MMA is a sport in which athletes must have many different skills in order to win in the steel cage. Although there are many styles of fighting that have influenced MMA over the years there have been a handful that have really shown dominance over other martial arts in MMA. These martial arts are Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, Boxing, Sambo, Judo and Wrestling.
The modern MMA game has seen one of these martial arts dominate over all others and that one is wrestling. Most modern MMA and UFC champions either come from a heavy wrestling background or have introduced heavy and intense wrestling training for MMA into their MMA training program.
There are 3 main types of wrestling that fighters are practicing, The first 2 are Freestyle Wrestling and Folkstyle Wrestling where you can use your whole body in order to throw, reverse or pin the opponent by using their whole body in order to do so. The third style of wrestling and the style in which we will cover in this article is Greco Roman Wrestling. This style of wrestling differs from Freestyle Wrestling in the fact that you cannot touch the opponent anywhere below the hips and at the same time you are only allowed to use your upper body in order to throw, reverse and pin the opponent. This means that you cannot grab an opponent’s leg in a single leg takedown or use your feet to sweep and trip the opponent like you would be able to in Freestyle Wrestling. This places much more emphasis on clinchwork, upright stance and hand fighting in Greco Roman Wrestling than in Freestyle and Folkstyle Wrestling.
Greco Roman Wrestlers in MMA and The UFC
Wrestling has really shown dominance in mainstream MMA and the UFC where out of 76 UFC champions, 31 have come from a wrestling background which is nearly double the amount of the martial art in 2nd place which is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at 17 total champions. 3rd place is boxing with 13 champions, 4th place is Kickboxing with 7 champions, 5th place is Muay Thai with 5 champions, Tae kwon Do with 2 champions and Karate with 1 champion.
The numbers do not lie, Wrestling is king and there is a good reason why as wrestling gives a person the ability to control where the fight goes, it is the bridge between standing and the ground as well as it develops an incredible mental fortitude that is hard to find in other combat arts.
Out of the 31 wrestlers that have been UFC champions, there have been a large number of the wrestlers coming from a Greco-Roman Wrestling background, most notably Randy Couture and Jon Jones. Both of these champions were notorious for their clinch game, dirty boxing from the clinch, domination on the cage and takedowns. They were incredibly hard to take down for opponents that were grapplers while being able to take down strikers at ease in order to finish them off on the ground.
Why is Greco Roman so Effective in MMA
There are many factors to why Greco-Roman Wrestling does so well in MMA such as fitness, technique, mental toughness, MMA’s current point scoring system and the physical cage. All of these lead to this type of wrestling really having an advantage in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts and answer why Wrestling is a must for MMA.
Greco Roman Fitness in MMA
Greco Roman Matches are tough, they are non stop and Greco Roman Wrestling training develops many different attributes that carry into the UFC octagon such as strength, speed, flexibility, tactile sensitivity and stamina.
The non-stop nature of the sport of Greco-Roman Wrestling develops a rhythm in attacks that is very similar to a MMA match. There is a lot of pushing, pulling, gripping and lifting in a wrestling match just as there is in a MMA match, the main difference is the cage, the allowance of striking and submissions.
A very common method of strength training in Greco Roman Wrestling is simply lifting your training partner off the ground multiple times each practice, this includes carrying them while running, throwing them and lifting them off the ground in an explosive manner. On top of this constant clinch fighting and trying to push the opponent out of bounds develops great core strength, grip and balance. This type of training is 100% functional in manner and has direct relation to the type of conditioning needed for MMA.
Greco Roman Technique in MMA
There is a technical advantage that Greco Roman Wrestling has in regards to MMA over other styles of wrestling and that is the fact that the stance in Greco Roman Wrestling is much more upright and high in comparison to the stance in Freestyle wrestling. This is due to the fact that because there are leg attacks in Freestyle wrestling, athletes will keep a lower stance in order to better defend against grabbing the leg, single leg takedowns, double leg takedowns and various other leg attacks that are common in Freestyle wrestling.
Greco Roman Wrestling’s high stance enables a better transition to a proper striking stance which generally is also higher as to enable faster body movement and better footwork.
There are also the numerous grips from the clinch that enable a Greco Roman Wrestler to attain superior body position in order to takedown, push out or throw the opponent. This mastery of the clinch when combined with boxing leads to what is called dirty boxing which simply is striking an opponent from close quarters in the clinch while hindering the opponent’s ability to move and strike back.
