Wrestling vs. BJJ: Which Is Better?

December 26, 2023

Humans have been grappling since time immemorial and continue to do so. Although modern wrestling differs from its ancient origins, two of the most popular grappling styles today are Olympic wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I am sure you know both well, but do you understand the full scope of their differences and similarities?

Wrestling is a grappling sport where the goal is to briefly take the opponent to the ground and pin their shoulder to win the match. Wrestling is a fast-paced and highly athletic sport. BJJ is also a grappling sport, but the goal is to control an opponent on the ground through superior positioning before forcing them to surrender with a submission hold

The two sports have different goals, rules, and a different feel and flow. Ultimately, they both aim for dominance through grappling, and each has advantages over the other in certain areas. Do you know all of them?

What Is Wrestling?

Wrestling is one of the oldest combat sports that has been part of the Olympic Games since ancient times.

Wrestling focuses on taking the opponent down from a standing position using various takedown techniques.

Wrestlers apply pins and locks once the fight hits the ground to subdue the opponent and stay in a dominant position.

The earliest records of wrestling matches date back 15,000 years. There are a lot of cave drawings in ancient Egypt showing people grappling against each other, and different sources from across the world show wrestling scenes from the earliest recorded history.

But it’s fair to say that most people associate wrestling with Ancient Greece, where it served as an Olympic sport since day one.

Wrestling can be used for completely different styles, as almost all cultures have distinct wrestling versions.

Still, today, the word is usually used to describe the two styles contested in the Olympics: Greco-Roman and Freestyle.

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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 was initially created and used in fights with no or very few rules, and it has always been an effective system for actual fighting. It was designed for self-defense, and its earlier techniques work in real life.

Jiu-jitsu blew up in popularity 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 three UFC tournaments, BJJ emerged as an undeniably effective martial art.

Key Differences Between Wrestling and BJJ

BJJ vs. Wrestling

Emphasis And Strategies

  • Wrestling is about taking down an opponent and pinning them to the mat. Jiu-Jitsu is about securing a dominant position and then submitting your opponent.
  • Wrestling emphasizes takedowns, technique, and physical dominance to overpower the opponent. BJJ uses technique and leverage in addition to strength to secure ground dominance.
  • Having your back on the ground in wrestling means you lose, while being your back in BJJ in a guard position is not always bad, and many players use it as an offensive position.
  • Wrestling matches are faster-paced, more explosive, dynamic, and much shorter, while BJJ matches are longer and more methodical. 


Both wrestling and BJJ have a few distinct variations.

Wrestling has been an Olympic sport since the first modern games, and the two styles contested there are Greco-Roman and Freestyle wrestling. They remain the most popular and widely practiced styles worldwide, and all international competitions are contested under the two rulesets.

In the USA, the most popular style is folkstyle wrestling, also called collegiate wrestling, which is very similar to freestyle, but has some differences in the rules, which also change the flow of matches.

BJJ comes in three main variations:

  • Traditional gi
  • No-gi
  • Self-defense BJJ

The difference between the gi and no-gi is in the uniform, which also dramatically changes the flow of grappling because it can be grabbed and manipulated for offense and defense. Both styles have competitions and are grappling only.

Self-defense BJJ classes are what the original version of the martial art was. While remaining predominantly grappling, they deal with defense against strikes and use simple punches and kicks on the feet and the ground to accomplish the main goal- submitting the opponent.


Wrestling uses fewer techniques than BJJ because of the more limited scope and ruleset. Wrestling is all about takedowns, and the main focus is on solid takedowns like the double and single leg, body lock takedowns, upper body throws, foot sweeps, and others.

Wrestlers use different techniques and tactics to pin the opponent’s back to the ground and defend and reverse positions.

Jiu-jitsu has a broader scope and also has standing grappling, which includes both wrestling and judo takedowns and throws, but they receive little focus during training.

On the ground, having good positional control is of utmost importance, and a lot of attention is placed on securing a position, advancing to a dominant one, and reversing and escaping bad positions.

Regarding submissions, BJJ has the widest variety of grappling sports, including all kinds of chokes, strangulations, and joint locks on all body parts. 


Greco-Roman wrestling:

  • Wrestlers can only attack their opponent’s upper body.
  • Grabbing the legs or using them for trips is banned.
  • A pin, where both of an opponent’s shoulder blades touch the mat for at least two seconds, results in an immediate victory.

Freestyle wrestling:

  • Athletes can attack both the upper and lower body of their opponent.
  • Techniques include takedowns, holds, and pinning moves.
  • A pin results in an immediate victory.

Scoring in both styles:

  • High-amplitude throw ending with the opponent on their back: 4-5 points.
  • Exposing the opponent’s back to the mat (near fall or danger position): 2-3 points.
  • Takedown ending with the opponent on their butt or belly: 2 points.
  • Reversal: 1 point.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

  • You can win the match instantly by submitting your opponent
  • Points are scored for takedowns or securing a dominant position, including knee on belly, mount, and back control, and for passing the guard
  • Specific submissions like heel hooks and neck cranks are banned at lower belt levels and legal at higher levels or depending on the organization’s ruleset.
  • Matches are 1 round between 5 and 10 minutes


The competition wrestling uniform for all styles consists of:

  • A tight-fitting singlet
  • Wrestling shoes
  • Mouthguard

In training, wrestlers wear athletic clothes and wrestling shoes.

