By Nick Matthews
Catch as catch can wrestling, or catch, is the real sport that professional wrestling evolved from. Wrestlers used to have to know how to be entertainers and wrestle in order to become professionals, but that is not the case anymore. If you’re a tough body builder with athleticism, you do not need to have actual wrestling skill.
Today, catch wrestling and professional wrestling (entertainment wrestling) are two different things. I did not learn both during my training. I had to learn them separately. The rules in today’s entertainment wrestling are so obscure that nobody really knows what they are. They started off with the same rules as catch wrestling and maintained a sense of credibility until they started using weapons, illegal hits, and gymnastic flips.
In catch as catch can, a bout can end due to pinfall, submission, or disqualification. The only rules are that there is no eye gouging, air-chokes (any choke cutting off the windpipe), scratching, fish-hooking, biting, low blows, kicks, or closed fist punches. The only strikes allowed are elbows and knees, but a disqualification will usually only occur if the illegal acts are used in excess or considered to be too severe.
For example, a wrestler may use biting to work for better positioning, and will most likely just be given a warning, but if he bites continuously or breaks their opponent’s nose with a close fist punch, he could be disqualified. The referee’s discretion can sometimes determine the outcome of a match.
While air-chokes are not allowed in competition, they are still taught, because catch wrestling is a martial art, and chokes are effective and useful in a situation of self-defense. However, during competition, neck cranks are one of the more popular holds, and in essence can have the same effect as an air choke if locked on properly, as they will close the throat.
Blood chokes (aka “sleeper holds”) are also commonly used, and they will cut off all the opponent’s blood circulation to their brain, and “put them to sleep” in a matter of seconds. Entertainment wrestling does not have a consistent set of rules.
The shift from catch wrestling to entertainment wrestling began in the 1920’s when a powerful group, known as the “Gold-Dust Trio,” made up of popular wrestling champion, Ed “Strangler” Lewis, his manager Billy Sandow, and promoter Joseph “Toots” Mondt, was formed. The Gold Dust Trio is widely recognized as the group that began to popularize the predetermining of outcomes for matches and advertising wrestling as an entertainment spectacle instead of an athletic competition.
The reason wrestling promoters began to fix bouts was because they would be able to make more money by predetermining outcomes. If there is a predetermined ending that might cause the people to demand a rematch, more money can be made with multiple bouts. Professional wrestling is a business and its main goal is to draw money.
Wrestlers will battle the same man for weeks or months at a time, which is exciting to watch. When two men battle it out for months to see who is better or because they don’t respect each other, it is compelling.
However, it is disgraceful when two men face each other in a match where the object is to climb a pole to be the first to pull down Viagra (Yeah. That actually happened.) Or a match is booked because one of the competitors wants revenge after their opponent mimicked sexual acts on the corpse of a loved one, or they are upset about their opponent attacking a supposedly pregnant woman, causing a miscarriage. Oh, and who can forget Santino Marella dressing as a woman, and winning the Miss Wrestlemania battle royal. In case that wasn’t bad enough, he continued to wrestle in drag for the next three months and claimed he was Santino’s twin sister, “Santina.”
Can anybody please tell me how any of that will possibly draw money? It is distasteful, disrespectful, and all that kind of crap will push people away from the product. You can probably see why a wrestling fan, or a wrestler, would be as frustrated and embarrassed as I am.
Wrestling has always been about people beating each other up, but at least it used to be somewhat tasteful. Wrestling used to be promoted as a sport and a battle between good and evil. Today’s wrestling promotes insubordination, violence against women, and a nearly unattainable body image.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I always figured that wrestling fans watching a wrestling show with wrestlers on it expect to see wrestling. Oh, whoops. Did I say wrestling? I’m sorry, World Wrestling Entertainment (WEE) would rather I refer to it as “sports entertainment.” And wrestlers? Right, they aren’t wrestlers anymore. They are “superstars.” This is bullshit!
Wrestling fans want wrestling, not midgets and softcore porn. No doubt, the women (or “Divas” as WWE refers to them as) are beautiful and tough, but most of them couldn’t wrestle their way out of a paper bag, and they do not belong in my sport. There is no place in wrestling for barbie dolls with boobs faker than the punches they throw. If guys want porn they can get it elsewhere. Keep it off my wrestling show!
Even though matches are predetermined, however, there used to still be legitimacy in wrestling. For a while, the champions were shooters (catch wrestlers) who could really go. Lou Thesz broke into wrestling in the 1930’s, and became the youngest world champion of all time at the age of 21. He was even a hand-to-hand combat instructor during World War II, and he is still referred to as the Babe Ruth of wrestling.
However, as time went on, catch wrestling began to lose its way in professional wrestling. It got to a point where if a wrestler could make a match look good, they did not have to be a great shooter. Ric Flair was so unbelievably talented, he could make a match with a broomstick look good. Flair became an expert at the art of selling, which means to sell the fact you are in more pain than you actually are or to make an opponent’s moves look more effective than they really are. Because of this, Flair became one of the most famous and successful world champions in wrestling history.
To his credit, Flair was still very capable of having a ground based wrestling match, but he was no Lou Thesz. This was not a bad thing. The action was exciting and the wrestling promotions took themselves seriously. They knew damn well that they were not “sports entertainment,” they were a wrestling program, but they they had a perfect balance of wrestling and entertainment.
Catch wrestling alone wore thin after a while, and wrestling needed something more. They needed to entertain people. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) does this very well today. The fact that it is real is not what makes it popular. It is the fact that they tell a story with their fights.
Watch the previews. Watch the Ultimate Fighter. UFC put Rashad Evans and Rampage Jackson as opposing coaches on The Ultimate Fighter. Jackson and Evans hate each other. The whole show they were at each other’s throats. When they finally fight, everyone will be waiting for it. They’ve been building it up for a year.
They portrayed Matt Serra as the annoying little loudmouth in his fights with Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre. It’s the humble good guy vs. the arrogant bad guy. It’s compelling. It works, and it doesn’t matter if it’s real or not.
UFC fighters have entrance music. They all do pre and post-fight interviews, they talk trash, and they have videos of their intense workouts. You know who did all that before UFC? That’s right, professional wrestling. UFC is doing professional wrestling better than professional wrestling today.
Wrestling got further and further away from tradition in the 80’s when young blonde guitar player, turned body builder, turned steroid abuser, became the most popular man in wrestling. That man was Hulk Hogan.
He was purely an entertainer, and did not know a wrist lock from a wrist watch. Although, in terms of drawing ability, he was great. Hogan made more money for his company than anyone else had done before, and this helped justify the total shift in wrestling that was occurring. By this point, there were still at least some promotions and wrestlers who put an emphasis on wrestling, but they would soon be put out of business by Vince McMahon.
In the 90’s stars such as Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock led wrestling to another boom, but it was all entertainment. Ken Shamrock and Kurt Angle could have taken The Rock or Stone Cold in under a minute, but the days of shooters were long gone.
It was not wrestling anymore, but sports entertainment. The only thing more sickening than having to watch it was knowing that there were millions of people that actually bought in to this crap and helped vindicate “sports entertainment.” It was a slippery slope, and it was inevitable that eventually The Rock, Stone Cold, and other entertainers would not be around forever…
To be continued.