Catch wrestling

Last updated
Catch wrestling
Also known asCatch-as-catch-can
Shoot wrestling
Strong style
Lancashire wrestling
Focus Wrestling
Country of origin Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Famous practitioners Gene Anderson
Shinya Aoki
Bob Backlund
Josh Barnett
Farmer Burns
Randy Couture
Yoshiaki Fujiwara
Masakatsu Funaki
Verne Gagne
Karl Gotch
Frank Gotch
George Hackenschmidt
Stu Hart
Lee Hasdell
Demetrious Johnson
Karol Kalmikoff
Dan Koloff
Gene LeBell
Evan Lewis
Ed "Strangler" Lewis
John Pesek
Erik Paulson
Billy Riley
William Regal
Billy Robinson
Kazushi Sakuraba
Ad Santel
Frank Shamrock
Ken Shamrock
Dick Shikat
Davey Boy Smith Jr.
Joe Stecher
Ray Steele
Hideki Suzuki
Minoru Suzuki
Lou Thesz
Stanislaus Zbyszko
Wladek Zbyszko
ParenthoodEnglish wrestling
(Cumberland, Westmorland, Cornish, Devonshire, Lancashire)
Indian pehlwani
Irish collar-and-elbow
Rough and tumble
Descendant arts Freestyle wrestling, professional wrestling, shoot wrestling, folkstyle wrestling, Sambo, mixed martial arts (MMA)
Olympic sportYes (as amateur freestyle wrestling)

Catch wrestling (originally Catch-as-catch-can) is a classical hybrid grappling style and combat sport. It was developed by J. G. Chambers in Britain c.1870. [1] It was popularised by 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 various different international styles of wrestling: several English styles (Cumberland, Westmorland, [2] Cornwall, Devon, [2] and Lancashire), [3] Indian pehlwani, [4] and Irish collar-and-elbow wrestling. The training of some modern submission wrestlers, professional wrestlers and mixed martial artists is founded in catch wrestling.


Professional wrestling has its origins in catch wrestling exhibitions at carnivals where predetermined ("worked") matches had elements of performing arts introduced (as well as striking and acrobatic maneuvers), turning it into an entertainment spectacle. [5] Other martial arts with origins in catch wrestling include folkstyle wrestling, freestyle wrestling, and mixed martial arts (MMA). [6]


A hammerlock as demonstrated in Farmer Burns' correspondence course, 1913 Burns03-05-60hammerlock.jpg
A hammerlock as demonstrated in Farmer Burns' correspondence course, 1913

In 1871, John Graham Chambers, of aquatic and pedestrian celebrity, and sometime editor of Land and Water , endeavoured to introduce and promote a new system of wrestling at Little Bridge Grounds, West Brompton, which he denominated, "The Catch-as-catch-can Style." [2] Unfortunately, the new idea met with little support at the time, and a few years afterward 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 programme.

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. [2] 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 defence peculiar to Lancashire wrestling. [2]

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, Tom Jenkins, Ralph Parcaut, Ad Santel, Ed Lewis, Lou Thesz and Benjamin Roller, Mitsuyo Maeda from Japan, and Georg Hackenschmidt from Estonia.

By the 1920s, most catch wrestling competitions had became predetermined professional wrestling. [7]


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, as well as 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, with a maximum length of an hour. Often, but not always, the chokehold was barred. Other fouls like fish-hooking and eye-gouging (which were called "rips" or "ripping") were always forbidden. [8]

Pins were the predominant way to win, to the point some matches didn't even include submissions as an additional way; submission holds (also called "punishment holds") [9] were instead exclusively for control and to force the opponent into a pin under the threat of pain and injury. According to Tommy Heyes, student of Billy Riley, there are no registers of a single classical catch wrestler winning by submission. [10] This is the reason why leglocks and neck cranks were emphasized as valid techniques, as while they are difficult to use as finishing moves without a good base, they can used to force movement. [10] 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, as it would mean a pin. Catch-as-catch-can toeholds typically only exert force if the opponent sits still; [10] therefore, Frank Gotch won many matches by forcing his opponent to roll over onto their back with the threat of his signature toehold. [11]

A "hook" can be defined as an undefined move that stretches, spreads or compresses any joint or limb. Therefore, another name for a catch wrestler was a "hooker," with the similar term "shooter" being relegated to specially skilled hookers. [7] [12]

Catch wrestling techniques may include, but are not limited to: the arm bar, Japanese arm bar, straight arm bar, hammerlock, bar hammerlock, wrist lock, top wrist lock, double wrist lock (this hold is also known as the Kimura in MMA, 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. Nowadays many of such novel techniques came from cross cultural exchanges with judo and jujutsu proponents. Almost all moves have their own variations and different predicaments they can be pulled off in.

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.

Martial arts


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, [13] official Kodokan representatives proved unable to imitate Ito's success. Just as Ito was the only Japanese judoka to overcome Santel, Santel was 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 Aspull 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, Masakatsu Funaki, Takanori Gomi, Shinya Aoki and Josh Barnett, among other mixed martial artists, study catch wrestling as their primary submission style. [14]

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. [15]

See also

Related Research Articles

Grappling Range of techniques used in many disciplines, styles and martial arts

Grappling, in hand-to-hand combat, is a sport that consists of gripping or seizing the opponent. Similarly to wrestling, grappling is used at close range to gain a physical advantage over an opponent such as imposing a position, or to cause injury to the opponent. Grappling covers techniques used in many disciplines, styles and martial arts that are practiced both as combat sports and for self-defense. Grappling contests often involve takedowns and ground control, and may end when a contestant concedes defeat, also known as a submission or tap out.

Judo Modern martial art, combat and Olympic sport

Judo is generally categorized as a modern martial art, which has since evolved into a combat and Olympic sport. The sport was created in 1882 by Jigoro Kano (嘉納治五郎) as a physical, mental, and moral pedagogy in Japan. With its origins coming from jujutsu, judo's most prominent feature is its competitive element, where the objective is to either throw or take down an opponent to the ground, immobilize or otherwise subdue an opponent with a pin, or force an opponent to submit with a joint lock or a choke. Strikes and thrusts by hands and feet as well as weapons defences are a part of judo, but only in pre-arranged forms and are not allowed in judo competition or free practice. It was also referred to as Kanō Jiu-Jitsu until the introduction to the Olympic Games. A judo practitioner is called a "judoka", and the judo uniform is called "judogi".

Brazilian jiu-jitsu Brazilian martial art focusing on grappling and ground fighting

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) Is a self-defence martial art and combat sport based on grappling, ground fighting and submission holds, It focuses on the skill of taking an opponent to the ground, controlling one's opponent, gaining a dominant position and using a number of techniques to force them into submission via joint locks or chokeholds (Newaza).

Mixed martial arts Full contact combat sport

Mixed martial arts (MMA) sometimes referred to as cage fighting, is a full-contact combat sport based on striking, grappling and ground fighting, made up from various combat sports and martial arts from around the world. The first documented use of the term mixed martial arts was in a review of UFC 1 by television critic Howard Rosenberg in 1993. The question of who actually coined the term is subject to debate.

Lou Thesz American professional wrestler

Aloysius Martin "Lou" Thesz was an American professional wrestler and trainer. An officially six-time world champion, he held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship three times for a combined total of 10 years, three months and nine days – longer than anyone else in history. Considered to be one of the last true shooters in professional wrestling, Thesz is widely regarded as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. In Japan, Thesz was known as a 'God of Wrestling' and was called Tetsujin, which means 'Ironman', in respect for his speed, conditioning and expertise in catch wrestling. Alongside Karl Gotch and Billy Robinson, Thesz later helped train young Japanese wrestlers in catch wrestling.

Submission wrestling Fighting style

Submission Wrestling, also known as Submission Fighting, Submission grappling, Sport grappling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Nogi Jiu-Jitsu or Combat wrestling, is a form of competition and a general term for martial arts and combat sports that focus on clinch and ground fighting with the aim of obtaining a submission through the use of submission holds. The term "submission wrestling" usually refers only to the form of competition and training that does not use a gi, or "combat kimono", of the sort often worn with belts that establish rank by color, though some may use the loose trousers of such a uniform, without the jacket. Not using a gi has a major impact on the sport : there are many choke techniques which make use of the lapels of the gi, thus rendering them un-usable and grappling in general becomes more difficult when the opponent doesn't have a gi to grab hold of.

Wrestling Form of combat sport involving grappling type techniques

Wrestling is a combat sport involving grappling-type techniques such as clinch fighting, throws and takedowns, joint locks, pins and other grappling holds. The sport can either be genuinely competitive or sportive entertainment. Wrestling comes in different types such as folkstyle, freestyle, Greco-Roman, catch/submission, judo, sambo and others. A wrestling bout is a physical competition, between two competitors or sparring partners, who attempt to gain and maintain a superior position. There are a wide range of styles with varying rules with both traditional historic and modern styles. Wrestling techniques have been incorporated into other martial arts as well as military hand-to-hand combat systems.

Renzo Gracie Brazilian Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and mixed martial arts fighter.

Renzo Gracie is a Brazilian mixed martial artist and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner. A member of the Gracie family of Brazil, Renzo is a 6th Degree Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Carlos Gracie Jr.. He is the son of Robson Gracie, grandson of Carlos Gracie, nephew of Carlos Gracie, Jr. grandnephew of Helio Gracie, and the 1st cousin once removed of Royce Gracie. In mixed martial arts, Renzo has competed in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Pride Fighting Championships, K-1, RINGS, and International Fight League. He holds notable victories over five former UFC Champions: Frank Shamrock, Carlos Newton, Pat Miletich, Maurice Smith, and Oleg Taktarov

Mitsuyo Maeda Japanese judoka

Mitsuyo Maeda, a Brazilian naturalized as Otávio Maeda , was a Japanese judōka and prizefighter in no holds barred competitions, also being one of the first documented mixed martial artists of the modern era for he frequently challenged practitioners of other arts and sports. He was known as Count Combat or Conde Koma in Spanish and Portuguese, a nickname he picked up in Spain in 1908. Along with Antônio Soshihiro Satake, he pioneered judo in Brazil, the United Kingdom, and other countries.

Shootfighting Type of competitive martial art

Shootfighting is a martial art and combat sport, with competitions governed by the International Shootfighting Association (ISFA). Shootfighting incorporates techniques from a multitude of traditional martial arts, the most principal of these being wrestling and kenpo.

Shoot wrestling is a combat sport that has its origins in Japan's professional wrestling circuit of the 1970s. Professional wrestlers of that era attempted to use more realistic or even "full contact" moves in their matches to increase their excitement. The name "shoot wrestling" comes from the professional wrestling term "shoot", which refers to any unscripted occurrence within a scripted wrestling event. Prior to the emergence of the current sport of shoot wrestling, the term was commonly used in the professional wrestling business, particularly in the United Kingdom, as a synonym for the sport of catch wrestling. Shoot wrestling can be used to describe a range of hybrid fighting systems such as shootfighting, shoot boxing and the styles of mixed martial arts done in the Shooto, Pancrase and RINGS promotions.

Rear naked choke Martial arts technique

The rear naked choke (RNC) is a chokehold in martial arts applied from an opponent's back. The word "naked" in this context suggests that, unlike other strangulation techniques found in Jujutsu/Judo, this hold does not require the use of a keikogi ("gi") or training uniform.

An armlock in grappling is a single or double joint lock that hyperextends, hyperflexes or hyperrotates the elbow joint or shoulder joint. An armlock that hyperflexes or hyperrotates the shoulder joint is referred to as a shoulder lock, and an armlock that hyperextends the elbow joint is called an armbar. Depending on the joint flexibility of a person, armlocks that hyperrotate the shoulder joint can also hyperrotate the elbow joint, and vice versa.

Josh Barnett American professional wrestler and MMA fighter

Joshua Lawrence Barnett is an American mixed martial artist, professional wrestler and color commentator currently signed to Bellator MMA, competing in their Heavyweight division. Barnett previously competed for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), where he is a former UFC Heavyweight Champion. In 2003, Barnett won the King of Pancrase Openweight Championship and was a finalist in both the 2006 PRIDE Openweight Grand Prix and the 2012 Strikeforce Heavyweight Championship Grand Prix. He has also competed in Affliction, World Victory Road, DREAM and Impact FC. In Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Barnett won the inaugural Metamoris Heavyweight Championship in 2014.

A leglock is a joint lock that is directed at joints of the leg such as the ankle, knee or hip joint. A leglock, which is directed at joints in the foot, is sometimes referred to as a foot lock and a lock at the hip as a hip lock. Leglocks are featured, with various levels of s]] such as Sambo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, catch wrestling, mixed martial arts, Shootwrestling and submission wrestling, but are banned in some sports featuring joint locks such as judo.

