The Ultimate Guide to Greco Roman Wrestling

Table of Contents

A sport that is practiced all over the world, Greco Roman wrestling is one of the original sports to be featured at the Olympic games, it is a sport of power, speed, athleticism and technique, Greco-Roman wrestling is a sport that no matter where a person lives or what caste they come from, they can participate it, it is truly a global Olympic sport.

What is Greco Roman Wrestling?

Greco Roman wrestling is 1 of 2 main styles of Olympic Wrestling, the other being Freestyle wrestling. Although this style of wrestling is called Greco-Roman the style does not have its roots in ancient Greco-Roman times but in fact was developed in France by a soldier in Napoleon’s army named Jean Exbroyat.

Exbroyat created this style of wrestling and called it “Flat hand Wrestling”. He used to travel all around Europe showcasing his new style of wrestling as he wanted to create awareness of his new and different style of hand to hand combat. He would go and wrestle at various exhibitions and fairs and often entertain many spectators.

Greco-Roman Wrestling Competition
Greco-Roman Wrestling Competition

The style of wrestling was different from many other styles being showcased around Europe as Flat Hand wrestling as it did not allow any contact that was below the waist, it did not allow any striking as well as it did not allow any type of submission or joint lock that could cause bodily harm. It was naturally built to be a sport. Due to the fact that there are no holds allowed below the waist, Exproyat’s style developed much more emphasis on the wrestling clinch and has a much higher emphasis on throwing than Freestyle wrestling.

Quickly Exbroyat’s flat hand wrestling style came to be known as French wrestling and would become very popular within mainland Europe. The term Greco Roman wrestling came to be when an Italian wrestler named Basilio Bartoletti introduced the term to place emphasis on the ancient values and character that the sport of French wrestling exhibited, he could not have been any more correct and the name stuck. In modern times Greco-Roman wrestling is sometimes called classic wrestling although it is not common to hear the term classic wrestling.

An interesting fact about Greco Roman wrestling is that the actual wrestling that was practiced in ancient Greece was much different than the Greco wrestling we know today as ancient Greek wrestling allowed for submission holds and holds below the waist, all of which are not permitted in modern Greco Roman wrestling.

A Short History of Greco Roman Wrestling

There were 2 main styles of wrestling prior to the first Olympic games, there was Greco-Roman wrestling and Freestyle wrestling. Freestyle wrestling was very popular in Britain as well as in America while Greco Roman was immensely popular in continental Europe.

The reason for Greco Roman’s popularity in Europe came down to the fact that there were a large amount of Greco Roman competitions with large cash prizes being held in almost every major European city. This created a large amount of athletes training in Greco Roman wrestling as well as a fan base wanting to watch their favorite Greco Roman wrestlers.

Greco Roman Wrestling Throw
Greco Roman Wrestling Throw

This popularity led to Greco Roman wrestling being featured in the first Modern Olympics in 1896 in Athens. Greco-Roman wrestling had one Heavyweight match and was one of the 9 original Olympic events that were exhibited in the Olympic games.

Greco Roman wrestling would once again be one of the sports of the Olympic games in 1908 as during the 1900 and 1904 Olympic games Freestyle wrestling would be the style of wrestling that was representative in the games. Greco Roman wrestling has been part of every Olympic games since 1908 with a strong representation in each and every Olympics.

Does Greco Roman Wrestling Have Divisions?

There are several divisions and many weight classes in Greco Roman wrestling to enable any aged person as well as any sized person to be able to compete in this style of Olympic wrestling.

There are a few age Categories of Greco-Roman Wrestling: 

Schoolboys aged 14-15 although with parental consent and medical approval 13 year olds may compete in this Greco category. 

Cadets aged 16-17 although with parental consent and medical approval 15 year olds may compete in this Greco category. 

Juniors aged 18-20 although with parental consent and medical approval 17 year olds may compete in this Greco category. 

Seniors for males 20 years and older.

