Is wrestling becoming less effective in MMA?


I remember when Frank Shamrock slammed Igor Zinoviev, knocking him out at UFC 16, when Tito Ortiz wrecked Evan Tanner, and who could forget Quinton Jackson’s highlight reel KO slam of Ricardo Arona in Pride? 

Wrestling’s use in MMA over the years has evolved drastically. From early examples of fighters being slammed into next week because they had no takedown defence, to fighters using superior wrestling to control or ‘lay and pray’ as some might call it.

There was a period of time not too long ago where a solid collegiate wrestling background could almost guarantee success in the cage. The ability to take a guy down and control him for 15 minutes, although not entertaining to all fans, could win fights.

As with most sports MMA has evolved. Fighters have begun to train more technically and within all aspects rather than just their speciality. The gift of being well rounded is a huge asset to any rising MMA star out there today. 

When you look at  how dominant a wrestler Tito Ortiz was, he was widely considered one of the best light-heavyweights of his time and for good reason. All down to his high paced aggressive wrestling control and ground and pound.

As MMA evolved and gyms started teaching and creating new forms of takedown defence the game really changed. Guys like Chuck Lidell used ‘wrestling in reverse’ to keep fighters like Kevin Randleman, Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz on their feet and score knockout victories.

Obviously wrestling is a must for any MMA competitor’s arsenal, and I’m not saying that wrestling is a thing of the past, but could we be seeing the next step of evolution in MMA? 

What is going to be the next dominant style in MMA? Or is a well-rounded, conditioned, pure athlete the base that is needed to compete in this sport?


  • BJJ! BJJ!

    • Remember when Royce Gracie used to own fools in the early UFC days?

      • Yeah!! I was in the crowd, rooting for my man Royce!!
        *2 years before I was born*

        Just kidding I saw his fights and yeah it shows how important bjj is in a fighter's toolkit.

    • The next dominant style will be Muay Thai and BJJ (including a good TDD). Think of Barao, Aldo, Silva(4x), Pettis, Maia(mostly bjj), etc.

      But here again it's more about the fighter than the style. A superior fighter who masters what he does will always (most of the time) win.

      • But then it only takes one punch to change that. Even GSP who is arguably one of the greatest wrestlers in the sports history has been caught and TKO'd

    • As long as the rules and judging criteria remain, wrestlers trying to get takedown simply for control will remain.

      • wrestling is the best base sport for mma, because unfortunately it wins fights.
        i don't like it. why would you score a takedown? its just one element of the game, to me it has the same value as a punch or a kick. getting the better position with a takedown is awarding enough, you don't need to score it extra!
        so you got a takedown, then do damage god dammit! don't just lay there!
        if you score a takedown, then it would be fair to score takedown defenses as well. remember diego sanchez vs. martin kampmann fight? diego got one takedown and it was at the end of the 3rd round, and martin defended like 15 of them and he busted up sanchez pretty bad. and sanchez won that fight! wtf?!
        or the last tuf fight? the cop didn't threw one punch in the 1st round, and yet i bet they gave it to him, even tho clint hester was doing damage even from his back…
        it *****! wrestling will remain dominant in mma until they do something about the rules…

  • The less effective wrestling becomes, the better for MMA.

    • I would argue that wrestling has become more effective. Not in the obvious way that is alluded to in this article but defensive wrestling to prevent TDs. I think Liddell was one of the first to bring a really solid defensive wrestling game and it has been incorporated in many of the top fighters who like to keep it standing now. Wrestling is that effective fighters are now hareder to takedown because of it so it's a good thing for those who only enjoy the stand up side of MMA.

      It also reduces the chances of fighters like Guida who seems to have become a fighter who will use a TD to hold position and steal a round without actually doing damage, from getting away with it. He isn't the only one who has done this, there's many fighters who try to steal a round with a late TD.

  • Wrestling will be the dominant style forever. A good wrestler more often than not wins against a good striker, and dominates a good BJJ practitioner. Nothing has changed, and I do not believe will change in the foreseeable future.

    • Sharp times a million.

    • In 20 years time, if we still have the horror of having no Olympic wrestling, the younger fighters could very well come up with a lower level of wrestling in relation to the always improving levels of striking and BJJ

      • From people I've talked to it seems that the decision was more to save the M pentathalon than it was to get rid of wrestling. The general thought now is wrestling will be added back in this summer because of the wealth of support it has, but the MP wouldn't have been that lucky.

        Hopefully, that is correct. Although it is a shady way to hold on to a sport most don't care about.

    • "more often than not wins against a good striker"
      What wrestlers always wins against striking

      • I think he means those who are only good strikers will lose to good wrestlers. Good strikers with good wrestling are a diffferent matter.

    • there aren't too many elite level wrestlers around who haven't been subbed when they have came up against elite level bjj players.

  • Wrestling's effectiveness or lack there of can definitely be blamed on the sports evolution.

    Back in the day not everyone could wrestle, and now it's mandatory to know the basics or at least learn how to defend a takedown. Not to mention that the fighters will naturally progress and evolve to fill up the holes in there game and get better, forcing the entire sport to evolve with them.

    I still maintain to this day that the most essential and dominant martial art in MMA is and always will be Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. You can argue with me until you're blue in the face, but it's practicality for all applications is like no other form of combat.

    If striking were fire, BJJ would be the water. Nothing stops water..

