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Wrestling / Karl Gotch

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The master.
"He could hook you and do things with you from any angle, whether he was on top, underneath, standing up or laying down. He was just phenomenal."
Roger "Nature Boy" Kirby about Karl Gotch

"I was so glad when Karl quit going to judo and jiu-jitsu. It was so hard washing everyone else’s blood from his gi every night."
— Attributed to Ella Istaz, Gotch's wife

Karl Gotch (August 3, 1924 – July 28, 2007) was a German Professional Wrestler, known for his role in the development of Mixed Martial Arts in Japan. He was a former Greco-Roman and freestyle champion in Germany before moving to England to train Catch Wrestling in Billy Riley's Wigan Snakepit. Initially as Karl Krauser, he won several championships in Europe and toured in Canada and United States. His career was extensive in America, but he never got over due to his lack of showmanship, and ended leaving for Japan after an incident in which he and Bill Miller attacked Buddy Rogers backstage. In the land of the rising sun, however, Gotch turned out very popular thanks to his amazing skills, and over time was nicknamed "The God of Pro Wrestling". He worked in Japan Pro Wrestling training wrestlers in the art of catch wrestling, and also helped to establish New Japan Pro-Wrestling and Universal Wrestling Federation, tutoring names like Antonio Inoki, Yoshiaki Fujiwara and Satoru Sayama. Always a defender of realistic wrestling, he was very influential on the Japanese MMA, assisting to the creation of shootboxing, the Super Tiger Gym and Pancrase, as well as Muga Pro Wrestling. Gotch spent his last years in the "Gotch Dojo" in Tampa, Florida, where he passed away in 2007.

"The Godly Tropes of Pro Wrestling":

  • A Father to His Men: He was very close to his trainees, especially Osamu Kido and Masami Soranaka, who was also his son-in-law. Ironically enough, his most famous apprentices are precisely the ones he ended looking down by a number of reasons, namely Inoki, Sayama and Maeda, as well as the Pancrase staff.
  • Always Someone Better:
    • According to Gotch and Billy Robinson, their friend and trainer Billy Joyce was this to both of them. He was considered the best of the Snakepit in his prime, and the only reason they ever beat him in matches was because he was getting old. They also considered another Snakepit senior student, George Gregory as this as well.
    • There were talks about a match between Gotch and vale tudo legend Ivan Gomes when New Japan Pro-Wrestling was touring Brazil, but it never happened, according to Brazilian press because Gotch backed down upon hearing Gomes's fame. The conditions of the affair are unknown, but some believe Gotch might have refused simply because he wanted wrestling rules for the bout while Iván wanted full vale tudo, which were their respective fields. Another source has it as actually a confusion (see The Dreaded below).
  • Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better: He once met an Indian wrestler who claimed the he once did 9000 Hindu squats. Gotch decided one day to beat that, and he did, though he said it almost killed him and took over four hours. Working out was Serious Business for him indeed.
  • Arch-Enemy: Lou Thesz was considered Gotch's biggest enemy. They tended to badmouth each other, had different philosophies about pro wrestling and often clashed for them, and supposedly featured a legit shoot during a match. However, their relationship seemed to be more akin to Vitriolic Best Buds, as despite all the hate they deep down respected each other and stayed in contact and good terms (excepting the occasional public verbal brawl) until their deaths.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy:
    • He was the kind of guy who did not care about brutalizing his opponent if he felt he had to do it, especially in order to prove who was the best or to shut up an impertinent mouth. Naturally, this did not help him make friends.
  • Do Wrong, Right: After his apprentice Minoru Suzuki had his infamous match with Apollo Sugawara, where Sugawara started hitting him for real and Suzuki responded by beating Sugawara up until making him flee, Suzuki broke down backstage believing he would be blacklisted for having caused a match to be cancelled. Then Gotch came to him... to berate him for not having wrecked Sugawara enough.
  • Badass Teacher: He trained Antonio Inoki, Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Satoru Sayama, Tatsumi Fujinami, Osamu Kido, Masami Soranaka, Akira Maeda, Nobuhiko Takada, Hidetaka Aso, Caesar Takeshi, Masakatsu Funaki, Minoru Suzuki, Gene Lebell and many others. Basically anyone who has training in strong-style pro wrestling, UWF-style shoot wrestling, shootfighting, Shooto, Pancrase Hybrid Wrestling, Seikendo, Submission Arts Wrestling, shootboxing, Combat Wrestling Japan, Combat Submission Wrestling, Hayastan Grappling System, and Shinsenjutsu Japanese Fighting Arts comes from a lineage where someone has trained with Gotch.
  • Bash Brothers: With Bill Miller, Rene Goulet and Mike Dibiase. He was also friends with Boris Malenko, father of Joe and Dean Malenko and the adopted father of Carl Ognibene. Karl and Boris trained a lot of people in the Malenko's gym.
  • Bodyguarding a Badass: He cornered Antonio Inoki in his legendary fight against Muhammad Ali.
  • Boring, but Practical: The main reason he didn't succeed in the US. He was against gimmicks and theatrical elements, and his simple submission style was seen as boring by the crowd.
  • Bullying a Dragon:
    • Riki Choshu learned it the hard way when he went to United States to train with Gotch and tried to shoot on him. The German wrestler swiftly reversed the lock and held it in a neck crack until he heard his vertebrae crack. After that, it's said that Choshu got the first plane to Japan and didn't return.
    • Gotch supposedly had a reverse one in a match against Lou Thesz, in which he blocked a suplex by Thesz and broke several of his ribs, making Thesz go ballistic with him until tapping Gotch out with a wrist lock. Word of God has been inconsistent through the years about whether it was a true shoot or not; Gotch denied any claims of shoot, and while Thesz did believe that Gotch went momentarily off-script, he believed it had been just a botched attempt to show off rather than a true attempt to disrupt the match. Considering that they later worked together a lot (and badmouthed each other a lot), whatever it was, they did not care.
  • Captain Ersatz: Fire Pro Wrestling had these of him, as to be expected, along with Lou Thesz and many of Gotch's students.
  • Catchphrase: "Bulls get killed on the floor," which he uses when explaining that most submissions can only be done on the ground.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: Gotch's pehlwani training regime could make a high-level athlete throw up, but for him, it was what enabled him to do German suplexes on André the Giant.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Apparently what he had with his wife Ella.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: According to his apprentice Fujiwara, Gotch could be an exceedingly strange gentleman.
    Fujiwara: He would go to the zoo, and he would stare for hours, at like a bear or a lion, and he would ask himself why is a bear strong, why are lions strong. He would just stand and watch and think. The lion would move like this [gestures a Hindu push-up] and he would think "Ah ha, that's it." Push-up. Gotch was that kind of person.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Was described as a ripper, a wrestler who knew how to brutalize people if he wanted to. Yoshiaki Fujiwara said that techniques like fish hooks and eye gouges was part of what Gotch taught him in case of a real fight, while Minoru Suzuki remembers Gotch told him to elbow his opponent in the nose whenever he had the chance even if it was supposed to be a wrestling match.
  • Cultured Badass: He liked Miyamoto Musashi's writings.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: According to his daughter Janine Soranaka, Karl was imprisoned in Nazi work camps twice with his father in 1943 and 1944. His father, Edward, was anti-Nazi and each time they were caught, they were made to work on the railway in the camp and given very little food.
  • Defeat Means Friendship:
    • Antonio Inoki became Gotch's student after getting turned into a bloody pretzel by Karl in a live training.
    • His defeat to Bert Assirati led to their friendship. Bert was also the one who told him about the Snakepit in Wigan.
  • Don't Think, Feel: Inverted. He, like most catch wrestlers of his time, believed that wrestling is like physical chess, where you have to think moves ahead to have an advantage against opponents.
  • The Dreaded:
    • He was so strong that American wrestling promoters seldom booked him because he was difficult to control on the ring, and few could aspire to handle him if he felt like shooting on his opponent. However, despite what rumors try to make you believe, Karl is regarded as a fine worker and never went out of his way to crash a match.
    • Some people view the rumour about the challenge from Iván Gomes was a mistranslation - instead of Gotch backing out, they say it was that when Gomes heard of Gotch's reputation, Gomes backed out and this is why he accepted the invitation from Inoki to train with them.
  • Fingore: Gotch lacked the pinky of his left hand due to an accident when he was young.
  • Finishing Move: Atomic Suplex (a bridging German suplex - he innovated the "bridging" part, by the way), Gotch-Style Piledriver (a cradle piledriver) and Gotch Special (a double top wrist lock with neckscissors).
