There are three main pillars of MMA that each fighter with hopes of success must stand upon striking, wrestling, and grappling. While many martial arts include takedowns and defenses, classic wrestling makes them the focus of their entire practice. But how well does wrestling translate into MMA?
Wrestling is one of the primary skills each MMA fighter must possess. The ability to take an opponent to the ground or prevent him from taking you down is crucial in an MMA fight.
While this is an important skill, wrestling has achieved much success in the cage for much more than simple takedown techniques. Today we will find out exactly why.
The numbers don’t lie, and wrestling has produced more MMA champions than any other martial art or combat sport. MMA is a complex sport, and no single discipline is enough on its own, but wrestling is one of the best bases for MMA.
Ability to dictate where the fight goes
Arguably the biggest asset wrestlers have is dictating where the fight goes and the pace. In most cases, world-class wrestlers prefer to take the fight to the mat and work from there.
There is much less chance of receiving damage while on top and a much higher chance to deal with it. Additionally, holding dominant positions slowly but surely wins rounds in the eyes of the judges.
Wrestlers also pose a different threat, even on their feet. While they may not be perfect in their striking, the constant threat of the takedown they pose allows them to have much more success in the striking department as well.
Just think about Khabib Nurmagomedov’s success on the feet against Connor McGregor, a classic striker vs. grappler matchup.
The ability to dictate where a fight goes also works the other way around. The wrestler may feel more comfortable on his feet and choose to stay there. He will be forced to strike if the other fighter cannot take them down or engage in prolonged clinches.
Kamaru Usman is a prime example of this. His excellent wrestling allows him to grind down the more dangerous strikers up close while keeping the grapplers standing and beating them.
Mental and physical endurance
Wrestling is a notoriously hard sport. Of course, all combat sports are very challenging. Still, traditional Asian martial arts and modern-day BJJ have a much more welcoming and leisurely ethos where everyone is welcome and can train as hard as they feel.
In wrestling, especially if you are competing, you are expected to give everything you’ve got each session.
The competition rules reward aggression and leave almost no time for rest during a match. The only way to prepare for that is through ruthless training and never back down attitude.
This training and competition separate those with enough physical and mental endurance. The ability to endure a certain level of discomfort is something the sport self-selects at the higher levels.
So you can be sure every wrestler that has reached a reasonably high level of competition has an iron will and a strong body. Both of which are also necessary for cage fighting.
If you don’t think this is true, then try to remember the last time you saw an MMA fighter with a competitive wrestling base gas out in a fight.
Frequency of competition
Not only are wrestling competitions very hard, but they are also frequent. Successful wrestlers always start very young and compete often.
As an Olympic sport, wrestling has an extremely well-developed scene that covers competitions at all possible levels, and opportunities for competing are plentiful.
This is even more pronounced in the USA, where the sport is part of the high school and collegiate sports systems and being a wrestler is a viable way of getting an education.
With so much competition, a successful wrestler may have competed in a few Pan American and World Championships and the Olympics in his early 20s.
By the time he is ready to enter MMA, he is used to the bright lights of the big stage, and they are unlikely to diminish his performance in the cage.
MMA Scoring Favors Wrestlers
The 10-point must scoring system used in MMA has often been criticized as failing to cover the dynamics of an MMA fight. However, it is still the system the UFC and most other organizations use. Judges score the fights based on effective striking and grappling, aggression, and cage control.
This may not seem to favor wrestlers at first glance. Still, taking the top position and keeping it for extended periods is one of the best ways to win rounds while keeping the risk at a minimum.
Then some judges value successful takedowns very highly, in which case the scales tip even further in favor of the wrestler.
The instances of wrestlers grinding out boring decision win by hoisting themselves into top positions without doing any significant damage are just too many to count.
Used to weight cutting
Weight cutting is still an essential part of mixed martial arts and is often called the “fight before the fight.” The ability to shed insane amounts of weight beat the scale, and gain all the weight back to come out bigger on fight night is a must for every high-level fighter.
Weight cutting is evident in all sports with weight divisions. Still, it is even more widespread in wrestling, where the weight difference between the competitors can be crucial for the outcome.
Wrestling division weight limits increase by at least 5 kg per division. Each competitor will try to squeeze into the lowest possible division to avoid wrestling against bigger opponents.
By the time wrestlers get into MMA, they are mentally and physically used to the process, so it’s not an issue. Something that can be said for many other martial artists transitioning into MMA.
The Best Wrestling Techniques For MMA
Double leg takedown
Few ways are better to get someone on the ground than the double-leg takedown, and no one does it better than freestyle wrestlers. There are numerous setups and ways to do a double-leg takedown.
Still, all of them are characterized by getting under the hips and grabbing the opponent’s legs to disrupt his balance and drive him on his back.
The double leg is more dangerous for the attacker in MMA because there is also the threat of a guillotine.
Still, there are also ways to avoid getting choked out. Fighters like GSP and Chael Sonnen have showcased the brutal effectiveness of this wrestling takedown in MMA.
The single-leg takedown is a fundamental wrestling technique most commonly used in MMA. It is characterized by grabbing one of the opponent’s legs to throw them to the ground.
Because the single leg only requires you to isolate one leg, it is a relatively simple technique to execute and can be used with various setups.
Another advantage of the single-leg takedown is its adaptability. This move is highly versatile and has numerous variations.
Fighters like Khabib Nurmagomedov and Daniel Cormier have made excellent use in the cage and can be used as a case study on the single leg effectiveness.
What Type Of Wrestling Is Best For MMA?
There are three main styles of wrestling today: freestyle, folk style, and Greco-Roman. They all translate well into MMA, and it’s impossible to be sure which is the best.
Freestyle and Greco-Roman are contested in the Olympics. At the same time, folk style is dominant in American high school and collegiate wrestling programs. Freestyle and folkstyle wrestling allow attacks to the legs, while Greco-Roman wrestlers can only grab from the waist up.
In MMA, the most commonly used takedowns are the single and double-leg takedowns, which make freestyle better represented in the cage. But folkstyle’s rules put a lot of emphasis on ground control.
Which makes it more suitable for MMA, where holding a position is much more important than just scoring a takedown.
Greco-Roman wrestling is much more limited in its takedowns, but it is good for MMA for other reasons. The upper body control and hand-fighting skills are excellent and translate perfectly into the clinching game in MMA.
The Greco-Roman stance is much more similar to that used in MMA, as opposed to the bent-over stance of freestyle. When you add to that some dirty boxing, you can see why fighters like Randy Couture and Dan Henderson were dominant in the cage.
Of course, the sport has evolved, and a champion today must have a more well-rounded skillset, but still, all wrestling styles provide an excellent base for MMA.
Wrestling is very effective for MMA because it teaches good takedowns, and the sport is very tough. Athletes develop excellent physical attributes and indomitable mental toughness. Wrestling alone is not enough for success in MMA and must be supplemented with many other skills. Still, no other style or sport has produced so many UFC champions, which is a testament enough to its quality.