Catch-as-catch-can (CACC) wrestling started in the late 1800s/early 1900s in the UK as a hybrid form of grappling that combined a number of different styles of wrestling at the time. Eventually this form of wrestling began to spread to the US and throughout Europe as a form of entertainment and in shows at carnivals. This became known as “professional wrestling”. Most of the movement was scripted in an effort enhance its entertainment value. Despite its scripted nature it did indeed contain effective technique for grappling and Dan Gable even claims that when he first learned to wrestle in Waterloo, Iowa he was learning a style they called catch wrestling at the time.
Most catch wrestling however usually refers to the particularly effective and violent techniques taught by the legendary British wrestler Billy Riley at a dilapidated gym in Greater Manchester, Wigan, UK. Riley taught a number of historically significant catch wrestlers the techniques of CACC. This included the likes of Karl Gotch and Billy Robinson. Gotch’s real name was Karl Istaz and trained as a greco roman and freestyle wrestler even competing in the 1948 Olympics. Gotch also traveled the world seeking the best training learning calisthenics in India and eventually seeking out training in the UK to pursue a career in professional wrestling. Gotch heard the place to train was the “snake pit” under Billy Riley. There he learned techniques that would chance the landscape of grappling and MMA forever.
Professional wrestling had increased in popularity around the world but the largest demand was in Japan. So, in the late 1960s Gotch moved to Japan to “compete” and train there. Students under this direct tutulege included Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Satoru “Tiger Mask” Sayama, and Antonio Inoki. Yoshiaki Fujiwara‘s students Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki founded Pancrase. Whereas, “Tiger Mask” Satoru Sayama founded Shooto, which added Muay Thai, Sambo and Judo as aspects of the competition.
Funaki trained Bas Rutten (once he lost to a grappler he was interested in actually learning how to grapple) as well as the Shamrocks. Satoru Sayama trained Yori Nakamura as well as Yuki Nakai (the skinny guy in one of the first PRIDEs whose eyes were gouged out by Gerard Gordeau). Nakamura trained Erik Paulson. Paulson is now Josh Barnett’s grappling coach. Similar lineages and their relationships to CACC are also evident. Inoki trained Nobuhiko Takada. Takada started PRIDE and opened his own Takada Dojo where he trained Kazushi Sakuraba. Yuki Nakai trained Shinya Aoki as well as the leg lock specialist Masakazu Imanari.
Catch wrestling is indeed a bit different than other grappling styles. It prioritizes submission over position rather than position over submission like most current grappling styles. This is evident in the example of Nakamura’s lockflows which Sakuraba popularized live in action. The “submission over position” ideology is also present in the movements seen more often in CACC than in other grappling styles. For example, neck cranks, leg locks, and hammerlocks are rarely seen elsewhere. In fact, most grappling organizations (even the most violent of them-the ADCC) make neck cranks illegal due to the possible damage to the cervical spine. Leg locks often give up position and hammerlocks are often simply not taught except as a detention method for LEOs. The following highlight reel shows how each of these movements was used for show by historical figures in CACC (as well as a few rare moves by those not in the lineage). Keep in mind this footage is old. It’s a bit blurry at times. Have patience. This is some of the only remaining footage of an art that’s still effective (as Barnett showed in Metamoris 4) but often forgotten: