Photo by Danielle Hobeika
From Amateur Wrestling Photos
All images are substantially reduced in accordance with the "Fair Use" concept and the international copyright law
Freestyle Wrestling is a combat sport involving grappling type techniques such as clinch fighting, throws and takedowns, pins and other grappling holds. A wrestling bout is a physical competition, between two competitors or sparring partners, who attempt to gain and maintain a superior position and gain winning scores. There are a range of styles with varying rules with both traditional historic and modern styles (scholastic, collegiate, folks wrestling, etc.). Freestyle wrestling techniques have been incorporated into other martial arts as well as military hand-to-hand combat systems.
Freestyle wrestling is a grappling sport in which two competitors attempt to take down, immobolize or pin an opponent, holding his/her body by hands, arms or legs and attacking different parts of the opponent's body. Actually, wrestling is fighting withouit strikes. Freestyle wrestling is often referred to athletic amateur wrestling (as opposed to professional wrestling which in fact, is an athletic show rather than a sport). Freestyle wreslers are called amateurs not because they are not professionally skilled but simply because they do not make money participating in it (as for instance, professional boxers or wrestling showmen do). Two close wrestling styles, freestyle and Greek-Roman (classic wrestling) are originated from the ancient Greek Olympic wrestling. While Greek-Roman style remains close to the ancient sport, freestyle wrestling represents its modern modification, which is possibly derived from the English Lancashire style.
Freestyle wrestling, like collegiate wrestling, has its greatest origins in catch-as-catch-can wrestling and, in both styles, the ultimate goal is to throw and pin your opponent to the mat, which results in an immediate outright win. Freestyle and collegiate wrestling, unlike Greco-Roman, allow the use of the wrestler's or his opponent's legs in offense and defense. In Greco-Roman, the wrestlers are permitted to hold and attack only above the waist and to use just their hands and arms for grappling. Unlike Greek-Roman wrestling, in freestyle holding legs, backheels and cutting-downs are allowed. On the ground, turning an opponent to his/her back is allowed using any grips, clasps and actions by legs, hands and arms.
Since Greek-Roman wrestling requires stronger upper body, it is not too popular among women; that's why if it's referred to women, the word "freestyle" is usually omitted and this form of wrestling is called just "women's wrestling".
Originally, wrestling as a sport, recreational activity and training was a men only activity. Women wrestled very rarely, even though some testimonies remain through the history in different regions (the oldest known and the most famous female wrestllers were Spartan girls). Since the beginning of the XX century, women started actively practicing in various forms of wrestling - from circus arenas to athletic gyms. At the second part of the XXth century, freestyle wrestling turned out to be the favorite grappling sports for women (among ones originated in Europe). By 1980s women's freestyle wrestling rapidly spread all over the world and eventually, in 2004 in Athens it became an Olympic sport, the third Olympic combative women's sport (after Judo and Taekwondo).
There are two main positions of wrestlers during contest: standing and "par terre" (from French - on the ground). All participants must wear leotard and supple wrestling shoes with no heels. Female wrestlers must have special protective underwear, unwired bra is recommended. Hair must be tied back with an elastic or ribbon, with no metal attachments. In some federations, it is obligatory for female wrestlers of all age categories to wear ear protectors.
The match starts with the wrestlers standing on their feet. Each wrestler attempts to take the opponent down to the mat, in order to pin him/her or score points. The main objective is to establish total domination by pinning an opponent’s shoulders to the mat to earn a fall (outright victory). If no wrestler has pinned his/her opponent, the victor is determined by points awarded to wrestlers as control changes. The wrestler with the most points at the end of a match is the winner.
In fact, a match can finish ahead of schedule if a wrestler is pinned. If no wrestler is pinned, a wrestling match consists of three two-minute periods. To break a tie after three periods, a one-minute sudden-death overtime period occurs, and the first wrestler to score a point wins the match. A second 30-second overtime period is wrestled, if necessary. If eventually the wrestlers have gained the same number of points, then it is ruled by the judges through certain criteria in the international styles.
Dropping the opponent down to the floor from a standing position and gaining control is called a takedown and is worth two points. Almost pinning an opponent scores two, three, or four points and is called a near fall. A wrestler who is able to return to a neutral position after being controlled by the opponent earns one point for an escape. A wrestler who was controlled by an opponent and reverses control earns two points for a reversal. Points are also deducted for infractions of the rules: striking an opponent, acting with brutality or intent to injure, using illegal holds, etc. Points are posted immediately and in plain sight so wrestlers and spectators know the score. In order for the match to end, one athlete must score at least three points.
A technical fall occurs and the match is ended when a wrestler establishes a 15-point advantage over the opponent. If one of wrestlers is unable to contrinue wrestling for any reason, the other wrestler is declared the winner (so-called "technical knockout" - TKO). This is officially referred to variously as WBI (win by injury), medical forfeit or injury default in the international styles. The term also encompasses situations where wrestlers become injured, take too many injury time-outs or cannot stop bleeding.
If a wrestler is too passive, the match is interrupted; the passive wrestler to goes down on all fours, and the other wrestler attacks him/her from the top at the referee signal.
Although some female wrestling competitions are organized according Greco-Roman rules, this form hasn't been spread among women (because it supposes strong shoulder and belly muscles as well as high strength of arms) and, after all, has been deprived of the Olympic status as a male only sport. The modification of freestyle wrestling - "folkstyle wrestling" (or collegiate wrestling) is wide spread in American high schools and colleges. In this form a control and domination during a match affects the final decision as well as the regular factors. The difference in rules and terms between freestyle and more accustomed folkstyle causes some problem for Americans in the international freestyle wrestling arena.
In contrast to oriental martial arts and submission combat styles, the ritual (non-martial) wrestling formed the basis of freestyle wrestling. That's why a conventional position (pin) rather than submission is the indication of the victory in this competition. (Old Russian linguist Dal gave the following clear definition of wrestling: "Single combat without weapon, beating up or brawling"). Freestyle wrestling is probably the most noble and non-commercial form of athletic physical contests. Not only biting, pinching, scratching, etc. are banned in freestyle wrestling but also the following dangerous moves are banned (while allowed in some other combative sports):
- Any strikes (using hands, fists, elbows, feet, knees, or head);
- Joint manipulations (including armlocks and other elbow and shoulder attacks, leglocks and other attacks to the knees and hips, wrist and ankle locks, neck cranks, and small joint manipulation - twisting or dislocating fingers and toes);
- Chokes, strangulations, and suffocating moves (such as covering the opponent's mouth and nose);
- Spiking (by shoes, knees, elbows of hands);
- Lifting and slamming the opponent head-first into the mat (though other forms of slamming are generally allowed;
- Grasping or holding an opponent's genitals, in women's matches - also intentional holding breasts;
- Using of one's own or the opponent's clothing for grasping or performing any type of hold.
The only freestyle wrestling technique is prohibited for women because it is considered as the most dangerous - "double nelson" (thrusting the both arms through opponent's armpits and pressing by tied hands on top of his/her neck or on the back of the head). Women are allowed to use "single nelson" (thrusting just one arm through an armpit). This hold is often used for overturning of an opponent from hands and knees to the back over a head and it requires a lot of strength.
Some freestyle wrestling techniques are designed for strong clutches some parts of a body, that's why women with considerable fat layers don't participate in the sport. This is one of the reasons why there are very few heavyweights in female freestyle wrestling (unlike judo); actually there are no female wrestlers heavier than 75kg.
Usually women wrestle more actively than men, in women wrestling there are fewer stops due to passivity, less starts again in "par terre" but pins happens more often. Female freestyle wrestling competitions are more spectacular and emotional.
A priori prejudice to female wrestler appearance turns out to be groundless ("what a robust and a crude woman with a square jaw, some kind of female version of Karelin" :) ). Contrary to expectations, the bulk of female freestyle wrestlers are quite feminine and attractive. In our visitors’ opinion, freestyle wrestlers are the most feminine and attractive. Since wrestlers’ bodies are not covered by loose uniform (like kimono), body dynamics, it’s relief and all curves are well visible for spectators during wrestling matches which is quite impressive.
Female freestyle wrestling is exceptionally popular among American high school and college girls (even though, the similar folkstyle is often practiced). The indisputable pioneer of women freestyle wrestling is Morris University of Minnesota (USA). Mixed wrestling matches are quite common in school and university wrestling (mostly in the USA). Due to shortage of girls in some freestyle wrestling teams, girls sometimes have to train and even to compete along with boys (who might be upset about that). This has caused controversy in recent years, for instance, in 1990s wrestling sponsors even attempted to legally ban mix competitions fearing serious traumas of the girls but American courts considered such demands as discriminating. Besides, the fact that girls are much less interested in wrestling caused some reducing of subsidizing university and high school wrestling teams in the United States that is attributed to Title IX (Federal law requiring equal share spent for boys and girls in public schools).
Despite these problems, female wrestling is growing in popularity, especially after the debut at the 2005 Olympics in Athens. Freestyle wrestling becomes popular among girls not only in universities and in high schools but also baby girls wrestle and wrestle successfully. At the age of small children, girls are not second to boys and often defeat them. While some mature women keep away of combative sports like wrestling because they worry about female vulnerable organs or they don't have appropriate complexity, young girls don't have such problems and wrestle to their heart's content.
Self-organized female wrestlers not belonging to any federation and not participating in any official competitions, quite rarely follow freestyle wrestling rules. When women wrestle independently, they usually follow grappling (submission wrestling) traditions because it less requires developed skills, complex technique and sophisticated score calculations. Besides, women usually prefer a defeat declaration to any conventional positions (like "pin"). Nonetheless, freestyle wrestling, as the most authoritative and traditional wrestling form, increasingly attracts amateur female wrestlers.
