As MMA evolves, the received wisdom is that the effective, well-rounded fighter should study martial arts that teach striking, wrestling and submission grappling. In light of this and for historical reasons, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and Wrestling have become the favorite styles of many aspiring cage warriors. But to the knowledgable martial artist, there seems to be a weird superfluity in this recipe: Wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu appear to teach overlapping skills. So does the martial artist who wants to streamline his focus really need both, or is one of these arts superfluous?
The answer is that a martial artist does not need both, because one of them is as superfluous as a truck-stop hooker's PhD. That art is Wrestling, an art that as currently taught is inferior to Judo or Jiu-Jitsu in fighting effectiveness, range of applicable skills, and practical efficiency.
In fact, Wrestling is only still being taught or recommended in MMA because the first crop of UFC fighters (who were very influential on the evolution of its culture and training methods) were drawn largely from American Collegiate Wrestling backgrounds. Due to their emotional attachment to their first sport and natural tendency to teach and promote what they knew, they have been reluctant to admit that wrestling became redundant when Jiu-Jitsu became an MMA staple. Let me explain why it did.
Early martial arts were remarkably effective. They had to be, as they evolved with one clear purpose: to effectively disarm, maim or kill your opponent on the battlefield. However, as peace prevailed across the world, the only way martial artists could regularly test and demonstrate their skill was in sporting competition. Killing people with your bare hands became as socially acceptable as farting in the elevator, and battlefield showdown opportunities simply weren't as frequent as in the days when you could just jog across the Savannah with a few of your tribesmen and behead a few guys from an enemy tribe.
However, the evolution of sports fighting severely weakened the martial arts. The modern forms of Muay Thai, Judo, Karate, Boxing and Wrestling are dominated by techniques that work in competition, but not necessarily on the street. They are all as watered-down as a corrupt bartender's Martinis. However, for the purposes of MMA, the watered-down versions of Judo/Jiu-Jitsu (for the purposes of this article, I will consider them identical) are much more effective and comprehensive than the watered-down version of Wrestling, as seen today in Greco-Roman, Freestyle and Collegiate Wrestling.
This is because sports Judo/Jiu-Jitsu still retains and teaches a wide range of effective take-down, grappling and submission skills. In competition, you can defeat your opponent by effectively throwing them, pinning them down, choking them into unconsciousness, or grappling them to submission with joint locks. This means the Jujutsuka has a wide repertoir of effective skills. Greco-Roman, Freestyle and Collegiate Wrestling on the other hand award victories in only two basic ways: pinning your opponent's shoulders to the ground, and winning points via spectacular take-downs. How does this gap in skills set matter in MMA? The various stages of MMA combat show how it renders Wrestling redundant vs. Judo/Jiu-Jitsu.
1. The Striking Distance Phase: While we can agree that both Wrestling and Judo/Jiu-Jitsu are weakest in the striking stage of a fight, the latter still have an edge. Due to the strong self-defense element still prevalent in their curriculum, practitioners- unlike wrestlers- are taught defense against striking techniques, such as the one below. This means they are more comfortable facing strikers than their wrestling counterparts:
Conclusion: For the Striking Phase, Choose Judo/Jiu-Jitsu over Wrestling.
2. The Clinch Phase: When fighters fall into each others' loving embrace, there are basically three offensive options: (1) Close-up striking (knees, elbows and short punches, all of which I will ignore as being an agreed weakness of both systems), (2) Standing chokes and submissions (which I will omit for now and examine in the ground phase), and (3) Take-downs. Both Wrestling and Judo/Jiu-Jitsu have a wide and deep repertoire of takedowns. In MMA, the three most popular takedowns taught by Wrestling are the Single-leg takedown, the Double-leg takedown, and the Suplex. All three can be spectacular:
The problem with the Suplex, Single-leg and Double-leg takedowns however, is two fold. First, they are extremely inefficient ways to take down your opponent. Spectacular takedowns are favored in Wrestling, because points are scored for 'amplitude'. This means that the higher you can throw your opponent, the better. However, this requires a prodigious amount of energy to execute. Suplexes and leg takedowns involve physically lifting your opponent like a sack of potatoes. This wastes much more energy than is strictly necessary, and favors strong, athletic attackers.
Secondly, these takedowns require a 100% commitment by the attacker. Double-leg takedowns involve diving at your opponent's legs like a refugee rushing for free U.N. rations. Failure means finding yourself smooching his knee, sprawling on the ground, or grappling to regain control after he daintily skips his legs out of reach. Even success renders the attacker prone and, in a street fight, unable to deal with multiple attackers. It is simply too much effort to achieve a simple objective: getting your opponent off his feet.
Judo/Jiu-Jitsu takedowns on the other hand, have evolved according to a different philosophy from the spectacular athleticism favored in Wrestling. They strongly emphasize efficiency- using as little energy as possible to defeat your opponent. In fact, the central promise of Jiu-Jitsu, as effectively demonstrated at UFC 1, is that a smaller opponent can vanquish a larger foe by efficiently using his own strength and bulk against him. This means that Judo/Jiu-Jitsu takedowns tend to emphasize leg sweeps and throws that employ leverage and the skillful unbalancing of your opponent, rather than brute strength.
This principle is illustrated by this video of 25 Jiu-Jitsu throws being executed in less than three minutes. The executor also remains standing, meaning he is both dominant and able to respond to multiple attackers.
It would be interesting to see a wrestler attempt 25 suplexes or double-leg takedowns within the same time-frame. It simply can't be done without a prodigious and wasteful expenditure of effort and energy. In the Octagon, Judo-style throws achieve the same result as Wrestling-style takedowns with much less effort and much more style:
Conclusion: For the Clinch Phase, Choose Judo/Jiu-Jitsu over Wrestling.
3. On The Ground: Once the lion and the lamb lie down side by side, they can strike from the ground, grapple for supremacy, or attempt submissions. Again, we can ignore the striking aspect of both styles as being largely irrelevant during this phase. With maneuvering or grappling for control of your opponent however, both styles come out about even, with Wrestling possibly having a slight edge. This is because Wrestling's focus on pinning your opponent's shoulders builds expert skill in ground grappling, but then so does Judo/Jiu-Jitsu's focus on controlling your opponent on the mat.
In applying submissions- breaking (or threatening to break) your opponents' limbs like a politician's campaign promise, or choking them into unconsciousness- Judo/Jiu-Jitsu is the clear leader. Chokes, locks and submissions are central to victory in their competitions, unlike in Wrestling, in which pinning your opponent is the primary objective.
Conclusion: For the Ground Phase, Choose Judo/Jiu-Jitsu over Wrestling.
So in summary, while there is of course considerable overlap in both styles, the fighter meaning to focus and streamline his training efforts must conclude that Judo/Jiu-Jitsu is preferable to Wrestling for the Clinch and Ground phases of a fight, and that Wrestling is in fact decidedly redundant. Every skill it teaches also exists in Judo/Jiu-Jitsu, and the latter executes takedowns more efficiently, while teaching a range of techniques (chokes, locks and submissions) not taught in Wrestling. One striking art (Karate, Muay Thai or Kickboxing) and either Judo or Jiu-Jitsu is all that is needed to become a complete and elite MMA fighter. Miesha Tate, prepare to be schooled.
PS: One bonus benefit of Judo is that when you grow old and become a respectable politician, it remains the most effective way to batter your political opponents into submission when mere debate is simply not enough: