Wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu are both grappling arts and therefore have a lot of similarities. The real question is who would win in a fight? I decided to use my own experiences and research to find out.
A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) only fighter, matched against a pure wrestler of equal skill levels, will win in most fights. This is because wrestlers don’t learn submissions and thus cannot end a fight quickly like a BJJ fighter can. However, wrestlers do tend to have far better conditioning and takedowns than Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) fighters.
To be an effective grappler you need to be proficient in both wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu as they work amazing together. I will explain the reasons why both arts are so effective and why you should train both!
5 Reasons Why Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Is Better Than Wrestling!
1. Wrestling Has No Submissions!
In wrestling, you win points for pinning your opponent to the ground, doing takedowns, or doing a reversal which is reversing the position if you are pinned to the ground. Check out this list for more rules on wrestling.
Some of the rules for wrestling include:
- You cannot lock your hands around your opponent’s body while on the ground.
- If you go to your back, you get pinned and lose the match.
Notice anything? That’s right, there are no submissions! As a natural wrestler, your tendency will be pinning your opponent, not going for chokes or locks.
If a pure BJJ fighter fought a wrestler, even if the wrestler dominates the position, they will not have a way to end the fight despite dominating the position.
Naturally, this gives BJJ fighters a huge advantage, even if they are physically outmatched in weight. For example, look at Royce Gracie Vs Dan Severn below. With a 100-pound weight disadvantage, Royce was able to submit Severn with a simple guillotine after a takedown from Severn. This was in UFC 4 when BJJ was relatively unknown.
For a modern battle of wrestler vs. BJJ, see the video clip below. Without much striking, BJJ will usually win.
2.BJJ Allows You To Defeat A Much Larger Opponent!
A wrestling bout is 3 rounds of 2 minutes. This requires quick, explosive bouts of energy which means wrestlers have to be strong, quick, and powerful.
This required athleticism attracts many natural athletes to wrestling. Just look at old UFC wrestlers like Ken Shamrock and Roel Romero. You HAVE to have an athletic background to perform well in wrestling, especially at a high level.
BJJ is a lot more fluid and slow-paced and involves more strategy. For this reason, with proper application of techniques, a physically inferior fighter (see above) can beat a physically stronger fighter. I’ve seen this countless times in my gym as I always tap out to people smaller than me.
My friend weighs 120 lbs. and regularly taps out people bigger than them. They are only a white belt so this will only happen more often as they get better technique and develop more skills.
BJJ being so effective, regardless of weight class, is why BJJ is so effective for women. To see the other 8 reasons why BJJ is amazing for women, check out the article I wrote here. If you’re curious about the 10 reasons why BJJ is amazing for self-defense, then check out my article by clicking here.
BJJ flow style is far easier on the body than wrestling. This style originates from early BJJ matches that could last a LONG time, removing the need for explosive bursts. Famously, a fight between Helio Gracie and his former student Valdemar Satana in Vale Tudo lasted 3 hours and 45 minutes, the longest Jiu-Jitsu match in history!
To see statistics on how dangerous Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is, and how the injury rates compare with wrestling, check out my article here.
The second rule above eliminates any possibility of guard work as a wrestler will never go to their back as they want to stand back up as soon as possible if they are knocked down.
A BJJ fighter, with no concern about being pinned, can make use of a plethora of guard techniques, sweeps pass, and submissions all from their back. Meanwhile, a wrestler is only concerned with turning an opponent to their back or standing back up to their feet.
3. Jiu-Jitsu Has Counters To Wrestling!
How many times have you seen a BJJ fighter in MMA pull off a guillotine after a wrestler’s single/double leg? It happens all the time!
In BJJ there are many options. Even in positions that don’t look good at first, a BJJ fighter still has a chance. This is what separates both grappling arts in their purest form, and why learning both makes you a superior grappler as it gives you many options.
There are many variations of what you can do. Check out the above video of Chad Malone and Eli from Knight Jiu-Jitsu on the technique of the single/double leg and effective counters!
Pulling guard is the easiest way to defeat a wrestler as it puts the wrestler into the BJJ fighter’s world. This is how my wrestling coach lost to a BJJ fighter in Europe’s biggest grappling tournament, Polaris Pro Grappling.
A wrestler doesn’t have a way to put BJJ fighter’s into their world as takedowns are difficult to execute and only score 2 points in Jiu-Jitsu. A BJJ fighter though can pull guard and instantly put the emphasis on the wrestler.
4. Wrestlers Have To Adapt To Jiu-Jitsu Rules
Remember in wrestling, the number one thing you can’t do is give up your back otherwise you lose the match and get pinned. While this gives wrestlers amazing scrambling abilities, this hurts them in Jiu-Jitsu competitions.
Wrestlers often train from a young age and not giving up their back becomes a habit that is tough to break. In Jiu-Jitsu, fighting from your back is a neutral position/good position. One of the best grapplers ever, Marcelo Garcia, redefined what it means to fight from your back.
For a wrestler to compete in Jiu-Jitsu competitions, fighting from their back will always feel awkward to them. So in BJJ rules, the BJJ fighter has the advantage.
3 Reasons Why Wrestling Is Better Than BJJ!
Now I am not biased! To be an effective grappler you need a high level of both martial arts. Having both makes you truly excel but here is what wrestling has over Jiu-Jitsu.
1. Wrestling Has FAR Better Conditioning Than BJJ
One huge problem with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is that compared to other martial arts like Muay Thai or Wrestling, the warmups are frankly…. pathetic. Let me explain myself!
A typical BJJ warm-up will be running around your gym, followed by some rolls, shrimping and a few other exercises. Compare that to the USA freestyle nationals team warm-up which is quite typical across the US, even at the high school level.
Wrestlers have far better cardio, strength, and power than BJJ fighters. Part of the reason for this is that BJJ is a hobby to a lot of people and so schools don’t have to cater to that middle-aged, unfit person who doesn’t train outside of BJJ classes. This gives the average BJJ class a laid back vibe making it far more relaxing than wrestling.
It is common in BJJ classes to be chilling, laughing and chatting away during drilling with relatively low intensity. I remember a national US wrestler taking over our wrestling class and his warmup was crazy! I still remember him shouting “sprawl” “sprawl” “sprawl” “sprawl” over and over. It is no wonder US wrestlers create such athletes, just see the “warmup” above!
Wrestlers short, intense bursts of 3 rounds and 2 minutes REQUIRE athleticism. Wrestlers are used to this rapid pace in BJJ competitions and perform well their first time. BJJ fighter’s slow, relaxed pace does not prepare them for their first grappling competition as they often are overwhelmed by the frantic pace.
2. Wrestling Has FAR Better Takedowns Than BJJ
According to one of the best modern Jiu-Jitsu coaches, John Danaher, Jiu-Jitsu is ultimately about four things.
- Getting your opponent to the ground
- Passing the guard (getting past the legs)
- Getting a good position
- Submitting your opponent.
The biggest issue modern BJJ has is the lack of focus on step one, getting your opponent to the ground. Head coach of Tristar gym Firas Zahabi (see above video) said he has seen BJJ black belts who are deadly, on the ground but have amateur-looking takedowns!
I’ve seen this myself, I train at an MMA gym and when I started grappling I always made sure to cross-train wrestling & Jiu-Jitsu to give me a basic base in both.
I had WAY better wrestling only training wrestling a few months than some blue belts that trained grappling for years! Do you see the issue with this?
Even if you have 10/10 Jiu-Jitsu skills, if you cannot take the fight to the ground how can you use your Jiu-Jitsu? It is even worse if you want to fight MMA, as wrestling is super important. You can still be grounded and pounded inside your guard after someone takes you down.
Grappling arts are universally considered the best martial arts for 1 on 1 combat, but if you want to use your Jiu-Jitsu in a street fight without wrestling, what are you going to do, pull guard?
Pulling guard, while effective for competition, could be suicide in a street fight. Being on your back makes you not only vulnerable to kicks to the head, but not being able to see if anyone joints the fight. A wrestler on the other hand can effectively end the fight then and there with a takedown into rock hard concrete (don’t do this though unless you want to be sued).
Coach Zahabi says any high-level grappler should be at least a blue belt in takedowns in order to unlock the ability to use their Jiu-Jitsu skills in a street fight. Imagine being SO deadly on the ground but being hopeless standing up? It wouldn’t be a good feeling. It’s like having the best voice in the world but having a sore throat in your first big performance.
Takedowns don’t have to involve wrestling either. Judo, Jiu-Jitsu’s sister art, has a fantastic takedown game involving things such as throws. To see the reasons why you should train Judo, check out the article I wrote here.
3. Wrestlers Dominate The UFC!
No martial art success comes close to the dominance that wrestling has had in the UFC in every weight class. From Ken Shamrock, Daniel Cormier, Henry Cejudo, and arguably the greatest mixed martial artists of all time, Jon Jones and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Is this a coincidence? I don’t think so.
Picture a Jiu-Jitsu athlete who trained in Jiu-Jitsu all of their life and at 18 realize they want to start training MMA. Suddenly their training intensity is perhaps doubled and it takes time to get adjusted to the brutal MMA workouts and conditioning needed to excel at the sport.
What about a wrestler? A Wrestler has been training at that breakneck intensity their entire wrestling career. This mental fortitude to push past pain and obstacles is what makes champions. Wrestlers are ACCUSTOMED to pain, but Jiu-Jitsu’s more relaxed nature sometimes makes the brutal nature of MMA a shock.
Many Jiu-Jitsu fighters try to make the transition. Look at Marcelo Garcia making his MMA debut in K-1 Heros Korea in 2007, losing 20 seconds in to the second round against Dae Won Ki due to a doctors stoppage via an eye cut.
Wrestlers have other advantages as well. The MMA stance is very low to avoid and shoot for takedowns. Freestyle wrestlers have the lowest stance and they tend to do better (Cejudo, Mark Hughes) than Greco-Roman wrestlers. The wrestlers stance is a lot closer to the MMA stance than the upright Muay Thai stance for example.
Wrestlers tend to be better strikers than Jiu-Jitsu fighters, Jon Jones being the perfect example. But why is this? Perhaps the brutal nature of wrestling training prepares the athletes better for striking which can be very difficult as well. To see how hard Muay Thai, arguably the best striking art, is to learn check out this post.
Wrestlers tend to land in someone’s guard after a takedown, and while the guard can be an effective position to land attacks in Jiu-Jitsu, in MMA this position is dangerous as it allows someone to posture up and ground and pound like no tomorrow.
Recommended Products and Conclusion
In the end, both wrestling and BJJ are great martial art forms to know and master. Having an understanding of both will make you a much better fighter.
Good luck out there my friends.