BJJ vs wrestling: Everything you need to know before you roll

Wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are two forms of grappling that can benefit from one another, yet there is still a debate on which form of fighting is superior. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purists swear that you don’t need takedowns and that the guard is king, while wrestlers claim you don’t need Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to win a fight on the ground. 

In this article, we will be tackling everything there is to know about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling, which is the more superior form of grappling and hopefully give you all the info you need before you go choosing which route you want to take.

Table of contents

What are the key differences between BJJ and wrestling?

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a grappling martial art that is focused on ground fighting and manipulation of the opponent through various positions and techniques. One position is the guard. The guard was a form of self-defense created to be able to defend oneself when on his back. The ultimate goal of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is to force the opponent into submission either by forcing a tap, snapping a limb, or choking the opponent unconscious. 

Wrestling is a form of grappling that prioritizes takedowns and being on top as a dominant position. The goal is to be able to stay on your feet while getting your opponent down on the mats. Unlike Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, being on your knees and on your back are bad positions to be in and are avoided. 

History and origins of BJJ and wrestling

The origin of BJJ 

Mitsuyo Maeda, a Japanese judo master, moved to Brazil to try to spread the art of judo. He met a Brazilian politician, Gastao Gracie, and struck a deal with him, agreeing to demonstrate his judo techniques in numerous cities in Brazil, and in return, he would help Maeda become a citizen. The son of Gastao, Carlos Gracie, became a student of Maeda, and started to teach this martial art to his brother Helio. Over time, they devised their own variation of judo, favoring submission holds like chokes and joint locks over throws and takedowns. 

Helio Gracie, 1952

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was born and was created for the smaller person to defend themselves against bigger opponents. Using the understanding of one’s own weight, leverage and technique, there was no more reason size mattered when it came to self-defense and fighting. 

On November 12, 1993, Royce Gracie, the son of Helio Gracie, showed how effective BJJ was after he won the very first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event. The UFC event showcased a multitude of martial arts and pit style against style with Royce beating three bigger opponents. It put into mainstream the new martial art his father Helio and uncle Carlos had been systematizing for decades. From then on, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has spread like wildfire all across the globe. Read our full guide to the history of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for more information about how this amazing story unfolded.

The origin of wrestling 

The earliest wrestling technique depictions have been found in 15,000 year old cave drawings in France, which shows how much this sport has evolved over the ages. In Ancient Greece, wrestling was a rite of passage for every young warrior and was a way to train both combat skill and grit. 

The rules in early wrestling were simple. Push your opponent out of the circle or throw your opponent and bring him down on the ground, and you were the winner.  This type of ruleset, with a few minor adjustments and technicalities, has held itself throughout the decades and has been the basis of Olympic wrestling ever since.   

Depictions of wrestlers from Ancient Greece, 510 BCE.

Different regions have adapted and devised their own form of wrestling. Freestyle and Greco-Roman are the most popular types of wrestling in the United States and all around the world ever since its emergence as an Olympic sport in 1904.  Other forms of wrestling include sambo and catch wrestling. These styles have the same elements as Olympic wrestling, but add the option of being able to submit your opponent with various submission holds and joint locks, aside from the traditional pin.

Rules differences between BJJ and wrestling

BJJ competition rules

There are three ways you can win a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu match:

The first way is by submitting your opponent through whatever legal submission you can perform at your current belt level.

The second way to win is through the point system, which involves sweeps (reversal techniques that get you from the bottom to top position, similar to a takedown) and guard passes (passing your opponent’s knees from the top and securing either a side mount, knee on belly, full mount or back mount). 

The third way to win, which is not in your control, is if your opponent gets disqualified for doing anything prohibited. This includes not making weight for your division, performing any of the illegal moves not allowed by your belt level, slamming, or breaking other rules.

A BJJ competition match

If no submission is made when the timer is up, the competitor with the most points acquired wins the match. Below is the point system awarded to competitors according to positions achieved: 

2 points3 points4 points
TakedownGuard passMount
SweepBack mount
Knee on belly
Source: IBJJF

You can find out more about the basic positions of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in our guide.

Freestyle wrestling

The rules of freestyle wrestling revolve around trying to get your opponent on the mat while asserting dominance from on top. If you are the competitor on your knees or worse, on your back, then you are the one on the losing end. 

