Catch: The Hold Not Taken is a 2005 feature documentary film that contrasts the billion dollar phenomenon of professional wrestling with its humble roots in Lancashire, England, where the original tradition struggles to survive.
The documentary examines wrestling's exile from the commercial world of ‘real’ sport and looks at Catch’s clear relationship with the growing modern phenomenon of full contact fighting.
Catch as Catch Can began as the sport of the Lancashire miners and grew to the height of its popularity in the late 19th to early 20th century. Written history is sketchy as this was a working class sport, without the 'noble' patronage of the likes of, for example, boxing. The history of Catch's growth is explored in the book Catch Wrestling (2005) by Mark Hewitt. Hewitt includes reports from fights from the 19th century involving Lancashire wrestlers in the US, when Catch wrestling was already well established. It is likely that the sport had been around in the US for a number of centuries, brought by immigrants from Northern England.
By the early 20th century the sport had grown to become one of the most popular spectator sports in the world and had been introduced to the Olympics in the form of 'freestyle' wrestling. Initially, as with Catch practiced by the miners, Olympic freestyle wrestlers could use 'bars' or locks on their opponents but over time, the rules of the sport changed to restrict these type of, potentially dangerous, tactics. The film explains how this happened but also highlights how the Catch origins of freestyle are clear to see.
As professional wrestling gradually became more and more of a show, the origins of the true sport were lost – and professional wrestling itself has, in many respects, been written out of sporting history due to its modern existence as 'sports entertainment'. However, the likes of Frank Gotch could wrestle for real and the bouts were anything but fake, as Mike Chapman, director of the International Wrestling Museum explains in the film.
The film explains how this ramshackle old gym came to be revered as the spiritual home of wrestling by the Japanese. In an interview with Japanese wrestling legend Tatsumi Fujinami, Fujinami explains how Karl Gotch, known as the 'God of Pro Wrestling' in Japan, learnt his art at Riley's and engendered an appreciation for this devastating 'martial art' in the land of the rising sun.
This idea of wrestling as a Western 'martial art' is also explored in the film. The film contains an in depth interview with ‘all-in’ cage fighter, Dan Severn, former wrestler and former Ultimate Fighting Champion. Severn, as the film explains, demonstrated to martial arts students and fans that wrestling could be a devastatingly effective form of unarmed combat.