What is submission wrestling? It is overall, a pretty general term. In a nutshell, it is both a style and a rule set of grappling competition without the use of a gi. It can refer to the styles of Catch Wrestling, Luta Livre, no gi Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and more. Though it can also just be a set of rules, such as the highly prestigious competiton, Abu Dhabi Combat Club Championships where the best no gi grapplers in the world compete for the title of being the best. Here are the common forms of grappling that fit well into the submission wrestling category.
One of the older styles of submission wrestling is the style of catch-as-catch-can, or simply Catch Wrestling. Catch Wrestling originated in Britain in the 1800’s as a mix of different local wrestling styles of the UK that involved controlling, pinning and submitting opponent’s. It became popular in the United States, due to Catch wrestlers taking on all comers at carnivals, and it eventually it became a major sport. Leading the sport was Frank Gotch, Ed Lewis and Farmer Lewis. The art also became the base of other styles such as Shooto, S.A.W and Combat Submission Wrestling. Josh Barnett, a top heavyweight in the UFC is a Catch wrestler.
Another style that is commonly referred to as submission wrestling is Luta Livre. Luta Livre is a Brazilian style of grappling that is a mix of Catch Wrestling and Judo. The meaning of Luta Livre, roughly translates to free wrestling or free fighting. It is a no gi only style that focused on a variety of submission holds. The style was created by Euclydes Hatem, and furthered in popularity by early UFC stars, Marco Ruas and Renato Sobral. Practitioners of the style had a huge rivalry with another Brazilian style, known as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
The last major style that is big in submission wrestling is no gi Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. When no gi BJJ tournaments began to become popular, more practitioners began training without the gi, to focus on the faster paced, different gripped game. Royler Gracie was the Gracie that became a star in no gi due to the ADCC championships. He showed the technicality of the no gi game to a bigger audience. Eddie Bravo, who would later defeat Royler would then go on to create his own system of no gi BJJ known as 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu. 10th Planet would showcase some of the top grapplers in their own right. A great insight to Eddie’s no gi game would be his book, Mastering the Twister.
To witness high level submission wrestling in competition, there are many good options to catch on the pay-per-view format. ADCC is still considered the most prestigious tournament for submission wrestling, followed by the No Gi World Championships, and with EBI being the top submission wrestling tournament for the submission only scene. Some great champions to look for include Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles, Caio Terra, Michael Langhi, Garry Tonon and Eddie Cummings.
One day, I hope to see submission wrestling have its own place at the Olympic games. Until then, we have many great events to watch and some truly great competitors to support!