Reclaiming the Glory of Catch Wrestling

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by Eddie Goldman

Reclaiming the glory and prestige of catch wrestling, where you can win by pin or submission, and returning it to its proper place in the pantheon of real sports, is an ongoing process. It may be a long way from having paying fans fill up large venues, like the 1911 Frank Gotch-George Hackenschmidt match at Comiskey Park in Chicago or the 1920 Joe Stecher-Earl Caddock match at Madison Square Garden in New York, but this reviving sport has seen steady growth over the past few years.

Last year I attended two important new catch wrestling events. One was the Catch Wrestling Alliance International Invitational: The Rebirth, at the John Wooden Center on the campus of UCLA, in Los Angeles, California, on June 7. The second was the Catch Wrestling World Championship, presented by the Snake Pit U.S.A., at the MMA World Expo at the Jacob Javits Center in New York on July 27. I also covered the Liberty Bell Classic/King of Catch Wrestling Tournament in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, on August 30, whose main event featured a match in which Luis Ojeda was crowned the American heavyweight catch wrestling champion, the first such holder of this title in real catch wrestling since the early 1900s.

Another event, Let’s Shoot 2014 – the Mesoamerican Catch Wrestling Championships in Guatemala City, Guatemala, had more than 70 competitors, and likely had the greatest number of participants of any catch wrestling tournament not only in 2014, but also in this 21st century revival of the sport.

It is expected that there will be versions of all these events this year, along with the repeat of several other annual events and the introduction of new national and regional catch wrestling events.

This year will also see the expansion of catch wrestling with the holding of the ISWA Catch Wrestling North American Championship, which will take place July 18 alongside the 11th Annual ASA North American Freestyle Sambo Championships, in Montreal. Both competitions will take place at the Riverdale High School, 5060 Boulevard des Sources, Pierrefonds, Quebec H8Y 3E4, Canada.

What is particularly significant is that the 2015 Catch Wrestling North American Championship will not only be run by its host, the International Submission Wrestling Alliance (ISWA), but will also be co-promoted by most of the major catch wrestling organizations, including Let’s Shoot, the North American Catch Wrestling Association, Snake Pit U.S.A., and Scientific Wrestling. Plus, this will be an open tournament, where competitors from all styles, schools, groups, etc., are welcome.

Kris Iatskevich, the head coach of the ISWA, said in an interview on No Holds Barred, “We’re really, really excited about this one, because we’ve got pretty much everybody on board supporting us in this event.” He added, “I’m just really happy that for once we’re having an event where everybody’s collaborating and pitching in.” Details about registration will be announced soon.

There are rumblings of all sorts of other innovations for 2015, as well as the continuing participation of catch wrestlers in events featuring other styles of wrestling and grappling.

Of course, much more remains to be done. Questions about the rules, what a 21st century catch wrestling should look like in a sports market inordinately more crowded and complex than when it thrived 100 years ago, the need for better organization and marketing, the development of a catch wrestling media, and other key issues have to be addressed.

Another goal is to remove the ignominy from the term “professional wrestling”, which essentially today means a staged, vulgar spectacle which is not a real sport, and recapture that name for a professional version of real catch wrestling.

That also may be some ways off, but wrestlers of all types are not known to quit easily. And when something is tried and the results at first are not quite satisfactory, we should heed the training advice of the late Billy Robinson, and apply it to these attempts at rebuilding the sport: “Do it again. Do it again.”

An interview with Kris Iatskevich about the 2015 Catch Wrestling North American Championship can be heard here:

(Eddie Goldman is host and producer of the No Holds Barred podcast, at EddieGoldman.com.)

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