BJJ practitioner’s and competitors’ attire depends on the style. In traditional BJJ, you must wear a BJJ gi consisting of a heavy cotton jacket, drawstring pants, and a colored belt denoting the user’s rank.

In no-gi, the kimono is substituted by form-fitting BJJ rashguards and shorts. Jiu-jitsu is practiced barefoot, unlike wrestling.

Physical Requirements

If you’ve ever rolled with someone who has been wrestling for years, you can quickly notice how much harder they squeeze and how much more explosively they move.

After all, wrestling is all about forcing someone into a position against their will, while in BJJ, you ideally want to maneuver the opponent into a position against their will.

Not only is the ruleset of wrestling created for shorter and more dynamic matches, but the absence of the grips in the gi and without many threatening submission holds means you need to use more strength to keep someone down and more explosive movements to stand back up.

Because of this, the requirements for strength, agility, and explosive power are much higher in wrestling. This is not to say you don’t need solid physical attributes for jiu-jitsu competitions.

Still, wrestlers are among the best athletes across all sports, and strength and conditioning play a crucial role in wrestling training, while they’re not as important in jiu-jitsu.

Availability and Training Goals

Wrestling and BJJ also differ greatly in their availability for the general population and what types of people train.

Wrestling is solely focused on competition. The system in the USA and worldwide is organized around active competitors who are in school, in university, or a part of the national team.

Clubs are always part of the national federation and receive government funding; the only goal is to create competitors.

So, if you are not in school or university, chances are you won’t be accepted into a wrestling club, and there is basically no way to start wrestling in your 30s.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu, on the other hand, is entirely different. Academies are private, and the bulk of practitioners who keep the operation running by paying the gym fees are hobbyists.

It’s common to see people of all ages in a typical BJJ gym, and most never intend to compete. Others train for self-defense, others to get in shape, and some train competitively.

Wrestling has been a significant influence in no-gi BJJ, not least because many former wrestlers transition into BJJ after they graduate because they have no other option to continue training for fun.

This difference in the type of practitioners and mindset creates distinctly different atmospheres and flows of training and sparring in both sports.

BJJ vs. Wrestling For MMA

BJJ vs. Wrestling For MMA

BJJ and wrestling constitute two of the so-called pillars of MMA and, as such, are equally crucial for mixed martial arts. Jiu-jitsu reigned supreme early on but was quickly overthrown by wrestling once wrestlers learned how to defend submissions and throw an overhand right.

Wrestling has produced the most high-level champions, followed by BJJ, so it’s safe to say the two are excellent bases for mixed martial arts.

Today, when narrow specialists no longer exist, and fighters are well-rounded, everyone trains in both wrestling and BJJ in the context of full MMA rules.

Wrestling vs. BJJ For Self-Defense

Wrestling vs. BJJ For Self-Defense

While the two may be considered equal regarding MMA applications, BJJ is the clear winner regarding self-defense.

Wrestling is a good skill set in a street fight, and the athleticism and ability to take anyone down at will are extremely valuable.

Still, there are also many gaps, like the lack of striking and finishing ability on the ground. Of course, a wrestler can always resort to ground-n-pound, which is not as difficult against an untrained opponent.

But Jiu-Jitsu has a lot more options. The strong positional game can help you control and dominate almost anyone, and the submission holds further allow full control or debilitating injury, depending on what you want to do.

The cons of BJJ for self-defense include low takedown skills, which can prove a big problem against tough to takedown opponents, and a lack of striking.

If you have access to an academy that teaches self-defense BJJ, these classes will be a great way to expand your grappling knowledge in a real-world, practical way.

Wrestling vs BJJ: Which Is Better?

Is BJJ Better Than Wrestling

The answer is easy- both. Wrestling and Brazilin Jiu-Jitsu represent two aspects of grappling. While jiu-jitsu is more versatile and encapsulates more, its specialization remains the groundwork and is light years from the mastery wrestlers have in stand-up wrestling.

As we see in modern MMA and submission grappling, the complete fighter and the well-rounded grappler need solid skills in wrestling and BJJ. So, if you aim to be one, you need skills in both domains.

They are equally awesome if you want to specialize in one of the two styles. But the reality is that BJJ is likely the better fit for most of you reading this article and accommodates all ages, genders, and physiques.

If you are past the wrestling competition age, you likely don’t have anywhere to train wrestling, and jiu-jitsu is your sole option.

About the author 

Plamen Kostov

Plamen has been training for the last 14 years in karate and kickboxing, before settling in for MMA for the last 5 years. He has a few amateur kickboxing fights and currently trains with and helps a stable of professional and amateur MMA fighters.


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