Women's freestyle wrestling is a growing sport around the world. International wrestling federation FILA (Federation Internationale de Luttes Associees - French acronym) and other federations and associations regularly hold tournaments and championships in different parts of the world. The first world women's wrestling championship was held in 1987 in Lorenskog, Norway. European wrestlers grabbed all gold medals. Since that time, an increasing number of nations field women's wrestling teams each year and gold has been spread beyond Europe. But the first world champions making history were:
Brigitte Wiegart (Belgium) - 97Lbs/44kg; Anne Holten (Norway) - 103.5Lbs/47kg; Anne Marie Halvorson (Norway) - 110Lbs/50kg; Sylvie Van Gucht (France) - 116.5Lbs/53kg; Isabelle Dourthe (France) - 125.5Lbs/57kg; Ine Barlie (Norway) - 134Lbs/61kg; Brigitte Herlin (France) - 143Lbs/65kg; Georgette Jean (France) - 154Lbs/70kg; Patricia Rossignol (France) - 165Lbs/75kg.
France became the fist team champion.
During the first 13 years of official women's freeslyle wrestling (1987 - 2000), Japanese female wrestlers got the most number of world championship medals - 74. Russian wrestler Samira Ganatchoueva became the first world champion in 1995 in the category of 110Lbs/50kg.
At the first Olympic competitions in women's wrestling in 2004 athletes from 7 countries gained medals in 4 weight categories - 48kg, 55kg, 63kg and 72kg. (Russian Gyuzel Manyurova got silver in the category of 72kg).
Female wrestling weight classes by different regions and federations
In the first female wrestyling championships in 1987 women wrestled in nine weight clkasses - from 44kg to 75kg (97 - 165Lbs). In agreement with the common tendency to consolidation of weight classes, since 1997 only six weight classes had remained for women: from 46 to 75kg (101-165Lbs). Since 2002, one more class have been added and female wrestlers in international tournaments have been grouped in 7 classes - from 48 to 72kg (106-159Lbs). However, in the 2004 Olympics where women debuted in wrestling, they competed only in four weight classes from 48 to 72kg (106-159Lbs). This situation has not been changed in the Olympics since then.
In 2013 FILA announces new Olympic and non-Olympic weight classes and rule changes (for Olympics and non-Olympics tournaments). Two versions were proposed:
Olympic Weight Categories (6 classses):
48 kg, 53 kg, 58 kg, 63 kg, 69 kg, 75 kg
Olympic and non-Olympic Weight Categories for the FILA World and Continental championships (8 classes):
48 kg, 53 kg, 55 kg, 58 kg, 60 kg, 63 kg, 69 kg, 75 kg
In fact, various regional wrestling federations and associations establish other weight classes. In particular, in USA heavyweight classes are very popular for girls - up to 100kg (220Lbs).
According to the USA Wrestling, in 2015 the following weight classes are established for USA tournaments - for various age and educational groups:
Middle School girls
81, 89, 97, 105, 113, 120, 128, 137, 145, 155, 175, 195 Lbs
84, 88, 95, 101, 108, 115, 124, 132, 143, 154, 172, 198 Lbs
36-38 KG/ 79.25-83.75 LBS, 40/88, 43/94.75, 46/101.25, 49/108, 52/114.5, 56/123.5, 60/132.25, 65/143.25, 70/154.25, 78/172, 84/185, 100/220.5 kg/Lbs
High school girls (SCHOOL JUNIORS)
(9-12 grades, less than 20 y.o.)
97, 105, 112, 117, 121, 125, 130, 139, 148, 159, 172, 198 Lbs
UWW JUNIOR WORLD
(18-20 y.o.; 17 with medical certificate)
40-44 KG/88-97 LBS, 48/105.75, 51/112.25, 55/121.25, 59/130, 63/138.75, 67/147.5, 72/158.75, 79.5/175.25 kg/Lbs
48 KG/105.75 LBS, 53/116.8, 55/121.25, 58/127.9, 60/132.3, 63/138.75, 69/152.1, 75/165.3 kg/Lbs
(20+ y.o.; 18-19 with medical certificate)
48/105.75, 53/116.8, 55/121.25, 58/127.9, 60/132.3, 63/138.75, 69/152.1, 75/165.3 kg/Lbs
In different USA States weight classes for students can be different. For instance, in the Washington State in 2014-2015 were 14 weight categories - from 100 to 235 Lbs (45 - 106кг) while in California - 13 classes from 101 to 235LBS (46-106kg).
Curiously enough, in older age groups the highest weight classes are less than in younger groups. The highest class for female Cadets (15-17) is 220Lbs (100kg) which is the highest heavy weight among all female age groupes. The difference with adult women is 55Lbs (25kg). It is difficult to explain this fact given there are very good wrestlers among heavyweights, like Ryan Gibbons (198Lbs/88.5kg) and Halie Gladden (220Lbs/100kg) - see videoclips below with their mathces. Interestingly, the most of heavyweight female wrestlers (including Ryan Gibbons and Halie Gladden) virtually do not use common freestyle wrestling techniques involving legs (like tripping and ducking), they craftly managed to deal with their opponents using Greco-Roman techniques attacking arms, torso and neck. By the way, this fact supports effort of some female wrestlers in USa nad beyond to develop female Greco-Roman wrestling.