3 reasons why wrestling will continue to dominate MMA and the UFC in the future

Khabib Nurmagomedov's wrestling allowed him to thoroughly dominate Conor McGregor in their fight
Khabib Nurmagomedov's wrestling allowed him to thoroughly dominate Conor McGregor in their fight

Dating all the way back to early UFC champions like Mark Coleman and Dan Severn, wrestling has always been arguably the most dominant facet in the world of MMA. But will it always be this way?

Will wrestling continue to dominate the world of MMA and the UFC as the sport moves into the future, or will striking or submission-based grappling come back to the forefront? Nobody can really tell the future, of course, and there are arguments to suggest that any of MMA’s various jigsaw pieces could go onto dominate in the future.

However, the argument for wrestling continuing its dominance is definitely a strong one. With that in mind, here are three reasons why wrestling will dominate MMA and the UFC in the future.


#3. UFC rules are heavily stacked in favour of wrestling

The UFC's current rules appear to favour takedowns above all else, making life easy for wrestlers
The UFC's current rules appear to favour takedowns above all else, making life easy for wrestlers

While the UFC itself doesn’t pick and choose the rules that govern the sport of MMA in the US (that’s the job of the various athletic commissions which sanction events), it’s safe to say that those rules currently favor wrestlers.

The UFC’s rules state that a fight is scored based on effective striking, grappling, aggression and octagon control. But anyone who’s watched a UFC event can attest that the judges regularly value takedowns above almost everything else.

And, at times, even attempting takedowns, in other words, pinning your opponent to the fence, can be enough to edge a round or even an entire fight. Just ask former UFC star Brandon Vera, who lost a decision to Randy Couture at UFC 105 due to this. His loss came despite dropping ‘The Natural’ and taking full mount on him at one point.

But aside from valuing takedowns highly, the UFC has some other rules that appear to favor wrestlers too. For instance, the outlawing of knees and kicks to the head of a downed opponent. That rule ensures that a fighter cannot sprawl on a wrestler mid-takedown attempt and land knees to them. That's something that often happened in Japan’s Pride promotion.

Referees are allowed to stand fighters up if a fight becomes inactive. But realistically, all that a wrestler needs to do to avoid this is throw a few elbows from the top.

When you add all of this up, it becomes immediately clear that while the UFC’s rules are supposed to create a level playing field, they actually make things much easier for wrestlers to dominate. This will remain the same until the sport sees some kind of judging reform. But that doesn’t seem likely to happen any time soon.


#2. Wrestlers will always be able to dictate where a fight takes place

Gregor Gillespie has succeeded in the UFC with little more than his stellar wrestling game
Gregor Gillespie has succeeded in the UFC with little more than his stellar wrestling game

UFC commentator Joe Rogan has often stated that wrestling is the best sport to build a strong MMA career on the back. That's largely because a top wrestler will always be able to dictate where a fight takes place. And while Rogan first coined that theory over a decade ago, it still rings true today.

A high-level amateur wrestler will always be an expert at not only taking their opponent down, but also at avoiding takedowns in return and remaining standing. And that gives them a huge advantage over a fighter coming from a striking or jiu-jitsu background. Over the years we’ve seen multiple examples of this working to great effect in the octagon, and there are plenty to point out in the UFC today.

Justin Gaethje, for instance, rarely shoots for a takedown. But the high-level wrestling background of ‘The Highlight’ (he wrestled at an NCAA Division I level) means that it’s nearly impossible to take him down. This allows him to unleash his vicious striking without fear.

On the other side of the coin, former NCAA Division I champion Gregor Gillespie has a striking game that leaves plenty to be desired. However, ‘The Gift’ has won seven of his eight fights in the UFC, largely off the back of his wrestling alone.

And his only loss came at the hands of Kevin Lee, who is a strong collegiate wrestler in his own right.

Sure, a high-level jiu-jitsu fighter will always be dangerous to the wrestler if they’re taken down. In the same vein, a high-level striker will always be capable of knocking their opponent out.

However, neither can truly dictate where a fight plays out like a wrestler can. It doesn’t seem likely that this will change in the future, meaning MMA should remain a sport where wrestling can dominate.


#1. The lack of a real professional wrestling circuit means great amateurs will always consider an MMA career

For a high-level amateur wrestler like Henry Cejudo, the best path to a professional career may be MMA
For a high-level amateur wrestler like Henry Cejudo, the best path to a professional career may be MMA

It’s often been suggested that due to the relatively low pay grade offered by the sport, MMA is likely to miss out on top-level athletes. However, is this really true, particularly when it comes to high-level amateur wrestlers? It’s a question worth asking.

Sure, there are probably countless numbers of budding young athletes who don’t take up combat sports at an early age. They often choose to play basketball, American football or soccer, for instance.

However, while young athletes who take up those sports have the opportunity to play them at a professional level, the same can’t be said for amateur wrestlers. If you ignore the pseudo-sport that is professional wrestling, where can former amateur wrestlers go at a professional level? The truth is that if they want to continue on the athletic path and don’t want to branch into coaching, MMA is the only realistic option for them to earn money.

And over the years, we’ve seen amateur wrestlers who didn’t even seem interested in fighting enter the cage and still have plenty of success. Names like Ben Askren, Cole Konrad and Jake Rosholt, for instance, come to mind.

If a top wrestler really takes to MMA, for instance, the results can be truly devastating. Look at what Olympic gold medallist Henry Cejudo was able to achieve in the UFC as an example.

While striking-based fighters can always enter the world of professional boxing or kickboxing, for wrestlers, MMA is probably the best option. And in turn, that means that great amateur wrestlers are always likely to enter the cage. These top athletes will always have a good chance of dominating their competition in MMA.

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Edited by Harvey Leonard
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