Wrestling vs. BJJ: Which Is Better?

November 29, 2021

Whether you are a fan of grappling or not, you have likely heard about the Wrestling vs. BJJ rivalry. It’s one of the hottest topics in the martial arts community, and in this article, you are about to find out which one is better and why.

Wrestling is a combat sport that focuses on takedowns and using pins to subdue the opponent on the ground. The emphasis is on competition and scoring points. BJJ, on the other hand, is a self-defense system that has origins in Judo. The focus is on positioning, chokes, and joint locks to finish the fight as fast as possible.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Wrestling vs. BJJ. Keep reading this article to find out more about how these two compare in various aspects.

What Is Wrestling?

Wrestling is one of the oldest combat sports that has also been a part of the Olympic Games since ancient times. The entire focus of Wrestling is on taking the opponent down from a standing position using various takedown techniques. Once the fight hits the ground, wrestlers apply pins and locks to subdue the opponent and stay in a dominant position.

The earliest records of wrestling matches go back 15,000 years ago. There are a lot of cave drawings in ancient Egypt showing people grappling against each other.

But it’s fair to say that most people associate wrestling with Ancient Greece, where it served as an Olympic sport since day one. Later on, the Romans would borrow Wrestling from the Greeks, which is a reason why we have two main styles of Wrestling:

  • Greco-Roman
  • Freestyle Wrestling

However, Wrestling is present in all parts of the world, and there are many other styles like:

  • Folkstyle
  • Catch Wrestling
  • Submission wrestling

What Is BJJ?

Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a grappling art famous for its ground fighting techniques. Its story began when the renowned judoka, Mitsuyo Maeda, came to Brazil from Japan to teach Judo in the 1920s. His loyal students, Carlos and Helio Gracie, would later use Judo as a base to create their own martial art.

In short, they moved the emphasis of Judo from throws to advanced ground fighting. In some way, BJJ is a chess match on the ground where fighters battle for a dominant position to submit the opponent with chokes and joint locks.

BJJ instantly became very popular on the streets because it is a very effective system for actual fighting. It was designed with self-defense in mind, and all of its techniques work in real life.

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It blew up with the birth of modern MMA in the early 90s. MMA fighters were experts in a single fighting style back then, and the world saw many style vs. style matches. Thanks to Royce Gracie, who won 3 UFC tournaments, BJJ emerged as the best of all martial arts.

Bear in mind that back then, there were no weight classes or rules. Early MMA events put BJJ on the map, and it has never stopped growing ever since.

Wrestling vs. BJJ — What Are The Main Differences?

BJJ vs. Wrestling

BJJ and Wrestling share more than a few things in common. But overall, these are two separate combat sports that differ in just about every aspect. Let’s take a closer look at all the differences.

History and origins

Wrestling is one of the oldest forms of combat, and its origins go back to 15,000 years ago in Ancient Egypt. There are many cave drawings showing people of that time wrestling using holds and takedowns. Still, most people associate the sport of Wrestling with Ancient Greece and the early Olympic Games.

On the other hand, BJJ is a much younger martial art created in the 1920s by the famous Gracie family in Brazil. Brothers Helio and Carlos Gracie used Judo as a base to create a new self-defense system based on ground fighting.

Emphasis And Strategies

Wrestling is a combat sport where the main goal is to win a match. The main focus of training is to prepare a person to compete under the rules, win matches and tournaments. Wrestlers learn how to win points using takedowns, pins, locks, and various holds. Although it has a “martial art” status, Wrestling won’t teach you how to fight but rather how to compete.

BJJ is also a popular sport, but it focuses much more on real fighting. The Gracie family created it for street fighting, where the main goal is to finish the opponent. Students learn how to take the fight to the ground, get into a dominant position, and submit to the opponent.

Techniques

Wrestling techniques may look simple at first sight. But in reality, this combat sport is complex and versatile. The number of techniques varies between styles, but here are the most popular ones:

  • Takedowns (single/double leg, duck under, fireman’s carry, bear hug)
  • Pins (half nelson, cross-face cradle, chicken wing)
  • Various sweeps, throws, and escapes

BJJ techniques are also very complex and can be divided into the following groups:

  • Takedowns (trips and throws, single/double leg, ankle pick, foot sweep)
  • Positions (full mount, back mount, side control, full guard)
  • Joint Locks (armbar, leg lock, kimura, Americana)
  • Chokeholds (rear-naked choke, arm triangle, D’arce, Anaconda)

Different clothing

Wrestlers wear a uniform called “singlet.” It is a one-piece uniform made out of nylon or other materials like spandex/lycra. There are three styles of wrestling singlet: high cut, low cut, FILA cut. Apart from singlets, wrestlers also wear:

  • Pair of wrestling shoes
  • Kneepads
  • Mouthguard
  • Ear guards

BJJ students wear a uniform called Gi. A Gi consists of a jacket that looks like a judogi top, pants, and a rank belt around the waist. In some way, gi is more than a uniform, and fighters can grab on to it to score takedowns or even strangle their opponent.

Different styles and forms

Wrestling is one of the oldest forms of combat, so there are many different styles and forms. But the two main styles that are a part of the Olympic Games are:

  • Greco Roman — this style of Wrestling doesn’t allow holds below the waist. There are no takedowns like a single or double leg or trips; instead, it emphasizes powerful throws.
  • Freestyle wrestling — allows holds both above and below the waist, and it has origins in catch as catch can wrestling. Wrestlers can grab the opponent’s legs to score takedowns, or use trips, sweeps, and other techniques.

BJJ has two forms:

  • Gi — this is the traditional style of jiu Jitsu created by the Gracie family in the 1920s. In this style, all students must wear a Gi uniform that consists of a jacket and pants made out of cotton. It differs from a No-Gi style because the action goes at a much slower pace and students need to be more strategic.
  • No-Gi — as its name suggest, No-Gi is a style that doesn’t include a Gi uniform. Students wear a rashguard, T-shirt, shorts, or pants.

BJJ vs. Wrestling For MMA

BJJ vs. Wrestling For MMA

Which one is better for cage fighting is a tough question because both BJJ and Wrestling play vital roles in modern MMA. In fact, it’s fair to say that these are the two most critical martial arts for cage fighting, and you can’t expect to succeed without them. But here is why placing one above the other is wrong.

According to data, Wrestling is a martial art that has produced most UFC champions. This is mainly because wrestlers, and grapplers in general, are the ones who choose where the fight takes place.

MMA fighters with a strong base in striking always have a hard time defending against elite wrestlers. Things get even worse when they have to get back to their feet from the bottom.

And even if they want to learn these skills, they would have to spend many years wrestling on the mats. On the other hand, wrestlers can quickly learn how to block strikes or counter these attacks with takedowns.

BJJ is in a second-place when it comes to which martial art produces most UFC champions. Yes, wrestlers are superior when it comes to takedowns. But once the fight goes to the ground, wrestlers enter the BJJ world.

If we go back to the early 90s, most BJJ vs. Wrestling matchups will play out the same way. Wrestlers would get a takedown, and BJJ fighters would easily submit them off their backs because wrestlers do not learn how to defend against submissions.

The bottom line is that BJJ and Wrestling play an equal role in MMA, and it’s impossible to determine which one is better. Both represent the best base one can have for MMA, and you won’t make a mistake choosing any of the two.

Wrestling vs. BJJ For Self-Defense

Wrestling vs. BJJ For Self-Defense

BJJ is a much better option when it comes to self-defense because it was designed for street fighting. This doesn’t mean that wrestling techniques are inadequate. Despite being a combat sport, wrestling moves are very practical and could even be lethal in some cases. But overall, BJJ is much better in this aspect, and here is why.

The famous Gracie family created BJJ as a self-defense system that proved its effectiveness on the streets of Brazil. Although it won’t teach you any striking at all, it is still versatile enough to help you deal with an attacker in any situation. Whether we are talking about a fight in the bar, parking lot, or even if the attacker is bigger than you are, BJJ has your back.

The thing is, most ordinary people don’t know how to defend or counter against grappling attacks. As humans, we all can block strikes or throw a strike because that is a natural motion. But BJJ is all about leverage and technique.

Once a skilled BJJ athlete ducks under and get a hold of you, it’s game over. It would be just a matter of time before they get into a dominant position and place one of many submission moves.

The other great thing is safety. BJJ trains you to neutralize the attacker without hurting them or causing severe injuries. Taking the attacker down and securing a dominant position is often enough to finish the fight. It is much safer than knocking them out cold using strikes. The last thing you need is to knock the attacker out cold and then go to a police station to answer some questions about injuries.

Wrestling vs. BJJ — Which One Is Harder To Learn?

Both BJJ and Wrestling are among the most brutal martial arts to learn. It takes a long time to become good at grappling, so don’t have high expectations. No matter how talented you are, it takes years, in some cases, a decade, to become proficient.

BJJ is a more versatile martial art where learning never stops. Even when you reach the black belt level, most people realize that this is just a starting point. Training is a lifelong journey, and you have to be patient and keep the ego low to succeed.

On average, students need to spend around 7–10 years training hard to reach the black belt rank. As with any art, this depends on various factors like your talent and how often you attend the classes.

Wrestling training is intense and will push your mind and body over the limits every single time you step on the mats. In fact, the classes are among the hardest out of all martial arts. How long does it take to become skilled is a tricky question as most skilled wrestlers join the sport at a very young age. 

For instance, if you start in high school, it takes around two years of consistent practice to develop intermediate skills. With four years of hard training, you may expect to reach an advanced level. It takes about three more years (7 in total) to reach a level where you can compete internationally.

Why Is BJJ Better Than Wrestling?

Is BJJ Better Than Wrestling

BJJ is better than Wrestling because it focuses on actual fighting, self-defense, and finishing the opponent. Yes, it also includes competition and fighting under the rules, but this is not as important as Wrestling. Students still spend a lot of time learning the self-defense aspect, and not to mention that BJJ is more versatile when it comes to weapons.

Unlike in Wrestling, the ultimate goal in jiu-jitsu is to finish the fight with a submission. While wrestlers think about winning a match on points, BJJ fighters focus on placing nasty chokes and joint locks. These techniques hurt a lot, can break bones, or even put the opponent unconscious. Or in other words, wrestlers do not have that killer instinct that BJJ fighters have. 

Once a wrestler gets into a dominant position, it’s game over, and they win a match. But once a BJJ fighter gets into the same spot, that’s when the fun begins. If we look at MMA history, there have been many Wrestling vs. BJJ matchups, and you only need to see one to spot in which areas BJJ is better. Wrestlers would score a takedown but enter a world of trouble once they had to defend against submissions.

This makes BJJ a much better option for self-defense or street fighting where there are no rules or scoring points.

Why Is Wrestling Better Than BJJ?

Wrestling is better than BJJ in many areas, notably if we talk about explosive and powerful takedowns. Yes, BJJ teaches you takedown defense, but skilled wrestlers would walk right through it like a knife through butter.

This is really important if we are talking about MMA fighting, for instance. BJJ trips and throws work as long as the opponent doesn’t have a good takedown defense. We have often seen how they struggle when an opponent is a vicious striker and has a good takedown defense. On the other side, Wrestlers don’t have this problem because they can score takedowns against anyone.

The other advantage of Wrestling is the strength and relentless pace. All wrestlers are powerful, explosive, and have cardio for days to push a high pace. They rarely get tired, and having them on top is exhausting.

Not to mention the power of their slams that can knock you out cold, which has happened many times in MMA. Slams like suplexes can even kill a person, which also happened many times on the streets. 

Yes, BJJ has more weapons, and it focuses more on self-defense. But make no mistakes about it. Wrestling is not a joke either. It is a combat sport, and it trains you to compete under the rules. But at the same time, its concept and techniques transfer well into any freestyle fighting.

About the author 

Tomislav Zivanovic

Since 2017, Tomi has been working within the martial arts media, writing unique and creative articles about martial arts, and covering the most famous combat sports events. He works with some of the biggest martial arts blogs and websites like Middleeasy and Martial Arts Unleashed.


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