His name does not conjure up a vision of greatness, but his talent in the ring, and contributions to the sport have made him an unknown legend.
Real Name: Karl Istaz
Stats: 6′ 2″ 230 lbs.
By Steve Slagle
The name Gotch means a lot to wrestling, and instantly conjures up thoughts about the legendary turn-of-the-century exploits of the original World Wrestling Champion, Frank Gotch. However, unbeknownst to most contemporary wrestling fans, there was another man who wrestled under the name Gotch, a man who is considered by many to be nearly as important and deserving of history’s praise as his more famous namesake. In Japan, Karl Gotch is held in as high esteem as Frank Gotch is in America. Likewise, his supreme wrestling skill is as legendary there as Frank Gotch’s grappling techniques are here. The main difference, though, is that in Japan, both men are revered and respected, while in America, Karl Gotch is basically unknown by the vast majority of wrestling fans. Although he may not be as famous as many of the other Hall of Famers, Karl Gotch, a technical wizard and influential champion in the early history of Japanese wrestling, is every bit as deserving. Quite simply, he helped shape our sport into what it is today, despite the lack of notoriety in the U.S.
Karl Gotch was actually born Karl Istaz, in 1924 in Hamburg, Germany. He started his career in the mid-1950’s, after being trained at “Snake Pit” Billy Riley’s Gym in Britain, and he originally used the name Karl Krauser. As Karl Krauser, he won several tournaments throughout his native Europe during the first few yeas of his career. But in 1959, when he traveled to the booming world of American pro wrestling, he was greeted by a somewhat cold reception. Istaz was a shooter, not a performer, and as a result, he was often passed over by promoters who were looking to pack the house. Unable to do interviews (due to his accent, and mild mannerisms) that intrigued the TV wrestling audience, but more than able to wrestle circles around 90% of his competition, the highly talented Krauser was used primarily as a lower-card worker. His fellow wrestlers, who were higher up “the ladder” often ducked him, as they knew that Karl Istaz was a dangerous, highly skilled grappler. Not flashy, not flamboyant…but a man who could, and occasionally did, make performance-style wrestlers look highly incompetent whenever he wished.
In 1961, in an attempt to add to his persona, Istaz began wrestling under the name Karl Gotch (in honor of the late, great World champion) and slowly began rising up in the territorial ranks. Soon after changing his ring name to Gotch, Istaz finally began enjoying some well-deserved success. He won the AWA (Ohio) Heavyweight Title in September of 1962 by defeating Don Leo Jonathon, and held the then-prestigous championship for 2 full years before being defeated by the great Lou Thesz.
It was around this time that Gotch became involved in a series of real-life altercations with NWA World Heavyweight champion “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers. Gotch claimed that a fearful Rogers was continually ducking his challenges. As the AWA (Ohio) champion, Gotch felt he was a legitimate NWA World Title contender, but Rogers continually refused to wrestle him. Rogers, on the other hand, felt Gotch (who was still far from being a “big draw”) was simply trying to make a name for himself, at the expense of his own. “The Nature Boy” was not shy about telling Gotch, and anyone else backstage, what he thought about “the shooter”. The animosity between the two eventually led to a locker room fist fight (which was initiated by Gotch) that saw “The Nature Boy” come out a beaten man. It also ended up alienating Gotch from even more promoters and fellow wrestlers.
Just prior to his altercation with Rogers, Gotch wrestled his first match in Japan, which turned out to be a 45-minute draw against established Japanese star Michiaki Yoshimura. Little did Gotch know that it would be in the land of the Rising Sun that he would achieve his greatest fame. So enamored with the talented and athletic Gotch were the Japanese, that he is, to this day, referred to as “The God of Pro Wrestling”. In addition to the influence his unique technical style generated, Gotch help shape wrestling forever through the men he trained. Where would the business of pro wrestling in Japan be, had there not been men like Antonio Inoki, Tatsumi Fujinami, Hiro Matsuda, Osamu Kido, Satoru Sayama (the legendary Tiger Mask) and Yoshiaki Fujiwara? Gotch trained them all, and many others, and instilled in them the same appreciation of wrestling skill and technique that had made him such a star in Japan. However, in America, things for Gotch were quite different. Although he was considered by many to be the “Uncrowned Champion”, Gotch had to struggle for each of the few titles he gained during his 30-year career. He teamed with “Iron” Mike Dibiase in 1967 to win the WWA World Tag Team title in Los Angeles, eventually losing the straps to Pedro Morales & Victor Rivera. His other major title victory was the WWWF World Tag Team championship, which he won with Rene Goulet on December 6, 1971. After being defeated by Baron Mikel Scicluna & King Curtis Iaukea just 3 months later, Gotch soon left the WWWF and returned to Japan for the remainder of his career.
His last major title was New Japan’s “Real” World Heavyweight Title, which he won in 1972. He spent the next several years in Japan as a premier wrestler and trainer. One of the biggest stars the island nation had ever known, he wrestled his last match on January 1, 1982 when he defeated Yoshiaki Fujiwara in Tokyo. Soon after, Gotch retired from the sport, in front of the fans that truly appreciated his talent. Through his talent, style, and influence, Karl Gotch established himself as one of the best wrestlers of his, or any, era. Despite his lack of fame and notoriety, he truly helped shape the sport into what it is today (especially in Japan) and was a genuine trend-setter, whose influence is still being felt to this day. With this in mind, The Ring Chronicle proudly inducts “The God of Pro Wrestling” Karl Gotch into TRC’s Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame…