As of the time of writing this article, six out of seven men’s UFC champions have a wrestling background. As time goes by, it is becoming clear that wrestling is the number one martial art that serves as a base for MMA. The better wrestler dictates where the fights take place and control the pace of the fight. Be it with takedowns, or maintenance of the top control when on the ground. Single legs, double legs, clinching, they are all allowed inside the Octagon. So, one can ask a question, which wrestling style is best for MMA?
Both Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling are excellent wrestling styles for MMA. Although it could be said that freestyle wrestling is better because its takedowns transition well into MMA, there are also very strong arguments that give the edge to Greco-Roman style because of the clinching aspect and posture of fighters.
It is very hard to unanimously say which wrestling style is better for mixed martial artists. As we have said earlier, people usually say that the answer is very simple – freestyle wrestling is better because it allows shooting for the legs which transition very well in MMA. On the other hand, the argument of clinching usually isn’t enough for people to favor Greco-Roman style, but, as we will see later in the article, the posture of the fighters might come into the conversation.
Breakdown of Wrestling Styles
For a quick introduction, we will give a brief overview and differences between Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling. We will mention collegiate (folkstyle) wrestling also, but in this article, we will not take the likes of folk wrestling, jacket wrestling, or even Sambo in consideration.
Greco-Roman wrestling is a style of wrestling that forbids holds below the waist, which is the major difference from freestyle wrestling. This restriction results in an emphasis on throws because a wrestler cannot use trips to take an opponent to the ground or avoid throws by hooking or grabbing the opponent’s leg.
Unlike Greco-Roman, freestyle wrestling allows the use of the wrestler’s or the opponent’s legs in offense and defense. Freestyle wrestlers can use a double leg or single leg takedown to pin the opponent to the mat.
Although freestyle wrestling and collegiate (folkstyle) wrestling are very similar (both allow the use of legs), there are some differences. In collegiate wrestling, great emphasis is placed on one wrestler’s control of the opponent on the mat, usually by controlling the opponent’s legs or torso. That specific thing is something that might transition well to MMA, as it is a good base for controlling your opponent on the ground.
Now that we have given a brief overview and differences between these three wrestling styles before we jump to answering the main question, let’s just go through why exactly is wrestling so important in MMA.
Why Are Wrestlers so Good at MMA?
As already mentioned, almost all of the men’s UFC champions right now started their martial arts journey with wrestling. The majority of top fighters in the UFC are very good wrestlers. That isn’t a coincidence nor is there a geographical reason (although the majority of fighters are from the United States and Russia, the two biggest wrestling countries).
Nonetheless, setting wrestling skill set aside, some of the most important reasons to have a strong wrestling background are pure strength, cardio, and athleticism. It is well known, that wrestling might just be the hardest martial art there is for the human body.
Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.Dan Gable
Wrestlers are among the best athletes out there. That is one of the most important factors at the top of MMA right now. From an early age, they learned how to just push, and push, and push. And that helps in MMA a lot.
When speaking about wrestling skills and techniques, it is very clear that it is important to be a better, or an equal wrestler as your opponent. Better wrestlers control where the fight goes. What does it matter if you are 10 times a striker than your opponent is if he takes you down at will? Your striking doesn’t matter if you are on your back. Also, when speaking about stoping takedown, how will your BJJ work if you can’t take your opponent down?
It is clear that wrestling is the top skill in the MMA world right now. One thing we will do in the future is to conduct deep research to see a correlation between wins in the UFC and which fighter had the “better” wrestling resume. But, that is for another time. Now, we have finally come to the real question.
If you are interested, be sure to check out our list of best wrestlers in the UFC.
What Is the Best Wrestling Style for MMA?
Let’s transform this phrase a little bit. The question we have to ask is – which wrestling style transfers better to MMA?
The first thing that makes a very strong argument for freestyle wrestling to translates better to MMA is that in MMA, the majority (slightly more than a half) of takedowns come from double and single-leg takedowns. As there is no usage of legs in Greco-Roman wrestling, freestyle wrestling has a clear advantage when it comes to performing a takedown.
Worth mentioning is that when Greco-Roman wrestlers start with MMA, of course, that they will learn singles and doubles, but, they will just not have the same amount of experience when it comes to shooting for legs or defending a takedown.
The second thing we have to take into consideration is the clinching aspect. The Greco-Roman style of wrestling emphasizes clinching and slamming. As legs are forbidden, Greco-Roman wrestlers spend far more time in those situations than wrestlers from freestyle background. It’s not that freestylers aren’t good at it, Greco-Romans are just far better and more experienced.
When the subject of which wrestling style is best for MMA comes into the conversation, people often talk about the already mentioned legs and clinching aspects. But, there is more to it. One thing that is really important when it comes to shooting for the legs takedown, is closing the distance.
One more advantage that Greco-Roman style has over folkstyle and freestyle wrestling is the upright stance. Folkstyle and freestyle wrestlers have a usual stance of bending over at the waist. On the other hand, Greco-Roman wrestlers stand up straight, just like fighters in an MMA bout. That particular stance transfers much better to the cage as it leaves fighter less vulnerable to punches, kicks, and knees to the head.
To corroborate that statement, we have to take a look at an explanatation from Uncle Chael:
So, what is the conclusion? Actually it is a very simple one. The world of MMA is changing ridiculously fast. There are no things like in the beginnings of the UFC when Royce Gracie came with BJJ and defeated everyone. Today, if a fighter wants to be the best, he has to be good at everything.
To sum it up, after this analysis, we have to say that there is no best wrestling style for MMA. These days, fighters just have to be skilled in all different aspects of wrestling and have very good knowledge of all of them. If you want to be best, you have to have good clinching game and posture from Greco-Roman style, but also you have to be good at getting and defending from leg takedowns.
We hope that we gave you a clear and definitive answer to your question. Be sure to keep following us. Until next time!