Disputes between Martial Arts styles have always been a thing. The very core of the creation of some events, such as UFC, the biggest Mixed Martial Arts promotion in the world, is the question “which Martial Art is the best?”. We got a completely different scene nowadays, but people keep throwing this kind of question around once in a while. The one million dollars fight-style debate is, hands down, BJJ x Wrestling.
Does BJJ have more benefits than Wrestling? BJJ has more advantages in real-life situations. But, inside a cage, the answer is more complex. It could be one or another and it’s essential to understand the differences between them and to know your potential for choosing.
Deciding might be harder than you think and knowledge is the key to it. But here’s the thing: most modern fighters train in both these Martial Arts. And, if you could, you should too.
What Are The Fundamental Differences Between Wrestling And BJJ?
Wrestling and BJJ are both grappling Martial Arts, but they have many important differences.
When we talk about wrestling as a Martial Art, we’re talking about freestyle wrestling. Its ultimate goal is to throw and pin the opponent to the mat, resulting in a winning. For this reason, the most important skills for a wrestler are the take-down and the body control through weight distribution.
Although these skills may be important for Jiu-Jitsu too, submission is the main goal here. There are Jiu-Jitsu styles that favor fighting from underneath. From this point of view, being taken down it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
For these reasons, wrestlers are famous for being able to decide if a fight will be defined on the ground or on a striking stand. On the other side, BJJ fighters can be fatal on the ground, but unable to take some opponents down.
What Happens When A BJJ Genius Faces A Master Wrestler?
If Demian Maia had been successful to take Tyron Woodley down at UFC 214, the Brazilian could become the welterweight champion of the world. The American kept him away the whole time though, frustrating each of his tries to apply his Jiu-Jitsu skills.
That’s it: basically, all wrestlers avoid, at all costs, going to the ground with an outstanding BJJ fighter. Sometimes, they even favor striking for a whole fight. Not doing it, could mean one loss more to the card. But the same also happens the other way around.
Ronaldo Jacaré, one of the best BJJ fighters in UFC’s history, went full striker against the All-American Chris Weidman and knocked him out. On the other hand, Demian Maia didn’t give up his attempts to take down Woodley and lost that fight for this reason.
The rule applies: normally, a great wrestler decides where is gonna be the fight, but, once it is on the ground, a BJJ fighter is far more dangerous. In UFC for example we are, currently, under Charles Oliveira’s reign. Daniel Cormier said just after Oliveira x Gaethje’s fight:
“How good is that dude? It’s insane… I just talked to Dana: what happened to Charles Oliveira? How did he become this? He’s legitimately one of the best fighters I have seen in my life… he gets hurt, but he also got, like, built-in traps, right? You hurt Charles Oliveira, you gotta take a step back, because, if you jump on him, dude might submit you… he’s got these built-in traps that you have to avoid whenever you’re trying to approach him. So it makes him very, very dangerous”.
Oliveira’s amazing BJJ skills make him so dangerous that most of his opponents will avoid at all costs going to the ground with him. Sometimes, even when he’s knocked down, his adversaries will rather let him recover than risk losing a fight rolling with the guy. Oliveira has the record for most submissions in UFC’s history: 21 wins by this method. His list of victims is composed of many great wrestlers.
On the other side, Cormier himself is an example of a very successful wrestler. He had been one of the most dominant fighters in both heavyweight and light heavyweight categories from 2013 until 2018. No wonder he has just made it to the UFC’s hall of fame. The very first fight he won in the organization was against a BJJ genius: Frank Mir.
Cormier’s history also highlights a difference between BJJ and Wrestling: stamina. This is a man who had a 5-round fight against Jon Jones and still had energy in the last round to pull out a suplex against a 100 kg man. This is surreal and it’s also a pattern: wrestlers, normally, have more stamina than BJJ fighters. This difference can be explained by the very nature of these sports.
Technical Differences Between BJJ And Wrestling Explained
A BJJ fighter is usually taught to save energy and create opportunities in a more studied game, like a chess match on the ground. Although some fights are finished by points, the goal is to submit an opponent as fast as possible. It’s not rare to see a fight that takes no more than a few seconds.
Wrestling is a very explosive and constant activity. Wrestlers are always trying hard to take their opponents down, putting all their heart into the trying. They are trained to win points and a more dynamic fight is better for that. What is called the “fall”, which finishes a fight earlier, is not very usual. Normally, a fight will be finished by points after three rounds.
Some people will also say that BJJ is a far more complex Martial Art than Wrestling. But complexity is a tricky concept. Bruce Lee once said,
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times”.
Yes, BJJ has a bigger number of techniques. But it’s sometimes at the simplicity that we find room for perfection. When it comes to Martial Arts, it’s not easy to define complexity.
Which Grappling Martial Art Is More Efficient In A Combat: BJJ Or Wrestling?
Let’s go straight to the truth: that depends on your goals. Most people will look into these Martial Arts as an addition to their MMA game. There was a time when you would see a desperate Art Jimmerson tapping for no reason against Royce Gracie on the full mount – UFC 1. But that’s over.
It’s unanimous: you gotta have some grappling skills to survive in a cage – and the same can be said about striking. Today, a fighter must be complete to be competitive.
What MMA History Can Tell Us?
