Mixed Martial Arts (or MMA), as the name points out, includes several martial art forms. A lot of the fighting moves you might see in MMA competitions are similar to moves you might see in separate professional wrestling matches. This leads us to wonder, is wrestling included in MMA?
Does MMA Include Wrestling?
MMA includes many different styles of wrestling. One of the most essential skill sets to have when becoming a professional fighter in MMA is the strike, grapple, and submit fighting moves that are utilized in wrestling. All elite MMA fighters have some level of training in wrestling.
Keep reading to find out the importance of wrestling in MMA, what types of wrestling are most popular in MMA, how wrestling compares to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), and how wrestling has dominated the sport throughout recent years.
Do You Need Wrestling for MMA?
Although you do not necessarily have to have a wrestling base to be an MMA fighter, many combat sports analysts believe that wrestling is one of, if not the most important, skill sets to have. In fact, MMA experts and analysts would even argue that wrestling is the most optimal base skill for MMA.
If you do not focus on wrestling, many can agree that in order to compete in modern MMA fights, you must at least have defensive wrestling skills. If you do not have any wrestling or grappling training whatsoever, you will most likely not make it that far as an MMA fighter.
What Type of Wrestling Is Used in MMA?
Many fans and practitioners would sometimes think that wrestling is a single entity skillset. However, going deeper into wrestling itself, several styles have been developed throughout history. Below is a list of different types of wrestling and grappling, all of which have influenced the sport of MMA.
Greco-Roman wrestling is one of the three primary styles of wrestling that is still being used in the Olympic Games. The name itself, Greco-Roman, has an origin to it where, historically, the Ancient Greeks formed the style and it was later practiced by Roman soldiers.
The style of Greco-Roman wrestling is different due to the area of the body it targets, which is the upper body. Anywhere below the waist is forbidden. Therefore, a lot of Greco-Roman wrestlers who compete primarily focus on high throws.
Moves that are forbidden to use in Greco-Roman wrestling include grabbing the following areas:
Some of the most famous elite athletes who came from a Greco-Roman wrestling background include the UFC Hall of Famers and MMA athletes, Randy Couture and Dan Severn, and notably the best Greco-Roman wrestler in the history of the sport, heavyweight and three-time gold medalist, Alexander Karelin.
The sport of Judo originated in Japan in 1882 and was founded by Dr. Jigoro Kano. The sport of Judo includes throws from a standing position (also known as Tachi-Waza and Nage-Waza) as well as Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, a predominantly ground-based martial art that focuses on submissions (also known as Ne-Waza).
Like all the other wrestling forms but unlike some of its Japanese martial art counterparts, Judo heavily emphasizes drills and free sparring.
Some of the throwing and submission techniques used in Judo include:
- Ippon Seoi Nage: One Hand Shoulder Throw
- Kuchiki Taoshi: Single Leg Takedown
- Morote Seoi Nage: Two-Hand Shoulder Throw
- Ude Gatame: Arm Armlock
- Sankaku Gatame: Triangle Lock
- Hadaka Jime: Naked Choke
In the Judo Olympics, techniques such as leg locks, wrist locks, and spinal locks are banned from competition. However, these techniques are still sometimes taught in some Dojos for self-defense purposes.
Currently, Judo is one of the official Olympics sports. It is not uncommon to come across professional MMA fighters who derived from a Judo Olympic athlete background.
Gold medalist Hidehiko Yoshida competed on the Japanese promotion PRIDE Fighting Championship, as well as Ronda Rousey, a bronze medalist who was able to gain the title of first female UFC champion, which ultimately led to the significant increase of female fighters in the UFC.
Sambo initially originated due to Russia’s need to produce an effective fighting system for its military and police personnel during the Soviet era.
The three founders of Sambo were instrumental in its creation by combining the extensive experience of self-defense and several forms of martial arts.
Sambo is primarily made up of martial art forms that the founders themselves were experienced at, which include:
- Greco-Roman Wrestling
Sambo is known for both its striking techniques, takedowns, which is similar to Judo, as well as ground fighting techniques. This is most especially the sambo’s use of leglocks, which are allowed in Sambo competitions.
Successful Sambo Competitors
Several sambo practitioners have been incredibly successful in competing in MMA.
Some MMA athletes with a background in Sambo that have been highly successful in MMA include:
- Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov, Undefeated Lightweight Champion
- Fedor Emelianenko, Multiple World Champion in MMA and Sambo
- Andrei Arlovski, Former UFC Heavyweight Champion
- Oleg Taktarov, Former UFC Champion
Now that you know everything there is to know about Sambo, let’s move on to the next type of wrestling: freestyle wrestling.
One of the wrestling styles that has been highly successful in MMA, freestyle wrestling, allows the wrestler to target both the upper and lower part of the opponent’s body. Freestyle wrestling is similar but different to Greco-Roman wrestling, which primarily focuses on the upper body.
Additionally, freestyle wrestling is one of the three styles of wrestling also contested in the Olympic Games.
In Freestyle wrestling, takedowns and pinning their opponents on their backs are the ways to score points. By pinning an opponent down, one wins the match. Additionally, Freestyle wrestling takedowns are primarily focused on single and double-leg takedowns.
Successful Freestyle Wrestling Competitors
Freestyle wrestlers that have been successful in the sport of MMA, with notable fighters include:
- Tito Ortiz, Former UFC Champions
- Ben Askren, Former Bellator Champion
- Daniel Cormier, Former UFC Heavyweight Champion
- Kevin Randleman
- Mark Coleman
Now that you have learned all of the types of wrestling that are present in MMA, let’s compare wrestling to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).
Is Wrestling Better Than Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for MMA?
One can compare the effectiveness of wrestling and BJJ in two ways. One is solely by its own discipline, and the other is in terms of MMA.
Many argue that, on its own, BJJ is more effective than wrestling. One reason is that, even though wrestlers can takedown and pin an opponent, it’s BJJ practitioners who can finish the fight on the ground.
If a wrestler takes a BJJ practitioner down to the ground, then the BJJ practitioner is precisely where they want to be.
However, many experts would argue that wrestling is better when it comes to using them in MMA. Another great example is how wrestlers were able to dominate BJJ fighters during the late 90s.
MMA fighters with a solid wrestling background, such as Ken Shamrock, Kazushi Sakuraba, and Matt Hughes, utilized their wrestling skills effectively in MMA. They could do this by combining wrestling alongside ground and pound techniques, which became the best strategy against BJJ fighters.
Why do Wrestlers Dominate MMA?
In MMA, many would say that wrestlers would have a better base than any other MMA athletes that come from other martial art backgrounds. This is due to several important factors:
- Stand-up or on the ground: When you have a strong base in wrestling, you can dictate if the fight will be standing up or on the ground. A strong wrestler can take down their opponent and finish them off with a submission or ‘ground-and-pound or can use their defensive wrestling to keep opponents off from taking them to the ground.
- Athletic Performance: Wrestlers are known to have above-average athletic performance. Many wrestlers from high school and college would also focus on their strength and condition on top of their wrestling-specific training sessions. Training MMA is no different.
- Competition from an early age: In the US or Russia, some wrestlers start from a very young age, and therefore, have had the experience to attend very competitive wrestling tournaments.
Joe Rogan, a UFC commentator and long-time MMA practitioner, has also testified how wrestling is the most critical discipline to become proficient in MMA.
Reportedly, roughly over 45% of UFC fighters who have achieved the title champion within their respective weight class had been wrestlers. Most of these fighters have at least competed in NCAA, NCWA, or even the Olympics.
Conclusion – Wrestling is Crucial in MMA
Based on the development of modern MMA, wrestling has become a vital ingredient for all MMA practitioners who strive to be world champions. For the most part, MMA fighters with a solid wrestling foundation have proven that wrestling can significantly propel a fighter’s overall combat skills.
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