Upper body throws and takedowns are another facet that Greco Roman Wrestling brings into the MMA gameplan. The benefit of upper body throws and takedowns is that they can be done very quickly from the MMA fighting stance and MMA clinch without risking the fighter’s fighting stance and thus being more susceptible to knee attacks and chokes such as the guillotine. Should a fighter not be able to successfully take the opponent down then the fighter will still be in a proper upright position ready to either throw again or strike the opponent with ease. The best part of Greco Roman Takedowns is that they have a strict emphasis on landing on top of your opponent, this is great as you immediately are in top position on the ground and will be in a superior position to ground and pound the opponent or go for submission should they choose to.
Greco Roman Wrestling Clinch vs Muay Thai Clinch
The clinch is an extremely important part of the MMA game and there are 2 types of clinch that can be seen in modern MMA. The first is the Muay Thai clinch which is excellent for delivering devastating knees and elbows as well as has a few takedowns that can be seen from this clinch. The Muay Thai clinch emphasizes control of the head in what is called the Muay Thai Plum, here they can move the head and strike while in control of the head thus being in control of the spine. This type of clinch prioritizes striking above anything else.
The second is the Greco clinch where the main focus is about control and the ability to throw, push or take the back of the opponent standing in front of you. The Greco Roman Wrestling clinch for MMA evolved when the element of striking was added into the picture thus creating the perfect environment for dirty boxing. This type of clinch has the benefit of controlling where the fight ends up as well as is very good to learn for defending a takedown. The first UFC fighter to really use the Greco clinch to his advantage was Randy Couture, who used it to completely dominate the competition as wherever the oppient went in the clinch Randy was in full control and striking.
Greco Roman Wrestling Mental Fortitude for MMA
MMA is a very mental sport as you need to be ready to grind through tough times when in a fight. Wrestling is the best way to get mentally strong as there is no room for weakness in any type of wrestling, regardless of if it is in a Wrestling match or a typical wrestling practice, you are going to have to grind it through day by day, minute by minute and season by season, all of which produces a level of mental fortitude unseen in other combat sports and martial arts.
Place this mental strength in an MMA ring and you have the mentality of a champion, one that pushes through adversity, is unafraid of any challenge and keeps on moving forward during tough times.
Wrestlers are used to the pressures of competition since they are young, they have competed in thousands of wrestling matches and this leads to them not being phased by pre-fight mental anxiety as they have been there so many times, it’s just another day on the job in their eyes.
The end product is that wrestlers will always come to win, give 100% and leave everything on the mat, this can be seen by the amazing performances we see by wrestlers in top level MMA organizations such as the UFC and Bellator.
Greco Roman Wrestling and The MMA Point System
Different MMA organizations have different rules and point scoring systems, the UFC will be different to Bellator and One FC, each MMA organization has it’s way of scoring fights. Modern MMA organizations do have a few common viewpoints on point scoring that happen to fall in favour of wrestlers.
All MMA organizations give favour to a fighter who shows dominance in a fight, this means that should a fighter knockdown another fighter, should they throw or takedown the opponent or end up in top position on the ground, this will translate to the fighter showing dominance over the opponent.
This heavily plays in a Greco Roman Wrestlers favor as they have the ability to throw opponents, they have the ability to land in top position a large percentage of the time and they have the ability to dominate the clinch and push the opponent against the fence all of which show dominance.
The Disadvantages of Greco Roman Wrestling in MMA
There are a few disadvantages that Greco Roman Wrestling brings into MMA such as the fact they do not learn any leg attacks such as the single leg takedown and double leg takedown as well as they do not know how to defend the attacks as well as a Freestyle or Folkstyle wrestler would.
Another disadvantage is the fact that the Greco Roman Wrestling Scramble does not address what to do if there is any grip or hold on the leg, regardless if it is on their leg or the opponent’s leg.
Last but not least is the fact that like all styles of wrestling, there is no knowledge of submissions and how to fight off their back in the guard position which is a strength of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
That said, all of the weaknesses stated above can easily be fixed and generally speaking, Greco Roman Wrestlers are usually some of the quickest learners of new arts due to the amazing level of athletic prowess, coordination and total attributes developed by years of Greco Wrestling training and competition.
Mixed Martial Arts is a very complex and dynamic sport, it’s exciting to watch and always full of surprises.
Through the evolution of MMA from the early days of Vale Tudo in Brazil to the earliest UFC events we have seen a constant progression in MMA with new styles, new athletes from different countries and new training methods combining together to develop new MMA fighting styles, tactics and strategies.
We have seen the early days of BJJ’s dominance in MMA, to Freestyle Wrestling’s Dominance, then to the lay and pray dominance of Kickboxing and the clinch domination of Greco Roman Wrestling in the latter years.
The question is not if Greco Roman Wrestling is the best single art for MMA but how to train and add Greco-Roman Wrestling into one’s MMA training regime in order to give them the absolute best chance of winning in the MMA cage as those who do add Greco into their training will for sure have a competitive edge over fighter who do not have any Greco Roman Wrestling Training.