Your goal is to take your opponent down and to pin their shoulders on the mat for two seconds. A pin is the equivalent of a submission in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and if you attain one, you immediately win the match.

If you don’t win by pin and the timer is up, you can also win by decision. If you have put your opponent in different more dominating positions scored by the referee, you win the match. If at any point of the bout you score a ten point lead over your opponent, you immediately win  by technical pin. 

Wrestling match
An example of a wrestling match

Here is a table of the point system awarded in wrestling:

TechniquePoints awardedExplanation
Takedown2 – 5 pointsTakedowns can be scored depending on execution style. Generally, the riskier and more explosive a takedown is, the more points it awards.
Reversal1 pointA reversal is when a wrestler turns from a defensive position into an offensive one. 
Exposure2-3 pointsWhen a wrestler puts their opponent on their back for a few seconds – not enough to hold a pin but enough to assert dominance.
Penalty1-2 pointsPenalties can be caused by various reasons, from taking uncalled timeouts, to not engaging or fleeing a hold. Once penalized, you will receive a caution. A wrestler who receives three cautions is immediately disqualified. 
Out of Bounds1 pointIf one of the wrestler’s feet touches the out of bounds area, their opponent is awarded 1 point
Source: Rules of Sport

Belt system and progression in BJJ vs wrestling

The progression in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is based on a belt system awarded through hours spent on the mat and recommendations given by your coaches. Usually in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community, time on the mat directly translates to how fast you will receive your promotion. The more you come to class, the more you spar with others, and the more the coach sees you training, the faster you will get to your next belt level. 

Here is a table of the BJJ Belt system and average time required at each belt. The average time it takes to get from white to black belt is 8  – 12 years

Belt levelMinimum time required at this beltMinimum age
WhiteNone
Blue216 years old
Purple1.5 years16 years old
Brown1 year18 years old
Black31 years(For Red Belt)19 years old

There is no official progression system for wrestling unlike in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Your skill is based off statistics and rankings. The more you win, the better you are as a wrestler. In high school and college, you are ranked with all the other competitors of the same weight class. You progress through the ladder, and the top 10 of each division are claimed to be best of the best.

The NCAA holds the most competitive wrestling format, and is categorized into Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3 wrestling. Athletes wrestling at the Division 1 level are at the most competitive and at the highest class of college wrestling.

Classes, gyms and schools in BJJ vs wrestling

A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class usually lasts for 1 – 2 hours and goes through a certain sequence:

  1. Warmup and drills (30 mins)
    • Floor drills like front rolls, back rolls, break falls, shrimps etc are done during this portion.
  2. Technique and positional drills (1 hour)
    • Technique of the day
    • Positional drills 
  3. Sparring (30 mins)
    • Start from standing or kneeling
    • Full contact/no striking/submissions allowed
    • No slamming
    • Rules according to belt level (lower belt level rules always apply)
    • One round is 5 minutes

The average cost of a BJJ class for an adult in the United States is approximately $170 per month.  That includes access to all classes offered as well as use of the gym facilities. 

If you need more information on BJJ gym Fees, read our guide about the costs of BJJ.

A basic wrestling class lasts for about an hour and a half to two hours and goes through a similar sequence as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu:

  1. Warm up and floor drills (20 minutes)
    • Rolls, flips and other floor drills
  2. Technique (55 minutes)
    • Techniques study
    • Techniques drilled for time
  3. Live wrestling (20 – 30 mins)
    • Live drills done in short 20 second bursts for a number of sets
    • Live sparring– 3 minute rounds
  4. Conditioning (10 minutes)
    • Different strengthening drills depending on the day

Source: Kolat.com

You will find wrestling classes offered in most MMA gyms. The typical MMA gym in the United stated charges about $200 per month, and this fee usually includes all other classes offered.

For a cheaper alternative if you only plan on doing wrestling, you will find many schools and wrestling clubs in the United States offering good training programs. The average monthly fee at a local gym will cost you approximately $110 per month.

Clothing and equipment in BJJ vs wrestling

BJJ clothing

There are two types of classes you can attend, gi and no gi (with or without the kimono).

