Since time immemorial, humans have grappled with each other, both in the literal sense and in the metaphorical sense, for resources, territory and dominance. Ancient cultures have depicted people fighting each other with bare hands for millennia.
Ancient Sumerian wall etchings, Greek urns that date back before the first Olympics, and even Meso-American artwork all illustrate times in which people (mostly men) wrestled with each other. Throughout the ages, wrestling was mostly taken out of the battlefield and distilled into a martial art that was undoubtedly part of the first incarnation of the Olympic Games in ancient Athens. As an aside, it is due to this last point that so many are frustrated that the sport of wrestling is on the verge of being dropped from the Olympics.
Fast forward to today and the rise of mixed martial arts (MMA). The very first UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) events introduced the mainstream public, those who were not familiar with the sport outside of college circuits and the dramatized professional wrestling version, with the sport of wrestling. Names like Dan “The Beast” Severn, Mark “The Smashing Machine” Kerr, and Mark “The Hammer” Coleman were shot into the spotlight along with the dominating and smothering style they fought with.
Mark Kerr and Mark Coleman both used freestyle wrestling to dictate where the fight usually took place, but more importantly, it places an emphasis on movement and exposing weaknesses. Using explosive and powerful movements, and a certain degree of risk, the freestyle wrestler is able to keep their opponents off balance. The freestyler then uses this opportunity to exploit the opponent’s instability.
Legendary fighters Randy Couture and Dan Henderson were both decorated Greco-Roman wrestlers. “Greco” limits the wrestler to attack only the opponent’s upper body. Attacks to the lower body are not scored and may even result in a disqualification. This seems very limited, that is until the throws start landing. The limitations set upon by this form of wrestling forces the wrestler to move in close to their opponents, secure body locks or shoulder hooks and then using the power of their hips to launch their opponent into orbit.
While both forms of wrestling are equally devastating, Greco-Roman wrestling arguably seems to have a more direct application in MMA. Since attacks can come from a variety of angles and limbs, fighters are usually forced to wade their way into range and then pepper their opponents with strikes before securing some sort of clinch or body lock. Greco’s insistence on attacking only the upper body helps wrestlers make a quicker transition into the sport, by dissuading them to shoot for distant takedowns or attacking the legs from afar.
While these are the two most likely forms of wrestling you will see applied in MMA, there are many other forms of wrestling that can be and has been used. Folkstyle that emphasizes positional dominance is considered the progenitor to freestyle and has been utilized by past champs like Matt Hughes.