Karl Gotch & Jake Shannon Chat (10/31/04) Part One

Jake Shannon - February 23, 2017
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KG: Well, you see the thing is the truth of the matter is this: It started in Lancashire, like I told you. And then, there was the Freestyle. You had more like that, but there was more in Cumberland, Yorkshire and Devonshire style. But I had a friend that was a champion in it, you know the…

JS: In what? The Devonshire?

KG: Yes.

JS: Wow.

KG: You know, Francis St. Clair-Gregory. He was a top rugby player in a jacket. So, you know, he was very, very good on his throws. And then you have to think the Lancashire catch. From there, they brought them all to America with other things, too, and the toughest guys in the world were right here. Here is where it started. They had the English from the time, you know, that were here from English colonies before.

JS: Here, in the states, you mean.

KG: Yes. And then with all the different nationalities, they made their own style, what they called American -- not Lancashire Catch -- but American Catch-as-Catch-Can. So it was all the influence of all the different styles. So, they had tough guys. And then the promoters -- you know at that time when I talked with some of the old timers in the beginning. See, the wrestlers, they worked out in the summer and they traveled all winter from town to town.

JS: Taking bets and things.

KG: Then they promoted their own shows.

JS: I see. There were shows.

KG: So, they go and went somewhere and they shopped. They knew what was the best. But still they tried it. So, like in boxing. You never know. But they looked for a guy to promote the deal for them. And from the house, you know what came in the house, they gave them 30%, but he had to pay the arena, the advertisement and everything that's needed. They're taking care of the chairs, the ushers and everything.

JS: The promoter had to pay that.

KG: Yes. It came out to 30%.

JS: Oh, no, really?

KG: Oh, yeah.

JS: So, they really didn't get 30%, then. They got whatever …

KG: They got 30%, but they had to pay all the expenses. So, the wrestler got 70% in the olden days. And they'd divided it up between them …

JS: Wow …

KG: … according to the top of the...The top of ability, you should say. Like the champions, you got so much. And you go on down the line. But then later on, the promoters -- they saw that there was money to be made in these deals. So, they connived and told them that they got the control.

First of all, they then got rid of all the tough guys and they blackballed them. So, the other guy that filled in. But the ones that they were working then -- but still, they were wrestlers. So, when they had to do something, they said, "Piss on this and that. Not gonna to do that." You know, they still had their pride. Then the promoter got rid of them, too, and he took. And that was the end of the art, because all you had then you knew was strictly worthless.

JS: Right.

KG: And nobody could say nothing. You know, when I came here, there was here and there a guy that did some college wrestling and so, but there was no more old pros. None of there were left. And then they told us that that college guys was tough and I laughed with them. I said, "Yeah, there's two things. You've got Greco, you've got Freestyle and then you've got Catch professional." And he stops them all up. So lucky that I went but I got blackballed for that, too. I never lost a fight, but I never won nothing that meant anything, either.

JS: I've always been curious. I have the utmost respect for Mr. Thesz, but everybody was always saying he was such a tough guy and stuff but…

I've never heard of him actually going live with anybody. Now, granted I heard that he trained with Ad Santel, who is a legitimate tough guy, from what I understand.

KG: He didn't train with Ad Santel.

JS: He didn't train with him?

KG: No. Santel was up in California. His real name is Adolph Ernst.

JS: Yes.

KG: He's German, too.

JS: Yes, that's right.

KG: Because it was usually mostly old German descent and then some because they go for that stuff. In Germany, Wrestling was always real big. So, here in America, Boxing was the number one thing later. In the beginning, it was even. So, Ad Santel was only a light heavyweight, though. He worked out with Lewis, but what he did -- he kept himself in shape. Thesz was a very good handball player on the course.

JS: Ed Lewis was the real deal, though, right?

KG: Yes, he was.

JS: He was a tough guy.

KG: Yeah. There was a guy that was as good as him …

JS: He was a German, too.

KG: Yeah. But the other guy -- Mondt. He was German, too.

JS: Who?

KG: Toots Mondt.

JS: Oh, Toots Mondt. Yes.

KG: He was as stubborn as Lewis.

JS: He's from Colorado. That's where I'm from, originally. That's how I know of him.

KG: And he was as stubborn as Lewis. But he didn't care. But he was a hell of a fanatic and fanatical for matches and so, you know?

JS: Yes, because it was like Toots Mondt and Ed Lewis and who was the other one? It was the Gold Dust Trio, right? Was it Sandow?

KG: Sandow. Yeah. Billy Sandow.

JS: Yeah. Right.

KG: That was a promoter.

JS: Your history, like your development as a Wrestler, you started wrestling back in the day on the grass, like you were telling me…

KG: Before that, I was amateur. I was in bouts with the amateurs.

JS: This was in London, right? Was this in London?

KG: Up in Wigan.

JS: In Wigan. That's right.

KG: That's where they did that. But I came on the tail end of that, and it died out because, like I told you before, you had the Sundays. It was all there. They used to go around, and go in the taverns. The pubs, as they'd call them. Is there anybody here want to wrestle you? Put your money out. What do you make here for good wages in a week? How much would you make now in a week for good wages?

JS: I don't know.

KG: You know like for a few drinks…

JS: Maybe $500 a week or something.

KG: Well, you could make $500-600. Then you'd come up. Two weeks' wages. Two weeks are like that. You'd come up with say, $1,500 or $2,000 …

JS: Wow.

KG: … and you'd say, "Come on." But that's your money.

JS: So, it was kind of a big deal. People were really putting a lot of money for what they were earning.

KG: You put up your own money. Say, I'm wrestling you. I'm coming there. Again, there's this guy that makes the dime. You say, "Okay. I want to wrestle next Sunday." What do you want? How much time? One or two falls? How much aside? And then you take sides with the people who came to see you sometime. They'd pay like two to five bucks to watch it just from the grass. Normally they'd throw that in the hat because you didn't charge. But you've got side pay from the other guys. When everything was in, you went there and you wrestled.

JS: Wow. Oh, man.

KG: It was just on the grass. Like if they picked you.. the first time I did it, you had long tights on because the grass is itchy. So, you put like kind of a wintergreen on it. When I first walked up, I said, "What the hell is this?" He said, "Watch it. You'll go crazy from the itch."

JS: Wow. You'd think they were crazy for wearing that heavy gear.

KG: No, no. It's a thing that they put on. The wintergreen.

JS: What do you mean by wintergreen? What is that? Like long johns and stuff?

KG: No, no, no. Wintergreen is like a kind of the thing that you rub all in you.

JS: Oh, it's like a salve.

KG: No, no. That's like a liquid, you know, but it burns.

JS: Oh. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

KG: It's to keep the itch off your body and the long tights. Well, everybody wrestled in those times in long tights. During that time. They had no shorts.

JS: So, you started kind of on the tail end of that.

KG: If you were to have seen Wigan, you would have said, "What the hell is this?" We worked out on the grass. The winter's always bad, you know, in England. A lot of rain. It was like a little wooden shack. And in the beginning, before I started there, they added some more towels and some old blankets and stuff, so then they changed it around. They had the war trucks. You know? In the war, the trucks? And when you sat in the driver's seat, how you'd bump your head. That was in the rain, too. They had kind of a foam in there.

So, we got in there -- but boy that was before me. And they'd go through the shop yard, if you know what it is, and they'd ask you if they could take it out. So, they put that all together in a frame and that's it. They put the canvass over it and that's the mats we had. We had a good mat.

JS: Wow.

KG: A little shower on the side and that was it. Then you'd hang your clothes on the nail.

JS: The thing I love about that is when I came out to California to first start up my wrestling club out here, I had no money. So we just would do that. We'd go out on the grass and wrestle. And it seems so much more -- I don't know -- it seems more practical. Because if you look at wrestling, maybe as a form of self-defense, too, if you're out somewhere and somebody decides to test you …

KG: You're not stepping on the mat, is what it is.

JS: And you don't have your knee pads. It's a little more -- I don't know -- maybe more real or whatever. Wow, that's great. Then how did you get from Billy Riley's gym and working out with those guys? Because then you went on and wrestled for the Olympics, right?

KG: No. It was after that I went. When I was in the old country, I started when I was about 10 years old.

