Lincoln Journal – September 11, 1957
By Jim Raglin
“I’ll put up $1,000 any day for a chance to meet the so-called ‘world champs’ of today.”
That’s what the 64-year-old man said.
As you watched him move about with the grace of a youth in his prime, you were convinced that John Pesek wasn’t joking.
Today, “Tiger Jawn” Pesek joins the ranks of The Journal’s Nebraska Sports Hall of Fame. He is the 22nd athlete so honored. Pesek joins a former fellow champion and ex-rival in the ring, Dodge’s Joe Stecher, on the honor list.
Even harder to pin down in conversation than in the ring, the Tiger has devoted 50 years to professional wrestling, and he’s still going strong.
“I’ll be happy to battle any of the ‘champs’ today,” says John. “But it would have to be a “shooting match” and not vaudeville.”
For John is a wrestler and to him the sport is a true test of skill, strength and courage.
“I never was one of the ‘alliance’ boys,” he explains. Still a sound 200 pounds, “Jawn” has little respect for the circuit riders that populate the game today.
Pesek says it’s been 25 years since he has lost a match and his crammed scrapbook backs him up. As honest outside the ring as inside it, you have the feeling Pesek didn’t omit stories that listed him as the loser.
Born on a farm near Ravenna, Pesek always has lived in the Cornhusker State. He’s been married 36 years and his wife, Myrl, says, “we’ve had lots of fun and excitement, but never a fight.”
The Pesek children include on wrestler, Jack, a former football standout at the University of Nebraska.
Others are Elizabeth, a nurse, at the Vet’s Hospital in Grand Island, Mrs. Virginia Nolder, Mary Lee and Mickey, all of Ravenna, Catherine and Steve, both of Lincoln.
Frequently, there’s a gathering of Peseks at the 155-acre farm on the outskirts of Ravenna. That means quite a crowd.
But Jawn’s farm is always a lively spot, even when the children aren’t around. Pesek’s place is populated by a dozen mutt dogs, some racing greyhounds, wild turkeys, Canadian geese, 50 peacocks, 100 head of Hereford cattle and assorted other animals.
Tucked away inside the confines of the two-story white frame farmhouse are many dusty trophies.
The latter were won by Pesek’s greyhounds when he was one of America’s leading dog owners. Trained by his brother Charlie, Pesek dogs won dozens of national coursing events.
One animal, Gangster, was the first greyhound to win two Waterloo and one Derby crowns. He was an Australian import John purchased after concluding a spectacular tour of that continent in 1929. Gangster was valued at $10,000 at one time.
Formerly Pesek’s property in Ravenna housed 200 greyhounds and a full sized track.
“I’ve lost interest in them and only own about 20 now. Some are racing and I have some on the farm,” says John.
But Pesek hasn’t lost interest in wrestling.
“The game is sick today because there are too many clowns wrestling. They are too fat and slow and don’t know how to wrestle. I’d like to get in the ring with that Yukon Eric and those kind,” Jawn says with conviction.
Chances are such a match won’t be made. Pesek claims wrestlers are avoiding him today just as they did when he was in his prime, a 190-pound mass of muscle, guts and skill.
Some of Pesek’s greatest matches were against Joe Stecher, another farm boy from Nebraska who amazed the world with his skill.
Once, in 1926 at St. Louis, the two drew 8,500 persons for a showdown for Stecher’s title. The best seats cost $11 a copy and the gate was almost $30,000.