Five of the current twelve champions of the UFC have a strong wrestling background and five others came from BJJ. Two are strikers who have just added some sort of grappling to their games. If you keep looking into UFC’s history, you might find a recent past where the promotion was completely dominated by Brazil and the USA.
From 2002 to 2016, the belts were held pretty much only by North Americans and Brazilians. The formers were known to be All-Americans wrestling to the top and the remainder for having huge BJJ backgrounds. The only exceptions to this dominance were Georges St-Pierre’s reign and Andrei Arlovski’s short period as a champion.
This is a rivalry that never gets old. One of the biggest sports websites on the planet, The Bleacher Report, has made a top 10 list of Brazil VS USA fights in the history of UFC – with some great picks. It was disappointing though that a symbol of BJJ VS Wrestling is not on the list: Anderson Silva VS Chael Sonnen. With one of the most incredible twists of all time, the Brazilian submitted the North American after being smashed for almost 5 rounds. BJJ 1:0 Wrestling.
Seven years later, the wrestler Tyron Woodley completely annulled the BJJ genius, Demian Maia, in UFC 214. That was one of the most boring fights ever, but here we go BJJ 1:1 Wrestling.
We could keep listing fights with advantages to one or another, but we will give this match a draw. The point is: if you look into the numbers, this battle of styles is incredibly tight. This happens because there are many more important factors in an MMA fight.
Today, you won’t find a single top 15 in any division in the UFC or any other MMA promotion that does not train both of these Martial Arts. Training both of them, though, takes a lot of time. If you’re not a professional, effectively making a living out of fighting, it’s quite hard, if not impossible. So, sometimes it does make sense to ask this question, especially when we look back at this rivalry history.
BJJ VS Wrestling Results In MMA
Sebastian Rivera has published an article in 2019 which claims that Wrestling has produced more champions in the UFC than BJJ. According to him, Wrestling had produced 28 UFC champions against only 17 produced by BJJ.
People might say “data don’t lie”, but, well, it does sometimes. This is biased research. It has been considered the only important factor in the so-called “primary fighting background”. That means that if a fighter who’s favored BJJ his whole life has a striking Martial Art as his primary fighting background, there’s no point for BJJ.
This way, Demian Maia could be considered a Kung Fu or Karate fighter. The first Martial Art in Maia’s life was Judo when he was just a little kid. As a teenager, he started to practice and compete as a striker. He hadn’t been presented to BJJ until he was 19 years old. Any person who says that he’s not a BJJ fighter though is out of his mind.
By the way, these results are reflected by statistics. By this method of research, there’s no way Wrestling would not be considered to produce more UFC champions. This is a Martial Art that is regularly practiced in schools in the whole USA territory – and many other countries. BJJ is a far more recent Martial Art and doesn’t share the same status.
Besides that, there are plenty of different Striking styles, far more than Grappling styles. So, it’s expected that the other Martial Art numbers would be diluted when compared to Wrestling.
What Happens Outside The Cage?
Not everyone is looking for a career in MMA. You can become a professional Wrestler or BJJ fighter, an instructor, or just a fun train. Some people look for Martial Arts to defend themselves. For any of these possibilities, there is more to consider.
Is BJJ More Efficient Than Wrestling In Self-Defense?
When it comes to self-defense, we can start by saying the obvious: either BJJ or Wrestling would be effective against a regular person. But, comparatively, we have to recognize that BJJ is way more efficient.
Helio Gracie and his brothers developed this Martial Art from Judo to turn it into a more effective self-defense tool. With tons of locks and chokes, that’s the A-game for any person who wants to defend himself. Some of these techniques are effective even in a standing position.
Is Wrestling Better Than BJJ As A Career Pathway?
As a career, it depends mainly on geography. You probably wouldn’t make a single dime fighting Wrestling in Brazil, for example. But there are plenty of opportunities in the USA. If you’re thinking about the Olympics, it’s a little bit more complex.
It’s easier to get into the Olympics training in a region that has not much tradition in a specific sport. But to be the best you must face the best. Imagine yourself competing for a place as a swimmer against Michael Phelps. This legend holds more gold medals at the Olympics than the whole African continent. However, if your ambitions are more than just participating in the Olympics, it’s you against the world anyway.
By the way, for some bizarre reason, BJJ is not yet an Olympic sport. So, unfortunately, that’s a career less to consider. But BJJ has an advantage in careers too. Nowadays, BJJ is far more spread than Wrestling. If you’re thinking about making a living out of this, competing for money, or teaching, it might be a better option.
Is BJJ Harder To Learn Than Wrestling?
Well, statistically, it takes more time to reach an internationally competitive level in BJJ than in Wrestling. If BJJ is a game of human chess, a BJJ master begins with much more pieces than any intermediate athlete.
At Wrestling, is much more a matter of efficiency in applying the same techniques. Repetition is the key. To sum up, it’s harder to master BJJ when compared to Wrestling.
Choosing between Wrestling and BJJ is hard, but it can be done as long as you have your goals in mind. If you’re planning to enter the MMA game, you must train both or you won’t be competitive. You might as well select one of them to start based on your skills.
If you’re a great striker, Wrestling will be more vital for you at the beginning. Since it helps you to avoid the ground by take-down defenses, you can use your striking skills better.
But this will not last for long. You cannot expect to always be fighting where you are more comfortable. Eventually, you will find someone who can take you down, and, when this day has come, you will need some BJJ skills to survive.