The Brutal Art of Catch Wrestling

The Brutal Art of Catch Wrestling

Throughout the past few years, the leg lock game has become a major aspect of competition grappling, more so than ever before.  One result of this has been the development of “new” systems, but another, far more interesting result has been the resurgence in popularity of certain grappling arts.  Perhaps one of the most interesting of these is Catch Wrestling, also known as “Catch as Catch Can.”


Originally developed in the 1870s, Catch Wrestling as a grappling style has always been seen as a possible jiu-jitsu killer.  Whereas Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is considered “The Gentle Art” Catch Wrestling is the “Brutal Art”.  While BJJ practitioners’ goal is generally to control an opponent by effectively moving with them, a catch wrestler’s objective is more in line with wrestling, in that pinning is a viable option, but catch wrestlers can use submissions to attain the pin…

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Catch Wrestling a Brief History

In Brazil, Catch wrestling became an integral style in the Vale Tudo scene, specifically in its use by Luta Livre practitioners and in North America Catch wrestling has always had a close association with professional wrestling, many catch wrestlers showcasing their techniques on the professional wrestling stage, but it wasn’t until the advent of MMA that Catch Wrestling’s efficacy against other grappling arts was made evident.

Grappling prodigies like Josh Barnett and Kazushi Sakuraba made very good use of their superior tactics and techniques to overcome Brazilian Jiu Jitsu experts.  Sakuraba famously dethroned Royce and Renzo Gracie with his impressive systematic use of Catch.

Catch focuses on an aspect of grappling that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu often ignores: the use of pain.  The concept is that if a grappler can cause an opponent pain, that opponent will have specific options insofar as viable responses.  These responses then evoke follow-up options for the grappler that can lead to submissions or improvements of position. Check out this video below with the modern legend of Catch Wrestling, Neil Melanson breaking down some incredible Catch techniques.

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Catch vs BJJ

Back in the summer of 2014, the jiu jitsu community got to watch Josh Barnett use catch wrestling in a no gi submission only match against Dean Lister, and the affect was clear.  Barnett utilized principles of pressure, discomfort and pain that are central and essential to catch wrestling to overcome Lister, submitting Lister for the first time in 16 years.

Catch wrestling teaches its practitioners how to create pain by applying pressure, a principle that jiu jitsu places in the back seat.  Jiu Jitsu focuses on finessing the submission, whereas catch teaches how to use force to bring about openings to attain the submission. Check out another instructional with Neil Melanson on how Catch Wrestling wrecks the half guard to get an even better perspective on the intricacies of Catch. 

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Catch Wrestling and Leg Locks

Leg locks have recently become a highly popular group of submissions, more so than in the past, because of their efficacy in submission only grappling.  The result of this is that leg lock instruction is being sought after like never before, but Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has neglected leglocks for a long time because of common competition rule sets.  Therefore, Catch Wrestling which has a plethora of useful lower body techniques has a new found usefulness in the sport of grappling.

The leglock entries used in catch wrestling translate well to jiu jitsu competition, and there are Achilles locks, toe holds and knee bars taught by catch wrestling that are legal in the IBJJF.  Catch wrestling is a skill set that is inherently useful to the competitive grappler, as well as any MMA fighter looking to up their grappling game.

Catch Wrestling is still relatively underground, even in comparison to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Finding good instruction can be difficult, but there are gyms, teams and associations just like in the familiar culture of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Many American fighters who list “wrestling” as their primary style have put time into learning catch wrestling.

If you are interested in learning more about Catch Wrestling, specifically as it pertains to competition grappling, you should check out Neil Melanson.  If you haven’t heard of Neil Melanson you’ve probably heard of the various champions he’s coached. To learn more on Neil check out his Fighter Page Here.

Neil learned his skills from the Hayastan Grappling system, developed by Gokor Chivechyan and Gene LeBell.  He is considered one of the foremost experts on Catch Wrestling.  For more information about Neil’s impressive grappling style, pick up his DVD set in which he covers some of his coveted techniques.  You can get it here at BJJ Fanatics!