Ad Santel

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Ad Santel
Ad Santel.jpg
Birth nameAdolph Ernst
Born(1887-04-07)April 7, 1887
Dresden, Germany
DiedNovember 10, 1966(1966-11-10) (aged 79)
Alameda, California, U.S.
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s)Al Santel
Otto Carpenter
Mysterious Carpenter
Adolph Ernst
Billed height5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)
Billed weight185 lb (84 kg)

Adolph Ernst (April 7, 1887 – November 10, 1966), better known for his ring name Ad Santel, was a German-American professional wrestler, considered one of the greatest practitioners of catch wrestling ever. He is also considered to be one of the first mixed martial artists of the modern era due to his feud with the Kodokan judo school. He was a former World Light Heavyweight Champion and held the title for many years.


Rivalry with the Kodokan[edit]

Ad Santel fought one of the early clash-of-the-styles matches in modern martial arts history against Tokugoro Ito, a 5th degree black belt in judo from Japan. Fighting under judo rules, which he knew thanks to a previous match against jujutsu specialist Senryuken Noguchi, Santel defeated Ito when a slamming takedown rendered the judoka unable to continue, and then proclaimed himself the World Judo Champion.[1][2] Tokugoro Ito went on to avenge the loss a few months later on June 10, 1916, by defeating Santel with a choke hold, becoming the first and last judoka to ever defeat Santel.[1][3]

In October 1914, Santel came to Seattle and challenged resident jujutsu master Taro Miyake of the Seibukan school in Osaka, who Santel had already met in a draw. Santel won with such a powerful half nelson slam that Miyake remained dizzy for half an hour after the match.[1][2] Seeing this as a new offense, judo founder Jigoro Kano sent 5th degree black belt Daisuke Sakai to avenge his defeat, but Santel again got over him,[2] submitting Sakai twice with a biceps slicer.[1]

As the Kodokan school did not send more challengers, Santel decided to travel to Japan to challenge them in their own ground. He assembled a team with fellow wrestlers Henry Weber and Manjiro "Matty" Matsuda, the latter being a judo black belt who had turned to catch wrestling years before.[4][5] Their travel was possible thanks to Kodokan member Heita Okabe, who helped to host a series of matches between Ad's team and the Kodokan.[6] Though Kano refused to sanction the event and threatened his students with expulsion if they fought, six of them accepted the challenge nonetheless, among them 5th degree black belts Hikoo Shoji and Reijiro Nakata. It was decided the bouts would be contested under neutral rules that demanded judogi jackets yet allowed all sorts of holds.[2] In front of a crowd of 10.000 at the Yasukuni shrine, Santel defeated Nagata by TKO after a devastating headlock, and the next day he had a 60 minutes draw with Shoji, who left the mat so battered that Santel himself had to help him out of the arena.[1][2] Later Santel would defeat another judoka, Hitoshi Shimizu, to avenge Shimizu's victory over Weber.[5]

The impact of these performances on Japan was immense. The Japanese were fascinated by the submissions taught in catch wrestling, and Japanese fighters traveled to Europe in order to either participate in various tournaments or to learn catch wrestling at European schools such as Billy Riley's Snake Pit in Wigan, UK.[7] Okabe and the judo challengers were effectively expelled from Kodokan, but some of them followed Santel to the United States to train with him, among them Hikoo Shoji, who became a freestyle wrestling pioneer in Japan.[1]

In 1925, Santel faced a new judoka, this time Tsutao Higami, a 165-pound lighter but highly renowned groundwork expert who had trained under Ito and Miyake.[8] The match had two falls as in professional wrestling and was refereed by judoka Hiroshi Kitayama. Santel won the first fall, scoring a takedown and transitioning into a neckscissors hold that choked Higami out.[8] After being revived, Higami proceeded to win the second fall, going through a back and forth round and locking a juji-gatame which Kitayama called on his favor. With the two falls evenly scored, the match ended in a draw, although Higami decided to learn professional wrestling himself shortly after.[8][9] In 1926, Santel would face Setsuzo Ota, drawing again.[10]

Late career[edit]

Years after the famous 1911 match between Frank Gotch and Georg Hackenschmidt, Santel told Lou Thesz that he was paid $5,000 by Gotch's backers to cripple Hackenschmidt in training, and make it look like an accident.[11] According to Hackenschmidt himself, the injury was accidentally inflicted by his sparring partner, Dr. Roller, when trying to hold Hackenschmidt down onto his knees and Roller's right foot striking Hackenschmidt's right knee; his sparring partners were Jacobus Koch, Wladek Zbyszko and Dr. Roller. Ad Santel is not mentioned in any account of Hackenschmidt's training by either Hackenschmidt or Roller, both of whom offered their insights and accounts.[12] However, Ad Santel was Hackenschmidt's head trainer and sparring partner using his real name of Adolph Ernst for about a year prior and right up until the 2nd Gotch match when he was replaced with Dr Roller. Ernst was listed in almost every newspaper story on Hackenschmidt in the months prior to the Gotch rematch. It's believed Hackenshmidt put out the Roller story in hopes of Gotch and Burns refusing to pay Santel.[13]