JS: Oh, I see. Okay.

KG: I did some boxing, too, because my father liked boxing. I was nine, and I knew a guy that was a lightweight champion who was a friend of my father's. But my father always went when it was the only time that my mother wasn't, because, "He's already not good looking. I don't want him being nuts, too."

JS: I'm glad that you didn't take up boxing, because I talked to an elder boxer today. When I talked to an elder wrestler, I can at least understand the wrestler. The elder boxer is going to have a little bit of brain damage.

KG: See, the thing is boxing -- what's bad about it is the gloves. You know that, don't you?

JS: Because you actually take more hits, because your hand can withstand the damage more.

KG: No, because it damages more -- the contact from a glove compared to a bare fist is worse.

JS: Why? Because if you get hit with a bare fist, you'll get cut and the fight is over, right?

KG: No. Not that. Because you know, they didn't get cut that easy. It doesn't do the damage like a glove does …

JS: Really …

KG: On your brain and everything. Yeah. That's what I found out later.

JS: So, um…And where was this? Are you Hungarian? Is that right?

KG: I am half Hungary, half German.

JS: Right. Because we've talked about Germany a lot in the past. Then when you were wrestling and you got onto the Olympic team and wrestled …

KG: I was raised in Antwerp, the Flemish part of Belgium …

JS: In Belgium, yes.

KG: It's just like a German language. You know, Flemish? And 100 percent in Belgium. And after I did that, I was already twelve times national champion. I could win it with my eyes closed …

JS: Now, was this a Greco-Roman style, or was this …

KG: Greco and Freestyle …

JS: And Freestyle. OK. Great.

KG: I won six years in a row the both styles.

JS: Wow…

KG: …so when I came in at the end, nobody would even wrestle me because they had no chance. So, for a while I was outstanding. So what? You know. All that and a quarter buys you a cup of coffee. They said, "You go to the next Olympics. You'll get a chance to win." Because I went for the experience the first time. In 1948, I didn't have it. But I was married then in '50. I had a child. Was out of work.

JS: And you had to make some money.

KG: I needed money. Then they asked me if I wanted to turn pro. They wanted me to turn pro all the time, but they were after me. I didn't like that, but when I did it, and the first match I did, what I used to make if I worked all week at the shipyard where they paid the highest money -- like as a longshoreman or ship repairs -- you work in the town. The wages were lower, there, see. You don't make it. So even there, for a 15-minute match… We did wrestle a little more. It was work. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying I'm shooting. It was work, but it looked more convincing, more real than the bullshit that they do now.

JS: Oh, geez. I can't even watch it nowadays, it's so ridiculous.

KG: It's sickening. Those guys are all blown up on steroids, and when they talk, they talk to a five-year-old child and make more sense. When I got paid off after that first match, I was maybe 15 [or] 17 minutes that I did and I had more money in my hand from the payoff and it wasn't taxable because it was after hours. I worked three weeks, day after day, and then at the shipyard. That made me say, "Hey. Why not?"

JS: And if you have a wife and a child, that's the responsible thing to do.

KG: So, then I heard about Wigan and I went there. Like I said, I came in on the tail end there, too. And there was two clubs. Everybody talks about Billy Riley …

JS: But you were talking about Charnock. Pop Charnock.

KG: He was the original. He was the one that taught Riley.

JS: He was from Ireland, right?

KG: They're Irish descent. They were born and raised in England. Just like you over here, but they're Irish. Because all the hard work -- it's all ironmongers and coal miners there in Wigan. You know that. And they're all done by the Irish. They're hard workers. So, Charnock liked me, and Riley -- I never got along with Riley, God rest his soul. But you know me. The truth's the truth, right?

JS: It's not popular, but you've got to do it.

KG: So, I'd talk with Charnock, you know, too. They had another club there, and there were three brothers there. And they were very good, too. And they were Irish, too. Belshaw. One was like a lightweight, a middleweight, and a light heavyweight. Three brothers. It was Cliff, Jack and Arthur. And there wasn't like the competition there that was … Well, I stood out because I was real big for my competitors, because they're not so big, those guys.

JS: Oh, yeah. If you have German in you, you're going to be a big guy.

