What is Submission Wrestling?

Submission wrestling is a catch all term that is used to refer to different forms of grappling that allow the use of joint locks and submission holds. Over the course of history there have been many different forms of submission wrestling with each region of the world practicing their own style. Today the term submission wrestling may be used to describe certain forms of Catch Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Sambo, Freestyle wrestling, and Lutra Livre among others. In general the idea of submission wrestling is to force your opponent to the ground where you can then attempt to submit them using a joint lock or a strangle.

Submission wrestling forms a large part of the skillset for MMA. Fighters with a strong background in some form of submission wrestling have typically had good success in MMA. The popularity of MMA has also helped boost the profile of submission wrestling as an effective form of combat.

Most Popular Forms of Submission Wrestling

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu evolved from traditional Japanese Ju Jitsu and Judo when Mitsuyo Maeda taught it to Carlos Gracie and others during his time in Brazil in the early 19th Century. BJJ includes many of the throws used in Judo but the focus of the art is on the ground fighting positions and submission holds. The martial art exploded in popularity when Royce Gracie used BJJ to dominate and defeat a series of much larger opponents at the first UFC event. Today it forms the basis of many of the ground fighting techniques that we see in MMA. BJJ is practiced in the traditional Gi and without (Nogi). In Gi Jiu Jitsu the Gi can be gripped and used to control and submit opponents.

Nogi BJJ in particular shares many traits of other submission wrestling styles. The lack of a kimono for gripping means that fighters are forced to use more traditional wrestling style take downs and holds in order to control their opponents.

Catch Wrestling

Catch wrestling is perhaps one of the purest forms of submission wrestling. It was first developed by J. G. Chambers around 1870 and became a popular attraction at funfairs and carnivals. Catch wrestling is a hybrid of different folk style wrestling styles including Cornwall, Devon, and Irish collar & elbow. Some forms of catch wrestling do not allow chokes and instead promote joint locks as the only form of submission.

Frank Gotch

It is often referred to as “Catch as catch can” which generally means catch a submission hold wherever possible. Catch wrestling has heavily influenced the style of wrestling that is seen in professional wrestling organisations such as the WWE. Notable catch wrestlers include UFC and MMA veteran Josh Barnett.


Sambo is a Soviet Martial art and combat sport. It was developed by Viktor Spiridonov and Vasili Oshchepkov who both developed their own styles which eventually merged together to become known as Sambo. It was previously taught to the Red Army to help them improve their hand to hand combat skills. Sambo is heavily influenced by Judo and different styles of freestyle wrestling.

There are many different variations of Sambo but the two most common forms are Combat Sambo and Sport Sambo. Combat Sambo includes various different striking techniques whereas Sport Sambo is more focused on wrestling. Famous Sambo practitioners include Khabib Nurmagomedov and Fedor Emelianenko

 Shoot Wrestling

Shoot Wrestling is a Japanese version of catch wrestling. It evolved from the Japan’s professional wrestling circuit of the 1970s after Karl Gotch began teaching it during his time in Japan. Gotch was a student of the infamous Catch Wrestling gym called the Snakepit that was run by renowned catch wrestler Billy Riley in Wigan, England.

Gotch’s realistic style of submission based wrestling impressed many Japanese wrestlers who then became students of Gotch. The Japanese wrestlers combined their newly learned techniques with other skills they had learned in Judo, Muay Thai, and Karate. Gotch’s students formed the original Universal Wrestling Federation (Japan) in 1984. This led to holding of Shoot Wrestling matches and events.

Lutra Livre

Lutra Livre is a Brazilain Martial art that also evolved from catch wrestling. It was developed by Euclydes “Tatu” Hatem in the early 19th century. Lutra Luvre is mainly a mixture of catch wrestling and Judo but there is also a striking element in some versions of Lutra Livre.

Lutra Livre developed at the same time Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was developing in Brazil. It was often regarded as the more working class sport reserved for those who could not afford a Gi. Lutra Livre was often taught Brazilians of African decent whereas BJJ was considered to be the sport of the white European descendants.

There are two main forms of Lutra Livre. The sport version is similar to catch wrestling and encourages the use of takedowns, holds, and submissions in order to defeat an opponent. The other version is known as Vale Tudo and the main difference is that striking with punches and kicks are permitted. Vale Tudo in many ways was a precursor to modern MMA. Vale Tudo events still happen today but mostly take place underground due to their bloody and violent nature.

Submission Wrestling competitions

Each of the submission wrestling styles described above has their own form of competition. Sports such as BJJ have their own governing bodies and promotions that regularly stage events across the world.

There is no unified body of Submission wrestling but there are some submission wrestling competitions that attract practitioners from different backgrounds. In recent years the submission only style of competition has become popular in Nogi BJJ. These competitions have rulesets that force competitors to seek submissions instead of trying to win on points as is the case in traditional sport BJJ. Events such as Eddie Bravo’s EBI have designed rulesets that guarantee a submission finish.

The Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) submission wrestling championships is probably the biggest and most well-known submission wrestling tournament. It is held every two years in a different location. The tournament is traditionally dominated by BJJ practitioners but there is always a mix of different grappling styles on show. The original premise of the competition was to pit grappler’s from different backgrounds and styles against each other in an attempt to find out what was the best style.

Submission Wrestling vs BJJ

Many people confuse the term submission wrestling with BJJ. Both of them are grappling based marital arts and promote the use of various joint locks and holds in order to defeat your opponent. Both of them also share many techniques such as the arm bar. However BJJ is a well defined martial art that has a well defined ruleset and a belt system for the grading of practitioners. In comparison submission wrestling is an umbrella term that is generally used to refer to different styles of grappling that favour the use of joint locks.

Traditional BJJ also favors the use of the Gi (Kimono). However in recent years Nogi Jiu Jitsu (BJJ without Kimono) has become popular. The lack of grips and increased emphasis on wrestling means that it a lot closer in style to other traditional submission wrestling martial arts.