The Difference Between Freestyle and Greco-Roman Wrestling. There are few people who haven’t heard names like Podubny, Yarygin, Karelin, Medved… What unites these individuals? Correct, they are all outstanding wrestlers. However, there are differences between them in a professional sense, so to speak. For instance, the legend of the early 20th century, Ivan Podubny, was a prominent representative of Greco-Roman wrestling, while one of the most decorated athletes of recent times, Alexander Medved, achieved all his victories in freestyle wrestling.

When an inexperienced spectator watches matches between “freestylers” and “classics” (Greco-Roman wrestling), they involuntarily ask the question – what sets apart freestyle wrestling from Greco-Roman? The wrestlers of these styles are similarly dressed, appear to be “dancing on the mat,” the rules and goals of the match coincide… Indeed, at first glance, the differences seem almost unnoticed. However, they do exist. And quite significant ones. But first, a bit of history.

A Bit of History

Hellas – the Cradle of Civilization…

The first records of classical wrestling come from Ancient Greece. They date back to around 704 BCE. In that year, it was included in the Olympic Games for the first time, indicating its significant popularity among the ancient Greeks. Moreover, classical wrestling was part of mandatory military training. It’s no wonder that Greek hoplites (heavily armed foot soldiers) were considered invincible in hand-to-hand combat.

After the conquest of Hellas by the Romans, the insatiable Empire absorbed all the achievements of Greek civilization, including wrestling. Hence, the term that is still in use today – Greco-Roman wrestling. Borrowing the entire technical arsenal of techniques and rules from the Greeks in this power discipline, the Romans added elements of boxing to it and successfully showcased this hybrid in gladiatorial battles.

Greco-Roman wrestling eventually transformed into its modern form in 19th-century France, gaining yet another name – French wrestling. All the action in a match takes place above the waist (see more details below). Since then, while remaining virtually unchanged, it has taken its rightful place among numerous modern combat sports. Also, its third name has been established in our time – classical wrestling, which is considered official.

In the Olympic Games, classical wrestling has been a constant presence since 1898 and rightfully holds the top spot among all forms of Olympic combat disciplines.

The Homeland of More Than Just Football and Boxing…

The genealogy of freestyle wrestling is much shorter. It originated in the English county of Lancashire in the 18th century. It likely emerged based on classical wrestling, but it allowed working with the legs and grabbing the legs with hands. Perhaps, this is the most significant distinction between freestyle wrestling and Greco-Roman.

Freestyle wrestling quickly spread across Europe, then crossed the ocean, establishing itself in the USA. There, it was slightly modified and also renamed to “catch.” Over time, catch wrestling drifted further away from the traditional “freestyle” style towards “commercial benefit,” eventually transforming into a flashy and bloody show, hardly resembling its parent.

Freestyle wrestling appeared at the Olympics in 1904 and has since become a mandatory Olympic discipline. Exceptions were made in 1906 (intercalated Olympic Games) and 1912.


We briefly mentioned the main difference between the mentioned combat styles. It’s time to delve into this in more detail. Especially since there are other nuances that differentiate these two wrestling styles.

Greco-Roman Wrestling

The main objective of a “classical match” is to pin the opponent’s shoulders (touche) to the mat and maintain control in such a position (for a few seconds). The fight takes place both in a standing position and on the ground. The contest consists of 2 periods, each lasting 3 minutes. There’s a 30-second break between them. If neither wrestler manages to “pin the shoulders,” then points (scores) are awarded. Points are given for throws, control, or properly executed techniques. If an equal number of points is scored, additional time is given. If still tied, the judges determine which opponent was more active and award them the victory.

Freestyle Wrestling

Freestyle wrestling shares many similarities with its older and distinguished sibling – classical wrestling. Therefore, we won’t repeat ourselves and will focus only on the differences between them. It’s worth noting that the ultimate goal of a freestyle wrestler is the same as that of a “classic” – to pin the opponent’s shoulders. However, to achieve this goal, a much richer set of techniques is employed.

The fundamental distinction of freestyle wrestling from classical lies in allowing the use of legs for aggressive actions and techniques. This provides freestyle wrestlers the ability to engage at any level and target any part of the body, within the confines of the rules, of course.

Freestyle wrestlers can execute sweeps, trips, throws involving the legs, and can grab the legs with their hands. Going for leg attacks is considered one of the primary techniques, and you’ll invariably witness it in any match between equally skilled opponents.

Given this specificity, a freestyle wrestler’s mastery of technique takes precedence. Many moves can be executed by leveraging the laws of physics, where a wrestler’s personal strength plays a less significant role compared to Greco-Roman matches.

Note: A comprehensive group of moves, described approximately as “takedowns with leg grip and hook,” illustrates this point well. Here, the laws of physics are maximally utilized, allowing a wrestler with lesser physical strength to execute such moves effectively, even against a stronger opponent.

However, all that has been stated so far doesn’t mean that mastering combat techniques is sufficient for a freestyle wrestler to conquer all opponents. In any form of combat sports, there’s a set of techniques where a fighter’s physical strength is at least as important as their technical skills, and in some cases, even takes precedence. Therefore, to achieve consistent results against strong opponents, a freestyle wrestler requires a similar level of physical preparation as a Greco-Roman wrestler.

In summary, while classical wrestling focuses on upper body techniques, greco-roman holds, and throws, freestyle wrestling allows the use of legs and emphasizes a broader range of techniques, including leg attacks and takedowns. Both styles require a combination of technical mastery, physical strength, and strategic intelligence to succeed.