Wrestlers can be a pain to face in a grappling/BJJ match. They are known for having a strong take-down game, can be hard to sweep, and are notorious for exerting maximum pressure on top.
As a wrestler competing extensively in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I have come to realize that most competitors do not have a good strategy for facing a wrestler. To have a robust strategy against a wrestler, one should have a plan for each of the three basic scenarios: neutral (on the feet), on bottom (guard), and on top.
One of the most controversial and interesting dynamics of a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu match is the guard-pull. While various grappling leagues have modified rule sets, the standard set by the IBJJF allows competitors to voluntarily place themselves in the bottom position without penalty (pulling guard). This rule is effective in its intended purpose to encourage the action to get to the mat, rather than allowing most matches to be contested on the feet as in wrestling (or ADCC).
It is obviously a good strategy to pull guard when one is at a disadvantage in the take-down department, whether facing a wrestler, judoka, or anyone with superior take-downs. But it isn’t always so simple-IBJJF rules also require a competitor to be making contact with the opponent in order to pull guard. The challenge is to get close enough to make contact and pull guard before the wrestler can execute an attack.
- Make grips on both collars. In a gi match, making double collar grips will stifle most wresting attacks. If the wrestler does attempt a shot, simply straightening the arms is an effective defense.
- Pull-guard immediately once in contact. Once in contact with the wrestler, look to sit or pull guard as quickly as possible. Don’t give the wrestler time to adjust grips and set-up an attack.
- Beware of shots from outside. A savvy wrestler, knowing his opponent will sit guard as soon as contact is initiated, will stay just out of range, looking for attacks like low-singles and blast-doubles.
The wrestler’s advantage is not necessarily that he will win the take-down battle. But rather, it is the superior wrestler who dictates where the action will take place. Against a good wrestler, prepare to be on bottom—via guard-pull or take-down.
Being underneath a wrester might not sound fun, but it may be the only realistic option.
- Get underneath the base. The secret to upending the wrestler’s notoriously good base is to get underneath his hips. Most wrestlers are fish-out-of-water with someone controlling their hips from below. Deep-half, X-guard, and Tornado guard are all good options when looking to exploit this vulnerability.
- Beware of the bail-out. Pay attention to secure grips in situations where the wrestler may attempt scramble away and reset to escape a threat. Look for clean sweeps where posting arms are controlled, such as trapped-arm butterfly sweeps and ompoplata variations.
- Do not stand-up. It is a mistake to work back up to the feet after being taken down by a wrestler. If guard is your best chance to score, it doesn’t make sense to use a technical stand-up or other move that will only result in getting back to the feet and taken down again.
Attaining the top position against a wrestler isn’t easy, so try not to lose the position without capitalizing. Wrestlers hate being on bottom and will usually make daring positional sacrifices rather than accept the bottom position.
- Keep constant pressure. Let the pressure off for a split-second and the wrestler will get back to neutral. In training try some rounds where the person on bottom’s sole objective is to get back to the feet and the person on top tries to keep their partner on the mat.
- Keep opponent’s feet off the ground. Wrestlers need their feet on the ground to scramble. If you feel your opponent looking for a technical stand-up, control the ankles or pants to keep the feet off the ground. Under-hook stack passing is also effective here.
- Bait submissions. Look to exploit the wrestler’s tendency to belly-down. Create small openings that bait the wrestler to roll face-down and use these opportunities to take the back or attack the neck with guillotines and D’Arce chokes.
About the author: Reed Shelger is the co-founder of Paradigm Training Center in Houston, TX. He was an NCAA Division-1 wrestler at UC Davis. He is a BJJ black-belt under Marcus Bello and is a regular competitor in the Texas BJJ scene.