In many ways, catch wrestling embodies the cultural values prevalent at the turn of the 20th century, which may explain why its popularity peaked at that time. The sport expressed the values of independence, reason, hard work, and competitiveness in various ways.
INDEPENDENCE Catch wrestling is not a team sport. One man stands alone atop the mountain of beaten and broken competitors to be crowned champion. The catch wrestler understands that he alone is responsible for his successes and his failures.
REASON Catch wrestling is a dangerous game of physical chess. The terms “science” and “scientific” are frequently used in the context of catch wrestling. It’s the smart player who’s rewarded, not necessarily the strongest.
HARD WORK Catch wrestlers didn’t have cushy mats. During the American Civil War they competed on grassy fields. After the war they’d compete on gravel–covered clearings following a full day in coal mines or steel mills. During the height of its popularity, with the likes of Tom Jenkins, George Hackenschmidt, and Frank Gotch, catch wrestlers competed on hard floors covered only in canvas. Wrestling is hard. It takes a special person to show up at the gym, day after day, year after year, and push beyond his physical and mental limits.
COMPETITIVENESS These men were filled with pride and were motivated to prove their skills. They would bring an equal purse to each match and the winner would take all—meaning they literally put their money where their mouths were, and were always game.
The aim of this book is to share the history and strategies of old–time catch wrestlers with today’s grapplers and encourage the evolution and development of the modern sport of catch wrestling. I also hope to awaken fans of fighting sports to the fact that catch–as–catch–can is, arguably, the direct ancestor of today’s mixed martial arts, pro wrestling, and Olympic freestyle wrestling. In fact, the term “no–holds–barred” was coined to promote early 20th century American catch–as–catch–can wrestling matches. If you enjoy the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the WWE, Olympic or collegiate freestyle wrestling, or high school folkstyle wrestling, you owe an enormous debt of gratitude to catch wrestling.