Lastly there is a special Greco Roman category called Veterans for wrestlers aged 35 and older.

These divisions help athletes better develop skills as well as create a great system to produce wrestling talent. The division that we see athlete’s in the Olympic games is the Seniors division. If someone is a Seniors Greco Roman World champion, this would equal to being the highest level of wrestling possible other than being the Olympic Greco Roman Wrestling Champion. Currently there are no women’s Greco Roman wrestling international competitions.

What are The Greco Roman Wrestling Weight Classes

One of the best aspects of Greco Roman wrestling is the fact that there are many different weight classes, this enables big and tall, short and small, skinny and chubby athletes to compete in Greco-Roman. There are 10 weight classes of which 6 are Olympic weight classes.

Heavyweight Greco Roman Wrestlers
Heavyweight Greco Roman Wrestlers

The Olympic Greco Roman wrestling weight classes are 60kg, 67kg, 77kg, 87kg, 97kg and 130kg. A large variety of athletes compete within Greco Roman wrestling each Olympics due to the spread of weight classes in the sport.

The non-Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling weight classes are 55kg, 63kg, 72kg and 82kg.

Greco Roman Wrestling Equipment

There is not much equipment needed to participate in Greco Roman wrestling and it could even be said all you need to train is a training partner and somewhere soft to land if thrown. 

That said, in order to compete in Greco Roman wrestling you need a few pieces of equipment. 

The first item is a pair of wrestling shoes. Wrestling shoes have a rubber grip sole and provide for a better overall wrestling experience. Generally Greco Roman wrestling shoes are full sole, meaning the sole is one piece whereas it is common to have somewhat of a split sole in Freestyle wrestling shoes.

The second item needed is a singlet, generally you will need to have 2 different singlets, one to represent the blue corner and one to represent the red corner. Singlets are tight fitting to prevent any type of snagging and generally made from lycra or nylon, they are a type of spandex and are excellent for all types of wrestling.

Greco Roman Wrestling Singlet
Greco Roman Wrestling Singlet

The third item you must have is called a bloodrag, it is simply a piece of cloth or handkerchief you keep in your singlet in the case you are bleeding and need to clean the blood up. Greco-Roman Wrestling is a contact sport so it is not uncommon to see a little blood from a small gash, many times due to an accidental headbutt from the clinch position.

Although uncommon to see, you may wear wrestling headgear. This is uncommon as headgear can be used to gain a better grip off certain Greco Roman wrestling positions.

Last but not least, although this piece of wrestling equipment is not mandatory, athletic tape is allowed, it can be used to tape up fingers and other body parts such as the wrist, fingers etc, this is to avoid, prevent and deal with injuries.

What Happens in a Greco Roman Wrestling Match

Every Greco Roman wrestling match has two wrestlers starting the match, one wrestler will represent the blue corner and another wrestler representing the red corner. 

Greco Roman wrestling matches start standing up in what is called “neutral position” where the wrestlers will try to score a takedown within a 60 point time frame, after the 60 second time frame the the wrestlers will start off from the ground in an open “par terre” position (par terre means “on the ground” in French). During this 60 second period, wrestlers can be seen fighting for specific clinch positions as well as pushing, pulling and using extreme power and agility to try to takedown the opponent.

Should wrestlers start in the open par terre position, the wrestler with the most points in the match will start with the advantage of the Olympic lift, also known as the clinch.

Greco Roman Par Terre Position
Greco Roman Par Terre Position

In the case that neither of the wrestlers have any points prior to the open par terre position, then the referee will flip a coloured disc, one side blue, one side red and the winner of the flip will receive the advantageous position which is the top position on the ground.

The loser must start on their hands and knees on the center circle, hand must not be wider than 30 centimeters apart and 20 centimeters between the knees and hands. The wrestler’s legs may not be crossed and the arms must be stretched out at a 90 degree angle to the mat. 

