Grappling vs Wrestling: Key Differences (Definition Dependent)

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Are you wondering what the difference between wrestling and grappling is?

In this article, we’ll examine grappling vs. wrestling by going over the key differences depending on how grappling is defined.

Grappling vs Wrestling

The main difference between grappling and wrestling is grappling is the umbrella term for combat where two fighters grab each other, of which there are many types, whereas wrestling is a type of grappling, designed as a combat sport with its own specific set of rules and techniques.

However, while grappling mostly refers to the umbrella term, it can also refer to the combat sport of grappling.

Let’s look at the difference between grappling and wrestling when grappling refers to the umbrella term and as a combat sport.

Grappling as an Umbrella Term

The major difference between grappling and wrestling, as mentioned above, is grappling is the umbrella term for all types of grappling martial arts and combat sports, of which wrestling is one.

For ease of understanding, it’s the same as striking being the umbrella term for many striking martial arts and combat sports, of which kickboxing is one.

Within grappling, the most popular martial arts/combat sports are:

  • Judo
  • Wrestling
  • Submission grappling (combat sport/martial art)
  • Brazilian jiu-jitsu
  • Japanese jiu-jitsu
  • Sambo

To further illustrate the point, within mixed martial arts (MMA) there’s a lot of grappling involved. This grappling mostly comes from judo, wrestling, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Wrestling focuses on takedowns, takedown defense, clinch fighting, and positions on the ground, judo focuses on throws from the standing position, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu focuses on ground grappling in terms of positioning and submissions.

While grappling is the main umbrella term, wrestling is also an umbrella term for the many different types falling under it, with the most common being:

  • Freestyle wrestling (Olympics)
  • Greco-Roman wrestling (Olympics)
  • Folkstyle wrestling (collegiate)
  • Catch wrestling
  • Sumo wrestling
  • Professional Wrestling (WWE)
  • Mongolian wrestling (Bökh)

The different types of wrestling have different purposes, such as competition, entertainment, money, or discipline.

Because of this, they have slightly different rules, techniques, and settings.

Let’s now look at the difference between grappling and wrestling when grappling refers to the combat sport.

Grappling as a Combat Sport (Submission Grappling vs. Wrestling)

When grappling is referred to as a combat sport, it’s mostly submission grappling which is meant. The difference between submission grappling and wrestling comes down to the difference in rules, techniques, and other things between the two combat sports.

So, here are the 4 key differences between submission grappling vs. wrestling.

1. How They Win

Both Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestlers win by pinning an opponent’s shoulders on the mat for 1 second, which means they’re on their back.

They can also win via points (technical superiority), which in Greco-Roman is an 8-point lead, and in freestyle wrestling it’s 10.

Points are scored many ways, but can be split into 5 main categories:

  • Takedowns
  • Turns
  • Throws 
  • Counters 
  • Forcing an opponent out of the mat (1 point)

Wrestling is more focused on strength and controlling an opponent for advantageous positioning, allowing a wrestler to either pin their opponent or score points in the above ways.

On the other hand, submission grapplers win via submission hold, points, or referee stoppage. 

Submission holds secure the win as they lead to tapout or verbal tapout. Referees stop the bout to disqualify a grappler, or when a grappler is in imminent danger, has gone unconscious, or is unable to continue due to injury.

This makes submission grappling more technique-focused, as grapplers can win from their back and other disadvantageous positions.

2. How Inclusive They Are

Submission grappling is the combat sport most synonymous with grappling because of all the types of grappling it incorporates. Submission grappling incorporates techniques from:

  • Sambo
  • Luta Livre
  • Catch wrestling
  • Folk wrestling
  • Greco-Roman wrestling
  • Freestyle wrestling
  • Brazilian jiu-jitsu

Essentially, submission grapplers can use varying throws, trips, sweeps, clinches, and submissions from all of the above combat sports/martial arts – it’s less restricted.

Not only techniques, but it’s the varying styles of fighting they use that separate submission grappling from one specific type of wrestling.

On the other hand, wrestling includes only what’s allowed within that specific type of wrestling, whether it be freestyle, Greco-Roman, or sumo wrestling.

For example, in Greco-Roman wrestling, combatants aren’t allowed to attack the opponent below the belt. They can’t grab an opponent’s legs or use their own legs for any technique.

3. What They Wear

Submission grapplers wear grappling shorts and/or spats for their lower body, and rash guards for their upper body.

Wrestlers wear singlets with compression shorts and a cup underneath for groin protection. They also wear specialized wrestling shoes to protect their feet and ankles from injury.

Submission grapplers aren’t allowed to wear cups because they can potentially injure the opponent when applying submissions.

Cups/groin protection also acts as a fulcrum point for extra leverage during armbar submissions.

4. Commercialization

Submission grappling has recently become more commercialized with its 2018 introduction in ONE Championship, the second-largest MMA and combat sports promotion globally. 

With their ruleset, submission grapplers have one 12-minute round and can only win via submission. Fights end in a draw if neither grappler has been submitted.

Essentially, this rule change makes the submission grappling contest much more aggressive as both continuously attempt submissions.

On the other hand, the combat sport of wrestling isn’t commercialized.

It’s huge in terms of collegiate wrestling (folkstyle) in the USA, and freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling at the Olympics, but there isn’t much money involved.

The money in wrestling comes in the form of professional wrestling, such as the WWE, AEW, and Impact Wrestling.

However, professional wrestling is purely for entertainment and isn’t a combat sport.

The Bottom Line

So ‘grappling vs wrestling: what is the difference?’

The difference between grappling and wrestling is grappling is the umbrella term for martial arts/combat sports where combatants grab each other, while wrestling is a type of grappling, designed as a martial art and combat sport with its own specific set of rules and techniques.

When grappling refers to a combat sport, it’s most often referring to submission grappling.

The difference between submission grappling and wrestling is submission grapplers win via points and submissions (joint locks and chokes), whereas wrestlers win via points and pinning an opponent.

Submission grappling is a lot more inclusive and less restrictive on techniques and styles, whereas wrestling is restricted to each type of wrestling in terms of rules and techniques allowed.

For example, Olympic wrestling such as freestyle and Greco-Roman don’t allow any submission holds.

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