“Say Uncle: Catch-as-Catch-Can Wrestling” Book Review

All MMA fans have heard of catch wrestling by now, largely in part due to fighters like Erik Paulson and Josh Barnett touting it’s usefulness, and demonstrating it’s effectiveness in the cage. Pro wrestling has been using it’s submission holds for ages, and back in the good ole’ days, the style was a guarded secret among it’s inner circle of students. Old school fans like myself can remember when the craze first began around a decade ago, with Matt Furey selling his books about Farmer Burns and The Great Gama, at the same time as the stories of grapplers like Billy Robinson and Fujiwara were becoming popular.

Who were these catch wrestlers, and what were the origins of this sport? Furthermore, why is it still so relevant and implemented in elements of MMA? Jake Shannon has the answers for you in ECW Press‘ “Say Uncle: Catch-as-Catch-Can Wrestling” book. Is this book worth reading, or should it be covered in dust in some little antique store in Ohio?

Hit the jump for the full review!

At a little over 200 pages long, “Say Uncle: Catch-as-Catch-Can Wrestling” is a treasure trove of facts and stories. Featuring interviews with living legends like Gene Lebell, Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Billy Robinson, and the modern men who use the style like Josh Barnett and Erik Paulson. While the history is told briefly in the opening chapters of the book, they cleverly unfold as we look deeper at specific wrestlers who developed the style more and helped spread its growth across the world. There is also a short instructional section with photos towards the end of the book that demonstrates some of the basic maneuvers of catch wrestling, along with a handy appendix of terms used throughout the chapters.

Jake Shannon, who also runs Scientificwrestling.com, spent ten years getting down and dirty with the art to gain first hand knowledge of the sport, and has delved into the history books to truly dig out some interesting facts about catch wrestling. Shannon gives you a brief but informative look at the origins of the form as far back as the middle ages, and brings it into what most MMA fans know as the modern style of “catch-as-catch-can,” the term which originated in Lancashire, England, as a slang expression that means “catch me if you can.” Shannon also explains the impact of this sport in pro wrestling and MMA today, and even how modern self-defense methods like Krav Maga have borrowed things from catch wrestling to be added into their arsenal of techniques.

Meticulously researched, the footnotes on the bottom of each page provide a quick glimpse at just how far Shannon went to find the history of this style. While I would not normally mention something as trivial as a footnote, I found them very useful as I read, since my interest was so piqued that I had to go on the web and see where the author went to find his source, or maybe scour a local library or eBay for a book that he referenced that I never knew existed but sounded like something I should be aware of (then again, finding a hundred-year-old book on catch wrestling on eBay is not exactly an easy task).

The book is full of great stories from these legendary grapplers, like Fujiwara explaining a story about a toothache Karl Gotch had that ended with him being completely toothless, or Josh Barnett talking about how important Inoki was to shoot-fighting. One of my favorite chapters in the book is the interview with Gene Lebell, which is probably the longest chapter in the whole book since Gene has so much to say! His stories are humorous as well as informative, including his story about being behind-the-scenes of the Inoki VS Ali match. Lebell was the referee for that bout, and reveals a lot of interesting stories about what happened backstage before and after the historic dream fight, along with many other tales of wrestling professionally during a pivotal time in pro wrestling’s evolution.

My main complaint is that the book is simply not long enough. At slightly over 200 pages long with tons of info crammed into it, this book still feels like it is just hitting the tip of the iceberg in terms of stories and history. Most disappointing to me were the short sections with Karl Gotch and Billy Robinson, two very important men in catch wrestling. Shannon writes that he had dozens of hours of recorded interviews with Gotch, yet his chapter is a paltry five pages long! While many other wrestlers in the book discuss him, it would have been wonderful to hear more of his stories straight from the horses mouth. Even with that small section, it does not detract from the book, it just makes me yearn for more.

Another thing readers will undoubtedly notice is the typos, and those book has many of them sadly. While it does not take away from the remarkable content of the book, it is a huge annoyance and easily ruins the experience. Beware, you will have no problem finding misspelled words scattered throughout the book, but this is one of those books where I can ignore it since the content is so enjoyable (however, I do hope future printings resolve these issues since they are plentiful).

You can order Say Uncle!: Catch-As-Catch Can Wrestling and the Roots of Ultimate Fighting, Pro Wrestling & Modern Grappling from Amazon.com for under $14 new, and is a must-have for serious fans of the sport who want to learn history directly from the people who made it. Catch wrestling is an integral part of MMA, and the tales behind it are so intriguing that it is impossible not to get wrapped up in it’s history. Any fan of combat sports that wants to learn more about the past of martial arts needs to own this book – it’s a decision you will not regret.

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