The winner of the disc flip is permitted to be beside the bottom wrestler as long as they do not touch the legs. The wrestler with the advantage is allowed also to place one knee on the mat if they should choose to do so. Once this position is achieved the top wrestler is allowed to hug around the bottom wrestler’s waist and perform what is known as an upside-down belt hold (also known as the Olympic Lift) in order to score for time of 30 seconds with the bottom wrestler defending against the attack. Should the top wrestler not score, a point will be awarded to the wrestler on the bottom.

After the first 30 second time allotment the match is stopped and the position is reset again but with the wrestlers switching positions, the top wrestler starting from the bottom and the bottom wrestler starting from the top and starting for another 30 second time frame.

Greco Roman Wrestling Olympics
Greco Roman Wrestling Olympics

Sometimes there may be a situation where the wrestlers are tied in points, should this be the case, the wrestler who scored points last in the round will be the winner of that specific round.

It must be noted that the par terre positions can also be issued after a caution (generally due to one wrestler being called for passivity). In the case that a wrestler is awarded an ordered par terre position due to passivity, the active wrestler can choose whether to start on the ground or standing in neutral position.

At the end of every match, both wrestlers shake hands and stand at either side of the referee with the referee raising the hand of the victorious wrestler.

How Are Greco Roman Wrestling Matches Scored

Greco-Roman wrestling has many ways to score points and it must be known that as a general rule of thumb, points are awarded to the wrestler who creates the most action as well as technically puts the opponent at danger. 

Many of the rules are set to create a more exciting match environment that creates more reward for wrestlers who proactively search to score points while punishing wrestlers that are passive during the match. This is done to prevent boring matches where wrestlers do not initiate attacks and prevent stalling and passivity.

There are several ways to score points in Greco-Roman wrestling such as:

Takedown/throw: This is the main way that high level Greco Roman wrestling matches have points scored, it is a catalyst to many other types of scoring and can lead to chain wrestling the opponent into defeat.

5 Point Throw Greco Roman Wrestling
5 Point Throw

A takedown can be awarded 2 to 5 points total and in order for a wrestler to be awarded points the wrestler needs to be in control over their opponent from a neutral position on the mat, this means the wrestler must have their feet on the mat. 

There must be 3 points of contact on the mat in order for the takedown to be considered legal for points these can be 2 arms and the head, 2 arms and one knee, 2 knees and one arm or 2 knees and the head).

There are different takedown and throw point totals that can be awarded to a Greco Roman wrestler during a match, these are:

5 point throw – the ultimate respected throw of Greco Roman wrestling, the 5 point throw is what every wrestler tries to score when wrestling It is a throw of grand amplitude where a wrestler controls and throws his opponent off the mat from either a standing or par terre position where the opponents feet are above the throwing wrestler’s head position and landing directly into a danger position for the person being thrown. The reason behind the awarding of 5 points is to entice participants to go for more entertaining throws as well as show dominance during the match.

4 point throw – a wrestler can score 4 points for any grand amplitude takedown that does not include having the opponent’s feet above the wrestler’s head while the opponent is in the air. 4 points will also be awarded should the person being thrown not land into a position of danger as well as if the person being thrown lands on their stomach or back or side by a small amplitude throw that places that person in a position of danger.

2 point takedown – a wrestler can score 2 points by taking down the opponent to their side or to their stomach without placing the opponent in a position of danger such as exposing their back and shoulders.

Another type of point can be awarded for reversals. Reversals are awarded 1 point, a reversal is when a defending opponent reverses from a position of defense to a position of offence. This basically means that a wrestler who is being controlled by the opponent reverses to be the wrestler that controls the opponent

Exposure – which is also known as the “Danger Position” can be awarded either 2 or 3 points depending on scenario. If a wrestler exposes the opponents back to the mat for several seconds or if the opponent’s back is facing the mat but without a pin.