Ad Santel's professional wrestling career took him all throughout the world, wrestling some of the top wrestlers of the 1910s, '20s and '30s including Joe Stecher,[14] Gus Sonnenberg,[15] John Pesek[16] and Dick Daviscourt.[17] In 1922, Santel lost his World Light Heavyweight Championship to Gobar Goho of Calcutta (now Kolkata), India in San Francisco.[18]

Santel, along with George Tragos, Ray Steele and Ed Lewis, trained Lou Thesz in the art of catch wrestling. Thesz studied under Santel for six intensive months and, throughout his career, continued to train under him whenever he was in the California area. Thesz considered his training with the German to be an "incredible gift".[19][20]

Career highlights[edit]

  • Won over Senryuken Noguchi in San Francisco, California, on November 30, 1915
  • Won over Tokugoro Ito in San Francisco, California, on February 5, 1916 (KO from takedown)
  • Lost to Tokugoro Ito in San Francisco, California, on June 10, 1916 (submission from choke)
  • Lost to Joe Stecher in San Francisco, California, on February 22, 1917
  • Won over Taro Miyake in Seattle, Washington, on October 20, 1917 (KO from Half nelson slam)
  • Won over Daisuke Sakai in Seattle, Washington, on September 2, 1917 (submission from biceps slicer)
  • Won over Reijiro Nagata in Tokyo, Japan on March 5, 1921 (TKO from headlock)
  • Drew with Hikoo Shoji in Tokyo, Japan on March 6, 1921
  • Won over Hitoshi Shimizu in Nagoya, Japan on March 1921
  • Lost to Gobar Goho in San Francisco, California, on August 30, 1921
  • Drew with Tsutao Higami in Big Island, Virginia, on July 4, 1925
  • Drew with Setsuzo Oza in Los Angeles, California, on January 27, 1926
  • Lost to Ed "The Strangler" Lewis in Oakland, California, on April 28, 1933
  • Drew with Oki Shikina in Los Angeles, California, on May 17, 1933
  • Won over Kinata Kitahata in Los Angeles, California, on September 11, 1933

Championships and accomplishments[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Jordan Breen, Ad-Santel and Catching Our History,
  2. ^ a b c d e Nate Wilcox, Really Old School: Catch Wrestling vs Judo 1921,
  3. ^ "Ito threw Santell (sic) around the ring like a bag of sawdust… When Ad gasped for air, the Japanese pounced upon him like a leopard and applied the strangle hold. Santell gave a couple of gurgles, turned black in the face and thumped the floor, signifying he had enough." -- Howard Angus, Los Angeles Times, 1 February 1917
  4. ^ Hayward Nishioka, Judo's Forgotten Pioneer, Black belt magazine, May 1971
  5. ^ a b John S. Nash, The Forgotten Golden Age of MMA – Part IV: Ultimate Fighting of the Belle Époque
  6. ^ Raul Sanchez Garcia, The Historical Sociology of Japanese Martial Arts
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-06-13. Retrieved 2010-07-25.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ a b c Thomas H. Makiyama, Rubberman meets a giant: Hawaiian Recalls Gattle between Giant Grappler and Tiny Judoman, Black Belt magazine, September 1967
  9. ^ Tsutao “Rubberman” Higami
  10. ^ On the Defeat of Tokugoro Ito in North America
  11. ^ Thesz, Lou, & Kit Bauman, Mike Chapman, Editor, Hooker, The Authentic Wrestler's Adventures Inside the Bizarre World of Professional Wrestling (Wrestling Channel Press, 1995-2000), p. 67
  12. ^ Fleischer, Nat, From Milo to Londos (The Ring, Inc., 1936), p. 122-24.
  13. ^ 1911-1-17 Washington Times 1911-1-18 Yakima Herald times 1911-2-6 RI Argus 1911-8-23 Bridgeport Evening Farmer 1911-9-3 The Richmond Times-Dispatch 1912-1-6 Topeka State Journal
  14. ^ "Stecher Wins in Straight Falls". Classic Wrestling Articles. Retrieved 30 August 2015.
  15. ^ "Ad Santel Meets Sonnenberg Tues". Classic Wrestling Articles. Retrieved 30 August 2015.
  16. ^ "Santel v. Pesek". Classic Wrestling Articles. Retrieved 30 August 2015.
  17. ^ "Santel Takes Deciding Fall in Hot Match". Classic Wrestling Articles. Retrieved 30 August 2015.
  18. ^ "Wrestling History". Pro Wrestling Illustrated. 2013.
  19. ^ "Lou Thesz". National Wrestling Hall of Fame. Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  20. ^ Kenyon, Lou Thesz with Kit Bauman ; edited by J. Michael (2011). Hooker (3rd ed.). Gallatin, Tenn.: Crowbar Press. ISBN 978-0-9844090-4-4.

External links[edit]