KG: And I was like 6'3 and 245 pounds…

JS: Oh, wow.

KG: And there was no fat. So, I could hardly get any matches. Then when I was working pro, I spent most of my time in Wigan. Trained there and learned from the guys. What I didn't know -- what they didn't have, but I heard from before -- certain Toeholds and so. I was constantly in the gym. And when a guy met me on the street, they would walk around the bar because, "Hey, you got a minute?" I was always thinking about how am I going to do [that] with him? How would I do with him?

Because wrestling has got nothing to do with strength. Your best hold in wrestling is condition. If you have no condition, you've got nothing. Because, you see, so you train for those three things. And then the knowledge comes in, because if you've got all the knowledge in the world, you've got no stamina and you're not on the ball. You can't work out. And just like you got a car. No matter how good the car is …

JS: If there's no gas in the tank, huh?

KG: No. No matter how good the technology [and the mechanic everything], but there's no gas, no oil, no water -- it's not going to run. It's the same for a wrestler. Like I went here one time and the guy tells me, "Oh, yes." He came to treat me and I said, "Okay. I can't help it." He was like with all those -- it was like all-season -- all the coaches were there for all the different high schools. So, I was just watching. I looked at him. "Eh, you guys got the wrong idea." He said, "What?" I said, "Before you do anything, your best hold, like I just told you, is condition. Squats, push-ups and bridges."

JS: What is it that you always say about the bridge? What is that?

KG: Victory goes over the bridge.

JS: Yeah. Victory goes over a bridge.

KG: That's what we used to say in Germany. I'll tell you now, that's the thing with the bridge. Another guy said, "What do you mean?" So, I still went to show him before my operation a little bit. Now with the two hip replacements…

JS: Oh, yeah.

KG: That's the end of the line, too. So, I still work out every day, but I do what I can.

JS: You still work out now, right?

KG: Oh yeah, every day. When I get up in the morning, that's the first thing I do is spend about 45 minutes or an hour. Then I eat. It's not easy. You got that. If you ain't got that… If I couldn't work out, you wouldn't be around me because I'd be the most miserable son of a bitch in the world.

JS: I understand. If I go like two or three days without working out… Like most people feel weird, I guess, if they're in the gym. And I feel weird if I'm not exercising somehow. That's great. So, let me ask you something. The Japanese -- they love you so much. How do you explain that? What's the history there? Because you are the God, right? Kami-sama.

KG: Well, the thing was I went to Japan, the first time. The first time I went there, Bill Miller … You must know him. Big Bill Miller? He was a Big-10 champion …

JS: Sure…

KG: They called him the Golden Boy. He could do… But athletics, he was good, too. Anyway, he was good at football. Football, he was like a top man, I think. I don't know, because I don't know American football. I think he was a high backer or something.

JS: Yeah, I'm not sure.

KG: But as you know, I don't know what it means. He played for Ohio State and he was a tough football player and he was a Big-10 champ, too.

JS: Big-10.

KG: So, he was too big. To him, we met and he came. He said, "I want to work out." I said, "What the fuck?" Because he lived in Reynoldsburg and I emigrated here and he lived there, too, just outside Columbus.

JS: I see.

KG: In Ohio. So, I said, "You get yourself in shape. I heard your knee's bad." So I took him to work out. There was a woods that were close by. Again, waited for about a few weeks. I said, "Come on. I think you're okay now. Let's go." We were on the mat for about three or four minutes and he stopped. He said, "I have wrestled a lot of guys and I've been everywhere. You're not a wrestler. You're a murderer." He said, "Forget it." So he took me and he told everybody about me. He was booked for Japan for Rikidozan at that time.

JS: He was a big guy, right? Like 6 foot, 235.

KG: Oh, yes. A very big guy. He was about 6'7 and 300 pound.

JS: Wow.

KG: And you know, big Don Leo Jonathan? He was as big as him. He was more agile. But Bill was strong and fast. Well, he trained for everything. He was a good sportsman.

JS: Good athlete.

KG: He took me to Japan. We asked. They wanted him to come. He said, "I'll come if I can get my buddy with me." So we went to Japan. When I stepped off the plane, oh, the people. There was like a sea of people…

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