Greco Roman Exposure 2 Points
Exposure for 2 Points

There a few scenarios where exposure points are awarded such as is where an opponent is bridging to not get pinned, or instead of bridging to avoid a pin, the opponent is on either 2 elbows or 1 elbow trying to evade getting pinned, or the opponent is being held by one should on the mat and one shoulder at an angle of smaller than 90 degrees, or when an opponent’s shoulder blades are on the mat for less than 1 second which is also called an “instantaneous fall” and lastly when an opponent rolls on their shoulders.

The difference between 2 points and 3 points for exposure when a wrestler is given an extra point called a “hold-down point”. A hold-down point is given when a wrestler maintains a continuous position of exposure for 5 seconds or more.

Another way that a point can be awarded is via penalty – a penalty point can be either 1 or 2 points depending on the scenario. A single penalty point is awarded when the opponent takes a time out for any injury other than bleeding (taking a time out for bleeding does not produce a penalty point). 

2 penalty points will be awarded any time the opponent breaches the rules such as striking an opponent, acting in a brutal way, trying to injure, running away from the opponent or mat, using a submission hold or any type of use of illegal hold. On top of the 2 penalty points the wrestler will receive a caution and the opponent will have choice of position to start the match again.

The last way to earn a point is by forcing an opponent out of bounds – should a wrestler place their foot outside the wrestling area into the protection area, the opponent will be granted 1 point.

It should be noted that international tournaments will also allot classification points that can be used to classify to major international tournaments such as the world championships.

How to Win in Greco Roman Wrestling

There are several ways you can win in Greco Roman wrestling, here are the ways you can win in Greco Roman:

Win By Fall

This is the most dominant way to win and the most respected way to win a match as it shows the complete dominance of one wrestler being able to dominate another wrestler. A fall is when a Wrestler forces the opponent’s shoulders to touch the ground simultaneously. In order for a wrestler to score a fall, they must hold down the opponent’s shoulder blades on the mat so that the referee can “observe the total control of the fall”. This translates to holding an opponent down for anywhere from half a second to 2 second, enough to establish a position of total control.

Win by technical superiority (AKA technical fall) – 8 Point Advantage

A great way to win a match, also showing total technical dominance over the opponent, winning by technical superiority simply means that a wrestler has scored 8 more points than their opponent. The moment there is an 8 point difference, the match is over and the wrestler with the most points is declared winner.

Technical Superiority Greco Roman
Technical Superiority Greco Roman

Win by decision

In the case there is a tie, the judges will declare a winner by decisions. The winner of the decision will be chosen upon a few variables in the following order of importance such as the number of cautions a wrestler receives, the types of points the wrestler had in their score – was it five times a wrestler was awarded 1 point vs a wrestler with a 5 point throw (the 5 point throw would win in this case as it is much harder to achieve) and lastly the wrestler who scored the last point. In most cases it is the wrestler who scored the last point who wins.

Win by injury – if the wrestler cannot continue

There are several reasons a wrestler can win by injury, it can be that the opponent took too many injury timeouts, it could be due to unstoppable bleeding, could not compete due to illness and simply get an injury that prevents them from competing further in the match. A win by injury is also known as an injury default or medical forfeit, and in the case that a wrestler gets injured due to a malicious act form his opponent, the opponent that caused the injury will receive an automatic disqualification.

Win by default (AKA win by forfeit)

In the case that a wrestler cannot make the match, has been called 3 times and has not shown up or in the case that a wrestler cannot continue wrestling in the match the opponent will win by default. There have been some cases where certain countries defaulted out of wrestling matches to avoid wrestling with other countries due to political reasons.

Win by disqualification (AKA ejection)

There are certain instances where a wrestler can win by disqualification, unfortunately this does happen although not too often. In cases where a wrestler has broken the rules and received 3 warnings known as “cautions”, in the case where a wrestler was violent and brutal to the opponent or referee and in the case that a wrestler has been caught maliciously cheating the match stops and the wrestler is immediately ejected out of the tournament.

How Greco Roman Wrestling Tournaments Work

There are thousands of Greco Roman wrestling tournaments held annually, some are just amateur greco roman tournaments and some are the Olympic Greco Wrestling Games, generally the rules and format of the games are the same for every type Greco Roman competition.

