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Catch History

A Brief History of Catch As Catch Can...

In the late 19th century, carnivals routinely traveled the American countryside. These were the days before television or radio, days when the carnivals were a primary source of American entertainment. As part of their attraction, many carnivals had what were dubbed "Athletic Shows" where prize fighters and wrestlers would take on  all-comers for cash wagers. The Athletic Shows were not only a source of entertainment, but also a way for the locals to interact with the performers, test their skill, and perhaps win some money in the process. In their earliest stages, Athletic Show wrestling competition rules were offshoots of traditional wrestling rules, with each person trying only to pin the other. But as time went on, locals became more ruthless, and it wasn't uncommon to hear stories of a local trying to gouge out a wrestler's eyes during a challenge match. In addition, disputes often arose as to whether a person was actually pinned (not surprising considering there was money on the line), and whether the referees were calling the matches fairly. The traveling wrestlers developed concession holds, or "hooks," both to protect themselves from injury and to eliminate any doubt as to the victor. The wrestlers would stretch and crank their opponents, making them shout a loud concession of "uncle." As time passed the men became even more skillful at Hooking. The rules of the challenge matches were often tipped to favor the local challengers--akin to giving a handicap, or odds. Depending on the carnival or match, the wrestler could lose a match by being hooked, pinned, or even simply thrown or taken down. Thus, in order to survive, Hookers became extremely proficient at controlling and hooking their opponents and defending against all methods of attack. Under the most narrow of rules, wrestlers would lose matches if they failed to defeat their opponents within a certain time. Now, not only were these men becoming masters of wrestling, control, and hooks, they were also developing the skill to execute their technique extremely quickly and
efficiently. Men such as Martin "Farmer" Burns, Frank Gotch, John Pesek, Ed "Strangler" Lewis , Ray Steele, and many others all "made their bones" as carnival wrestlers. This was a piece of Americana that we shouldn't forget. This is the story of Catch-As-Catch-Can Wrestling, or Catch Wrestling. From an offshoot of traditional wrestling burgeoned an art of well-developed submission technique, executed quickly and efficiently, against any and all challengers.

Where is Catch today?
 
Athletic shows and travelling carnivals slowly dissolved during the 20th century. By the late 1950's they were just about all gone. Guys like August Sepp, Vic Short, Ben Sherman, Dick Cardinal, Billy Wicks and others spent many years on the circuit. It was a time that we'll nevr see again.
 
With the recent success of the UFC and other NHB events, which emphasise alot of ground work, we may see the old Catch wrestling surface again in the hands of young NHB fighters.


For more information on the history and philosphy of Catch As Catch Can, look at the articles page...