There are many things that go into making a successful pro fighter, all kinds of abilities and intangibles. World class MMA fighters come from a variety of combat sport backgrounds and it is not certain that there is one “best” discipline. However, if you took an anonymous poll of folks involved in the sport of MMA, wrestling would most likely get more votes as the preferred base discipline than any other combat sport. As we’re all aware, there are lots of variables involved in making an athlete into a successful MMA fighter. Wrestlers are no different than practitioners of any other combat sport discipline in that they need to develop an all around game, transition their skills successfully into a fighting style, and hope that they have the right amount of heart and ability to withstand punishment to get noticed.
For those followers of the sport that try to look ahead and see which prospects have the most to offer, it is easy to fall into the trap of judging a fighter’s credentials on paper as the sole way to gauge how successful they will likely be. Determining the prospects of wrestlers transitioning to MMA can be difficult. Whether it is Matt Lindland or Cain Velasquez, Muhammed Lawal or Jon Jones, Kamal Shalorus or Jim Miller, it’s not easy to know what strengths to look for in projecting a wrestler’s MMA success. One thing that might benefit us, though, is taking a closer look at the different styles of wrestling that exist and what the scoring systems in those styles reward.
When asked for his thoughts, Joe Warren stated: “Greco-Roman wrestling is the most applicable to MMA due to its upright style, the pushing and the clinch work. A freestyle wrestler is always going to tend to drop levels and shoot for the legs when he’s in trouble, often making himself vulnerable to a knee or to a submission. A Greco-Roman wrestler tries to close the distance and grab the body.”
The former wrestling world champion also had this to say about the difficulty of his preferred style of wrestling. “The real men are in Greco-Roman wrestling. It’s extremely challenging and I honestly haven’t found anything that can hold a candle to it. I definitely think that it’s easier for a Greco-Roman wrestler to transition to freestyle than it is for a freestyle wrestler to transition to Greco. I would probably say that as far as wrestling styles go, Greco allows for the best transition to MMA, then possibly folkstyle after that."
[Four-time all-American wrestler Lance Palmer] on the differences in wrestling styles and scoring systems? “I’ve competed in freestyle wrestling tournaments while in both high school and college,”
said Palmer. “Without question I prefer wrestling under collegiate rules. For one thing, I like the scoring structure better. In freestyle, a wrestler can completely dominate the first period, scoring a lot more points than his opponent. But if the other wrestler barely outscores him just 1-0 in the next period, the match is then a tie. I feel like the collegiate scoring system rewards hard work more. I just felt like there were elements of freestyle wrestling that went against what I had trained for since I was a kid.”
There are several schools of thought within the wrestling community as to which style is best for transitioning to MMA, but Palmer sees folkstyle as offering a real advantage. “Personally, I definitely think the emphasis on controlling opponents pays off when you start training MMA.”