Greco tournaments are based on a process of elimination where after each match, the winner proceeds to the next round. Tournaments are even numbered and can have any number of athletes starting from 4 and even going as high as 64 wrestlers and even higher in some cases. In the case that there are not an even number wrestlers in the tournament, the tournament will start with qualification rounds.

Wrestlers always will represent a blue or red corner, each round is different. Generally wrestlers will come to tournaments with 2 different singlets to wear, one that represents the blue corner and 1 that represents the red corner.

Greco Roman wrestling matches are composed of 2 three minute periods split by a 30 second break between periods. A 3rd period will be added should wrestlers be tied after 2 periods.

Greco Roman Wrestling Tournament
Greco Roman Wrestling Tournament

Matches always involve 2 wrestlers from the same weight class and each match will have a jury of judges. These are one main referee that is on the wrestling mat, one judge at the side of the mat to keep score and the main chairman who tracks the time and oversees the other 2 judges. In order for a fall to be awarded, 2 of the 3 judges must agree.

The wrestlers compete in what are called elimination rounds until the finals where the 2 wrestlers who have won all their matches meet to wrestle for the gold and silver medals.

What is a Repechage Round in Greco Roman Wrestling

Greco Roman Wrestling tournaments have a special type of round called a Repechage round that occurs when wrestlers who lost to the 2 finalists in the first rounds of the elimination bouts get a chance to wrestle off for a chance to wrestle for the Bronze medal.

This serves as a type of wild card and is done to counter the possibility that the 2 best wrestlers in the tournament would have met in the first round of the elimination tournament and provides for a better overall and fair tournament experience.

What if Wrestlers Tie for Classification Points?

Should wrestlers find themselves tied for classification points then there will be an analysis of placement based upon a certain number if criteria place from highest to lowest:

The wrestler with the most amount of victories earned by pinning an opponent’s shoulders to the mats which is called a “fall” in wrestling

The wrestler with the most amounts of technical superiority in their matches

The wrestler who won the most amount of periods by technical superiority

The wrestlers with the most technical points scored in a tournament

Least technical points scored by a wrestler in a tournament

Greco Roman Wrestling Team Competitions

Many times wrestling tournaments follow what is called a team competition, this is where 1 team competes against another team or group of teams. Team format medals are generally based on the winning team receiving the same medal, this is done by awarding the team a point for every match won, the total amount of points being counted at the end of the tournament and medals awarded to the members of the top 3 teams.

There is a tournament layout called a dual meet which is a team competition. The most famous team competition is the World Cup of wrestlers where 8 teams compete to win the medals. Teams are split into 2 groups. Teams face the teams in the group within the group with the winning teams of each group facing off for the gold medal, the 2nd place teams from each group facing off for bronze medals. the 3rd placed teams from each group d facing off for 5th place and the 4th placed teams facing off for 7th place.

What is a Greco Roman Wrestling Mat

Wrestlers wrestle on a wrestling mat that is 9 meters in diameter with a 1.5 meter border. The border is known as the protection area and is there to make sure that there is room in case wrestler’s go out of bounds. The mat is soft and made specifically for wrestling, it has a great gripping surface and is soft enough to safely fall on after being thrown, even by a 5 point throw. 

The wrestling mat also has a “Red Zone” which is a 1 meter thick painted line that surrounds the wrestling mat and in the middle of the mat is the center circle which is 1 meter in diameter.

In all major international wrestling competitions such as the Olympic games, World Championships, World Cup and Regional championships such as the Pan-American Games, the competition must always use a brand new mat to make sure that there is an absolute even standard of competition and no unfair advantage.

What are the Best Countries in Greco Roman Wrestling

There are many countries that take part in Greco Roman wrestling competition but there are a few countries that historically have really dominated, these countries are the Soviet Union, Russia, Georgia, Sweden, Bulgaria, Turkey, Japan, Romania, Finland and Cuba. 

