Wrestlers often dream big, and why not? If you don’t dream big, if you don’t think big, you are far less likely to accomplish anything big.
Reviving real professional wrestling using some combination of freestyle and America folkstyle rules is big. Reviving catch wrestling, where you can only win by pin or submission, and which ceased to be a real, major sport a century ago, is just as big, maybe even bigger given its history. So why not try it?
The plans for 2014 of those who are today involved in catch wrestling demonstrate that while the events thus far scheduled are relatively small, especially compared to other combat sports, they are part of plans for something quite big.
“We’ve kind of created a culture where people are holding it to a higher standard,” said Jake Shannon of Scientific Wrestling (http://scientificwrestling.com) in an interview on No Holds Barred. Jake has been plugging away for almost a decade, pioneering in the revival of the sport through his tournaments, books, camps, seminars, and online media.
“There’s no more b.s. We want people out on the mats. We want people learning the real history of it, not some made-up ad copy on the Internet to sell DVDs or something.”
He stressed, “It’s an exciting time. It really is exciting. It is beginning to blossom. So it’s kind of ‘Springtime for Catch Wrestling’, if I can steal, if I could paraphrase a Mel Brooks movie title.”
The new year is already off to a quick start for catch wrestling. There will be an ISWA Submission Wrestling Coaching Clinic, led by veteran catch wrestler Kris Iatskevich, January 24-25 at New York Combat Sambo in New York City. There will also be Scientific Wrestling’s Certified Catch Wrestler Training Camp Winter 2014, February 7-8, in San Diego, California. Many more such camps, clinics, and seminars are planned for later in the year.
The first tournament for 2014 which has been announced is the Virginia Shooter’s Challenge, which is the North American Catch Wrestling Association’s regional qualifier, which takes place April 5 in Amherst, Virginia. At last year’s MMA World Expo in New York, there were three catch wrestling matches organized by the Snake Pit USA – the first real, catch-as-catch-can wrestling in New York City in 93 years, since Joe Stecher wrestled Earl Caddock at Madison Square Garden for the world heavyweight wrestling championship in 1920. The dates for this year’s MMA World Expo have not yet been announced, but it is expected that the catch wrestlers would like to make another appearance there on the mat.
So far the biggest innovation announced for 2014 is the plan to hold a major international catch wrestling tournament in Los Angeles, California, in June. It will take place on the campus of UCLA, where numerous sumo and jiu-jitsu events have already been held, including Metamoris 2 last June.
This event will be hosted by the newly-formed Catch Wrestling Alliance (http://catchwrestlingalliance.com), which is now an official Snake Pit Wigan Training Group, and thus working with the original home of catch-as-catch-can wrestling, the Snake Pit in Wigan, England. While details of this event remain to be finalized, this event is a go.
It is being organized primarily by Raul Ramirez, himself with impressive credentials in this nascent sport. He has trained with catch wrestling legend Billy Robinson and at the Scientific Wrestling camps. In addition, besides training people in catch wrestling himself and serving as part of the Snake Pit Wigan’s international instructor program, he has a record of 3-0 at the International Catch Wrestling Tournaments organized by the Snake Pit Wigan and held in Wigan, England. In 2012, he defeated Stephen Greenfield of Wales by crossface submission. In 2013, he won both his matches, first again defeating Stephen Greenfield, this time by hammerlock, and then pinning Ulli Koch of Germany. For these efforts, he also was awarded three trophies: the Alan Latham AKA Francis Sullivan Trophy presented by his daughter Karen Latham, the Billy Chambers AKA Jack Fallon Trophy, and the Roy Wood Trophy for Most Improved Wrestler of the Year, presented by Wigan head coach Roy Wood himself. (Yes, we need a database to record all these catch wrestling results, and catch wrestling-specific media, too.)
”Everyone who’s involved with catch wrestling, it’s their dream to really help revive it as a real, maybe even professional sport, hearken back to the glory days of catch wrestling,” said Raul Ramirez in an interview on No Holds Barred.
”So basically this past year I’ve been working hard with the Snake Pit Wigan and reaching out to other people in the United States who have been involved with catch wrestling for a long time,” he said. “A lot of them want to work together to try to provide wrestlers for a big event that we plan on having, most likely June of this year.” The aim, he said, is “a real international event.”
Working together in catch wrestling is a key to its successful rebirth, especially now with a plethora of independent and sometime overlapping groups offering training and tournaments in it. For example, Raul Ramirez is working with Dan Kanagie’s North American Catch Wrestling Association to hold regional and then national championships, and then work towards the time when the national champions can face international champions, who have earned that distinction by winning world championship events. “Then we can have a real international championship there, and it can even be a pro championship,” said Raul Ramirez. (I told you they are thinking big.)
Another key to catch wrestling’s growth is to establish, from the outset, good governance of the sport’s organizations and events.
”I think every company, or every organization should, when they start, try to set up these rules, to keep everything run in a respectable manner, and try to keep the sportsmanship there, and try to promote real, legitimate sport,” Raul Ramirez said. In the various international championships, “The people who are competing in it earned those spots,” and are not chosen based on popularity, number of Twitter followers, etc.
”These companies have to be set up in a way where basically they have sport as their primary focus, not trying to get the most money, or trying to necessarily sell tickets off of bad sportsmanship or anything like that.”
Since it was corruption which killed real professional catch wrestling a century ago, when it ceased to be a competitive sport, the new catch organizations should be “trying to have good governance, trying to have real tournaments, to see who deserves the spots, and really trying to promote the sport itself and have it run as a sport.”
He added, “We’re completely off the radar. So we can actually start fresh in a way. Even though our sport is old, we can actually start the right way, instead of having to try to combat the internal politics of some federation. It doesn’t exist right now. None of these problems exist for us right now, and we can start brand-new. And we all work together and really try to run it as a sport, and it’s going to be great.”
He added, “Once we grow we don’t have as much of that temptation or that type of interference from people who want to corrupt us.”
Of course, there remain legitimate differences among those are reviving this sport. While most see the need for the simple, fan-friendly rule set where you can win only by pin or submission, the issue of whether or not to allow chokes is still being discussed. Billy Riley of Riley’s Gym in the mid-1900s did not allow chokes. Current Snake Pit and Aspull head coach Roy Wood, who was trained by Billy Riley, has argued, according to Stephen Greenfield, “The choke kills the wrestling.” Raul Ramirez leans towards outlawing chokes, saying, “I want people to see the variety of catch wrestling techniques, because with catch wrestling we have tons and tons of more wrestling and submission techniques than what I see in the Olympics or in no-gi grappling,” mentioning facelocks, crossfaces, and hammerlocks. “You don’t have to stay inside the box,” he said.
Others, like Jake Shannon, believe that 21st century catch wrestling should allow chokes, and be truly no holds barred, especially since so many people who already have been or potentially will be involved with catch wrestling have seen chokes and train in disciplines which allow them, such as jiu-jitsu, judo, MMA, and no-gi grappling.
What is most likely to happen is that different events will have different rules on chokes, which is a feature of many wrestling styles and events around the world anyway, and seems to be agreeable to all involved with catch today.
Catch Wrestling Submission Techniques
Another issue which is less immediate but on which people are taking different approaches is the eventual formation of an independent international federation to govern catch wrestling.
Some, like Raul Ramirez, want to work to create such an international federation, likely modeled after the international federations which are members of SportAccord. Others, like Jake Shannon, say we need a “bottom-up, grassroots” approach, pointing out the pitfalls of these federations, and how, for example, FILA, the international wrestling federation, dropped grappling in 2013.
Even with these different approaches, everyone in catch wrestling presently seems to be cooperating with each other and not interfering with everyone else, even when there are differences. Ah, would that this stays so!
For those new to catch wrestling, it “is not going to look too strange for people watching it for the first time,” said Raul Ramirez, since it involves so many techniques and positions people are already accustomed to seeing. But in catch, the wrestlers cannot not lie on their backs. “You got to keep moving,” he said.
And not only on the mat, but also in planning catch wrestling events, already in 2014 the people in the sport are keeping moving, and much more so than last year.
”I think it’s a springtime for catch wrestling right now,” said Jake Shannon. And maybe, unlike the scam and disaster of a play which was the subject of Mel Brooks’s hilarious comedy “The Producers”, from which this phrase is borrowed, this 21st century catch wrestling can have a legitimate, successful, and lucrative run on Broadway and in towns and cities around the world.
(Eddie Goldman is the host and producer of the No Holds Barred podcast and blog, at http://eddiegoldman.com.)