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Author Topic: What style of wrestling background is best in MMA? by Steve Fraser  (Read 380 times)
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« on: July 07, 2016, 06:41:08 PM »

What style of wrestling background is best in MMA?
From:     Steve Fraser <sfraser@usawrestling.org>
Date:     Thu 07/07/16 05:24 PM

June 27, 2016
By Steve Fraser
Of all the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) practices in existence, is wrestling the most important when it comes to success in the UFC? And then, if wrestling “IS” the most important martial art, what style of wrestling is best; freestyle, Greco-Roman or folkstyle?

Back when the UFC just began, the sport of wrestling wasn’t even considered a martial art. When most people thought about martial arts, they thought about someone – yelping - as they did a spin kick to break a board (or someone’s body part). The sport of wrestling wasn’t really connected to the fighting game. In fact, most “fighting” movies or television shows always highlighted a tremendous fighter to be someone in the karate/kick boxing art. Billy Jack, Bruce Lee, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jade Fox, Jackie Chan, Steven Seagal and Chuck Norris to name the more popular characters, fit this perception.

But in real life, and in the UFC Octagon, wrestling arguably is the most important martial art needed to succeed.

Dan Severn, who grew up in Michigan and wrestled for Arizona State, paved the way for many future wrestlers joining the UFC ranks. Dan created a style that engaged his opponents both on their feet and on the ground. He developed what later was referred to as the “ground and pound.” Mark Coleman coined the phrase but Dan introduced it to the UFC.

I remember Dan Severn traveling two or three hours from his home in Montrose, Michigan to train with me when I was coaching at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He was in preparation for his Ken Shamrock fight.

Dan was well versed in both freestyle and Greco-Roman. He had great leg attacks but could also pummel and throw with the best of them. In fact, against Ken Shamrock, he used his pummeling skills to keep Shamrock on his feet.

When I asked Dan what his take is on wrestling in the MMA, he said; “High level wrestlers have the work ethic and mentality that it takes to fight. What served me well was my experience in international Greco and freestyle. And Greco especially helped me in the clinch position. Once I got in the clinch, my opponents were never going to see the light of day again.” Check out www.dansevern.com

So what about the specific style of wrestling? Which style of wrestling is the better background to have in the MMA?

Of the three styles (freestyle, Greco & folkstyle) we will lump freestyle and folkstyle together, because, even though the rules are a bit different, they are similar enough. The Greco-Roman style is quite different.

The main difference that distinguishes Greco-Roman from both freestyle and folkstyle wrestling is that Greco-Roman forbids wrestlers from grabbing below the waist. Leg attacks or using your legs to trip your foe are illegal. Greco-Roman wrestling emphasizes throwing, slamming, and lifting. UFC fighters with backgrounds in Greco-Roman wrestling include (to name just a few): Dan Severn, Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen, Joe Warren and Matt Lindland.

Freestyle and folkstyle, on the other hand, allow for attacks on the legs and one can use their legs to trip or turn their opponent. Freestyle and folkstyle wrestlers in the UFC include such names as: Daniel Cormier, Uriah Faber, Chris Weidman, Mark Coleman, Mark Kerr, Tito Ortiz, Brock Lesnar, Matt Hughes, Johny Hendricks, Rashad Evans, and the late Kevin Randleman. Actually, all of the Greco wrestlers listed previously could very well be added to this list because they all came up through the high school and collegiate system where the rules are folkstyle.

So which style has the most transferability to the MMA?

In the UFC slightly more than half of all takedowns are done with the double leg and single leg, which would lend importance to having a freestyle background. Of course, the standing clinch positions, where pummeling skills and conditioning skills come into play, also represent very successful attacks. This would lend importance to Greco.

Experts in Greco-Roman wrestling might be better at fighting in the clinch and slamming. Randy Couture was a great example of this technique in his matches with both Chuck Liddell and Gabriel Gonzaga, with the slam, as well as Tim Sylvia, who he took down numerous times from the clinch.

However, freestyle wrestlers at the Olympic level shoot and defend shots better than their Greco counterparts. When Daniel Cormier fought Dan Henderson, Cormier won the fight. Greco-Roman wrestlers have better double and single leg takedowns than their non-wrestling counterparts, largely based on their collegiate wrestling experience. They don’t have better takedowns than their freestyle counterparts who have competed at the same levels.

So which is a better background for MMA, freestyle wrestling or Greco-Roman wrestling? You call it! sfraser@usawrestling.org

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