  • Force and Finesse: According to UWFI wrestlers like Yoji Anjo and Yuko Miyato, who had experience training under both Gotch and Billy Robinson, they compare as such. Gotch was the force as he focused more on conditioning and a more strength based approach to grappling (and according to Hidetaka Aso, focused more on upper body submissions), while Robinson’s teachings were the more technical and all rounded of the two.
  • Heroic BSoD: Had one after being defeated by Bert Assirati, which moved him to train even harder.
  • Heroes Love Dogs: He owned a pitbull (named Django) which he got after a suggestion from Billy Robinson. He also stated in his last will that all the money he had, with approval from his daughter, would go to pitbull rescue charities.
  • Hired Guns: It is believed that after his disastrous match against The Great Antonio in 1977, Antonio Inoki sent Gotch and Bill Miller to teach him a lesson backstage. One can guess what happened.
  • I Know Catch Wrestling: Learned at the Snakepit at Wigan, England. Also, not only he was skilled Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestler (and was a Belgian representative in the 1948 Olympics. He had competed in both the freestyle and Greco Roman styles in the light heavyweight division, eliminated in the third round of both competitions), in India he learned pehlwani, in Japan he studied judo and sumo, and it is also said he learned a bit of boxing, Sambo, savate and purring (a British sport of shin-kicking). Gene LeBell has said that Karl even went to China, though to study what is anyone's guess.
  • Instant Expert: When Gotch was invited to Masahiko Kimura's judo school, he cleaned house and made many judoka cry for mercy, so Masahiko gave him a honorary black belt.
  • Jerkass with a Heart of Gold: It was believed Gotch lacked social skills more than he possessed true malice.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Gotch moved with speed and finesse of a lightweight, but was amazingly strong.
  • Life-or-Limb Decision: A downplayed, but still quite brutal example. After he experienced a deep discomfort during training due to a bad toothache, he went to a dentist and made him pull all his teeth to avoid having toothaches in the future. Now that's living for the art.
  • The Nicknamer: He nicknamed his catch wrestling school (Riley's Gym) in Wigan, England "The Snake Pit". It eventually became so popular that the school officially renamed itself "The Snake Pit Wigan" and even now has offshoots like the UWF Snake Pit and Snake Pit USA. He also gave nicknames to people he doesn’t like, for example he refers to Antonio Inoki as "Old Shovel Face".
  • Noodle Incident: The backstage incident with Buddy Rogers on August 31, 1962 is a highly debated matter, and its details remain unknown. The known facts are that Rogers refused to have a title match against Gotch or Bill Miller, as Buddy was not a legitimate wrestler like them and feared they would attempt to shoot on him, and instead insulted them and attempted to leave. Gotch and Miller weren't amused, so they cornered and attacked him, resulting in police charges for them. There are several versions about the fight itself: Rogers claimed they punched him and broke his arm by slamming a door on it; Miller and Gotch said they only slapped him around a bit and that the whole injury was a lie; and a much more dramatic telling by Ed Garea claims that Miller blocked the locker's door while Gotch savagely hit ground and pound on Rogers on the floor for minutes. And even then, Johnny Barend's version says that the scuffle was actually three on one as Art Neilson joined the party because he hated Rogers as well, but that Rogers miraculously escaped more or less unscathed because he knew when to run.
  • No Social Skills: According to Carl Malenko, Gotch was simply not good with people. He would rather stretch them.
  • Odd Friendship:
    • Karl was close friends with Masahiko Kimura, and they used to train and spar together. An apprentice of Kimura, Kiyotaka "Hishakaku" Otsubo, would even become Gotch's training assistant. The oddity of their friendship was merely stylistic, though, as they both shared a power-based approach to grappling and a love for brutal training regimes.
    • More of an odd Master-Apprentice relationship, he had this with Masanobu Fuchi, a firm long time All Japan Pro Wrestling wrestler. Some articles also list Barry Darsow of all people as a student of his, though it is never explained to what extent their relationship was, nor did Darsow ever display anything that would indicate he was a Gotch trainee.
  • Old Master: Regarded as one by his students and generally everybody in the pro wrestling business.