Gi

  • Typical BJJ kimono called a “gi” made of thick, durable material
  • Rash guard to minimize skin on skin contact
  • Mouth guard
  • BJJ belt

No gi

  • MMA/BJJ fight shorts
  • Rash guard
  • Mouth guard
Gi vs no gi clothing

Wrestling clothing

Here is the competition and training attire for wrestling:

Training/wrestling class

  • MMA shorts
  • Rash guard/Shirt
  • Mouth guard
  • Ear guard
  • Wrestling shoes

Wrestling competition

  • Wrestling singlet
  • Mouth guard
  • Ear guard
  • Wrestling shoes

Which is more popular, BJJ or wrestling? 

You can clearly see the difference in popularity of wrestling over Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the chart below from Google Trends from the year 2004 to 2020 showing the “interest over time” between Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling in the United States.

You can clearly see the difference in popularity of wrestling (red) over Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (blue), which can be attributed to the following factors:

  • The importance of wrestling as a base martial art for self-defense and MMA
  • Different forms of wrestling being taught 
  • The United States having great high school and college wrestling programs and competition circuits
  • The popularity of “pro wrestling” tournaments and organizations like the WWE

Even with the slower rise of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu all over the world, wrestling will still be the more popular sport of the two due to its history in the Olympics as well as it being a staple for athletics in a number of countries, including the United States.

Cross training in wrestling and BJJ 

You will often many wrestlers cross training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to raise their grappling knowledge and to get out of their comfort zone. It’s rarer to find Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners doing the same about their standup game. Here’s a short clip from respected MMA coach Firas Zahabi explaining why you should incorporate wrestling into your BJJ game:

Why should you incorporate wrestling in your BJJ game

  1. It’s a powerful form of self defense
  2. It develops strength and athleticism, which many pure BJJ practitioners lack
  3. It’s very fun; add submissions!

“Wrestling opens up a whole new dimension to your Jiu-Jitsu “

Firas Zahabi

How can a BJJ practitioner beat a wrestler?

Wrestlers are very difficult opponents for pure Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners. It’s very difficult to sweep them due to their tremendous base, and it’s difficult to submit them due to their natural grit. It gets stressful and tiring as rounds get long when you go against one of these hardy fighters. Here are some ideas on how to face a wrestler when you aren’t having the best of luck.

  1. Pull guard at an angle. Angle out and don’t keep both hips flat on the mat . Also keep your butterfly hooks in for maximum control. Wrestlers tend to sprawl out, giving you space to get in sweeps and sneaky submissions. 
  2. Consider using leg locks. Wrestlers are a perfect target for leg locks as they are not used to getting their legs tangled up. It also prevents them from sprawling out and placing pressure on you. When given the opportunity, tie up a wrestler’s leg to destroy their ability to base out and finish them with a devastating leg or foot lock.
  3. Consider using kimura grips. Kimura grips are great against a wrestler who’s putting intense pressure on your legs with their shoulders. From this angle you can always get in a kimura grip, standing or from guard, and try to go for the nastiest reversals and sweeps that even the most powerful wrestlers won’t be able to stop.

Is BJJ better than wrestling or vice versa?

Both forms of martial arts have advantages and disadvantages as summarized in the section below. As for the fighting aspect of which style will beat which, it totally depends on whomever the fighter is and how he/she uses their skillset to his advantage. The UFC is dominated by wrestlers, and unless you have a good standup and wrestling game, you will get taken down and crushed repeatedly. With the amount of champions who have started out as wrestlers, it would show that you need wrestling more than pure Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to thrive. 

Then you have a fighter like Damien Maia, who instead of avoiding wrestlers, locks horns with them, plays around them and devises techniques and ways to stop them from playing at their full potential. 

Here is a video of Damien Maia choking out “Funky” Ben Askren, one of the most dominant wrestlers in MMA History:

In this next video, Tristar gym head coach Firas Zahabi talks about the importance of incorporating both wrestling and BJJ into your game and not excluding one from the other. 

BJJ vs wrestling: Pros and cons

BJJ

If you are someone who has never done any martial art before, BJJ is a great place to start. It is beginner friendly but at the same time is one of the most challenging sports you will ever try and its effectiveness scales with experience.

