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. To have an effective strategy against a wrestler, one should plan for each of the three basic scenarios: neutral (on the feet), on bottom (guard), and on top.
It is usually 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.