Why Catch Wrestling Isn’t More Popular?

Why Catch Wrestling Isn’t More Popular?

On June 7, 2014, for the first time in 100 years on American soil, the sport of Catch wrestling was reborn at UCLA’s John Wooden Center.
14 catch wrestlers competed in seven wrestling matches as part of Catch Wrestling Alliance’s Inaugural Invitational – U.S.A. versus The World.

Catch wrestling is a classical hybrid grappling style that was developed in Britain circa 1870 by J. G. Chambers,  then later refined and popularised by the wrestlers of travelling funfairs who developed their own submission holds, or “hooks”, into their wrestling to increase their effectiveness against their opponents. The training of some modern submission wrestlers, professional wrestlers and mixed martial artists is founded in catch wrestling.

The most famous ambassador of catch wrestling today is UFC fighter Josh Barnett. At Metamoris 4, Barnett did what no man had done until then, he submitted BJJ black belt Dean Lister with a choke from side control. Lister hadn’t been finished in the past 17 years. It was a big victory for Catch Wrestling.

In this lengthy interview with MMA Fighting‘s Luke Thomas, Barnett talks about his victory and about the state of Catch Wrestling today and reasons for its relative lack of popularity:

So, let’s take a step back from what happened at Metamoris 4 and look at the state of catch wrestling today. Is the sport in a healthy place?


It’s healthy, but it’s far less successful in terms of creating more students, creating competitions and garnering the necessary coverage in comparison to, say, Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It’s really got a long way to go, but I think that we’re making good strides with it and starting to become more and more popular, starting to increase the amount of practitioners out there and get people to see it for the legitimate grappling art that it is.

Another trouble is that we don’t have a lot of high-level instructors in it yet either. It takes high-level competitors and high-level trainers. It sucks to get high-level trainers if they don’t have enough competition experience either, so that’s a really difficult scenario whereas with jiu-jitsu, that’s such a more established and more effective competition culture and environment that it’s so much easier to find a person that has both the competition experience, so they know how to hold and work in the real world, and actual, just formal technical knowledge.

How did it get this way? Was there an age where catch was significantly more dominant, more dispersed throughout the world?


Unfortunately, professional wrestling became much more worked than show matches and that became more of a viable entertainment and monetary option than it did to do them for real. Back in the day, there’d be times – 1800s or 1900s – where a match would go on for hours with no man being able to get a real advantage over the other. Obviously after a few of those things the crowds started to wane and it became more interesting for folks to see more pomp and circumstance, more drama, more expected outcomes that could be controlled.

Then with things like judo and jiu-jitsu, in the 40s and 50s and really even earlier than that, became quite popular, but of course some of that is simply a matter of things being exotic, a different way of looking at things. People are often drawn to something that is new or different from them, although wrestling is wrestling, so there’s a lot of similarities no matter what the art it is.

So why is Catch Wrestling nowhere near as popular as Jiu-Jitsu?

Catch Wrestler John Strickland, for Catchwrestlingalliance listed the reasons why this is.

1.Nobody seems to know what actual Catch Wrestling is. They seem to think it’s amateur wrestling mixed with other arts. Basically creating a self made system and applying a name that’s not appropriate. (Where there’s a student there was a teacher and you can follow that evidence rather easily. Personally I don’t give two shits who that upsets. This alone killed the comeback before it could even start.)

2. Legit catch practitioners lack an association of checks and balances. (You don’t claim a Blackbelt of any rank in JJ if it’s not true. Those who have are normally called out.)

3. There’s enough legit coaches in the world for this art to spread correctly but many start coaching way too soon and don’t even fully known the system in a competitive sense yet much less of making someone else legit.

4. Without structure there’s random chaos.

5. Having clubs and affiliates is a good thing as long as the top has a minimum of ten years training.

6. Basically as above , Catch is assumed to be ( anyone can be whoever they wish) system and thus allowing anyone to teach coach etc.  It’s been a way for frauds to easily enter and idiots to follow. I was an idiot but with factual evidence found legit coaching.

7. There were far too few old timers ( experts) left when the style regained popularity. Those handful of people can’t replace thousands of Blackbelt like in JJ.

8. JJ got the early start with the Vale Tudo.

9. Ive seen some today claim Hulk Hogan as a catch guy. I’m serious and that’s sad. It’s like saying you took a class in biology and are now a doctor.

10. The early figures in the modern era turned out to be fakes and liars. Just call it submission grappling and that’s fine but their lying gave the style a very bad image. In fact I’m skeptical on most claims today. Legit coaches will produce legit players who should fairly easily walk through the scammers.

And if this hurts feelings I don’t care.

Jon Strickland

Legendary MMA Heavyweight Josh Barnett teaches his catch wrestling principles and concepts for the dynamic double wrist lock.

  • The double wrist lock is a kimura variation, that you can supercharge with these catch-as-catch-can secrets that have been passed down to Josh – learn this new style of grappling excellence: see all the catch details for getting the lock, controlling the position, and using it to get the submission in this total technical approach.

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