Catch Wrestling: The Original Mixed Martial Art Rediscovered

January 19, 2024
From: Spartacus
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In the arena of combat sports, catch wrestling stands as a formidable and intriguing art form, blending raw physicality with strategic prowess. This introduction seeks to unravel the essence of catch wrestling, tracing its rich history and examining its impact on the modern combat sports landscape.

At its core, catch wrestling is a grappling style known for its no-nonsense approach and emphasis on submissions. Originating as a blend of various wrestling styles, it diverges from its counterparts by encouraging not just control but also the pursuit of submission holds, without the use of a gi. This art form is characterized by its aggressive tactics, including joint locks, pins, and an array of complex holds.

The roots of catch wrestling dig deep into the late 19th century, where it emerged as a synthesis of styles from various cultures. It gained prominence in traveling carnivals, where wrestlers would “catch as catch can,” using any technique or hold available to subdue opponents. These early catch wrestlers were renowned for their toughness and versatility, laying the groundwork for what would become a globally respected martial art.

Today, catch wrestling’s influence extends far beyond its own sphere. It has shaped disciplines like mixed martial arts (MMA) and professional wrestling, with its techniques and philosophy being adopted and adapted by fighters worldwide. The purpose of this article is not just to explore the techniques that define catch wrestling but also to delve into its philosophy – a blend of relentless aggression and tactical acumen. 

The History and Evolution of Catch Wrestling



Catch wrestling, a gritty and powerful grappling art, boasts a storied history that has significantly influenced the landscape of combat sports. Its journey from the carnival circuits to the global stage is a tale of evolution, adaptation, and enduring legacy.

Catch wrestling’s roots can be traced back to the late 19th century, emerging from a melting pot of various wrestling styles brought by immigrants to the United States and the United Kingdom. It gained popularity in traveling carnivals, where wrestlers, known as “hookers” due to their mastery of submission holds, would challenge locals, applying techniques that were as much about spectacle as they were about effectiveness.

Legends like Frank Gotch and George Hackenschmidt became household names, showcasing the effectiveness of catch wrestling and contributing to its growing popularity. As catch wrestling’s popularity grew, it began to influence other wrestling styles and martial arts, laying the groundwork for modern MMA and professional wrestling.

The transition from carnival sideshows to organized sporting events marked a significant evolution, with rules and championships being established. Its emphasis on submissions and holds without the use of a gi made it a precursor to no-gi grappling and a significant influence on MMA’s development.

Catch wrestling’s training methods and techniques have been adopted and adapted in various martial arts, emphasizing the importance of control, submissions, and adaptability. The art form has left an indelible mark on the culture of combat sports, with its philosophy and techniques still revered and practiced by fighters and enthusiasts worldwide.

Catch wrestling’s history is a testament to the art’s adaptability and effectiveness. From its rough-and-tumble origins to its influence on contemporary combat sports, catch wrestling has remained a formidable and respected discipline, continuing to captivate and inspire practitioners with its raw power and technical complexity.

The Essence of Catch Wrestling



Catch wrestling stands as a distinctive and formidable martial art, characterized by its raw power, technical depth, and an unyielding commitment to the art of submission. At its heart, catch wrestling is more than a set of techniques; it’s a philosophy and approach to combat that distinguishes it from other grappling arts.

Uncompromising Focus on Submissions

  • Submissions Over Points: Unlike some martial arts that emphasize scoring points, catch wrestling is all about gaining a decisive victory through submission. It’s a game of physical chess, where the endgame is always a submission hold that forces the opponent to concede.
  • Diverse Arsenal of Holds: Practitioners employ a wide array of submission techniques, including joint locks and chokeholds, aimed at securing a quick and unequivocal victory.

Aggressive and Opportunistic Style

  • Proactive Approach: Catch wrestlers are known for their aggressive style, always seeking to dominate and control the match. This proactive approach is about seizing every opportunity to apply pressure and force submissions.
  • Versatility and Adaptability: Catch wrestling encourages adaptability, allowing practitioners to modify techniques on the fly and tailor their approach to the unique challenges of each opponent.

Emphasis on Control and Leverage

  • Dominance Through Control: A key principle in catch wrestling is maintaining control over the opponent. This involves using leverage, weight distribution, and positional dominance to dictate the pace and direction of the match.
  • Ground Game Mastery: Much of catch wrestling takes place on the ground, where fighters use their knowledge of leverage and joint manipulation to outmaneuver opponents.

