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Advertised as the “Rebirth of Catch Wrestling,” the Catch Wrestling Alliance held their inaugural invitational at UCLA’s John Wooden Center on June 7th, earlier this month. The goal, according to the event’s producer, Raul Ramirez of the Catch Wrestling Alliance, is to resurrect the sport of Frank Gotch, Martin “Farmer” Burns, Joe Stecher, Earl Caddock, Tom Jenkins, and other legendary champions.
Better known as catch-as-catch-can wrestling a century ago, it was a style of wrestling that also allowed for “pain holds” to force an opponent onto his back or submit. In other words it was submission wrestling. In the early 20th century it was not only the most popular grappling style in America but also one of the top spectator sports, rivaled only by boxing, horse racing, and baseball. In 1911 thirty thousand fans packed Comiskey Park to watch Frank Gotch defeat the “Russian Lion” George Hackenschmidt and retain the world’s heavyweight championship.
Unfortunately catch wrestling competitions faded away sometime after the First World War. In the amateur ranks the “pain holds” were removed, transforming catch into scholastic and collegiate folkstyle and Olympic freestye wrestling. In the professional ranks it metamorphosed into “Slam Bang Western Style Wrestling,” AKA fake wrestling, Over the last 100 years it has only been kept alive by a few die hards. Bill Riley at the “Snake Pit” in Wigan. The Dutchman’s Bar. A few old time carnie and professional wrestlers. In Japan with the students of Karl Gotch and Billy Robinson. And as luta livre in Brazil.
Maybe things will change with the CWA’s tournament. Ramirez informed me that they have plans to do more, and attendee Josh Barnett told me he is talking to Orange Country officials about getting a catch wrestling program started in California.
Catch wrestling has layed dormant for almost a century now so we shouldn’t expect its return overnight, but this has the looks of a good beginning.
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