While the sport of wrestling and the sport of BJJ could be considered brother & sister sports, there are some fundamental differences between the two.
Let’s dive into it!
Explaining The Difference Between BJJ vs Wrestling
When discussing BJJ and Wrestling it is important to note & remember that while they are both based on grappling, they are entirely different sports. This is evident in the rule systems that each of them follows, the uniforms, the length of about, and even the core principles.
Rules For BJJ and Wrestling
Key Principles: Wrestling
The ultimate end goal of wrestling is to pin your opponent’s shoulders to the ground to end the match immediately, “pinning” him.
Wrestlers look to engage on their feet, attack their opponent’s legs and score a takedown. From there they establish control in the “top position” & depending on the style of wrestling they go for various turns to expose their opponents back to the mat.
Each exposure brings points in for the offensive wrestler. In Freestyle/Greco-Roman the shoulders/back only need to break 90 degrees for points to be awarded. But in Folkstyle wrestling, the shoulders/back need to break 45 degrees and be held there for two or four seconds, each interval awarding a different amount of points.
The bottom guy in wrestling looks to either reverse his opponent, meaning he ends up in the top position. Or he looks to get up to his feet and escape to return to the standing “neutral” position.
Key Principles: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
In BJJ the principles are different. As you likely know, in BJJ we have the ability to perform submissions & breaks.
We look to put our opponent into a position where we can get to a choke or put a limb of our opponent into a position where we can go against the joint to get them to tap.
In BJJ you also have the freedom of pulling guard/working through various guard positions. So your back is exposed. This is FUNDAMENTALLY different from wrestling in that you would be giving up points in wrestling for doing the same.
While they both have a lot of positions to be aware of, from my perspective BJJ has more positions & sequences to learn. Handfuls of different guards, mounts, back takes, etc.
Uniform: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
The uniform is different depending on the BJJ style you are competing in. In BJJ the athletes wear a Gi. This is normally made of cotton. It is a top & bottom set. The top does not close in the sense that it remains open when not fastened down. The pants have some type of cord in the waistband for you to tie the pants.
The Gi is then “closed” together by the belt that athletes wear signifying their level of expertise in the sport. White belt, blue belt, purple belt, brown belt, black belt.
In No-Gi BJJ the athletes wear either a pair of compression shorts & a compression shirt. Or they wear a pair of fight shorts & a compression shirt. In ADCC competition athletes are allowed to just compete in the fight shorts/compression shorts with no shirt.
In High School, College & International level wrestling there are two uniforms that are primarily worn. The first of which is the most commonly known “Singlet”. A wrestling singlet is made of spandex/lycra or nylon. It is a one-piece uniform that is form-fitting to the athlete, but due to the nature of the material it is made of it stretches as well. In more recent times a new uniform has been introduced as an option. It is called a “Doublet” and it really is only worn in American folkstyle wrestling. A Doublet is a spandex compression T-Shirt with a pair of, usually matching, fight shorts!
Internationally, only a singlet is allowed to be worn for Freestyle or Greco-Roman competition, which is what you see in the Olympics. There is a third style of wrestling with a third uniform. This style is Beach Wrestling and in this sport, you wear no shirt with either a pair of spandex shorts or bathing suit trunks styled shorts!
Rules For Wrestling
The rules for wrestling differ greatly from BJJ. It is also dependent on the style. So in the essence of keeping it simple & to the point, this is what you should consider:
Wrestling starts on the feet working for a takedown. Upon securing a takedown, 2 points are awarded for that takedown. Wrestlers then have the opportunity to turn their opponents back to the mat for “exposure” points. If they come back up to their feet in Folkstyle, a point is awarded to the escaping wrestler. In Freestyle & Greco-Roman after 15 seconds of turning attempt, the athletes are brought back to their feet by a whistle. No escape point is awarded.
In Freestyle & Greco-Roman athletes are allowed to “lock hands” on top in an attempt to turn. In Folkstyle, however, this is not allowed and is called a “body lock”.
The ultimate goal in wrestling is to pin your opponent’s shoulders to the ground to end the match.
College Folkstyle matches are timed like so: Three minutes first period, two-minute second period, two-minute third period. In Freestyle & Greco-Roman the bout is timed as so: Two three-minute periods totaling a six-minute match.
To learn more about the differences between the rules of Folkstyle and Freestyle, check out this video.
Does Wrestling have a ranking system like BJJ?
There are various ranking systems used in wrestling depending on which style you are talking about. In Folkstyle wrestling, you can find rankings on sites like Intermat and Flowrestling.
For Freestyle & Greco-Roman wrestling you can find rankings by going on the UWW website.
Oftentimes, the top 20-30 wrestlers in each weight class are ranked. There is also a Pound for Pound ranking as well for college Folkstyle wrestling and Flowrestling will also do Pound for Pound rankings for the international styles of Freestyle & Greco-Roman!
If you wanted to find rankings for Freestyle and Greco-Roman you can find them on this site.
Similarities between BJJ vs Wrestling
The greatest similarity between BJJ and Wrestling lies in the fact that they are both rooted in grappling. As opposed to say Boxing or Muay Thai which is a striking sport.
In wrestling and BJJ, you start on your feet, when grappling on your feet you are working to score a takedown. After scoring a takedown you work to establish control. This is the main similarity honestly.
Feet wrestling and various positions that the two share (like back taking for example).
Which one is more effective?
Personally, I would say both are nearly equally effective in a self-defense setting. Though I would give a slight edge to wrestling. I say this because in a self-defense setting on your feet, you could go for a takedown, but would you go for an inversion to defend yourself?
After the fight goes to the ground though, the skills you build in BJJ in terms of holding someone down, like in mount, are very useful.
As always, for self-defense, the greatest defense is to not get into a fight at all. This is not always possible though and sometimes we are put into a situation where we have no choice but to fight.
Both wrestling & BJJ will help you in this setting and could save your life. You need to determine for yourself what is useful and what is actually realistic to use to defend yourself!