You may have seen the US absent from the list and there is a reason, the US is a very good Greco-Roman wrestling country but there is not much emphasis on Greco Roman wrestling in the US wrestling system and the USA only entered Olympic Greco competition in 1952. There have been very famous US Greco Roman wrestlers such as Rulon Gardner who beat the famous Aleksandr Karelin but overall the US has a system that is much better geared towards Freestyle wrestling.

Who are The Best Greco Roman Wrestlers of All Time

There have been thousands of greco roman athletes in international competition but there are a handful that have become true legends in the sport of Greco Roman wrestling, these legends are Aleksandr Karelin, Mijain Lopez, Roman Vlasov, Carl Westergren, Petar Kirov, Ivor Johansson, Valery Rezantsev, Vincenzo Maenza, Istvan Kozma, Hamza Yerlikaya, Aleksandr Kolchinsky, Hamid Sourian, Imre Polyak and Valery Rezantsev.

Aleksandr Karelin
Aleksandr Karelin

Generally speaking, the godfather of Greco Roman wrestling is Aleksandr Karelin, who dominated the international Greco scene like no other, winning 3 Olympic Greco Roman Wrestling Gold medals and 1 Olympic silver Medal, 9 Greco-Roman World Championship Gold medals, 2 World Cup Gold medals and 12 Gold Medals at the European championships all for the Soviet Union and Russian Wrestling.

Karelin was truly a force to be reckoned with when he competed and the results speak for themselves.

Athletic Attributes of Greco Roman Wrestling

Greco Roman wrestlers need to be incredibly strong, flexible, fast, agile and have a lot of stamina. They have an incredibly strong core section and have been likened to super athletes for their ability to possess an incredibly high level of athleticism in comparison to other sports.

They are said to have the strength of a weightlifter, the speed of a sprinter, the athleticism of a gymnast and flexibility of a yoga practitioner.

Greco Roman Wrestling Training

Greco Roman wrestling training is grueling with many hours focused on technical training, wrestling, strength training, cardiovascular training, plyometrics and more.

Most serious greco athletes wrestle 6 day a week, with multiple practices per day. Some practices are very technical in nature while some are incredibly difficult and intense.

Greco Roman Wrestling Training
Greco Roman Wrestling Training

It is common for greco athletes to do strength training, everything from Olympic lifting, to kettlebells to powerlifting and general weight training as Greco wrestlers need to be incredibly strong to both lift resisting opponents and to avoid being injured from being thrown.

There are many different schools of greco roman wrestling with the very best level of greco roman wrestling coming from Novosibirsk Russia via the world famous Greco Roman wrestling club named Dynamo Novosibirsk, run by the famous Greco-Roman wrestling coach Viktor Kuznetsov – the coach of Aleksandr Karelin and Roman Vlasov

Greco Roman Wrestling in The UFC and MMA

MMA has been no stranger to the influence of Greco Roman wrestling. Many former Greco Roman wrestlers have found a lot of success in the UFC and MMA, such fighters as Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Matt Lindland, Chael Sonnen, Dan Severn and Jon Jones all have come from a Greco-Roman wrestling background and used greco techniques to dominate to competition.

The Greco standing clinch has come to be a huge part of modern MMA with fighters from all disciplines practicing the Greco clinch and adapting greco techniques to their Mixed Martial Arts game.

There are a few reasons why Greco Roman wrestling has worked so well in MMA competition, mainly because of the more upright stance, the ability to push and control the opponent when in the clinch, the physical fitness that Greco training gives an athlete and lastly the mental toughness that Greco wrestlers have. All these items have enabled Greco Roman wrestling to be a huge part of the modern MMA gameplan.

In Conclusion

Greco Roman Wrestling is a sport of the people, it is a pure sport, it is one of the best sports of the Olympic games and it will continue to produce high quality athletes. There is a reason Greco Roman wrestling was named after the Greco Roman times and it is because of the character that the sport exhibits, one of class, power and prestige.


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