Archive exhibition celebrates worldwide influence of local wrestling style

A new exhibition celebrating the history of a unique wrestling style, Catch-as-Catch-Can, has opened in Leigh town hall thanks to a £10,000 grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The exhibition tells the story of Leigh-born Billy Riley – a moulder in a foundry who would wrestle for extra money in his spare time and who went on to have worldwide influence on the sport.

Based at Archives: Wigan and Leigh, several decades of wrestling memorabilia has been preserved for years to come, thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, with some of it now on display including programmes, entry forms, posters, trophies, medals and photographs.

James Winterbottom, director of strategy and innovation at Wigan Council, said: “Billy’s story is a fascinating one and we’re really proud to be able to celebrate this unique part of Wigan Borough’s history by preserving and displaying it at the Archives: Wigan and Leigh.

“We’re proud to be able to tell Billy’s story and that of catch wrestling, which continues to have global influence.”

Riley was passionate about training the next generation and bought a plot of land in Whelley, where he and his students built a tin-roofed shack which came to be known as Riley’s Gym.

Here, Riley trained dozens of fighters who went on to have distinguished careers, including Karl Gotch, Roy Wood, and Billy Joyce.

These fighters took the style to Japan, revolutionising wrestling there.

There is now a gym in Japan called Riley’s Gym Kyoto, named in honour of catch’s roots in Wigan Borough, and wrestling events known as Muga showcased the style.

Kev Lloyd, wrestler and coach at Snakepit Wrestling who contributed to the collection, added: “I’d like to thank Archives: Wigan and Leigh and The National Lottery Heritage Fund for making this exhibition possible and preserving catch wrestling for the future.

“Billy Riley’s influence on the sport will continue to be recognised for years to come.”

Find out more at Visit Wigan.

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