There had been other Hispanic musclemen, but Pepper Gomez was one of the first to hit the big time in mainstream bodybuilding circles. In the late ’40s and early ’50s Gomez became a model for young men with similar aspirations, and he helped create the aura of sun, sand and strength in California’s golden age of muscle culture.
Joseph Gomez was born on April 21, 1927, in Los Angeles, California. His interest in sports began in high school, where he excelled at football, gymnastics and track. Gomez also learned to work with weights, and eventually he became a well-known figure in bodybuilding circles. There was only one place people would take notice in those days’on the sands of Muscle Beach. Gomez impressed nearly everyone with his lithe and muscular body, but it was his fiery spirit that attracted most of the attention. Because of it he got his nickname, ‘Pepper.’
Beginning in 1947, Gomez entered several local physique competitions, and in 1950 he took first place in the prestigious Mr. Muscle Beach contest. His pictures started appearing in physique magazines, and he was soon one of the sport’s rising stars. Unfortunately, in those early years there were few career opportunities for up-and-coming athletes no matter what their promise or quality, so he did what many other young men had done and tried his hand at professional wrestling.
Thanks to his muscularity, swarthy good looks and athletic skill, Gomez soon became very popular as a grappler. His well-developed abdominals were among his most glorious attributes, and he often allowed rivals to jump from a 20-foot-high ladder feet-first onto his corrugated midsection. Little wonder that his nickname became ‘The Man with the Cast Iron Stomach.’
As a pro wrestler he was always a ‘good guy,’ and his most famous match occurred in the 1960s when he fought ultra ‘bad guy’ Ray Stevens in front of a massive crowd at San Francisco’s Cow Palace.
Pepper Gomez’s last fight was one he could not win, and on May 6, 2004, he died near his home in Alameda, California. Ironically, an inflamed abdomen caused his death.