Sambo Vs. Wrestling: Which Is Better?

Wrestling is one of the oldest martial arts in the world and has been around for thousands of years. Sambo is one of the newer martial arts developed in the 20th century by the Soviet Union military for hand-to-hand combat. It is a hybrid martial art that allows the use of strikes, grappling techniques, and submissions in its purest forms. 

Both martial arts have emerged as two of the strongest bases for mixed martial arts. Wrestlers were next in line after Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighters dominated the early days of the sport, but Sambo fighters, like Fedor Emelianenko, eventually emerged and showed the world how effective the fighting style was. 

There are two main types of Sambo: sport and combat. Sport Sambo allows fighters to use a mix of grappling techniques from various martial arts like Judo, Wrestling, and Jiu-Jitsu, but competitors aren’t allowed to use strikes. Combat Sambo looks a lot like mixed martial arts. Grappling techniques and strikes are allowed in this format. Many mixed martial artists with Sambo backgrounds competed in combat Sambo before transitioning to mixed martial arts. 

Wrestling is a pure grappling sport with no combat version. Strikes and submission aren’t allowed, and the goal of a contest is to pin your opponent on the mat. 


Understanding The Differences And Similarities Between Sambo And Wrestling

Let’s take a more detailed look at these two sports to gain a better understanding of their similarities and differences: 



Sambo was created in the 1930s by the Soviet Union as a hand-to-hand combat system for service members in the Red Army. “Sambo” is an acronym derived from the Russian phrase “SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya.” It translates to “self-defense without weapons” in English. 

The Soviet Union tasked Vasili Oshchepkov and Viktor Spiridonov with gathering effective techniques from various martial arts from all over the globe and using them to create an effective fighting system. 

Judo became the backbone of the Russian fighting system, while other martial arts like Jiu-Jitsu and catch wrestling became its limbs. Modern sport Sambo looks a lot like traditional Judo and allows many of the same throws and trips used in Judo. Unlike Judo, Sambo also allows for takedowns that involve attacking the leg, like the single and double leg takedown. 

Combat Sambo was used strictly by the Russian military and some Russian law enforcement agencies until the 1980s when it was finally opened to the general public. The striking aspect of combat Sambo is less restrictive than MMA. Techniques like headbutts and groin strikes are allowed. 

Fedor Emelianenko’s success as a mixed martial artist gave Sambo a massive boost in popularity. Fighters like Khabib Nurmagomedov came behind him, pushing the sport further into the limelight. 



Wrestling is one of the oldest combat systems in the world, and most cultures practice some form of it. You can find records of competitive wrestling matches as far back as 3000 BC. It was introduced into the ancient Olympic Games by the Greeks, and it remains one of the most popular events at the Summer Games. Even martial arts like Judo and Sambo are derivatives of wrestling to an extent. The goal in these sports is to pin your opponent on the mat. 

The two main types of wrestling practiced these days are Greco-Roman and Freestyle. Greco-Roman wrestling is a more restrictive form of wrestling that prohibits techniques that involve attacking an opponent’s legs. Freestyle wrestling is less restrictive and allows for a broader range of takedowns and holds, including those that attack the legs. 

Modern freestyle wrestling is a derivative of catch-for-catch wrestling, a virtually no holds barred style that allows for the use of locks and submissions. The Olympics adopted modern freestyle wrestling, which didn’t allow joint locks and submissions during the 1920s, and it eventually became the most popular wrestling style. 


Main Differences

One of the main differences between sport Sambo and Wrestling is the different rulesets used to score matches. Another significant difference is the use of joint lock submissions in sport Sambo. Neither sport allows for the use of chokes. 

Combat Sambo is very different from wrestling since it allows for strikes while standing or on the ground. 



Sambo matches typically consist of one five-minute round contested on an eight-meter mat. Participants can score points with holds, throws, and submissions. Like Judo, a perfectly executed throw in Sambo leads to an automatic win. A winner is also immediately declared if one fighter builds up an eight-point lead on an opponent during a match. If no one scores an automatic victory, points are tallied at the end of the time limit to determine the victor. 

Wrestling matches are divided into two three-minute periods with 30-second breaks between them. The primary goal of a wrestling match is to pin your opponent on the mat for a short period, leading to an automatic victory via “fall.” 



Wrestlers compete wearing a singlet, which is a one-piece uniform. The singlet fits tightly around the competitor’s body, making it easier for referees to see accidental grabs. Wrestlers also compete while wearing wrestling shoes that give them an excellent grip on the mat. 

Sambo players wear a kurtka, a jacket that looks like the top half of a judo Gi. Like the Gi, the kurtka can be grabbed and used to control and take opponents down. However, Sambo fighters don’t wear traditional Gi pants. Instead, they wear very tight compression shorts. Sambo fighters also train and compete with wrestling-style shoes. 


Which Is Better For Self-Defense/MMA?

wrestling vs sambo

Either version of Sambo is the better-suited style for self-defense due to the less restrictive rule set. Wrestling is the best style for taking opponents down and controlling them, but there’s more to fighting than that. Wrestling focusing only on takedowns and controlling opponents on the ground limits the tools you have at your disposal in self-defense scenarios

Combat Sambo is one of the best martial arts for self-defense since it allows for using strikes, submissions, and takedowns, creating more-rounded fighters. It’s no surprise fighters with combat Sambo backgrounds like Emelianenko have had lots of success in mixed martial arts. 


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