Monday, September 05, 2011

"Live Strongstyle" : Karl Gotch the God of Wrestling

Karl Gotch is one of the most influential figures in the world of professional wrestling.  Most American wrestling fans have no clue who he is, while many Japanese fans know Gotch as the "God of Wrestling". 

Gotch was somewhat of a dark version of Lou Thesz, as he was a legitimate hooker that could take out anyone at anytime.  Thesz was celebrated for his handsome looks, his championship charisma, and his hooking skills.  While Thesz was trusted to do business and be the face of professional wrestling as the NWA Heavyweight Champion, Gotch was a man who would never get over because of his build and his lack of charisma.  Like many shooters who crossed over into worked fighting, Gotch was heavily criticized in the US at the time for a lack of showmanship and a lack of charisma in the ring.  To Gotch, professional wrestling should look as realistic as possible - exchanging holds on the mat. 

You see, professional wrestling has its roots in the pure American martial art of Catch Fighting, as practiced in the 19th century by such men as Farmer Burns. When professional wrestling first became a draw as a major sporting event in the early 1900's, the major drawback was that when the top talents came together for a major bout, the two men spent so much time attempting takedowns and clenching each other in defensive positions, that the bouts became ridiculously long, boring affairs that no one would pay to see. 

Gotch was a bridge between two ears, as he was trained in the style of the shooters, but was performing in the professional era of televised studio wrestling.  As a foreigner, Gotch was never able to grasp on to the charismatic aspects of the US mat game to become a star, although he was highly regarded as a mat technician.

Gotch made his name in Japan.  Since the post-war era in which Rikidozan became a national hero, puroresu had been built on the foundation of the Japanese fighting for their pride against gaijin - foreigners.  What drew huge crowds in Japan were not great technical battles, or exciting "made-for-television" stars, but rather valiant Japanese warriors battling their hearts out against the dastardly foreigners.

When a disciple of Rikidozan, Antonio Inoki, founded New Japan Pro Wrestling in 1972, he wanted to present something different than the other promotions in Japan, that were still using the same business and booking practices as they had in the 1950s.

Antonio Inoki had a very similar mindset to Bruce Lee - Inoki believed that there was no one single martial art that was superior to another, as they all had a weakness somewhere that could be exploited.  While Lee is often given credit (particularly by Dana White) as being the first "mixed martial artist", Inoki is often overlooked, although he had a similar philosophy. 

Throughout the early years of NJPW, Inoki would establish his version of Puroresu as "Strong Style", a style which incorporates the strong parts of different fighting disciplines, into one artform.  Inoki would begin to prove his point by having his first major feud in New Japan be with Gotch.  In the early confrontations, Inoki would succumb to Gotch's catch style wrestling.  However, Inoki wold eventually master some of those same techniques, and use them, along with the established puroresu techniques, to overcome Gotch. 

Gotch would become revered in Japan for his catch-style, and he would become known as a "Wrestling God", not necessarily for his body of work in the ring, but for being the source where the next generation of wrestlers in Japan would learn catch wrestling. 

By keeping the sport of Catch alive, Gotch was able to bridge the gap from the old time wrestling, to mixed martial arts.  Gotch learned catch wrestling in the Snake-Pit in Wigan, and was able to pass those techniques on to professional wrestlers like Takada and MMA fighters like Kazushi Sakuraba

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