Reprinted with permission. Check out the great wrestling news source WIN Magazine!
By Mike Chapman
If you’ve ever wished you could climb into a time machine and travel back to the early 1900s and see what wrestling contests were like back then – when something called “catch-as-catch-can” was the most popular style of the sport – then you will want to go to the UCLA campus on to attend a very special event.
Called “Rebirth,” the event will feature a series of matches under the old catch wrestling rules. Matches will be 20 minutes long and no points will be scored – the only way to win is by pin or submission. There is no punching, kicking or striking, as in mixed martial arts. A wrestler cannot linger on his back, like in MMA, because he will be pinned.
Catch is a high-paced type of wrestling with an emphasis on skill and technique.
“We are looking forward to showing high-level catch wrestling to the world,” said Raul Ramirez of the Catch Wrestling Alliance, the company putting on the event. The group was started by Ramirez in association with catch wrestling schools around the world, with a goal of reinstating legitimate catch wrestling competition globally.
“It is every catch wrestler’s dream to see catch wrestling in the spotlight again, and we can achieve that goal if we work together,” he said.
Catch wrestlers with extensive wrestling and grappling backgrounds are lined up to compete, according to Ramirez. Men’s and women’s matches will be held, and the competitors already confirmed are from Europe, Asia and North America.
This is the style of the tough collar-and-elbow wrestlers of the 18th and 19th century that was made extremely popular in the early 1900s by Frank Gotch. He became world heavyweight champion in 1908 by defeating the famed George Hackenschmidt, known as the Russian Lion. Their rematch in 1911 drew 33,000 fans to Comiskey Park in Chicago.
Some sports historians say it was the popularity of Gotch that caused colleges to take up the sport.
“As the idol of millions in the United States, Canada and Mexico, Gotch made wrestling a big-time sport in his day,” wrote Mac Davis in his 1952 book, 100 Greatest Sports Heroes. “He drew larger audiences than did the heavyweight champion of boxing. Babies had been named in his honor, as had buildings, toys, farm implements and a hundred other things. The word ‘Gotch’ was a synonym for quality and strength.”
Ramirez learned catch wrestling from the legendary Billy Robinson at his seminars and through private training, and also from Roy Wood at the Snake Pit in Wigan, England. It doesn’t get any better than that as these are three of the most recognizable names in all of catch wrestling – Robinson, Wood and Wigan!
“UCLA didn't have a wrestling program when I was a student, so I trained in Chinese wrestling (Shuai Jiao) and Chinese kickboxing (Sanda),” said Ramirez. “Both have a heavy emphasis on takedowns. I even trained one summer at the Beijing University of Physical Education in these two sports.”
Ramirez won two national championships in Sanda. He also did some Sumo wrestling and earned second place in the lightweight division at the first U.S. Sumo Open, which had competitors from all over the world. All this happened while he was a student at UCLA.
One of the former college wrestlers set to participate in “Rebirth” is Curran Jacobs, who is now in Hollywood working to become an actor. He has trained with Ramirez and was extremely impressed by his submission techniques.
Jacobs wrestled four seasons at Michigan State and was captain for two of those years. He qualified for the national tournament twice and was one match away from becoming an All-American but fell short by losing in the blood round, in overtime. He was an Academic All-American, graduating with a bachelor of fine arts degree in acting. His most notable role at MSU was Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
A touch of glamor has been added to the “Rebirth” event by the fact that it will be held in the John Wooden Center on the UCLA campus. Wooden, of course, is considered by many to be the greatest college basketball coach of all time, leading the Bruins to 10 NCAA titles.
Raul has invited me to attend the event and bring some of my Gotch memorabilia for display, so I am honored and excited to be there. I will also have some of my books and posters for sale. Most of all, I am pleased to do anything I can to help resurrect catch wrestling – the style of my all-time favorite sports hero, Frank Gotch!
Tickets may be purchased by going to the web site at www.catchwrestlingalliance.com
Speaking of “catch” wrestling, I have written a treatment (a proposal, basically) for a television series which would feature a catch wrester in the 1900 period traveling the Midwest, searching for matches while trying to find the solution to a murder that took place in Alaska. I wrote the treatment with Randy Couture in mind as the star.
A three-time All-American at Oklahoma State, Randy became a Greco-Roman champion and then moved into the world of mixed martial arts, where he became the biggest star of the Ultimate Fighting Championhsips machine. As UFC champion, Randy took the new sport to its highest level of popularity. He won five major world titles and is a member of the UFC Hall of Fame.
Since retiring in 2011, Randy has concentered on a film career and has appeared in 15 movies, including three in the popular “The Expendables” series with Sylvester Stallone.
Randy is good friends with Jim Townsend, a former New York wrestler who is a movie executive in Hollywood and also serves as my adviser (one of our film projects, Lowell Park, is tentatively set to begin filming some time this year). Jim, who was a member of the St. Lawrence University (New York) wrestling team, has been a part of the film industry for two decades and loves to help promote the sport.
Jim, Randy and I met in Los Angeles two days after the NCAA tournament and had a very high-level meeting with a top television producer. Everyone was excited about the project and it is now deep in the “development” stage.
Getting a movie made in Hollywood is about as difficult as winning a gold medal in the World or Olympics, but the process is the same – work incredibly hard, surround yourself with people who can help the project move forward, and never stop driving and believing.
Good things are happening for catch wrestling. It would be a real shot in the arm for the entire sport if it “catches on” at a high level. will be an important step in the long journey.