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Octopus wrestling shows sports do die – but mainly ones that deserve to | Andy Bull

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So many sports claim to be endangered but some really are. Remember ski ballet?

Gary Keffler, three times the world champion, may be the last of the great competitive octopus wrestlers. Keffler is 84 now and it has been more than 50 years since he fought, but octopus wrestling is not something you forget how to do. The biggest he ever grappled was 21ft long. But that was a stunt for Lloyd Bridges’ old TV show Sea Hunt; most of his opponents were just under half that, maybe eight, nine or 10ft long, and around 50lb, “no bones, all gristle”. The secret, Keffler said, is to make sure you “grab them right where the tentacles meet the head” and “don’t let it get a hold of your arm or leg because they’ll try and bite you with their beak”.

The old octopus wrestling grounds in Puget Sound have been shut down now. The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission tightened the law in the 1970s, when they limited the catch to one a day, and then again in 2013, when they outlawed it altogether along large stretches of the coast. Keffler changed his mind, and a lot of others too, about the cruelty of it when he worked on the TV show Octopus, Octopus with Jacques Cousteau, released in 1971. But back in the 50s and 60s, before anyone really understood how intelligent and complex octopuses are, the World Octopus Wrestling Championships at Titlow Beach used to draw quite a crowd.

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