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Monday, March 16, 2015

No Holds Barred: Mike Chapman on Nat Pendleton, Catch and College Wrestling Star 

On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman once again spoke with wrestling historian and author Mike Chapman.

He has recently written a book on undefeated college wrestler, 1920 Olympic silver medalist wrestler, pro catch wrestler and shooter, and Hollywood actor Nat Pendleton.

We spoke with Mike Chapman by phone Saturday.

While wrestling for Columbia, which had the first college wrestling program in the U.S., "He was an exceptional college wrestler, never lost a match," he said.

"This is before the days of the NCAA tournament, of course. He won the Eastern Intercollegiate Wresting Association title twice, which is a really tough tournament," in 1914 and 1915, he said.

"He won the AAU Nationals twice," in 1916 and 1920, he said, in what was then called amateur catch-as-catch-can wrestling, and today is known as freestyle wrestling.

Also in amateur catch-as-catch-can wrestling, in 1920, he said, "He won a silver medal in the Olympics." Many observers of that match have argued that Pendleton was robbed of the gold medal, "which happens a lot in international competition."

Pendleton's next stop was pro wrestling, which had not completely devolved into the spectacle we have today.

This was "at a time when pro wrestling was starting to evolve from a pure athletic contest -- well, actually it was already well into the evolution into show business and theatrics."

As to how Nat Pendleton reacted to this change in pro wrestling, he said, "I maintain from my research through the last ten years, and what I've known about Nat, that Nat really felt that he was a catch wrestler extraordinaire. He loved catch wrestling. He cared deeply about it. And he resisted the movement into theatrics."

Of course, to theatrics it was for pro wrestling, so after a few years, he decided to go where people were upfront about their theatrics -- Hollywood, where he had a career appearing in almost 100 films.

We also discussed a legendary pro catch wrestling match which Nat Pendleton had in 1923 with the great John Pesek, which is one of the last real, or shoot, matches in pro wrestling. Held in Boston with heavy newspaper coverage, Pesek was able to defeat Pendleton by submission in two straight falls.

In addition, we discussed the legacy of Nat Pendleton for college wrestling and his alma mater, Columbia; the lessons of the devolution of catch wrestling last century into a staged spectacle; what the re-emerging catch wrestling movement of today has to learn about good governance of the sport and the battle against corruption from the tragedy of the real sport's demise in the past; and much more.

Mike Chapman's biography of Nat Pendleton is a must-read for all those interested in the history of college, Olympic, catch, and pro wrestling. It provides a rare insight into the life of a remarkable individual who went from the Ivy League halls of Columbia University to the wrestling mats and rings of his era, and then to an acting career during the golden age of Hollywood films. The book is also appropriate for teens and children, who will no doubt learn a lot about life and history in the 20th century.

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