With the massive growth of MMA, a steadily increasing number of people are interested in learning many of the skills that make a good MMA fighter, with BJJ and Wrestling being some of the most popular, as both have been proven to be one of the most effective martial arts inside the cage.
BJJ vs wrestling, which is better for MMA?
In this write up, we talk about the advantages of BJJ and wrestling, and the context for each art in an MMA fight, to hopefully help you determine whether BJJ or wrestling is better for MMA.
BJJ is the skill of controlling and submitting people on the ground, as well as avoiding having the same done to you. In an MMA context, BJJ control can be used to set up ground and pound positioning as well.
The main advantage to being better at BJJ compared to your opponent, is that you know that if the fight goes to the ground, you can most likely beat them. This forces the opponent to rethink attacks and positions that may result in them being forced to grapple with you.
Wrestling is the art of taking someone to the ground. In most styles of wrestling, the ultimate way to win is to take your opponent off his feet, and put him on his back. Wrestling rules reward the players with the best takedowns and ability to stay on their feet.
The better wrestler in a fight has the advantage in determining where the fight takes place. If you can take a good striker down you nullify most of the threat. If you can keep a BJJ fighter from taking you down, then they cannot impose any sophisticated submission game on you.
BJJ in the early UFC
BJJ was king during the early days of the UFC. Other than Royce Gracie, there weren’t a ton of guys in the early UFC era with great submission grappling experience, especially when compared to a Royce Gracie caliber grappler.
BJJ is extremely effective for submitting opponents who aren’t as good at it as you. Even someone with great takedowns and wrestling pressure will quickly find themselves in a choke or joint-lock if they aren’t familiar with the details of submission grappling.
The thing is, once that solid wrestler begins to learn BJJ and knows how to avoid major mistakes, it will become increasingly difficult to catch him in the common submission traps.
The BJJ artist will need a substantial game plan, to submit a good wrestler with solid submission defense.
BJJ vs Wresting in modern MMA
In modern high level MMA, someone who is hyper specialized at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu becomes a no-go to fight on the ground.
For example, a fighter like Demian Maia is so good at using BJJ in MMA, the only game plan against him becomes out striking and avoiding a BJJ exchange. The problem with this strategy is that it is dependent on also having a good takedown game.
In his UFC Welterweight title fight with Tyron Woodley, Maia’s only mission was to take Woodley down. Woodley, a phenomenal wrestler, knew this. His main strategy was to avoid the takedown and punish Maia with stiff punches every time Maia closed the distance.
You may notice that Woodley’s hands are often pretty low throughout the fight, suggesting he is far more worried about Maia’s takedown and ground game than Maia’s strikes.
Although a guy like Maia is a phenom at submitting people, the fact of the matter is, this expertise often comes at the expense of a sophisticated takedown game.
In Woodley vs Maia, we are talking about guys who have invested so much time into their respective game plans, that any additional training they could have done. would have come at the expense of the training they actually did.
This means that for Maia to have had a better wrestling or striking game against Woodley, he would have had to train less BJJ, thereby risk being less adept at finishing on the ground and vice versa.
Both Maia and Woodley have phenomenal MMA styles, that would work well against a wide variety of MMA skillsets. Neither of these guys is remotely inexperienced, when it comes any aspect of the fighting arts.
Nevertheless, high level fights such as Woodley vs Maia, demonstrate that it is crucial to be able to dictate where the fight will take place.
In this case, Woodley’s wrestling dictated where the fight would take place, and thereby nullified any advantage Maia had on the ground.
BJJ vs Wrestling in amateur MMA
Most amateur fighters coming out of one of the growing number of quality MMA programs, are pretty well rounded by now.
Good camps aren’t going to put someone in the cage without about blue belt level grappling, high school wrestling, and the ability to throw and defend the bread and butter strikes.
All that being said, I consistently see a trend that better wrestlers tend to be the ones winning MMA fights, even at the amateur level.
As we saw in Maia vs Woodley, submission game is far less effective when you can’t take the opponent down. Dumb this down quite a bit, and you pretty much see the same pattern at any level of MMA.
Wrestling and striking have the same relationship.
You could be a Golden Gloves boxer, and still get flatlined in MMA by a high school wrestler with a mean double leg takedown. Fancy footwork and crisp punches are useless, if you can’t get a dude who’s smashing your face in off of you.
So… which art is better for MMA?
Being a good MMA fighter, means having a solid working knowledge of all aspects of the fight game. Although I firmly believe that the advantage generally goes to the fighter with superior wrestling ability.
Even you have the advantage in submissions or striking, you must be able to out wrestle the other fighter if you want to impose your skillset.
Wrestling is a hard and humbling skill to learn, but it is crucial to consistently winning MMA fights.