What Is Grappling In MMA? A Quick Guide To Grappling In MMA

What is grappling in MMA?

MMA has been one of the fastest-growing sports in the world ever since the early days of the UFC. Since then, MMA has changed quite a bit. The only thing that remains the same is how important grappling is to the sport. But if you are new to MMA you might be wondering what exactly grappling even is. 

Grappling in MMA is an umbrella term for various martial arts disciplines that do not use striking in their art form. Examples of grappling styles in MMA would include wrestling, BJJ, Judo, and sambo to name a few.

Essentially in the world of martial arts you have striking, grappling, and weapons training. Grappling would include techniques such as takedowns, pins, and submissions. Striking would refer to techniques such as punches, elbows, knees, and kicks. 

Grapplers have essentially dominated MMA since its start. Though of course, in today’s world you cant have any weaknesses. You need to know how to grapple and strike at a very elite level.

That said, most current and past UFC champions have come from a grappling background. Though BJJ dominated the early UFCs, most UFC champions have come from a wrestling background. 

Grappling In MMA vs Sport Grappling

Most MMA fighters today are simply adopting the best grappling techniques from each style. In addition, they are adapting these techniques to be suited for MMA. After all, all of these grappling arts are their own sport, and with the exception of perhaps Combat Sambo they do not include strikes. 

When strikes are incorporated it is a totally different game. This is why you will see many techniques that are common in BJJ competitions that you would never see in MMA. After all, it’s harder to employ certain techniques when someone is punching you in the face. 

Most Common Types Of Grappling In MMA

There are a handful of grappling styles found in MMA. The most common would include wrestling, BJJ, judo, catch wrestling, and Russian Sambo. That said, even within these styles there is a lot of cross-training. This is becoming even more and more true. 

Wrestling In MMA

This study on the background of UFC champions from the past 25 years shows that wrestling is the most dominant grappling style as a base for MMA. 

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. So as you can see wrestling is possibly the most important grappling style in MMA. 

Most of these wrestlers come from a Greco-Roman, Freestyle, or Folkstyle wrestling background. But some have even come from a catch wrestling background. Which is basically the grandfather art of all modern wrestling.

The biggest difference is that catch wrestling still has submissions. Because of this, it is likely an underappreciated grappling art for MMA. In fact, the only reason I think it is not more prominent in MMA is that far fewer people practice the art today. 

Grappling Techniques From Wrestling Used In MMA:

  • Takedowns
  • Takedown Defense
  • Pins
  • Top Control
  • Escapes
  • Catch Wrestling Submissions

Why Wrestling Dominates MMA

Wrestlers dominate MMA because the rules and judging criteria favor their offensive grappling approach. A wrestler decides whether a fight remains standing or goes to the ground. If a wrestler can get you to the ground and control you then they get to fight from the dominate top position. 

The fighter who controls whether you stay standing up or go to the ground controls the fight. Whoever is better at taking down their opponent is typically the one who gets the top position.

Whoever has the top position can wear their opponent out by making them carry their weight. On top of that, they can reign down punches and elbows while the person on the bottom simply tries to survive. 

Wrestlers also come from very competitive backgrounds and are great at weight cuts. So they are already primed for the competitive and hard nature of MMA. 

BJJ AKA Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

In the early days of the UFC, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was king. This is back when it was one martial arts style vs another style. The goal was to see which art was actually best for one on one combat. Most people remember Royce Gracie who used BJJ to dominate the early UFCs.

BJJ was the best grappling style in the Octagon at that time because most people from other styles did not know how to counter it. Even most of the wrestlers who where fighting at the time where not prepared to counter the submissions of BJJ. 

Much has changed since the beginning days of the UFC when BJJ dominated the octagon. Today only a handful of the top fighters would be considered BJJ guys. Of course, just about every MMA fighter still practices BJJ and uses BJJ as part of their game. 

It is simply that we have moved on from fighters strictly using one martial art in MMA. In fact, that is why we call it MMA or Mixed Martial Arts. Because you use a mixture of martial arts to be a well rounded fighter. 

Of course, the same goes for wrestlers as well. A wrestler must also learn BJJ and other grappling techniques as well as becoming a proficient striker to make in in MMA today. So needless to say BJJ like wrestling, is still an essential grappling art for MMA.

Grappling Techniques From BJJ Used In MMA:

  • Takedowns
  • Control and Pins
  • Sweeps
  • Escapes
  • Chokes
  • Joint Locks

Judo In MMA

Judo is definitely an effective grappling art for MMA. Some of greatest grappling in MMA history are judo black belts. Of course, like the BJJ players and wrestlers, these judokas will have to cross-train in other arts  to be truly effective in MMA. 

There are a few fighters that have brought attention to judo’s effectiveness in MMA. The biggest name that comes to mind is likely Rhonda Rousey. This is for good reason too, I mean she did use judo to become one of the biggest MMA stars of all time. She is arguably still to this day the first female MMA fighter that comes to mind for most people. 

When it comes to takedowns and throws judo and wrestling are the best grappling arts for MMA.  Like a good wrestler, a skilled judoka can control where the fight goes. Though it must be adapted without the judogi, judo is in my opinion an underrated grappling art for MMA. 

Judo is actually the father art to BJJ. However, judo has evolved much more towards the sport of judo than the style of judo that was taught to the Gracies. That said, judo is a good common ground between wrestling and BJJ because it has both takedowns and submissions. 

Grappling Techniques From Judo Used In MMA:

  • Throws
  • Takedowns
  • Pins
  • Chokes
  • Joint Locks

Sambo In MMA

Sambo is among the most modern grappling styles in MMA, with a history dating to 1920’s Russian combat. It combines the stylings of Catch Wrestling, Jujitsu, Judo, and a variety of others to create a form of self-defense. Sambo is growing in popularity and quickly gaining recognition. 

In addition to the grappling sport of sambo, there is also Combat Sambo which is very similar to MMA. It uses the grappling from Sambo combined with strikes to become a more well rounded combat art. 

This dynamic sport offers a wide range of skills in both standing and ground positions. The sport is not widely spread globally but make no mistake; Combat Sambo is an efficient martial art fighting system. 

To illustrate Combat Sambo’s effectiveness, Khabib Nurmagomedov is a renowned former unbeaten UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) champion whose fighting techniques included MMA and a background in Combat Sambo. Another combat sambo fighter that some consider to be the greatest of all time is Fedor  Emelianenko

Grappling Techniques From Sambo Used In MMA:

  • Takedowns and throws
  • Chokes
  • Joint Locks
  • Pins
  • Ring Control
  • Top Control

What Is The Best Grappling Style In MMA?

So what are we to do with all of these grappling styles? If you are interested in grappling for the purpose of MMA then the best thing you can do is learn from all of the grappling styles found in MMA. 

There really is no best style but each art does have pros and cons when practiced by themselves. Most wrestling does not have submissions but has the best takedowns and control.

BJJ has some of the best submissions and also teaches you to submit your opponents from your back in case you end up there. However, it is not as well know for takedowns. So as you can see there are thing to learn from all of these grappling arts.

For an MMA fighter the best thing you can do is learn how to grapple specifically from MMA. After all, MMA uses techniques from all of these grappling arts but at the end of the day it is a completely different sport.

Joshua Paul

Joshua Paul is a BJJ purple belt who lives in Austin, Texas. Joshua loves all forms of grappling and when he is off the mats he is likely spending time with his wife and son.

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