What is Catch Wrestling?

Recent times have seen a renewed interest in catch wrestling. Wrestling enthusiasts are now exploring distinctive styles and techniques, and are beginning to include more traditional methods back into their training regimen.

Catch wrestling is sometimes known as Catch me if you can or Catch as Catch can and dates back to the days before television when workers would wrestle each other to wind down after a hard day down at the mines or ironworks. 

Catch wrestling is known as the predecessor to American wrestling and to amateur wrestling as well as giving some of its moves to professional wrestling and even the more modern sport of mixed martial arts. 

It is thought that Catch as catch can wrestling was formed in Lancashire several hundred years ago and it was later developed as the sailors of the British navy brought back new grappling techniques from around the world.

Catch wrestling began to dominate in bouts around the world and gained global recognition as a technique by the mid-1800s. Travelers took the sport to America and by the end of the 20th century, it had become one of the most popular American sports. 

It was an activity that was popular in carnivals from the 1800s to the mid-1900s as locals were challenged to take on the wrestler to win money if they were able to successfully subdue him, and it gave him a chance to show off his prowess. 

This type of scenario meant the catch wrestler needed to be prepared for any eventuality as every opponent who stepped in was an unknown. It led to the need to find aggressive and fast ways to get them to submit. 

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If a challenger could be made to submit very early on there would be no competition and the match would end quickly and without argument. It was the easiest and cleanest way for a catch wrestler to win every time. 

A catch wrestler has to be incredibly fit as sometimes fights could go on for hours. There are no points to be won or lost in a bout, the only way to win is to successfully pin down or get your opponent to submit. 

Catch wrestling matches generally took place with no time limit at all and grabs were allowed anywhere on the body, as locked. It was also permitted to brutally throw your opponent, so it was not a sport for the faint-hearted. 

The way an opponent indicates defeat in a match was by tapping or knocking the ground, shouting enough, or turning their back to the ground. The only move that was banned generally was throttling your opponent. 

However, sometimes, if a match was a draw they would agree to a “no holds barred” contest which means that anything goes and no hold is forbidden, no matter how dangerous it might be to the fighters. 

This type of no-holds-barred catch wrestling was growing in popularity towards the end of the 19th century and it developed into a brutal fighting technique in America. Catch wrestling there now involved being allowed to strangle, bend limbs, punch, kick, bite and even gouge eyes.

North American Catch as Catch Can Wrestling has often been described as among the most aggressive fighting activities in the world. 

What is Catch Wrestling?

Is Catch Wrestling Linked with BJJ?

It is not widely known that catch wrestling helped to influence the development of BJJ although there are clear differences between the two sports. There is no point guarding in Catch Wrestling and it also has a much wider variety of positions than BJJ.

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The Gracie’s, who are the fathers of BJJ, have a link with catch wrestling. Carlos Grace was taught to fight by Mitsuyo Maeda who used to take part in Catch-As-Catch-Can tournaments in the early twentieth century. He is thought to have taken part in over 2,000 fights and only lost two. 

Is Catch Wrestling Linked with Judo?

What is Catch Wrestling?

There is another little-known link between the brutal style of catch wrestling and the martial art of Judo. In 1914, a match was held between the world Judo champion and the world champion of wrestling at the time. 

The wrestler won the match and so declared himself to be the world judo champion. After repeated bouts with a variety of Judo champions, which he won, the wrestler gave up his claim to being a world judo champion and moved to become a professional wrestler instead. 

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Is Catch Wrestling Linked with MMA?

Catch wrestling actually forms the basis of Japanese martial art which is known as shoot wrestling. Many MMA fighters have their roots in wrestling bouts, and it stems back to the 1970s when two English wrestlers were hired to coach fighters in Japan. 

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The pair taught catch wrestling to professional Japanese wrestlers and these students of the English tutors created the Universal Wrestling Foundation in Japan in 1984, which then spawned the popular mixed martial arts that are around today.


Catch wrestling has come a long way from being physical activity to help male workers unwind after a busy day of hard labor and has helped to develop some of the most popular forms of wrestling and fighting we see today. 

Despite its violent and aggressive roots and the development of the no-holds-barred style, it has also branched out into the much more disciplined sports of Judo, MMA, and BJJ, proving the sheer versatility of skill and technique which comes from catch wrestling. 

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While hopefully, the days of fighters throttling each other and gouging out eyes are long past us, many of the aggressive moves to get the opponent to submit have created the grounding for more civilized ways of fighting that we see today. 

So next time you are practicing your Judo moves or heading out to watch an MMA fight, think back to those miners or ironworkers who would practice their aggressive grappling techniques on each other simply to relax after work. 

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