Is Wrestling a Sport?

2 wrestlers competing

There is a popular worldwide belief that wrestling (especially pro wrestling) is not a sport but an entertainment show. But is wrestling truly a sport?

Wrestling is a combat sport that involves grappling tactics such as throws and takedowns, clinch fighting, joint locks, pins, and other grappling holds.

Wrestling is a style of sport known as combat sport or fighting sport.

A combat sport is a competitive contact sport that usually involves one-on-one combat.

Wrestling as a sport or contest usually involves two unarmed individuals struggling hand-to-hand with each other to subdue or unbalance one another.

Wrestling may also consist of amateur or professional wrestlers.

Athletes have wrestled in every Olympics since amateur wrestling was invented thousands of years ago, making it the oldest sport in the world.

The main goal of wrestling is to overcome an opponent either by throwing or pinning him to the ground or by forcing him to submit.

During a submission match, one wrestler locks the other in a painful position by placing them in a submission hold.

When the pain becomes too great, he or she gives up by telling the referee so.

Now, let’s understand why wrestling is considered a sport. But first, let’s briefly explore the history of this beautiful ancient sport.

Table of Contents

Brief History of Wrestling Sport

Wrestling is one of the oldest forms of combat, referenced in the Iliad and depicted in 15,000-year-old cave drawings in France.

Reliefs from ancient Egypt and Babylon show moves that are still used today.

In ancient Greece, wrestling held a prominent place in the Olympic Games, and the ancient Greeks developed it to train soldiers in hand-to-hand combat.

After defeating the Greeks, the Roman Empire borrowed from Greek wrestling but eliminated much of its brutality.

To preserve the true history of the sport, the Greeks invented Greco-Roman wrestling.

Wrestling was popular in the middle ages, even in French, Japanese, and English royal houses.

Wrestling traditions were much later brought to Native American tribes by American settlers from England.

In the early years of America’s development, amateur wrestling was very popular, appearing at carnivals, county fairs, military exercises, and holiday celebrations.

During that time, many styles were practiced, but only catch wrestling (originally catch-as-catch-can) survived, evolving into the style used today at the collegiate level.

Some significant dates in wrestling history are;

1888: New York hosted the first organized national wrestling tournament

1904: Saint Louis, MO hosted the first wrestling competition of our modern Olympic Games

1912: (FILA) International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles was established in Antwerp, Belgium

1912: The first National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Wrestling Championships was hosted in Ames, IA

1983: USA wrestling became the governing body of amateur wrestling nationally.

1987: Lorenskog, Norway hosted the first world women’s wrestling championship

2004: The Olympic Games included women’s wrestling

FILA developed modern wrestling standards and regulations, which recognize two categories of wrestling: International and Folk.

International wrestling includes eight disciplines:

  • Greco-Roman Wrestling
  • Freestyle Wrestling
  • Grappling
  • Beach Wrestling
  • Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and Combat Grappling
  • Oil Wrestling (Turkish)
  • Pankration
  • Sambo (Soviet Union)

Folk wrestling is a traditional form of wrestling that is unique to a culture or region.

Folk wrestling is not regulated by FILA nor does it recognize it as an international style of wrestling.

The following are examples of folk wrestling;

  • Catch-as-Catch-Can (England)
  • Cumberland Wrestling (England)
  • Backhold Wrestling (Europe)
  • Khuresh (Siberia)
  • Kurash (Uzbekistan)
  • Lotta Campidanese (Italy)
  • Gushteengiri (Tajikistan)
  • Pahlavani (Iran)
  • Pehlwani (India)
  • Penjang Gulat (Indonesia)
  • Schwingen (Switzerland)
  • Ssireum (Korea)
  • Shuai Jiao (China)

Now that you have a good background in this sport, let’s now dive into why wrestling is considered a sport.

Why Is Wrestling a Sport?     

Wrestling is a sport mainly because it is a combat sport which is a recognized style of sports, and also because it is included in the Olympic Games.

Here are my 2 main reasons why I consider wrestling a sport.

It Is a Combat Sport

Combat sport is a recognized style of sports of which wrestling is a part.

Combat sports, also known as fighting sports, involve one-on-one combat in a competitive setting.

Combat sports are often won by scoring more points than the opponent, submitting the opponent with a hold, disabling the opponent (knockout, KO), or attacking the opponent with a specific or designated technique.

Some popular combat sports include Boxing, Judo, Taekwondo, Karate, Mixed martial arts, Kickboxing, etc.

As you can already see, most combat sports are also martial arts, and wrestling is not an exception.

So, wrestling is not just a sport but also a form of martial art. Cool!


It Is an Olympic Sport

It is common sense that if a game is listed as an Olympic sport, then it is simply a sport. And the Olympics have listed wrestling as an Olympic sport.

Except for the 1900 Summer Olympics when wrestling wasn’t included in the program, wrestling has been a major feature of the Olympic Games since they began in Athens in 1896.

Wrestling freestyle and weight classes made their debut in 1904, while 2004 marked the introduction of the women’s competition.

Wrestling was introduced into the ancient Olympics in 708 BC, shortly after the Games’ recorded history began.

The IOC voted to drop wrestling from the Summer Olympic program in 2013.

Following a motion of no confidence, the president of the sport’s governing body, FILA (now United World Wrestling), resigned.

As a result of these changes and revisions of the 2016 program (including rule changes and the addition of women’s competitions), wrestling was successfully re-admitted.

Now, the above indeed shows that wrestling is a household sport in the Olympics.

So if wrestling as a sport is recognized and respected by the world’s foremost sporting competition, then it is without a doubt a sport.

Is Wrestling a Sport in the Olympics?

Wrestling such as Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling is a sport in the Olympics. However, another form of wrestling such as Pro wrestling is not an Olympic sport.

Since the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896, wrestling has been part of every Summer Olympic program except the 1900 Olympics.

There are two international wrestling styles in the Olympic Games: Greco-Roman wrestling, and Freestyle wrestling.

These are valid types of wrestling that take part during the summer Olympic Games.

The International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA, formerly United World Wrestling) supervises both styles.

Pro-wrestling however is not a sport in the Olympics.

Is Wrestling a Sport or Entertainment?        

Generally, wrestling is a sport that can either be genuinely competitive or sportive entertainment (professional wrestling).

There is no questioning the fact that traditional wrestling is a sport with some of them already listed as combat sports or Olympic sports.

The argument however is whether professional wrestling (despite its high level of theatrical flourish and extravagant presentation) is a sport or just an entertainment.

To answer this, it’s safe to say that while pro wrestling is not a typical sport, it is still considered as being both a sport and an entertainment game.

Wikipedia defines sport as any form of competitive physical activity or game that aims to maintain, use, or improve physical ability and skills while providing enjoyment to participants and, in some cases, entertainment to spectators.

Pro wrestling is at best a sports entertainment, which is a term coined by Vince McMahon, chairman World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) in the 1980s as a marketing term to describe the industry of professional wrestling, mainly to potential advertisers.      

However, professional wrestling was first described as “sportive entertainment” by Toronto Star sports editor Lou Marsh in February 1935.    

So, pro wrestling is both a sport and entertainment.

Related: Is martial arts a sport?

Related: Is Taekwondo a sport?

Related: Is Fencing a sport?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *