promoter Paul Bowser’s stable.
In the ring, the Panther was known as one of the quickest wrestlers of his time, popularizing, if not inventing, the reverse flying mare. “Malcewicz was a heavyweight wrestler who could twist an opponent with the sinuosity of a boa constrictor, snapping bones were he so inclined. There is no evidence Joe maimed an opponent, and he wrestled the great and the mediocre—for the most part during an era before wrestling had deteriorated into buffoonery,” concluded sportswriter Alan Ward of the Oakland Tribune. His tricks of the trade extended to his appearance. Malcewicz said he always kept his heavily cauliflowered left ear toward an opponent, “just to keep in the other fellow’s mind I’ve been through the mill, I know all the answers.”
In time, Malcewicz became as well known in San Francisco as he was in Utica. In 1935, Bowser helped him secure the rights to promote in north California in 1935 by moving promoter Jack Ganson out of the way. By 1936, Malcewicz had given up his in-ring work to concentrate on running shows in San Francisco and outlying towns. He wasn’t above innovation; in 1944, he and brother Frank fabricated a round, 18-foot-wide ring as an alternative to the squared circle. While that didn’t take off, Malcewicz nonetheless successfully promoted nearly 1,000 cards in the territory until 1960-61, when Roy Shire and Jim Barnett nudged him out of the picture. Malcewicz died of a heart attack in 1962.