After dropping numbers 9-10, 7-8 and the honorable mentions, it’s time to keep unveiling the greatest Husker wrestlers of all time. As we get toward the top of the list, I’ll be unveiling these wrestlers one at a time rather than in pairs.
No. 6 Robert Kokesh (2010-15)
Robert Kokesh showed up to Nebraska with an impressive resume that included three state championships in Class B in South Dakota and a 216-24 record to go along with two silvers and a gold at Nationals.
Once he got to Nebraska, Kokesh navigated two weight classes on the way to cementing his status as an all-time great. His 144-15 career record puts him in second place on the all-time Husker win chart. His .906 win percentage is tied for second all-time at Nebraska. Going 60-4 in duals during his career, Kokesh sits in third place in program history with a .938 dual win percentage.
Despite redshirting his first year in the Husker program, Kokesh was dominant from the start. During his redshirt year (wins from a redshirt year are not included in a wrestler’s career record), Kokesh went 34-1 at 165 pounds. His only loss was a medical forfeit to then-teammate Jordan Burroughs. So, he never really lost. And he was dominant in his victories, as he won 29 of his 34 wins with bonus points, including 19 wins by pinfall.
As a redshirt freshman, Kokesh solidified himself as a key cog for the Huskers at 165 pounds, taking over for the departed Burroughs...you might have heard of him. He went 30-7 his first year in the starting lineup, finishing third at the Big Ten Championships. At the NCAA tournament, Kokesh won his first two matches before falling to Penn State’s David Taylor for the second time that year (first time by major decision, second time by pinfall). Losing to Taylor isn’t exactly something to beat yourself up about, especially as a freshman. After all, Taylor is still one of the best wrestlers in the world and finished his college career with a 134-4 record, two Hodge Trophies (like the Heisman for wrestling), two NCAA titles and two runner-up finishes. So yeah, he was pretty good.
During his sophomore year, Kokesh moved up to 174 pounds and flourished. With a 38-4 record that year, Kokesh had a stretch where he won 22 straight matches. His 38 wins is the second-most ever at Nebraska for a sophomore. At the Big Ten Championships, Kokesh again finished third. This time, he dropped his first-round matchup only to run through the consolation bracket to finish third. At the NCAA tournament, Kokesh won three straight before losing to the 1-seed Chris Perry of Oklahoma State in sudden victory. He again cleaned out the consolation bracket to finish third and earn All-American honors for the first time.
After winning 68 matches as an underclassman, Kokesh kept improving. He finished the regular season 29-1 overall with a perfect 14-0 dual record, his lone loss being a 3-2 decision to No.1-ranked Andrew Howe of Oklahoma in the final at the Cliff Keen Invitational. Kokesh went on to capture his first conference title with a 6-4 decision over Iowa’s Mike Evans, his 100th career win.
At the 2014 NCAA tournament, Kokesh won two matches before suffering a tiebreaker loss in the quarterfinal round. Battling a torn ACL from the loss, Kokesh still won three straight matches in the consolation bracket before losing the third-place match to finish fourth, securing All-American honors again.
As a senior, Kokesh again was dominant, although he didn’t finish the year as he would have liked. The top-ranked wrestler all year, Kokesh went undefeated all the way through the Big Ten tournament, winning his first 35 matches.
At the Big Ten Championships, Kokesh not only defeated the eventual NCAA champion in Penn State’s Matt Brown (video below) to win his second conference title, but he also recorded the quickest pin in the 101-year history of the Big Ten Championships when he pinned Michigan’s Taylor Massa in 15 seconds.
After winning his first two matches at the 2015 NCAA tournament by a combined score of 20-0, the top-seeded Kokesh was stunned by Pittsburgh’s Tyler Wilps in a 3-2 decision. Devastated, Kokesh still found a way to win four straight in the consolation bracket to again finish in third place, securing his status as a three-time All-American. Kokesh finished his senior year with a 39-1 record and perfect 14-0 dual record for the second straight year.
Kokesh definitely could have continued his wrestling career after graduating from Nebraska, but he chose to go back to work at his family farm. He didn’t stay away from the sport for long, however, as he served as an administrative assistant for Nebraska from 2016-19 before becoming a full-time assistant during the 2019-20 season.