One of the most primitive and universal sports, wrestling was probably known in prehistoric times. In ancient Greece, wrestlers were rated second only to discus throwers as popular Olympic heroes. The Greeks practiced two forms of wrestling—upright and ground. Wrestling was also included in the pentathlon and the pankration (combined with boxing); the most famous Greek wrestler was Milo of Crotona. Homer's account of the match between Ajax and Ulysses (Iliad, XXIII) is one of the world's greatest wrestling stories. Wrestling tournaments were held in medieval Europe, and the sport has remained popular throughout history.
Distinctly different styles of wrestling exist today. In Japan, for example, two types of wrestling styles are popular—sumo and jujitsu (see judo). Sumo, in which the object is to force the opponent out of the ring, is quasireligious in nature and involves much ritual. Most of its participants weigh 300 to 400 lb (135-180 kg). For centuries wrestling has been the center of life for the Nuba in Africa, who wrestle only after covering themselves with symbolic ash. In the traditional Turkish style of Pehlivan, wrestlers wear leather breeches and cover themselves with oil; the Shwingen style of Switzerland and the Glima of Iceland feature grips on the opponent's belt; the Cumberland-Westmoreland style from Britain relies on holds that bend opponents backward; in Central Asia, wrestlers still compete in Kuresh wrestling passed down from the Turkmen centuries ago.
Nearly all nations embrace the two types of wrestling contested in the Olympics: Greco-Roman and freestyle. Greco-Roman, most popular in continental Europe, prohibits tripping, holds below the waist, and the use of one's legs. Freestyle wrestling is most popular in the United States and E Europe. This form permits tackling, tripping, and leg holds. High schools and colleges in the United States employ a style that approximates freestyle. In nonprofessional wrestling, contestants are classified by weight. Wrestlers earn points for certain maneuvers and the highest accumulated total wins if there is no pin during a match. Professional wrestling in the United States, which is a form of entertainment rather than a sport, has enjoyed several periods of popularity; it relies on colorful showmanship and media exposure.
The Epic of Gilgamesh in Sumerian literature features its hero Gilgamesh establishing his credibility as a leader after wrestling Enkidu. Other sculptures and literature from ancient Mesopotamia show that wrestling was held in popularity. One other early (probably circa 1500 BC) description of wrestling appears in the Old Testament book of Genesis 32:22-32. The passage depicts the patriarch Jacob wrestling with the Angel, for which Jacob was subsequently renamed Israel. (Israel translates to "wrestles (or strives) with God".)
Shuai Jiao, a wrestling style originating in China, is arguably the most ancient of all Chinese martial arts, with a reported history of over 4,000 years. (The date may be legendary, but wrestling was reportedly used by the Yellow Emperor during his fight against the rebel Chih Yiu and his army in 2697 BC.) During these matches, the combatants reportedly wore horned helmets that they used to gore their opponents while using a primitive form of grappling. This early style of combat was first called Jiao Ti (butting with horns). Throughout the centuries, the hands and arms replaced the horns while the techniques increased and improved. The name Jiao Ti also changed over time, both through common usage and government decree.
This continued into the Hellenistic period. Ptolemy II and Ptolemy III of Egypt were both depicted in art as victorious wrestlers. After the Roman conquest of the Greeks, Greek wrestling was absorbed by the Roman culture and became Roman wrestling during the period of the Roman Empire (510 BC to AD 500). Arabic literature depicted Muhammad as a skilled wrestler, defeating a skeptic in a match at one point. By the eighth century, the Byzantine emperor Basil I, according to court historians, won in wrestling against a boastful wrestler from Bulgaria.
In 1520 at the Field of the Cloth of Gold pageant, Francis I of France threw Henry VIII of England in a wrestling match. In Henry VIII's kingdom, folk wrestling in many places was widely popular and had a long history. In particular, the Lancashire style may have formed the basis for Catch wrestling also known as "catch as catch can." The Scots later formed a variant of this style, and the Irish developed the "collar-and-elbow" style which later found its way into the United States. The French developed the modern Greco-Roman style which was finalized by the 19th century and by then, wrestling was featured in many fairs and festivals.
Roget's New Millennium Thesaurus does not support the usage of 'wrestling' (noun) and 'grappling' (noun) as synonymous.