  • Opposing Combat Philosophies:
    • Very much like Kimura, Gotch disliked Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and the passive nature of its strategy, comparing its practitioners to "old whores waiting for a customer." He believed if a jiu-jitsu guy had you in his guard and you didn't break his leg with a leglock, you should quit catch wrestling forever.
    • Though he knew both were necessary for a wrestler, Gotch preferred grappling over striking. He criticized his former apprentices Akira Maeda and Nobuhiko Takada for indulging too much in kicking during their matches, calling them "kick-boys". He was also involved in developing early Shooto with Sayama, but left to go train to the UWF guys feeling that there was too much stand-up fighting.
    • According to Billy Robinson, both they and other old shooters disagreed with the decision to take pinfalls out of shoot style wrestling as they believe that pins make up about 50 percent (at the least) of wrestling.
    • He once talked with Gene LeBell about gi grappling, and declared that he only put on pajamas when he went to bed.
  • Person as Verb: He has a toehold named after him by modern catch wrestlers.
  • Red Baron: "Puroresu no Kamisama" ("The God of Pro Wrestling"), "Sen no Waza o Motsu Otoko" ("The Man of 1000 Holds"), "Mukan no Teioh" ("The Crownless Emperor") and "Byo no Koroshiya" ("The Instant Killer").
  • Ring Oldies: He was active until January 1, 1982 at the age of 55.
  • Sadist Teacher: His training was wild, and many a Gotch apprentice recalls being taught 250 submissions in ten minutes or something alike.
  • Shout-Out: His ring name Gotch is seen as a tribute to another catch wrestling legend Frank Gotch. Karl himself however claims he took it from a someone on his mother’s side of the family.
  • Signature Move: He favored the ankle lock, as he believed the ankle was the most vulnerable part of the body.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Was said to be this by people who were close to him. According to Yoshiaki Fujiwara, this is because he first learnt English from navy sailors.
  • Sore Loser: When he first started training at the Snakepit in Wigan, he had no experience in submissions, as he was only an amateur wrestler. But when he lost a sparring match due to a leg submission, he asked to go again, and immediately headbutted his sparring partner, breaking the guy's nose.
  • Spell My Name with an S: He is listed on the Olympics website as "Karel Istaz".
  • Suplex Finisher: The bridging German suplex, which in his time was called the Atomic Suplex.
  • Take That!: Gotch was friends with fellow gaijin legend Billy Robinson, but according to Tatsumi Fujinami, Karl used to make his apprentices work out the German suplex on heavy bags that had photos of Robinson glued in. Whether it was just Gotch's twisted sense of humor or there was a true enmity between them is debatable. Karl mentioned once that he believed Billy was his own worst enemy, so make of that what you will.
  • ¡Three Amigos!: During a certain tour in Japan in 1971, he was once travel companions with Billy Robinson and André the Giant.
    "André the Giant has a posse, you're screwed they're catch wrestlers."
  • Training from Hell: Passed one under Billy Riley and liked to dispense another to his own trainees.
  • Ur-Example:
    • Innovated the bridging German suplex (though not the German suplex itself, which was innovated by Finnish wrestlers and introduced to pro wrestling by Lou Thesz) with the bridge techniques he learned in India.
    • Innovated the cradle piledriver, both the standard and tombstone variants. Contrary to popular belief, although the former is the one who has become truly associated to Gotch (to the point every comedy wrestler parodying strong-style will inevitably try it), he actually preferred the latter.
    • He is credited with creating the Dragon Sleeper and the Dragon Screw, made famous by his disciple Tatsumi Fujinami.
    • He is also credited with creating the Sasori-gatame used by Riki Choshu, better known as the the Sharpshooter and/or Scorpion Deathlock.
    • Some believe that it was Gotch who taught the double wrist lock to Kimura, who later popularized it as the famous Kimura hold. However, this has been proven false, as the move already existed in judo under the name of gyaku-ude-garami, and in fact Kimura used it on Hélio Gracie before he met Karl.
    • Gotch also came with the name of Pancrase, and helped Caesar Takeshi to found shootboxing and Hidetaka Aso to create Submission Arts Wrestling.
    • He also came up with the rules for Jake Shannon's Scientific Wrestling matches.
  • Use Your Head: Aside from the Sore Loser example above, he actually advised Akira Maeda to do so in his mixed styles fight with Don Nakaya Nielsen, even though it was against the rules.