    • Well said.

    • @Bryan… just made Joe Rogan happy.

    • But fire evaporates water,
      So it all goes back to skill, higher striking (Anderson) will make someone like miai's bjj look like a white belt.

      In my opinion the individual is a bigger factor than their style

      • *Maia

      • it's hard to debate with a person who thinks fire trumps water.

        • Chemical fires burn in water. There are chemicals that will combust when coming into contact with water. But pedantic points aside BJJ, wrestling and striking are not like rock scissors, paper. A blEnd of all 3 is required to compete at the very highest level in most divisions these days so we won't see many pure striker vs pure wrestler match ups anymore, though no doubt a few will crop up from time to time.

    • Earth stops water–and MMA wrestling stops BJJ frequently.

      MMA has revealed three broad bases:
      8 point striking
      Wrestling–including clinch-work
      and BJJ.

      All three bases are necessary to be a well-rounded MMA practitioner.

      Arguing that one is better than the other is futile. Just like Rock, Paper, Scissors–any one of the three bases (or all) can win a fight.

  • @Rory…Wrestling was very effective when Brock first sprung on the scene, however his inexperience in standup gave him trouble in his later fights. Size and strength seemed to play a bigger part for Brock's early success until he met up against opponents his equal size with TDD and wrestling credentials.

    • @enjoy that's very true, I think it also has to do with guys being predictable in some aspects

      • In some cases wrestling is limited, for example, there would be alot of wrestlers who would think twice before taking guys like Damien Maia to the ground…Then on the other hand if you look at the top guys in the sport they all have wrestling credentials like Cain V, Bones Jones, GSP.

  • Definitely not, it is actually becoming MUCH more effective in my opinion.

    People may be misguided in to thinking it is less effective because there aren't as many 15 minute decisions with one guy winning by solely dominating with takedowns. The reason we see less of these though is because wrestling is being used much more effectively in defense.

    Jose Aldo and Lavar Johnson can be used to make a point on this.
    Johnson is one of the remaining guys who offer literally no takedown defense and a even very average wrestler like Brendan Schaub can take him down without effort, this is an example of wrestling not being used effectively since he can't defend against an avergae wrestler.
    Jose Aldo uses wrestling so effectively that he can negate a majority of the offense from some of the sport's top fighters like Frankie Edgar, Urijah Faber and Chad Mendes.

    It is incredibly more common now for fighters who prefer to stand up to be able to use wrestling effectively enough to get their wish and as well as this new breed like Aldo, JDS and Barao, there is still the legions of fighters who use wrestling effectively enough they can take their opponent down even if they have great wrestling defense.

    • You initially sound like you are disagreeing with the article, but you are in essence agreeing with it. The fact that wrestling is being used defensively has nullified fighters who focused strictly on wrestling to win. Thus fighters who focus strictly on wrestling are becoming less effective.

      • It's really a matter of perspective. Overall wrestling (just like BJJ in the past) has become more integral to each fighters arsenal. In this sense it has become more effective, but for those who relied on wrestling to win, it has become less effective. Great article and great comment Keith. Both of you guys exercised my brain here..

        • haha thanks dude and yea your right, it's the wrestlers who are becoming less effective rather than wrestling itself. Although there are still plenty of guys who could beat 95% of their divisions using wrestling alone, guys like GSP, Cain, Edgar, Mendes, DC, Cruz and probably a couple more

  • Interesting thought and article though, I had to really think about it.

  • I think the balance between dominant Striking/BJJ/Wrestling is the same as it's always been, the difference today is that most fighter's are DEFENSIVELY strong in at least two disciplines. That's where the change is imo, when I first started watching the UFC side control guaranteed SERIOUS damage and mount guaranteed victory. Offensively things haven't changed that much we still have specialist like Maia and Maynard who dominate in one discipline or look to use one discipline to win. Wrestlers who don't GnP effectively will always be boring to watch but BJJ is so much more interesting to see.

  • Exception to the need for wrestling is Anderson Silva. If you are good enough, you can destroy a wrestler. Wrestling has very few defences on it's own. BJJ vs Wrestling is 95% going to be won by the BJJ practitioner all things being equal. But nobody can deny it's worth to those that have not the mastery of guys like Silva. I know some of you will point out his TDD is wrestling, I agree. All I am saying is that when his wwrestling fails to overcome anothers wrestling it is negated and he has to reach into the art of BJJ or Kickboxing to win and he has never won by wrestling and has defeated all who use it against him.

  • I know one thing wrestling definitely is effective for in MMA–getting you released from the UFC

    • @Mike….lol…………The olympic committe must have been following Dana's lead

  • More often than not. The best mma wrestlers are just that, wrestlers. What's changed is that being a one trick pony is less possible every day. Lesnar, Sonnen, and Mendes all fell to strikers with solid TDD. While GSP runs through great strikers again and again. Because first, GSP makes them fear his strikes. If all they have to worry about is the TD, they get comfortable. Same thing as punches vs kicks. If you are a good puncher, make him respect your kicks first. Then when you start punching he will know he is in trouble.

  • What are you talking almost half of the champions are wrestlers. Cain, Jon Jones, Ben Henderson, Dominick Cruz, Might Mouse.

  • Less effective at keeping your job!!

    Stupid question since every single champion has good wrestling, so you tell me.