We pressed forward to Air Canada's check-in counter, reaching it just as Gotch was reconfirming reservations for the following day. "We're from Ring Wrestling, Karl," we extended a hand, found it clasped in a firm, cordial grip. "My pleasure," Gotch smiled affably. "Come, let's get out of this crowd. Now, what can I do for you?" "As usual, Karl, we're after a story and this time, it's yours. Could you spare us some time this afternoon?" He raised his eyebrows inquisitively, contemplated our request. "I'm not much on--what is the expression?--blowing my own horn. But if you've come all this way..." He shrugged in that eloquent European way, leaving the sentence unfinished. "Let me check into my hotel," he said. "Then we can have lunch sent up to the room."
In the quiet of a hotel room, Karl was hospitality personified. Over a glass of Rhine wine, the "Quiet Man," as Gotch is known among his wrestling compatriots, began to open up. He interspersed factual information with interesting and thoughtful personal philosophies..so interesting, in fact that we decided to capture the conversation on tape. We began with some leading questions.
Ring: The first thing fans seem to notice, Karl, is the effortless fluid way you move around the mat, almost as if you'd been born in a ring. How far back does your wrestling experience go?
Gotch: Well, I started wrestling in my home town of Hamburg at the age of nine. I wrestled in school amateur leagues until I was 18, and continued for another four years in the amateur clubs in the city. Then, I decided to turn professional...and what a hard job that is!
Ring: You started as a professional in your native land, then?
Gotch: That's right. At the first, I trained under some old-time German wrestlers to learn the basics of professional grappling, and picked up a little experience working about three matches a week. After a year of this, I heard about a great wrestling school in England, in a little town just outside Manchester called Wigan. Over there every matman knows Wigan as "The Snakepit," and believe me, that's the word for it. I saved my earnings and at the first chance, struck out for England. Right in Wigan was where I learned most of what I know today, from Billy Riley and his boys...and if I could take the time, I'd go back there right now, because there's lots left to learn.
Ring: And then you continued your pro career in Britain?
Gotch: I wrestled back and forth, sometimes wrestling in four countries in five days and traveling the rest of the time. I was in bull rings in Spain, in the Royal Albert Hall in London, the Palais de Sports in Paris, and in open-air stadiums in Germany. Anywhere they could set up a ring, I went.
Ring: Our research tells us, Karl, that you were a champion even in your early ring days...
Gotch: (interrupting with a laugh) Research? Hey, where do you find these things out? Nobody over here knows them.
Ring: We maintain some pretty big files, information on wrestlers from all over the world. At any rate, Karl, what enabled you to reach such a pinnacle of success so early in life?
Gotch: I give any credit for success to Billy Riley, the "Old Master" at Wigan. What a fantastic man? When Riley trained you, you learned to wrestle in the strictest sense of the word. You learned the basic moves first-really learned them-and then refined them. Nothing was neglected! When a man left Wigan, he took with him the imparted knowledge of Riley's thousands of matches and years of training. that priceless knowledge gained for me the German Heavyweight Title, and finally the championship of Europe...as you seem to know!
Ring: You referred to Wigan as "The Snakepit" a moment ago, Karl. What's the story behind that? There must be one.
Gotch: Well, you know what a snakepit is...a dangerous place! And that's just what Wigan is if you can't take care of yourself. Billy Riley has no time for a man with no guts, to put it bluntly, so his training is on a 'kill or be killed' basis. In other words, you smarten up fast at Wigan and learn to defend yourself against any attack on the mat.
Ring: That European title would put you in main events all over the continent, in London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna. what made you leave a ready-made success like that and come over to North America, where you had hardly been heard of?
Gotch: You might think it was the stories of big money over here, right? I hate to disappoint you, but no, that was only a small part of it. You see, my idea of true happiness and fulfillment as a wrestler just didn't work out with the way European promotions are organized. In England, for instance--which is still the greatest wrestling country in the world, in my opinion--the season only extends from September to March. In Germany and Austria, there are matches all year round, but they have mostly tournaments and so you have to stay in one city all the time. With this situation, advancement is slowed down and chances of meeting great wrestlers are fewer. But in America there are 50 big states, with no borders, no language barriers. You travel freely from one state to another, and it's easy to cross into Canada. this makes it easier for a wrestler to move around, to wrestle the best men--and most important, to wrestle all the time. You know, I love my work. I would wrestle for nothing if I had to! So, I say wrestling against the very best competition is the big advantage of being in America.
Ring: an amazing viewpoint, Karl. We've met few wrestlers so devoted to their sport. Tell us, how does the talent here compare with the men you've wrestled in Continental rings?
