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Monday, May 06, 2013

No Holds Barred: Nathan Hatton on His Book 'Rugged Game' and the History of Catch Wrestling 

On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman speaks with Nathan Hatton.

He is the author of the new book about catch wrestling history entitled Rugged Game: Community, Culture and Wrestling at the Lakehead to 1933.

Dr. Hatton, who describes himself as a recreational wrestler, will be teaching history at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, starting this fall.

This book details the rich history of both amateur and professional wrestling from the late 1800s to 1933 in the Lakehead, Ontario, region, whose main city is now today known as Thunder Bay.

Although it is published by the Lakehead University Centre for Northern Studies, and has numerous, helpful footnotes and ample documentation, this book was written for the general public and is highly readable. Dr. Hatton said his aim was to "bridge the gap" between popular writing and academic research, and he certainly has succeeded with this book.

Unlike today, in those days much of professional wrestling was a real sport, although to what degree is still debated. There also was considerable cooperation and connection between many of the people involved in amateur and professional wrestling.

"There was a real heyday for wrestling on this continent between the early 1880s and into the early to mid-1920s, where you had the development of catch-as-catch-wrestling," said Dr. Hatton in this interview, which was recorded over Skype on Sunday. "Catch-as-catch-can is really the precursor to modern freestyle/folkstyle wrestling." In catch wrestling, you can win by pin or submission.

With stars like world heavyweight champion Frank Gotch and many internationally-known as well as local wrestlers, professional wrestling was a major sport.

"There was a period, when much like boxing, the best wrestlers unquestionably on the planet were professional wrestlers," he explained.

There were also numerous grassroots wrestling clubs and organizations, including many based in the working class and working class organizations, such as the Finnish Labour Temple and even the Communist Party of Canada and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

The book details the relation of the growth of wrestling in this region to the growth of the economy, industry, and trade, as well as the accompanying national and ethnic tensions and disputes.

We discussed the growth and decline of catch wrestling in this region, how much of it we can be certain was real and how much was staged, the lessons this period teaches for reviving catch wrestling today, and much, much more.

Rugged Game: Community, Culture and Wrestling at the Lakehead to 1933 by Nathan Hatton is a must-read book for wrestling historians and aficionados, combat sports fans, labor historians and activists, and anybody who appreciates good sports history. Buy it, read it, learn, enjoy, and pass on its lessons.

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