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Eddie Goldman is the host and producer of the No Holds Barred international podcast and the publisher of the No Holds Barred blog.

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

No Holds Barred: Mike Chapman on the Centenary of the Passing of Frank Gotch 


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

It is now 100 years since the passing of Frank Gotch of Humboldt, Iowa, who was the professional wrestling heavyweight champion of the world from 1908 to 1913, at a time when pro wrestling was largely a real sport. His style was known as catch-as-catch-can wrestling, or simply catch wrestling, where matches were won by pin or submission. But along with his death, real professional wrestling died soon after.

We spoke with Mike Chapman by phone Tuesday.

"He died December 16, 1917, just a few weeks shy of his fortieth birthday, so he was 39 years old," he said. "And it marked a monumental turning point, I think, in Iowa history and in wrestling, because Frank Gotch was gone. In his place came Joe Stecher and Earl Caddock and Ed 'Strangler' Lewis and people like that. And the sport changed.

"I maintain it was largely a true athletic contest in his era. Not 100 percent, there were some worked matches. But I maintain Frank didn't work matches, and I can spend an hour explaining why I firmly believe that.

"But after he passed away, the regional territories developed and wrestling just went a completely different direction. So his passing, December 16, 1917, marked a huge changing in wrestling in America."

We discussed why Gotch's death was a "seminal moment in wrestling history"; why Gotch was "the father of wrestling in America"; the circumstances of his death and the context of what was the average life expectancy in his era; modern attempts at rebuilding catch wrestling; his latest book entitled "A Journey: Reflections on 50 Years of Writing, Wrestling, Weightlifting and Heroes"; why Mike's first sporting love was baseball; and much more.

(Photo of Mike Chapman wearing Frank Gotch's favorite derby hat by Brad Wilder.)

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