One might think that any man who wrestled Andre the Giant in the mid 1980’s should be signing autographs at a fan gathering and staying far away from the professional wrestling ring. Yet more might believe that a man who successfully battled prostate cancer wouldn’t be tying up worn, yellow boots on most Saturday nights.
No one is like Lord Zoltan.
Later this year, the wrestler born Ken Jugan in Glassport, Pa., will officially celebrate his 40th anniversary inside the squared circle. And before anyone starts doing the math, Jugan wrestled that first bout in West Virginia, which has a lower requirement than Pennsylvania’s 18 years of age.
In the late 1970’s, he started cutting his teeth in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and as far west as Michigan and Indiana. It was around this time he helped start an “outlaw” promotion, which was a pre-cursor to the popular “independent” wrestling scene. Through “Three Rivers Wrestling,” a number of wrestlers, like Bobby Fulton (who would later find fame as half of the “Fantastics”) would find their groove.
Jugan continued to wrestle in the tri-state area for years and became known as a serviceable “hand” or competent athlete. This lead to a stint as “enhancement” talent on what was then World Wrestling Federation (WWF) television tapings in Allentown, Pa. On July 9, 1983, Jugan and Angelo Gomez faced off against Andre the Giant in a handicap match. As Jugan tells the story, the Eighth Wonder of the World tossed Jugan from the ring and pinned Gomez.
“I am undefeated against Andre the Giant,” Jugan says with a laugh.
Jugan also played an interesting, unheralded part of pro wrestling history. On December 26, 1983, the Iron Sheik defeated Bob Backlund for the WWF world title. On January 14, 1984, Jugan wrestled the new champion—in one of his only title defenses—before he was challenged by Hulk Hogan. Jugan, like so many others, succumbed to the Sheik’s infamous Camel Clutch. On January 23, 1984, Hulkamania was born.
It was around this time that Jugan left WWF employment and got a traditional 8-4 job with retirement, health insurance and vacation time. He stayed in wrestling by refereeing around the state. The competitive juices continued to simmer, so he wrestled for the National Wrestling Alliance territories and independents. In 1994, he started a fundraising campaign that would help cement the legacy of his career. The Jugan helmed, “Deaf Wrestlefest” benefitted the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, where his two sons, Adam and Blaise, were students. The second event in 1995 included appearances by Demolition Ax, Big Bully Busick and Mick Foley (who then went by his Cactus Jack persona). The next installment included Jugan’s old friend, The Iron Sheik, who stood in the middle of the ring and challenged anyone in attendance to try his “Persian Club Challenge.” The “75-pound traditional” clubs were flung easily by the Sheik, but none of the sparse challengers.
Deaf Wrestlefest ran from 1994 to 2002, and then returned from 2009 to 2012. The last event featured one of Bruno Sammartino’s last appearances at an independent wrestling show. Jugan’s sons had both graduated by this point and volunteerism from school was on the wane. Jugan believes the event, which featured a gathering of independent talent from around the country, won’t be revived again.
In the mid 2000’s, Jugan was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and successfully defeated the disease. As a result, he is a tireless campaigner and fundraiser for the cause. He continues to participate in dozens of charitable walks during most spring and summer weekends throughout western Pennsylvania.
Jugan has wrestled as the face-painted Lord Zoltan in countless regional independent for most of his career. Since 2009, Lord Zoltan’s “home” promotion has been Pittsburgh’s Keystone State Wrestling Alliance (KSWA). When he entered, Zoltan was a rule-breaking cad, but on July 2, 2011, he and Justin Sane simultaneously became KSWA World Tag Team Champions and “Party Gras,” a happy-go-lucky tandem of trickery and dancing. In actuality, Sane wanders aimlessly as Zoltan dances infectiously with kids and other fans of all ages to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” His favorites are the ladies arrive at the arena in a wheelchair, but are smiling and dancing with the ageless Zoltan. “Party Gras” held the tag team belts for a record 75 weeks.
In 2012, Jugan was inducted into the KSWA Hall of Fame, in a class that included Sammartino. Later that year he emceed the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum induction ceremony in Amsterdam, New York. That class included Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, Jugan’s friend Wendi Richter and local wrestling legend Dominic DeNucci. Sammartino, who had been inducted in the PWHF’s first class, arrived that year to pick up his ring.
When the Pittsburgh Pirates adopted the “Dude, Where’s My Car” version of “Zoltan” and its hand gesture in 2012, the real thing started wearing the T-shirts. His local fame led to an interview and cover story with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
In 2013 Jugan traveled to Las Vegas to receive the Cauliflower Alley Club’s Jason Sanderson Humanitarian Award for his charitable work. No one is more respected in the independent wrestling scene, said columnist Bill “Powerhouse” Hughes, who recently concluded a 13-piece retrospective of Zoltan’s career.
Although Zoltan walks with a slight limp, he still climbs the steps of wrestling rings on most weekends. And the phone hasn’t stopped ringing.
“I just got three more bookings this week,” he said in a text recently. “I’m even going to Jerusalem.” He then continues, “Jerusalem, Ohio.”
There aren’t many movers and shakers in the professional wrestling industry that don’t know Lord Zoltan. Many who observe the sport say he’s the most important independent wrestler to ever come from Western Pennsylvania.
The limp, and the wonky hip that causes it, is on Zoltan’s mind often. He has considered calling it a career frequently (especially during winter months), but those thoughts go away when spring and summer arrives. That’s when the calls flood in. “I’ll do this as long as the phone rings,” he says. And in 2015, that phone has never been busier.