Training for Resilience and Grit

  • Physical Toughness: The intense and rigorous training regimen of catch wrestling builds not just skill but also extraordinary physical toughness and endurance.
  • Mental Fortitude: Equally important is the mental resilience developed through training, preparing practitioners to face the physical and psychological demands of close combat.

The essence of catch wrestling lies in its uncompromising pursuit of efficiency and effectiveness in combat. It’s a martial art that demands not only physical prowess but also strategic acumen, making it a deeply respected discipline in the world of combat sports.

Top Catch Wrestling Holds

Catch Wrestling, renowned for its dynamic and effective grappling techniques, features a variety of holds that are both versatile and formidable. Here are some of the top catch wrestling holds:

Double Wrist Lock (Kimura) 



The Kimura, named after Masahiko Kimura, a legendary judoka, is a technique derived from Judo and widely utilized in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, MMA, and other grappling arts. This move primarily focuses on joint manipulation and leverage to subdue an opponent.

To execute a Kimura, a practitioner needs to control an opponent’s arm, creating a figure-four grip with their own arms. The objective is to apply torque to the opponent’s shoulder joint, compelling them to submit due to the pressure.

The Kimura can be applied from various positions, including the guard, side control, and while standing. It’s not just a submission move but also a control technique, often used to gain a better position or force a transition.

Practicing the Kimura requires caution, as the intense pressure on the shoulder can lead to serious injuries. Proper technique and gradual application of force are essential during training.

Toe Hold



The Toe Hold is another submission technique prominent in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, MMA, and catch wrestling. It involves twisting the foot and ankle, applying pressure similar to an ankle lock.

In a Toe Hold, the practitioner grabs the opponent’s foot, wrapping their own forearm around the foot’s top. The other hand then grips the wrist of the arm that’s holding the foot, creating a twisting motion that applies pressure on the ankle and foot.

The Toe Hold is versatile and can be applied from multiple positions, including guard and half-guard. It’s particularly effective against opponents who leave their legs unguarded.

The Toe Hold, while effective, demands precision. Incorrect application can result in ineffective pressure or, worse, injury to the practitioner or the opponent. As with the Kimura, controlled practice and understanding of joint mechanics are crucial.

Half Nelson

The Half Nelson is one of the most basic yet powerful moves in wrestling. It involves using one arm to encircle the opponent’s neck, placing the hand under the opponent’s arm, and applying pressure on the back of their head.

To execute a Half Nelson, the wrestler slips one arm under the opponent’s arm and behind their neck, effectively controlling the opponent’s upper body. The wrestler then uses this leverage to turn the opponent onto their back, aiming for a pin.

The Half Nelson is commonly used when an opponent is on their stomach. It’s a move that requires timing and leverage rather than brute strength. The goal is to catch the opponent off-guard and use their body position against them.

This technique is often one of the first taught to beginners due to its simplicity and effectiveness. Safety is key, as excessive force can cause neck injuries. Proper technique and respect for the opponent are crucial.




The Cradle is a classic wrestling move used to control and pin an opponent. It involves wrapping one arm around the opponent’s neck and the other around the knee, essentially “cradling” them in a locked position.

To perform a Cradle, the wrestler needs to bring the opponent’s knee and head together, locking hands in a tight grip. This position restricts the opponent’s movement and can lead to a pin.

The Cradle can be applied in various scenarios, especially when an opponent is on their side or attempting to escape. It’s an excellent move for maintaining control and setting up pins.

Learning the Cradle requires practice to understand the nuances of hand placement and timing. As it involves bending the opponent’s body significantly, care must be taken to avoid injury.

Crossface Crank



The Crossface Crank is a submission maneuver that primarily targets the neck and spine. It is executed by forcing the opponent’s head away from their body, creating significant torque on the neck.

To perform a Crossface Crank, the practitioner places one arm across the opponent’s face, then grabs the back of the opponent’s neck or head, applying pressure to turn the head away from the body. The other arm often supports the crank by pushing against the opponent’s body or securing a grip.

This technique is commonly used in ground fighting to control or submit an opponent. It’s particularly effective when the opponent is trying to escape or gain a better position. The Crossface Crank can be applied from various positions, including the top control in ground grappling.

Due to the intense pressure it puts on the neck, the Crossface Crank must be practiced with caution. It’s essential to apply the technique gradually and with control to avoid injuries.

Grovit (Front Face Lock)



The Grovit, or Front Face Lock, is a grappling hold used to control an opponent’s head and neck. This technique is a staple in wrestling and is also used in MMA.

In executing a Grovit, the practitioner wraps their arm around the opponent’s neck, securing their own wrist or arm with the other hand. The grip is tightened, and the practitioner uses their body weight and strength to apply pressure on the opponent’s neck.

