Freestyle wrestling

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Freestyle wrestling is a sport and popular form of amateur wrestling. In a wrestling match, wrestlers attempt to pin each other by holding the others' shoulders to the mat for a short amount of time or by scoring more points through using wrestling techniques like throws and takedowns successfully on the opponent.

Freestyle wrestling is an Olympic sport and is one of the four main forms of amateur wrestling recognized by the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA). Collegiate wrestling is a similar version of wrestling.



According to FILA, freestyle wrestling began in Great Britain and the United States as catch-as-catch-can wrestling, which was an early Western form of submission wrestling, and was popular as a competitive sport and spectator entertainment in fairs and festivals during the 19th century. Eventually submission holds were limited and then barred from use, leading to the development of freestyle wrestling.

Introduction as a modern Olympic sport

Freestyle wrestling was added as an Olympic sport in the 1904 Saint Louis Olympics. All 40 wrestlers who participated in the 1904 Olympics were American. The ruleset used in the 1904 Olympics were an adaptation of catch-as-catch-can, with some restrictions on dangerous holds and the introduction of weight classes.


A match is a competition between two individual wrestlers of the same weight class.

Methods of winning

A match can be won through five different methods:

  • Win by Fall: A fall, also known as a pin, occurs when one wrestler holds both his opponents' shoulders on the mat simultaneously. In order to win by fall, a wrestler must pin his opponent for the duration of the time it takes for the referee to say "vingt-et-un, vingt-deux" (counting '21, 22' in French), which typically takes about one second. A fall ends the match completely.
  • Win by Technical Fall (Superiority): If one wrestler completes one of the following actions, the current period ends and the wrestler performing the action is declared the winner of that period:
    • Gaining a six-point lead over his opponent at any point
    • Scoring a five point throw (a throw where the persons feet go directly above their head, also called a throw of grand amplitude)
    • Scoring two three point takedowns (taking an opponent from their feet to their back or sides so that there is shoulder exposure)
  • Win by Decision: If neither wrestler achieves either type of fall, the one who has gained more points during the period is declared the winner. If the score is tied at zero at the end of a period, the wrestlers go through an overtime procedure called the clinch in which wrestlers are required to enter the clinch position and wrestle till a point is scored, or until one of the wrestlers breaks the clinch.
  • Win by Injury: If one wrestler is injured and unable to continue, the other wrestler is declared the winner. The term also encompasses situations where wrestlers bleed uncontrollably. If a wrestler is injured by his opponent's illegal maneuver and cannot continue, the wrestler at fault is disqualified.
  • Win by Disqualification: If a wrestler is given three cautions for breaking the rules, he is disqualified and his opponent automatically wins. Other circumstances, such as a display of flagrant brutality or intentional attempt at injury of an opponent, can cause the match to be ended immediately and the wrestler removed from the tournament.

Match Scoring

Points can be scored during a match in the following ways:

  • Takedowns: Gaining control over your opponent from a neutral position, worth from one to five points.
    • 5 points: Completing a throw of grand amplitude, throwing the opponent so that his feet go directly above his head
    • 3 points: Lifting the opponent off his feet and bringing him to the ground on his back or side so that his shoulderblades are exposed to the mat
    • 1 point: Taking the opponent off his feet and bringing him to the ground on his stomach or side so that his shoulderblades are not exposed to the mat
  • Reversals: Gaining control over the opponent from a defensive position, worth one point.
  • Exposure: Exposing the opponent's back to the mat at an acute angle (less than 90 degrees), worth two points. An additional hold-down point may be earned by maintaining the exposure continuously for five seconds.
  • Penalty Points: Under the 2004-2005 changes to the international styles, a wrestler whose opponent takes an injury time-out receives one point unless the injured wrestler is bleeding. Any wrestler stepping out of bounds while standing in the neutral position during a match is penalized by giving his/her opponent a point. Other infractions (striking your opponent, acting with brutality or intent to injure, using illegal holds, etc.) are penalized by an award of points, a Caution, and choice of position.
  • Out-of-Bounds:Whenever a wrestler places his foot on or over the boundary line, the match is stopped and a point is awarded to his opponent.

In 2004, FILA radically changed the format and scoring of freestyle wrestling. Two methods of scoring from the par terre position are no longer accepted:

  • Escapes: Escaping your opponent's control.
  • Lifting: Successfully lifting an opponent in the defensive position and exposing his back.


A team of three officials controls the match. The referee controls the action on the mat by blowing the whistle to start and stop the match. The judge sits at the side of the mat. The mat chairman sits at the scoring table and keeps time. Two of these three officials must agree to award points, assess penalties, or call a pin.


The format for matches currently used is three two-minute periods a wrestler winning the match when he has won two out of three periods; for example if one competitor were to win the first period 1-0 and the second period 1-0, the match would be over. However, if the other competitor were to win the second period then third and deciding period would result. Only a fall or disqualification terminates the match; all other modes of victory result only in period termination. One side effect of this format is that it is possible for the losing wrestler to outscore the winner. For example, periods may be scored 3-2, 0-4, 1-0, leading to a total score of 4-6 but a win for the wrestler scoring fewer points.

Team scoring

In an international wrestling tournament, teams enter one wrestler at each weight class and score points based on the individual performances. At the end of the tournament each team's score is tallied and the team with the most points wins the team competition.

Dual meets

A dual meet is a meeting between teams in which individual wrestlers at a given weight class compete against each other. Points are awarded to each team depending on the result - for example, a wrestler winning by pin scores four points for his team, and his opponent scores none, while a win by decision scores three points for the winning wrestler and one or zero for the loser depending on whether he scored points during the match.


  • Takedowns
    • Single-leg
    • Double-leg
  • Throws
    • Hip toss
    • Shoulder throw


Freestyle wrestling in combat sports

Freestyle wrestling is common in other combat sports, particular those that extensively include grappling. Some freestyle wrestlers cross-train in judo, and some judoka cross-train in wrestling.

Freestyle wrestling is also popularly trained in mixed martial arts, as the grappling skills used in wrestling are very applicable to MMA. Freestyle wrestling is trained especially to improve skills in grappling in the clinch and takedowns, particularly for lower-body takedowns, as well as to learn positional dominance from top positions on the ground and reversals. MMA fighters with freestyle wrestling backgrounds often use strategies focusing on these skills, such as ground-and-pound, clinch fighting, and sprawl-and-brawl.