“I never took one cent from a boy to show him how to wrestle; all I asked for is guts … I can make you strong, fast, agile and train you for endurance and reflex, but guts you get when you are born.” – Karl Gotch (August 3, 1924 – July 28, 2007)
Wrestling continues to evolve. Whether it be styles, personalities, a combination of moves, or whatnot, it continues to progress. However, in order for it to evolve, there needed to be men and women that paved the way. One who sets the standard for those that have achieved success today. Its growth and evolution are reflective of those that came after him.
However, those that came after have taken inspiration from those that came before them. In fact, their inspiration goes beyond simply what different names and faces did in a different time. But how they established a mindset that is reflected today. Karl Gotch is one of these trailblazers.
Much like the Hart Family Dungeon, the Snake Pit would make many a man humble and often unable to complete their training there. It was after his training in Europe that he would compete under the moniker, Karl Krauser. However, it wasn’t until he came to the United States that Karl Krauser would become Karl Gotch. This is the wrestling journey of ‘the God of Wrestling’ and Olympian Karl Gotch. At the age of 18 years of age, Gotch would join the 1948 Olympic team. He was armed with an amateur background that provided him with a solid foundation in what would become a legendary career.
Karl Gotch – The Unassuming Superhero
Every superhero has an alter ego, and much like the less assuming alter ego, Gotch would come to the ring with an unassuming quality about him. However, it wasn’t until he stepped in the ring that he would best sell his greatest attribute his, ring acumen. Much like his earlier training under Billy Riley, his amateur background in Pehlwani also helped the foundation of his wrestling.
Pehlwani is an Indian form of wrestling and a direct influence of catch wrestling. The ties to Mixed Martial Arts has also benefitted Pehlwani and thus Gotch’s overall strength. His training included Hindu press-ups and Hindu squats, building his strength and stamina.
Respect is earned and not given. For Karl Gotch, one of the few wrestlers he respected during his generation was also a ‘hooker.’ Lou Thesz earned his respect, which was reflected when Gotch lost his title to Thesz. This came after a two-year title reign. It had been noted that their similarities were tied to their background and heritage. Thesz and Gotch’s mutual respect grew into a friendship.
Whenever people ask me who the greatest grappler I ever saw was, I always tell them the same thing – Karl Gotch. I know everyone thinks the Gracies and all these other guys you see now are great. And don’t get me wrong, those guys are good. But none of them are close to Karl Gotch’s league. Lou Thesz, another old-time wrestler who was also great, first introduced me to Karl many years ago and told me Karl was the best.
What made him the best was the fact he was a sadistic bastard. And he was proud of it. He even had these certificates made up certifying other people as “sadistic bas****ds.” He only ever gave away about seven or eight of them and it was always my goal to earn one.
I’ve gotten all sorts of awards in my life…But the one certificate that’s meant something to me my whole life is that “sadistic bas****d” one that Karl gave me. – Gene LeBelle on Karl GotchWhile some thought unfavorably of Gotch, several competitors spoke highly about him as well. Much like Gene LeBelle above, ‘Nature Boy’ Roger Kirby would equally share his time working with Gotch and what he could walk away with from facing him. Gotch was as much a teacher as he was a technician, and it’s what those around him would walk away from facing that he would speak so highly about. As Gene LeBelle mentioned earlier, it was to be known as that sadistic b**tard that held more value than any title he had won. Promoters wanted to dictate to Gotch what the direction of a match would go, and he wouldn’t have it.
“He was one of the toughest guys in the world, but everybody was scared of him, and nobody wanted to work with him. Just a super, super nice guy. He was fun to workout with because I would try my best and he’d just be playing with me. … 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.” – ‘Nature Boy’ Roger Kirby on Karl Gotch
Regardless of his relationship with promoters would happen to be or the money he did or didn’t make in North America, Karl Gotch was a wrestlers wrestler. While reputation certainly means it affects potential bookings or whatnot for Gotch, if that was the key to his success, then those that came after him wouldn’t lean as much as they had to his intense training methods. Kirby acknowledges that although he was a nice guy between the ropes, it was a completely different animal. Gotch was as methodical an instructor as he was a competitor.
Karl Gotch – Kama-Sama
During his time in Japan, Gotch earned the moniker ‘Kama-Sama.’ Translated, the name suggests he is ‘the God of Wrestling’ (a term used earlier to describe him). How could he not be considered that? His longstanding ability to stretch the opposition suggests his catch style goes far beyond anything his contemporaries were doing.
In fact, the legitimacy of what Gotch was doing made him long admired because he was able to do what he could with relative ease. Stories often circulate from those that felt they could do more to Gotch than anyone else. When confronted with that notion, he would typically scoff at that idea.
Stories would circulate about Gotch, as retold by others were that those that came after him would destroy him. “If so and so faced Gotch, he’d finish him.” When Gotch would come face to face with those that would suggest such things, they would either appear nervous or uncomfortable about what was to come.
To understand just how revolutionary Gotch was is important to have it encapsulated by his contemporaries. While it could be construed that he wasn’t marketable, Gotch was a wrestlers wrestler. As retold by the late great Domenic DeNucci, he recalls Gotch when he came into California. For some, his ability to demonstrate multiple moves seemingly at once would often confuse and baffle his competition.
“He was a good wrestler; he was a shooter. But he was making five, six, seven moves at a time, including the amateur. The people didn’t understand what he was doing. He came in to San Francisco, and Roy Shire wanted to give him a shot in the main event with Ray Stevens.
Then a month later, I was coming with him, with Ray. Well, on the TV, he [Gotch] was great for me to watch, for the wrestlers to watch, but the people didn’t understand what he was doing, all the moves and everything. It didn’t catch on.” – Domenic DeNucci on Karl Gotch
In an industry where success is validated by money earned, Gotch’s skillset was priceless. The names he fought and the things he did in the ring spoke for themselves. Armed with a straight-ahead style, Gotch would demonstrate a style that would demonstrate a strength that many before and since him are able to deliver.
Gotch was often never one whose career was a paint by numbers. Often considered an ‘outsider’ to some of his peers at the time, Gotch’s ‘relationship’ with the likes of ‘Nature Boy’ Buddy Rogers reflected that. An infamous story about Gotch and Rogers was a slapping incident that took place between the two. Rogers didn’t have ‘shooters’ much like Gotch in many regards. Whereas, Gotch didn’t feel the same way about the like of wrestlers like Rogers.
“Buddy didn’t like guys with shooter reputations. He liked me because I had no axe to grind. I simply liked making money. But Buddy despised Thesz for not dropping the belt to him in the 50s, when Buddy was in better shape, and he distrusted guys like Ruffy Silverstein and Karl Gotch, whom he thought would double-cross him and make him look bad.
I can’t say I blamed him because that would hurt his earning power. I remember hearing about the fight and I remember Fred Blassie laughing as he gave me the details. Fred said that every wrestler who ever had to work with Buddy would’ve gladly paid to see that match.” – NWA Champion Dick Hutton discussing Buddy Rogers distrust of opposition such as Karl Gotch
Earlier on, Gotch shared that ‘to have guts’ is essentially an intrinsic quality. One that you can’t teach but has to come within an individual. As an individual and a performer, Gotch’s ring skill is always reflected in what he did in the ring or who he prepared to wrestle with. What isn’t discussed is that he had ‘guts’ that often was what allowed him to persevere.
It wasn’t just his technical prowess and preparation that spoke volumes but his ability to showcase a tenacious intrinsic quality that also says a lot about him. Yet, for each hold and move he applied, Gotch administered, he was able to showcase it through his intense training practices.
To be as technically sound as Gotch was also mean that it came with moves that he was credited with. A move that has in some places and sometimes been banned has been the piledriver. Whether it was the Tombstone piledriver popularized by The Undertaker or used predominantly by ‘Mr. Wonderful’ Paul Orndorff, it has been effective. While the cradle piledriver in more recent years is one that Jerry Lynn popularized during his time in ECW, Karl Gotch created the aptly named Gotch-style piledriver. It is then called the Gotch-style piledriver that is, in fact, the Cradle Piledriver. The name isn’t anything particularly fancy, but it’s certainly effective.
Fans can see as the arms of the person administering the move clutches their arms around the person receiving its leg. Again, the intent is to drive the head even further into the mat by increasing the move’s overall effectiveness.
Another move that Gotch has been tied to its innovation is the German Suplex. Although his name isn’t reflected in the move like Lou Thesz’ Press, it is where it is tied to geography. It was believed that Gotch invented the move during his time in Japan in the 1950s. The move was initially referred to as an Atomic Suplex. However, it is interesting to note that the name suggests nuclear ties.
With the country having suffered the effects of Hiroshima years earlier, it is understandable how the move’s name may not be met favorably. So while Gotch first achieved popularity in Japan, it was where he was from that those that employed him that decided to name the suplex, the German Suplex. https://www.dodwrestlepod.com/post/the-history-of-the-german-suplex
Karl Gotch – His Lasting Legacy
What could be said about Gotch that likely hasn’t been already said? For those that speak highly of him, there are those that won’t. Yet, regardless of what promoters felt of him, Gotch’s vision was always to ensure that he delivered. It wasn’t about how others were made to look. Gotch’s training is still talked about and applied to this day. His contributions to the sport has made him beloved and celebrated still to this day.
Gotch was an Olympian, Champion, trainer, friend, and foe in a career that spanned over four decades. Yet, through all it all, it is clear to see how he earned the title – God of Pro Wrestling.