Adolph Ernst, better known for his ring name Ad Santel, was a German-American professional wrestler, considered one of the greatest practitioners of catch wrestling ever. He is also considered to be one of the first mixed martial artists of the modern era due to his feud with the Kodokan judo school. He was a former World Light Heavyweight Champion and held the title for many years.

Grappling hold

A grappling hold, commonly referred to simply as a hold that in Japanese is referred to as katame-waza, is any specific grappling, wrestling, judo, or other martial art grip that is applied to an opponent. Grappling holds are used principally to control the opponent and to advance in points or positioning. The holds may be categorized by their function, such as clinching, pinning, or submission, while others can be classified by their anatomical effect: chokehold, headlock, joint-lock, or compression lock. Multiple categories may be appropriate for some of these holds.

Spinal lock sport

A spinal lock is a multiple joint lock applied to the spinal column, which is performed by forcing the spine beyond its normal ranges of motion. This is typically done by bending or twisting the head or upper body into abnormal positions. Commonly, spinal locks might strain the spinal musculature or result in a mild spinal sprain, while a forcefully and/or suddenly applied spinal lock may cause severe ligament damage or damage to the vertebrae, and possibly result in serious spinal cord injury, strokes, or death. Spinal locks and cervical locks are forbidden in IBJJF Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitions, amateur MMA, multiple forms of no Gi Jiu Jitsu, Judo, and other martial arts. However, professional MMA and some Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitions do permit spinal locks and, particularly, neck cranks, and such moves are trained in various MMA and Brazilian jiu-jitsu schools.

Gracie Challenge A contest invitation by the Gracie family to martial artists

The Gracie challenge was an open invitation issued by some members of the Gracie family—known as pioneers of Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ)—to martial artists of other styles to fight in a vale tudo match. A precursor to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the purpose of these challenges was to prove the effectiveness of the Gracie style of BJJ over all other martial arts styles in an era before the advent of "mixed martial arts". Challenges have been issued since Carlos Gracie first made one in the 1920s; some were public events and others have remained private.

Ivan Gene LeBell is an American martial artist, instructor, professional wrestler, stunt performer and actor born in Los Angeles, California. LeBell has also worked on over 1,000 films and TV shows and has authored 12 books. Nicknamed "the Godfather of Grappling", LeBell is widely credited with popularizing grappling in professional fighting circles, serving as a precursor to modern mixed martial arts.


  1. "Catch Wrestling". Submission Wrestling Arts.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Armstrong, Walter (1890), Wrestling
  3. "Submission Wrestling". Archived from the original on April 7, 2005. Retrieved November 19, 2019.
  4. Pitting catch wrestling against Brazilian jiu-jitsu - Manila Times
  5. Slack, Jack (February 4, 2016). "Kayfabe Time Capsule: The Real Techniques of Professional Wrestling". Fightland . Retrieved 2019-10-31.
  6. Nauright, John; Zipp, Sarah (2020). Routledge Handbook of Global Sport. Routledge. p. 179. ISBN   978-1-317-50047-6.
  7. 1 2 Bob Backlund, Robert H. Miller, Backlund: From All-American Boy to Professional Wrestling's World Champion
  8. Chuck Hustmyre, Twisted Technique: Catch-as-Catch-Can Wrestling Descended from the Original No Holds Barred Fighting Art, December 2003, Black Belt magazine
  9. Jack Slack (February 4, 2016). "Kayfabe Time Capsule: The Real Techniques of Professional Wrestling". Fightland. Vice. Retrieved June 29, 2020.
  10. 1 2 3 Jack Slack (October 17, 2016). "The Continued Catch Wrestling Adventures of Minoru Suzuki". Fightland. Vice. Retrieved June 29, 2020.
  11. Frank Gotch: World's Greatest Wrestler, Publisher: William s Hein & Co (January 1991), ISBN   0-89941-751-5
  12. Jim Smallman, I'm Sorry, I Love You: A History of Professional Wrestling
  13. "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
  14. Michael David Smith (January 20, 2010). "Randy Couture 'Moving Away From a Jiu Jitsu Mentality'". MMA Fighting . Retrieved 2010-03-02.
  15. "catch: the hold not taken". Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2016-02-08. Catch: the hold not taken documentary DVD 2005