Is Greco Roman Wrestling Good for MMA?


Is Greco Roman wrestling good for MMA?

Greco-Roman wrestling is one of the most popular styles of wrestling in the world. Wrestlers compete in amateur Greco-Roman competitions, with the pinnacle of the sport taking place at the Olympic games every four years. Unfortunately, however, many Greco-Roman wrestlers have no place to turn to after their wrestling career. Which makes many wonders if Greco-Roman wrestling is good for MMA. 

Greco-Roman Wrestling is good preparation for an MMA career, as wrestlers are powerful, athletic, and fit. They also have experience with clinching and takedowns, which are helpful in the MMA ring. Greco-Roman wrestlers must learn to use and fend off leg takedowns if they switch to MMA.

I’ll spend the rest of the article explaining the Greco-Roman wrestling style in detail. Read on to learn how Greco-Roman wrestlers can successfully transition to MMA if they wish to compete professionally.

Greco Roman Wrestlers and MMA Success

A study on the background of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), champions from the past 25 years shows that wrestling is the dominant background for those competitors. Four-time All-American Rutgers wrestler Sebastian Rivera investigated the previous careers of every UFC champion from 1997 to highlight wrestling’s dominance in MMA.

His research shows that out of the 70 UFC champions at that time, 28 had a wrestling background. The next closest is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with 17 and boxing with 12 winners in those years. Kickboxing, muay Thai, taekwondo, and karate are the remaining backgrounds of past UFC champions. As you can see wrestlers are very good at transitioning into MMA

A large amount of these wrestlers come from a Greco-Roman wrestling background. Of course, many of them also had a background in freestyle wrestling and folkstyle wrestling as well. Either way, wrestling is shown to be the most dominant skill to transfer into MMA. 

But why do wrestlers enjoy such a smooth transition to mixed martial arts? Rivera speculates that wrestlers have an advantage in close combat, as grapples and holds are a significant part of mainstream wrestling styles. He also notes that fighters who have striking backgrounds may find it difficult to fend off wrestling takedowns.

Because of this wrestlers get to choose whether or not the fight stays up or goes to the ground. This way they might choose to take a kickboxer down but choose to stay standing with a submission specialist. 

The Greco-Roman Wrestling to MMA Transition

Given wrestling is such a significant part of mixed martial arts, it is understandable that Greco-Roman and other wrestlers can successfully transition into MMA competitions such as UFC. 

Greco Roman Wrestling Skills Translate to Mixed Martial Arts

Greco Roman wrestling transitions very well into MMA. Though I do believe it would be best to also have a background in other wrestling styles, there is a reason Greco Roman wrestlers have done so well in MMA. One of the reasons I think Greco-Roman wrestlers do so well in MMA is that they wrestle from a more upright position than other styles.

This is because they are not concerned with takedowns below the waist. Though of course, you need to worry about this in MMA, it is good that they have spent more time wrestling from a similar posture an MMA fighter would take. Knowing a good amount of upper body throws will also come in handy when an MMA fighter has their opponent up against the cage. 

While MMA fighters must also master submissions and striking moves, being experts at wrestling gives them an excellent base to develop their mixed martial arts skills.

Greco-Roman wrestlers possess the type of grappling style that is very effective in MMA. Given they can quickly get their opponent in the clinch hold, wrestlers can then use moves such as throws and suplexes to get the upper hand in a contest.

MMA Scoring Systems Help Wrestlers

Tomislav Zivanovic, a mixed martial arts analyst, believes that MMA rules and scoring systems are also favorable to wrestlers. He mentions that wrestlers are familiar with controlling their rivals from the top position, while they are also very good at takedowns.

MMA judges award more points to a fighter who dominates their opponent from the top position, while they also give a lot of points for takedowns. Some judges give takedowns nearly the same value as knockdowns.

Greco Roman Wrestlers Can Handle the Pressure Of MMA 

Zivanovic also points out that wrestlers usually train for the sport from a very young age. They are wrestling in middle school, high school, and college, while some even compete in amateur or even Olympic competitions as they get older.

Having hundreds to thousands of matches under their belt means that a wrestler understands the pressure of elite sport. They are also familiar with training intensely for a competition.

Some wrestlers peak at NCAA or Pan American tournaments, while others may even go to the Olympics. The pressures of an MMA fight are no more than such competitions. After all, wrestling is one of the toughest sports in the world

Greco-Roman vs. Folkstyle vs. Freestyle Wrestling In MMA 

Greco-Roman, freestyle, and folkstyle wrestling are three of the sport’s most popular varieties. Greco-Roman is the oldest of the three varieties, while freestyle and folkstyle are relatively newer.

There are a few significant differences between these competitions, which include:

  • Greco-Roman wrestling does not permit scoring below the waist, which means that leg attacks are not legal.
  • Freestyle and Greco-Roman competitions do not allow you to do anything while you are on the bottom. 
  • You must also hold your opponent on their back for a single second to achieve a pin in Greco-Roman and Freestyle, while Folkstyle wrestling has a two-second pinning rule.

Greco-Roman wrestlers have one disadvantage when transitioning to MMA: the introduction of holds and hits below the waist. These wrestlers must learn to attack their opponents’ lower bodies and defend their own.

Both freestyle and folkstyle wrestlers already play in competitions where going after the opponent’s legs in offense and defense is legal. They may find the transition to MMA slightly easier compared to a Greco-Roman wrestler.

However, Greco-Roman wrestlers are also very adept at attacking above the waist, as that is the entire basis for their sport. A freestyle or folkstyle wrestler may get away with mediocre above waist attack or defense, but that is not the case for a Greco-Roman wrestler.

Greco-Roman wrestlers stand up straight when competing, while freestyle and folkstyle wrestlers bend over at the waist. MMA fighters also stand straight during a fight, as being upright leaves a person less vulnerable to an attack to the head.

Considering all these factors, Greco-Roman wrestlers are prepared for a career in mixed martial arts, even if they are not necessarily advantaged compared to freestyle or folkstyle wrestlers. That said, a wrestler with a background in multiple wrestling styles has the best advantage. If they have a background in catch wrestling then they will even have some submissions under their belt. 

Final Thoughts

Transitioning to a career in mixed martial arts is very feasible for Greco-Roman wrestlers. Wrestling and MMA have many similarities, and history has shown that wrestlers have no trouble reaching the top of MMA competitions such as UFC.

However, Greco-Roman wrestlers don’t have any significant advantages over other wrestlers if they choose to pursue MMA fighting in their careers. That is with the exception of being used to a standing and better clinch work.  Many moves and techniques from several wrestling variants translate to success in the MMA ring.

Overall, MMA is an incredibly diverse sport, and top competitors have different styles, strengths, and weaknesses. Indeed, a quality wrestler with Greco-Roman experience can be successful in MMA.

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