Really Old School: Catch Wrestling vs Judo 1921

The wonderful Gryphon blog pointed out the other day that the March match pitting judoka Hidehiko Yoshida vs modern day catchwrestler Josh Barnett will…

By: Nate Wilcox | 16 years ago
Really Old School: Catch Wrestling vs Judo 1921
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

The wonderful Gryphon blog pointed out the other day that the March match pitting judoka Hidehiko Yoshida vs modern day catchwrestler Josh Barnett will take place on the 87th anniversary of the match between catch wrestler Ad Santel and 5th dan judoka Reijiro Nagata. Gryphon has more details on the matches.

Santel’s matches in March of 1921 were the culmination of a seven year campaign on his part to beat the best judokas. He declared himself “the world judo champion:

1914 or 1915
The World Light Heavyweight Champion Ad Santel defeats judoka Tokugoro Itoh, a 5-dan (5th degree black belt), for a judo match in San Francisco. Santel wins when Ito cracks his head and is unable to continue. Santel claims to be the “World Judo Champion.”

Santel meets Taro Miyake in Seattle. Santel slams Miyake so hard that Miyake has “dizzy spells for half an hour after the fall.”

Santel defeats Daisuke Sakai, a Kodokan 4-dan in the Seattle Dojo, in San Francisco.

Santel goes to Japan and challenges the Kodokan. Although Kodokan orders its judokas not to accept the challenge, Reijiro Nagata (5-dan) and Hikoo Shoji (4-dan) take the challenge. They hold the wrestling vs. judo cards for two days at the Yasukuni Shrine Sumo Hall. Santel defeats Nagata by TKO in the first day.

Santel draws with Hikoo Shoji after fighting for three 20 minute falls.

These fights were frontpage news in Japan at the time and eventually pro-wrestling (both the old “shoot” style, and the “worked” style) became a big part of Japanese culture. Eventually, in the 1970s Antoni Inoki, a Japanese student of catch-wrestling, who began experimenting with real fights and challenging practitioners of other styles in the 1970s. This was all after the art had been pretty much forgotten in the US and the UK. So without Ad Santel, we might not have modern MMA:

The impact of these performances on Japan was immense. The Japanese were fascinated by the submissions taught in catch wrestling. Japanese fighters travelled to Europe in order to either participate in various tournaments or to learn catch wrestling at European schools such as Billy Riley’s Snake Pit in Wigan, UK.

From Billy Riley it’s a direct descent from teacher to student: Billy Riley > Karl Gotch > Antoni Inoki > Yoshiaki Fujiwara > Masakatsu Funaki > Ken Shamrock.

HT: Nightmare of Battle

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About the author
Nate Wilcox
Nate Wilcox

Nate Wilcox is the founding editor of As such he has hired every editor and writer to work for the site. Wilcox’s writing for BE is known for its emphasis on MMA history, the evolution of fighting techniques and strong opinions. Wilcox developed the SBN MMA consensus rankings which were featured in USA Today from 2009 to 2011. Before founding BE, Wilcox was a political operative working for such figures as Senators John Kerry and Mark Warner and an early political blogger. He is the co-author of Netroots Rising, a history of the political blogosphere from 2003 to 2007. Wilcox also hosts the Let It Roll podcast on music history for the Pantheon Podcast Network.

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