The Grovit is versatile and can be used as a controlling technique, a takedown setup, or a submission hold. It’s effective in neutralizing an opponent’s movements and can be applied from standing or ground positions.

Training in the Grovit requires an understanding of proper grip and body positioning. Like the Crossface Crank, it’s a technique that must be practiced with care to prevent neck injuries.

Leg Lace or Leg Lock



The Leg Lace, commonly known as a Leg Lock, is a versatile technique used in wrestling and various martial arts. It targets the opponent’s legs, applying pressure to the joints, particularly the knees and ankles.

To execute a Leg Lace, the practitioner intertwines their legs with the opponent’s, creating a “lace” pattern. This entanglement allows the practitioner to control the opponent’s movement and apply pressure to the leg joints by twisting or folding the legs in unnatural directions.

This technique is effective in immobilizing an opponent and setting up submissions. It can be applied from various positions, particularly when the opponent is on the ground, and is a staple in submission grappling competitions.

The Leg Lace requires a good understanding of leg anatomy and joint limits to avoid causing injuries. Practitioners must learn to apply the technique with control and respond to their opponent’s tapping out promptly

Single Leg Boston Crab



The Single Leg Boston Crab is a submission hold originating from professional wrestling but has found its way into realistic grappling and MMA. It focuses on applying pressure to the back and leg of an opponent.

In this hold, the practitioner lifts and bends one of the opponent’s legs backward while the opponent is lying face down. The practitioner then sits or leans back, applying pressure to the opponent’s leg and lower back.

The Single Leg Boston Crab is primarily a submission technique used to exploit an opponent’s vulnerability in their lower back and leg. It can be applied from a position where the opponent is on their stomach, often after a takedown or when gaining control from the top position.

Like many submission moves, the Single Leg Boston Crab requires careful practice to avoid injury. The pressure on the back and knee must be applied slowly and carefully, with close attention to the opponent’s signals of submission.

Bridging Chinlock

The Bridging Chinlock is a submission technique that combines elements of strength, leverage, and flexibility. It targets the opponent’s neck and spine, applying pressure through a combination of a chinlock and a bridge.

To execute this move, the practitioner applies a chinlock, grasping the opponent’s chin or lower jaw. Simultaneously, they arch their back and push off their feet, creating a bridge. This action increases the pressure on the opponent’s neck and spine.

The Bridging Chinlock is effective in immobilizing the opponent and can lead to a submission due to the intense pressure it creates. It’s often used when an opponent is on their back, allowing the practitioner to apply the hold with gravity aiding in the bridge.

Mastery of this technique requires strength, especially in the back and neck, and good flexibility. Safety is paramount, as the pressure on the neck can be dangerous. Controlled practice and respect for the opponent’s limits are essential.

Catch Stretch (Bow and Arrow Hold)



The Catch Stretch, commonly known as the Bow and Arrow Hold, is a classic submission hold in wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It targets the opponent’s back, legs, and arms.

This hold involves the practitioner grabbing one of the opponent’s legs and the opposite arm, then stretching them apart in a manner resembling a bow and arrow. The practitioner uses their body as leverage, often placing a knee or foot against the opponent’s back for added pressure.

The Bow and Arrow Hold is a highly effective submission technique due to the extensive leverage applied to multiple parts of the opponent’s body. It’s often used when the opponent is lying face down or in a semi-prone position.

Like many complex grappling moves, the Bow and Arrow Hold requires understanding body mechanics and practicing proper technique. The practitioner must be cautious to apply pressure gradually to avoid joint or muscle injuries to their opponent.

Each of these holds demonstrates the effectiveness of catch wrestling in controlling and submitting an opponent, showcasing why this style remains a significant part of the grappling arts.


As we delve into the depths of combat sports history, the significance of catch wrestling stands undeniably prominent. This grappling art, with its roots deeply entrenched in history, represents more than just a collection of techniques; it symbolizes a rich legacy of physical prowess, mental fortitude, and strategic acumen. The preservation and promotion of catch wrestling are not merely about keeping a sports tradition alive; it’s about honoring a cultural heritage that has shaped the landscape of modern combat sports.

The techniques and principles of catch wrestling have been instrumental in the evolution of various martial arts, most notably influencing the development of MMA. Its emphasis on submissions, control, and adaptability makes it a timeless art form, relevant even in today’s rapidly evolving combat sports arena. The beauty of catch wrestling lies in its simplicity and effectiveness, a testament to the ingenuity of its early practitioners.