"Grappling is a wrestling style also called submission wrestling or “submission grappling.” It consists of controlling the opponent without using striking. It is done from a standing position or on the ground after a throw, and the goal is to make the opponent submit via the use of immobilization techniques such as locks. Grappling plays an important role in the practice of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and can be used as a self-defence technique. It brings together techniques from Brazilian jiu-jitsu (no-Gi), Freestyle Wrestling, Folk American Wrestling (catch-as-catch-can), Sambo and judo.". Grappling is also used to describe the skills used in mixed martial arts competitions, differing from the FILA definition. Grappling can be trained for self defense, sport and mixed martial arts (MMA) competition.
Folk wrestling describes a traditional form of wrestling unique to a culture or geographic region of the world. There are almost as many folk wrestling styles as there are national traditions. Folk style is also used across the United States in high school wrestling. Folk style is competed state wide in all states. Some states wrestle in classes depending on how large each school is. Others states have large tourneys that each individual has to win or place in order to move on to the final tourney, the State Championship. The sport allows mostly males to wrestle, although women are slowly introducing themselves to high school wrestling. Folk style is also held state wide in some states through the states wrestling associations. Holding tourneys on weekends for anyone of all ages to participate.
Examples of folk styles include Backhold Wrestling (from Europe), Catch-as-catch-can (from England), Kurash from Uzbekistan, Gushteengiri from Tajikistan,Khuresh from Siberia, Lotta Campidanese from Italy, Pahlavani from Iran, Pehlwani from India, Penjang Gulat from Indonesia, Schwingen from Switzerland, Shuai jiao from China, Ssireum from Korea, and Yağlı güreş (Turkish oil wrestling).
Folk wrestling styles are not recognized by FILA internationally.
Collegiate wrestling (sometimes known as scholastic wrestling or folk style wrestling) is the commonly used name of wrestling practiced at the college and university level in the United States. A modification of the style is practiced at the high school and middle school levels, and also for younger participants. The term is used to distinguish the styles of wrestling used in other parts of the world, and for those of the Olympic Games: Greco-Roman wrestling, and Freestyle wrestling. Some High Schools in the U.S. have developed "modified wrestling" teams alongside a varsity team. Modified wrestling restricts competitors not only by weight, but also by age and the amount of wrestling a competitor can partake in. For example, modified wrestling competitors are not allowed in tournament competition due to the amount of mat time a wrestler would accrue in a short time period.
There are currently several organizations which oversee collegiate wrestling competition: Divisions I, II, and III, of the NCAA, NJCAA, NAIA, and the NCWA. Division I of the NCAA is considered the most prestigious and challenging level of competition. A school chooses which organization to join, although it may compete against teams from other levels and organizations during regular-season competition. The collegiate season starts in November and culminates with the NCAA tournament held in March.
Randy Couture (UFC heavyweight champion) and Dan Henderson (current PRIDE champion in the 183 division and formerly 205 pound division champion) both competed extensively in collegiate and Greco-Roman wrestling before beginning their careers in mixed martial arts. Other top fighters coming from amateur wrestling include: Randy Couture, Matt Lindland, Matt Hughes, Dan Henderson, Sean Sherk, Urijah Faber, Tyson Griffin, Clay Guida, Kevin Randleman, Mark Kerr, Don Frye, Dan Severn, Mark Coleman, Bryan Vettel, Tito Ortiz, Quinton Jackson, Rashad Evans, Jeff Monson, Matt Horwich, Norifumi Yamamoto, Brock Lesnar, Gray Maynard, Matt Hamill, Benji Radach, Gerald Harris, Antonio McKee, Carmelo Marrero, Lew Polley, Vladimir Matyushenko, Ryan Schultz, Aaron Stark, Devin Cole, Ken Shamrock, , Josh Barnett, Brent Beauparlant, Mike Whitehead, Antoine Jaoude, Adam Maciejewski, Roy Nelson, Dan Molina, Reese Andy, Shad Lierley, Melvin Guillard, Dennis Hallman, Josh Koscheck, Mark Schultz, Brandon Vera, Renato Sobral, Jamie Varner, Ricco Rodriguez, Gilbert Melendez, Mitsuhiro Ishida, Takanori Gomi, Jon Fitch, Shane Carwin, Stephan Bonnar, Tim Boetsch, Chael Sonnen, Anthony Johnson, Frank Edgar, Matt Grice, Corey Hill, Roger Huerta, Cain Velasquez, Muhammad Lawal.
Many other prominent and successful fighters began their training in various forms of wrestling (Georges St. Pierre in freestyle wrestling), and fighters from non-wrestling backgrounds often pursue wrestling training to complement their other skills. Wrestling is one of the most dominant fighting styles in MMA/Vale Tudo.