Pros

  • Beginner friendly. Does not require any prior martial arts experience.
  • Effective for self defense.  BJJ incorporates many techniques for submitting and restraining an opponent.
  • Stress release. Ending the day with BJJ is a ritual a lot of practitioners enjoy to unwind from a long day.
  • BJJ is for everyone. You can enjoy it together with your friends and family, as well as the new friends you are going to meet along the way. The thrill of practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu around the people you love is such an enriching experience.
  • Get Jiu-Jitsu fit. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is going to get you in top shape from all the drills and rolls.
  • Learn BJJ anywhere. With the rise in popularity of the sport, you can find Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes and schools popping up all over the world.

Cons

  • Very difficult to master. The level of the sport rises everyday as practitioners train day -in and day-out to be better and better so it will be hard to keep up.
  • McDojos. More fake Black belts are trying to milk money out of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu due to its rising popularity. Always research your instructor’s lineage before you officially join.
  • Always pulling guard. Since pulling guard is always a viable option that is not as tiring as takedowns, a portion of practitioners end up neglecting their stand up game, which is not a good habit for the self defense aspect of the sport.
  • Striking is out. No striking techniques are taught in a typical Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class, even if it is a martial art for self-defense. Slams and strikes of any kind are forbidden; do not expect to come to a class learning to punch and kick. Join an MMA class if you want to learn both. 

Wrestling

Wrestling is a great sport to get into if you enjoy takedowns and the explosive side of grappling.

Pros

  • Mental fortitude. Wrestling workouts are one of the toughest in the world. If you can get through these, you can get through anything.
  • Amazing takedowns. Learning wrestling will do wonders for you if you intend on mastering the standup game.
  • Crazy workouts. Wrestling workouts will get you ripped to the core. Just check out Jordan Burroughs
  • Improve your cardio fitness. Your cardio is going to increase due to all the workouts you will sustain.
  • Great for self defense. Wrestling is about control, and that’s exactly what you will be doing.

Cons

  • Locations. There are not as many reputable wrestling schools outside of the USA.
  • Steep learning curve. Wrestling does not cater to the “hobbyist” crowd quite as much as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
  • Lack of submissions. You have great control but when the time comes that you need to finish, you may lack the necessary tools.
  • Slams, but not strikes. Unlike in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, slams are allowed in wrestling, and is one of its more dangerous aspects. Though you can slam your opponents, striking is also not allowed in wrestling and will not be taught in your class.

BJJ vs wrestling: extra resources and communities

BJJ 

Here are some resources on where to start if you want to learn some Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Experienced practitioners will also find a variety of articles that they may apply to sharpen their game.

Wrestling

Individuals interested in wrestling may want to check out these resources for all the latest wrestling news and events.

Frequently asked questions about BJJ and wrestling

Which is the better martial art for MMA? Wrestling or BJJ?

Both! Wrestling is a great way to control your opponent on the ground, giving way to vicious ground and pound, while Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu sets you up for sneaky submissions, even when you’re on your back.

Is BJJ or wrestling better to learn when you’re over the age of 40?

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu might be the more optimal path to take when you’re over 40. It is arguably easier to learn and the positions are not as taxing to the body as wrestling. 

Do I need to be athletic to try Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or wrestling?

Definitely not! Just like how people get into boxing to get fit, getting into wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu will get you in shape while teaching you an effective form of self-defense.

Will it be beneficial for me to train wrestling and BJJ at the same time or is that overtraining?

If you have a proper schedule with adequate rest in between training sessions, it is possible to train both BJJ and wrestling 2-3 times a week each without fear of over-training.

What is more injury prone, wrestling or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

Wrestling is the more injury prone of the two due to slams being a legal part of the ruleset. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, slams are not tolerated at all and moves are taught and executed in a more controlled manner, even during live sparring sessions. If you want more information on the most common injuries in BJJ, check out our BJJ injury statistics guide.

Conclusion

Reading this article should give you a brief concept of the importance of both wrestling and BJJ and why it would be beneficial to not exclude one from the other. I hope you have an idea of what to expect if you ever do find yourself trying out one of these grappling martial arts.

How was your experience doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or wrestling for the first time? Comment down below and share your story with us!

About the author

My Name is Ariston and I am a Purple Belt from the Philippines. I am an instructor at Carpe Diem Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as well as a certified Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Instructor at UFC Gym Philippines. From time to time you will see me competing and testing my mettle, but you will often find me teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu where there are mats. I teach 5 days a week, and train just as often as you can always train when you teach. I have a degree in Marketing Management and I spend the rest of my time off from Jiu-Jitsu pursuing a career in Digital Marketing.

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