Encouraging a deeper exploration and appreciation of catch wrestling is not just about learning a new set of moves; it’s about connecting with the history and spirit that fueled the early days of hand-to-hand combat. For enthusiasts and practitioners alike, delving into the world of catch wrestling offers a unique perspective on the art of grappling, enhancing both technical skills and an understanding of combat sports’ lineage.

The preservation of catch wrestling is crucial not just for the sake of tradition but as a beacon of the rich, diverse history of martial arts. As we continue to explore and promote this venerable combat art, we pay homage to the legends of the past while laying the groundwork for future generations to build upon this formidable legacy. Let us embrace the challenge and the charm of catch wrestling, keeping its spirit alive in the rings and gyms around the world.


What is catch wrestling and how does it differ from other grappling styles?

Catch wrestling, a rugged and dynamic combat sport, is a form of wrestling characterized by its emphasis on submissions and a no-gi approach. Unlike other grappling styles such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which often focus on point-scoring and use a gi, catch wrestling prioritizes achieving a decisive victory through submission. Its approach is aggressive, favoring holds, joint locks, and pins. The distinct lack of a gi means catch wrestlers rely more on raw grip strength and technique rather than using clothing for leverage.

How did catch wrestling influence the development of modern mixed martial arts (MMA)?

Catch wrestling has significantly influenced MMA, contributing its aggressive, submission-focused style to the sport. Many techniques common in MMA today, like joint locks and chokeholds, have their roots in catch wrestling. This art form taught fighters the importance of ground control and the effective use of submissions, shaping MMA into a sport where versatility and adaptability are paramount.

What are the origins and historical significance of catch wrestling?

The origins of catch wrestling trace back to the late 19th century, emerging from the melting pot of various wrestling styles in the United States and the United Kingdom. Its development was significantly influenced by the challenges and competitions in traveling carnivals, where wrestlers would face off in matches that combined spectacle with genuine grappling skill. These origins gave catch wrestling a distinct flavor of toughness and versatility, shaping its historical significance as a precursor to many modern combat sports.

How does catch wrestling’s approach to submissions differ from other martial arts?

In catch wrestling, the approach to submissions is markedly more aggressive and opportunistic compared to other martial arts. The emphasis is on securing a submission at any given opportunity, rather than accumulating points or achieving positional dominance first. This approach fosters a mindset of constant vigilance and attack, making it a uniquely proactive and relentless grappling style.

What key techniques define catch wrestling’s unique style?

Key techniques in catch wrestling include a variety of joint locks (such as the Kimura), leg locks, cradles, and pins. The style is known for its aggressive use of crossface cranks and front face locks, maneuvers that exemplify its hard-hitting approach. These techniques are often applied with a blend of raw power and technical precision, defining the catch wrestling style as both rugged and sophisticated.

Who were some of the early legends of catch wrestling, and how did they shape the sport?

Early legends of catch wrestling include Frank Gotch and George Hackenschmidt, whose legendary bouts captivated audiences and showcased the effectiveness of the style. These pioneers were not only masters of the sport but also innovators who contributed to the evolution of grappling techniques. Their exploits helped popularize catch wrestling, setting the stage for its lasting impact on combat sports.

What is the role of the ‘Double Wrist Lock (Kimura)’ in catch wrestling?

The Double Wrist Lock, or Kimura, holds a place of high esteem in catch wrestling. It epitomizes the art’s focus on joint manipulation and leverage. This hold is not only used as a submission technique but also as a means of control and transition, demonstrating the multifaceted utility of catch wrestling techniques.

How has catch wrestling evolved from its carnival roots to a respected martial art?

From its carnival beginnings, where it was as much about entertainment as combat, catch wrestling has evolved into a respected martial art by emphasizing technical skill and athletic prowess. The transition from carnival sideshows to organized competitions brought a level of legitimacy and formalization to the sport, leading to its recognition as a foundational element of modern grappling and combat sports.

In catch wrestling, what is the importance of control and leverage over brute strength?

In catch wrestling, control and leverage are crucial, often outweighing brute strength. The art teaches practitioners to use their opponent’s strength and momentum against them, emphasizing technique and strategic positioning. This focus on leverage and control makes catch wrestling an intelligent, tactical combat sport that rewards skill and cunning over sheer force.

What are the benefits of training in catch wrestling for modern combat athletes?

Training in catch wrestling offers modern combat athletes a plethora of benefits. It enhances their grappling skills, particularly in no-gi situations, and provides a comprehensive understanding of submissions and ground control. Catch wrestling’s emphasis on adaptability, aggressive submission tactics, and mental resilience equips athletes with a versatile toolkit, beneficial for competition in MMA and other combat sports.

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