|Also known as||Catch-as-catch-can
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|Famous practitioners||Dan Koloff
Ed "Strangler" Lewis
|Parenthood||Cumberland & Westmorland wrestling
Cornish & Devonshire wrestling
Rough And Tumble
|Descendant arts||Freestyle Wrestling
|Olympic sport||Yes (as amateur freestyle wrestling)|
Catch wrestling is a classical hybrid grappling style that was developed in Britain circa 1870 by J. G. Chambers, then later refined and popularised by the wrestlers of travelling funfairs who developed their own submission holds, or "hooks", into their wrestling to increase their effectiveness against their opponents. Catch wrestling derives from a number of different styles, the English styles of Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling, Cornwall and Devon wrestling, Lancashire wrestling, Irish collar-and-elbow wrestling, Greco-Roman, styles of the Indian subcontinent such as Pehlwani, Jujutsu and Iranian styles such as Varzesh-e Pahlavani. The training of some modern submission wrestlers, professional wrestlers and mixed martial artists is founded in catch wrestling.
In 1871, J. G. Chambers, of aquatic and pedestrian celebrity, and sometime editor of Land and Water, endeavored to introduce and promote a new system of wrestling at Little Bridge Grounds, West Brompton, which he denominated, "The Catch-as-catch-can Style." Unfortunately, the new idea met with little support at the time, and a few years afterwards Chambers was induced to adopt the objectionable fashion of allowing the competitors to wrestle on all-fours on the ground. This new departure was the forerunner of the total abolition of the sport at that athletic, and within a short period the wrestling, as an item in the program.
Various promoters of the exercise, notably J. Wannop, of New Cross, attempted to bring the new system prominently before the public, with the view of amalgamating the three English styles viz. the Cumberland and Westmorland, Cornwall and Devon, and Lancashire. Then the sudden development of the Cumberland and Westmorland Amateur Wrestling Society, brought the new style prominently to the front, and special prizes were given for competition in that class at the society's first annual midsummer gathering at the Paddington Recreation Ground, which was attended by Lord Mayor Whitehead and sheriffs in state.
Wrestling on the "catch-as-catch-can" principle was new to many spectators, but it was generally approved of as a great step in advance of the loose-hold system, which includes struggling on the ground and sundry objectionable tactics, such as catching hold of the legs, twisting arms, dislocating fingers, and other items of attack and defense peculiar to Lancashire wrestling.
When catch wrestling reached the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century it became extremely popular with the wrestlers of the carnivals. The carnival's wrestlers challenged the locals as part of the carnival's "athletic show" and the locals had their chance to win a cash reward if they could defeat the carnival's strongman by a pin or a submission. Eventually, the carnival's wrestlers began preparing for the worst kind of unarmed assault and aiming to end the wrestling match with any tough local quickly and decisively via submission. A hook was a technical submission which could end a match within seconds. As carnival wrestlers travelled, they met with a variety of people, learning and using techniques from various other folk wrestling disciplines, especially Irish Collar & Elbow, many of which were accessible due to a huge influx of immigrants in the United States during this era.
Catch wrestling contests also became immensely popular in Europe involving the likes of the Indian national wrestling champion Great Gama, Imam Baksh Pahalwan, Gulam, Bulgarian world heavyweight champion Dan Kolov, Swiss champion John Lemm, Americans Frank Gotch, Ralph Parcaut, Ad Santel, Ed Lewis, Lou Thesz and Benjamin Roller, Mitsuyo Maeda from Japan, and Georg Hackenschmidt. Travelling wrestlers brought together a variety of folk wrestling disciplines including the Indian variety of Pehlwani, Judo/Jujutsu and others. Each of these disciplines contributed to the development of catch wrestling in their own way.
The British term "catch as catch can" is generally understood to mean "catch (a hold) anywhere you can". As this implies, the rules of catch wrestling were more open than the earlier Folk styles it was based on and its French Greco-Roman counterpart which did not allow holds below the waist. Catch wrestlers can win a match by either submission or pin, and most matches are contested as the best two of three falls. Often, but not always, the chokehold was barred. Also just as today "tapping out" signifies a concession as does shouting out "Uncle!", back in the heyday of catch wrestling rolling to one's back could also signify defeat. Frank Gotch won many matches by forcing his opponent to roll over onto their back with the threat of his toe-hold. Some matches however didn't include pins as a way to win but they were used for control and to get submissions
However, in traditional catch wrestling, hooks are used rather than submissions. Hooks are a form of submission where the submission may be executed so fast that the loser has no time to tap out & were probably derived from the Rough & Tumble mindset. Therefore, another name for a catch wrestler is a "hooker." A "hook" can be defined as an undefined move that stretches, spreads or compresses any joint or limb. Catch wrestling techniques may include, but are not limited to: the arm bar, Japanese arm bar, straight arm bar, hammerlock, bar hammerlock, wrist lock, double wrist lock, key lock (shoulder), reverse key lock (this move is also known as the Kimura in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or the reverse Ude-Garami in judo), head scissors, body scissors, chest lock, abdominal lock, abdominal stretch, leg lock, knee bar, ankle lock, heel hook, toe hold, half Nelson, full Nelson and almost infinitely many others. Almost all moves have their own variations and different predicaments they can be pulled off in. Many of such novel techniques were a result of cross cultural exchanges with Jujutsu proponents.
