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catch title

Catch: The Hold Not Taken

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 and pro wrestling

Although there are many styles of wrestling that evolved across the globe, it is widely accepted that modern professional wrestling evolved directly from Catch-as-catch-can. The first widely accepted 'world champion', Frank Gotch, wrestled in this style when he beat the Russian Lion 'George Hackenschmidt'to claim the title. Hackenschmidt, himself a Graeco-Roman wrestler by training, later admitted this was the superior style and later studied the art from Tom Cannon a British wrestler from Liverpool, Lancashire (see Hackenschmidt's book The Way to Live).

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.

Catch and freestyle wrestling

US Olympic freestyle wrestler Dan Gable, an Olympic gold medal winner, states in the film that he knew the sport as 'Catch as Catch Can' when he was growing up - but was never quite sure where the name had come from. The old Lancashire veterans interviewed in the film (many in their 80s) explain the nuances of the name.

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.

Billy Riley's and Catch as a martial art

In tracing the origins of the sport in Lancashire, the documentary focuses in particular on Billy Riley’s ‘Snake Pit’ in Wigan. Billy had two mottos: ‘You can never train too hard’ and ‘Billy is always right’.

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.

Catch in Context

However, in addition to looking at the sport, the documentary explains the social context of why Catch as Catch Can evolved in the tough, working class context of industrial England. The social conditions were extremely difficult at the time in towns like Wigan and Bolton, as outlined in books such as George Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier. The 'hardness' of the times created an equally 'hard' sport. But, as the film displays, the sport did have a deep sense of fairness about it and in the film, many who have practiced Catch, in both its modern and traditional forms, explain how they see the sport has having the potential to positively impact on people's lives.

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