Name: John Pesek
Year Inducted: 2005
Induction Category: Pioneer Era

John Pesek

The "Nebraska Tiger Man," John Pesek (1896-1978), was an extraordinary wrestler. Born in Ravenna, Nebraska, Pesek was fifty pounds the heaviest of three wrestling brothers (the other two were 140-pound twins) and, early on, began earning his spurs as a training partner for then-world champion Joe Stecher, another native Nebraskan.

Pesek really began coming into prominence in the winter of 1916-17, when both the world champion (Earl Caddock) and the Canadian champion (Jack Taylor) were unable to pin him in handicap matches. A year later, he beat Taylor, then Clarence Eklund and Yussiff Hussane - and a year after that toppled John Freberg, Wladek Zbyszko and Jim Londos.

Not until Stecher beat him in a world title match in 1920 did Pesek even lose a match. In a career that would last some 40 years, he lost less than 20 times - a phenomenal statistic. On anyone’s all-time list, Pesek has to be among the top ten.

A "hooker" in the true sense of the word, Pesek could get very mean when so moved. In November 1921, he was disqualified against Marin Plestina at Madison Square Garden - but not before he thoroughly embarrassed his quite formidable opponent (Plestina was one of the best at the time), who wound up trying to gouge Pesek's eyeballs in retaliation and was banned for life by New York authorities.

In Boston, Olympic wrestler Nat Pendleton was trying to cast public derision on the hippodroming professionals, asserting there was no way they could stay with a "legitimate" wrestler. Promoter Paul Bowser imported Pesek, billed as "The Unknown," to explore Nat's assertion. The Tiger Man not only forced Pendleton to submit, but broke his ankle in the process. Small wonder, then, that Ed (Strangler) Lewis hired Pesek as his "policeman," or enforcer, for a number of years thereafter.

After a few years working with the so-called wrestling "Trust," Pesek tired of taking orders and went on his own. A group of independent Midwest promoters made him their world champion in 1929, a diadem he defended on and off for nearly 20 years. Along the way, even after he was past his prime, the National Wrestling Association gave Pesek world title recognition in 1937 at a time when there were probably a dozen "world champions" roaming North America.

Over the years, Pesek probably posted as much as $100,000 in forfeits with various athletic commissions in much-ballyhooed efforts to lure the game's top names into the ring. Almost without exception, they quietly demurred. From 1928 to 1954, Pesek is known to have lost just one bout - a November 1933 go with the formidable Ray Steele in St. Louis.

While largely absenting himself from the game's mainstream, Pesek built up one of the country's foremost greyhound racing stables on his more than 800-acre farm in Ravenna. And he raised a family, including a pretty good college football player in son "Jack," who got into the wrestling business in time to appear in tag team matches with his dad in 1950 and who, in turn, himself came a 20-year veteran of the pro wrestling wars.

- J Michael Kenyon

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