Gotch: The best competition in the world is here in America, and there's a very simple reason for that: wrestlers come here from all over the world, and stay here. In Europe, you sit in the dressing rooms and hear the men say, "I wish I could go to the United States and wrestle." Some of them come eventually, and the top ones stay here. It must be the same in every country where there is wrestling.
Ring: How would you rate former six-time heavyweight champion Lou Thesz, as compared to some of the men active in Europe?
Gotch: You know, there's an old saying: There can be many princes but only one king. To me, the king always will be Thesz, so long as there is wrestling on this earth. That old fox knows every trick, every move, and he keeps himself in the best of shape all the time. People think, you know, that Thesz has a few too many years on his back. But they should remember that Lou started when he was just 17. A wrestler's prime years are between 35 and 45., and Thesz is much closer to the last figure. But nature is very kind to some people, and they can carry on even further than that.
Ring: Several sports authorities have noted a great similarity between your style and Thesz'. do you see any similarity, Karl?
Ring: Karl, your well-known finishing hold, the "Atomic Suplex," is very similar to Thesz' Greco-Roman backdrop. How did the Suplex originate?
Gotch: Yes the two are very similar...and I think that again it traces back to our training with the old-timers. The Suplex began about 150 years ago, and it was invented by the Finns. That's why it is called in German, to translate exactly, 'Finish Overthrow.' The object of the two holds is the same, to crash your opponent over backward and stun him by driving his head into the mat. In doing both holds, you have to pick the split second that your man is slightly off balance, then heave him over backwards. Thesz uses the backdrop as a softening-up hold, then pins his man with a half press. With the Suplex, I shoulder-stand my opponent for the pin. But either way, you know, it does a very good job.
Ring: Agreed, Karl. Your neck and shoulder development is fantastic. You must invest a lot of time conditioning for that terrific bridge the Suplex requires.
Gotch: You bet I do! Among the men, I have a reputation for being 'gym crazy'...but I'd rather spend hours there than go into the ring in poor shape. Look at all your headliners, Gene Kiniski, Verne Gagne, Bruno Sammartino and the rest. The top men are the ones who keep themselves in the pink of condition every day of the year, right?
Ring: On that we have to agree, Karl, and we think you're a prime example of a well-trained wrestler. Suppose you were in the gym right now. What exercise would you stress for maximum condition?
Gotch: First, I'm no advocate of weight-lifting for wrestlers. Very early in my career, I met a Hindu wrestler who showed me exercises with a 3000-year history of success--Hindu squats and tiger-bend push-ups, the most difficult kind. Today, in the gym, I would do about 300 squats and maybe 75 or 100 push-ups...about a third of what I started out doing, when I first learned them. then I'd finish up with front and back bridges and abdominal exercises--sit-ups and throwing the medicine ball.
Ring: It seems that many modern wrestlers have cut out gym work, and have relied on their arena matches to keep them at a peak. Do you feel you could do this and keep in top physical form?
Gotch: Definitely not, and I'll tell you something! Those men only seem to be in good shape. Put them in the ring for an hour, and you'll see them fade after half the match is gone. A man who neglects gym work is a man who is off balance and without the greatest weapon he can have on the mat--condition. Sooner or later, his neglect catches up with him. You can only abuse nature for so long, and then you fold up and you're finished. And here's another thing...you don't see British wrestlers anywhere but in the gym. It's the American boys who rely on the arena matches to keep fit. Not all of them, but certainly a greater percentage than in Britain or Europe.
Ring: This brings up an inevitable comparison, Karl. Do you feel that American wrestlers compare favorably to British mat-men, who have a reputation for being among the best-conditioned athletes in the world?
Gotch: the British are superbly conditioned, there's no doubt about that. And I would have to say that they are, as a group, in much better shape than the American boys. And another thing, you'll find that the British stick more to wrestling...they move over the mat a lot, instead of getting airborne like so many of the men over here do. In America, the styles are spiced up because the public demands a show for their money...but American wrestlers are a tough bunch!
Ring: Let's suppose a gigantic international tournament were held, with a top team of British heavyweights competing against a comparable American team. How do you see the results?
Gotch: To tell you the truth, the British would do very well. In America, with the many hundreds of wrestlers from all over the world, you get top competition all the time. but I know that a British team with members like Billy Joyce, Bill Robinson, Bruno Elrington and George Gordienko--who, incidentally, is a Canadian but who has wrestled in Europe for quite a few years now--would hand out very, very hard opposition. They could even come out the over-all winners.
Ring: That's a tournament we'd love to see, Karl, and we'd like nothing better than to see you on the American team along with Sammartino, Kiniski and Gagne, to name just a few.
Gotch: I wouldn't be on any other team but America's...you know last March marked the most important date in my life. It was the date that I was in the States for eight years, and became an American citizen. Now that I've done that, there's just one more goal in my life, and that is the world title.
End of article
Ring Wrestling Magazine
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