The rules of catch wrestling would change from venue to venue. Matches contested with side-bets at the coal mines or logging camps favoured submission wins where there was absolutely no doubt as to who the winner was. Meanwhile professionally booked matches and amateur contests favoured pins that catered to the broader and more gentle paying fan-base. The impact of catch wrestling on modern day amateur wrestling is also well established. In the film Catch: The Hold Not Taken, US Olympic Gold Medalist Dan Gable talks of how when he learned to wrestle as an amateur the style was known locally, in Waterloo, Iowa, as catch-as-catch-can. The wrestling tradition of Iowa is rooted in catch wrestling as Farmer Burns and his student Frank Gotch are known as the grandfathers of wrestling in Iowa. Modern international freestyle wrestling and American folkstyle wrestling are amateur catch wrestling without the submissions.
A notable match in 1914 was between two prime representatives of their respective crafts: the American catch wrestler Ad Santel was the World Light Heavyweight Champion in catch wrestling, while Tokugoro Ito, a 5th degree black belt in judo, claimed to be the World Judo Champion. Santel defeated Ito and proclaimed himself World Judo Champion.
The response from Jigoro Kano's Kodokan was swift and came in the form of another challenger, 4th degree black belt Daisuke Sakai. Santel, however, still defeated the Kodokan Judo representative. The Kodokan tried to stop the hooker by sending men like 5th degree black belt Reijiro Nagata (who Santel defeated by TKO). Santel also drew with 5th degree black belt Hikoo Shoji. The challenge matches stopped after Santel gave up on the claim of being the World Judo Champion in 1921 in order to pursue a career in full-time professional wrestling. Although Tokugoro Ito avenged his loss to Santel with a choke, official Kodokan representatives proved unable to imitate Ito's success. Just as Ito was the only Japanese judoka to overcome Santel, Santel was ironically the only Western catch-wrestler on record as having a win over Ito, who also regularly challenged other grappling styles.
Mixed martial arts
Karl Gotch was a catch wrestler and a student of Billy Riley's "Snake Pit" training school in the Whelley area of Wigan in Greater Manchester. Gotch taught catch wrestling to Japanese professional wrestlers in the 1970s including Antonio Inoki, Tatsumi Fujinami, Hiro Matsuda, Osamu Kido, Satoru Sayama (Tiger Mask) and Yoshiaki Fujiwara. Starting from 1976, one of these professional wrestlers, Inoki, hosted a series of mixed martial arts bouts against the champions of other disciplines. This resulted in unprecedented popularity of the clash-of-styles bouts in Japan. His matches showcased catch wrestling moves like the sleeper hold, cross arm breaker, seated armbar, Indian deathlock and keylock.
Gotch's students formed the original Universal Wrestling Federation (Japan) in 1984 which gave rise to shoot-style matches. The UWF movement was led by catch wrestlers and gave rise to the mixed martial arts boom in Japan. Wigan stand-out Billy Robinson soon thereafter began training MMA veteran Kazushi Sakuraba. Catch wrestling forms the base of Japan's martial art of shoot wrestling. Japanese professional wrestling and a majority of the Japanese fighters from Pancrase, Shooto and the now defunct RINGS bear links to catch wrestling. Randy Couture, Kazushi Sakuraba, Kamal Shalorus, Takanori Gomi, and Josh Barnett, among other mixed martial artists, study catch wrestling as their primary submission style.
The term no holds barred was used originally to describe the wrestling method prevalent in catch wrestling tournaments during the late 19th century wherein no wrestling holds were banned from the competition, regardless of how dangerous they might be. The term was later applied to mixed martial arts matches, especially at the advent of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Catch: The Hold Not Taken - a 2005 documentary film investigating the roots of different styles of wrestling.
Snake Pit U.S.A - Catch Wrestling Association in the U.S.A.
- Armstrong, Walter, Wrestling
- "Catch Wrestling - A History and Style Guide of Catch Wrestling". Martialarts.about.com. 2010-06-16. Retrieved 2010-09-03.
- "Home » Catch Wrestling | Franco Kickboxing / Pankration - Vancouver premiere martial arts dojo". Francokickboxing.com. Retrieved 2010-03-02.
- Frank Gotch: World's Greatest Wrestler, Publisher: William s Hein & Co (January 1991), ISBN 0-89941-751-5
- "Ito threw Santell (sic) around the ring like a bag of sawdust… When Ad gasped for air, the Japanese pounced upon him like a leopard and applied the strangle hold. Santell gave a couple of gurgles, turned black in the face and thumped the floor, signifying he had enough." -- Howard Angus, Los Angeles Times, 1 February 1917
- "Randy Couture 'Moving Away From a Jiu Jitsu Mentality'". MMA Fighting. Retrieved 2010-03-02.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2016-02-08. Catch: the hold not taken documentary DVD 2005