A Complete Guide to Wrestling

Entertaining Indians for centuries, wrestling is one of the oldest sports played in the country. The combat sport provides a positive direction of aggression and promotes physical strength. Using grappling type techniques, including throws, clinch fighting, holds, joint locks and pins, the game encourages use of the body against weapons for contest. The rules in both traditional-historic and modern styles have evolved substantially. However, all types of wrestling games involve forcing an opponent to touch the ground or holding them in a particular position for maximum time periods.


The all-time best wrestlers in India are Sushil Kumar, Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav and the ‘Great’ Gama. In India, the sport is governed by the Wrestling Federation of India, and the United World Wrestling governs amateur wrestling and Olympics Wrestling. Today, wrestling techniques have been integrated with other hand-to-hand combat systems, including military combat and martial arts.


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Overview and History

Freestyle Wrestling

  • Wrestling is one of the oldest forms of combat, with first literary references dating back to the Trojan War of 13th or the 12th The origins date back to 15,000 years. Cave drawings in France are the earliest representations of the modern sport.
  • In ancient Greece, Wrestling competitions were quite a crucial form of entertainment and sport. They were focal sports during the Ancient Olympic Games. However, the games were initially quite brutal.
  • Since 1904, every Olympic Games has included Wrestling as a sport. The Olympic style involves strict rules, which reduce physical violence and hurtful aggression. Freestyle wrestling rules are followed for the game.
  • In India, Wrestling has been practiced since the 5th millennium B.C. Having evolved from South-Asian form of wrestling called ‘Malla-Yuddha,’ wrestling in India was known as Pehlwani or Kushti. Pehlwans or the players used various grappling techniques, which evolved through the ages.
  • The regimen for Pehlwans was strict, with most of them beginning their formal training in the teens. They were supposed to visit an akhara or a wrestling school as early as 5 or 6 in the morning to practice bodyweight training, and develop muscle bulk in flexibility. These players performed yoga while using the contact sports as a part of their physical fitness routine.
  • Some of the practices used in Indian wrestling were quite unique, including but not limited to locks, throws, pins and submission holds. Shoulder throw, known as dhobi paat and strangle pin, known as kasauta were most favoured manoeuvres in the game.
  • While Pehlwani is a widely practiced sport in the country, Indians usually participate in freestyle Olympic Wrestling and Professional Wrestling when competing internationally. Regularly, Indians participate in freestyle wrestling at the Olympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and other international events, while a few Indians play with Professional Wrestling organizations like WWE.
  • In recent past, India and its wrestlers have created a niche for themselves in the sport. Great Gama was one of the nation’s finest wrestlers (pre-partition), while current wrestlers include Sushil Kumar, Uday Chand, Yogeshwar Dutt, Geeta Phogat and others. Khali is India’s most recognized professional wrestler.



The rules for wrestling usually change with the type of Wrestling Game being played. For instance, in Greco-Roman Wrestling, players cannot hold an opponent below the waist, which is generally allowed in Freestyle Wrestling. Similarly, there are other wrestling styles which forbid the use of martial arts’ tactics. The general rules for a wrestling game are mentioned below,

  • The prime objective of Olympic Wrestling is to put your opponent on their back or to pin the opponent to the ground. This is only applicable if any part of the shoulder or both shoulder blades of the opponent contact the mat for at least a period of 2 seconds.
  • The format is two three minute sessions for the match.
  • To encourage risk-taking during bouts, a wrestler who may unsuccessfully try to execute a hold and ends up in the ‘parterre’ position (hands and knees on the ground), the wrestler on above will not be awarded any point. However, during a hold if a defending wrestler initiates a counterattack successfully, points would be awarded for the action.
  • A wrestler on whom a hold is initiated will only be awarded points if by his/her own action they brought the offensive wrestler to ground, conducted action, succeeded in controlling offensive wrestler using bridge position, actions that lead to a change in position, an instantaneous fall or if they have rolled from one shoulder to the other using elbows in bridge position.
  • Offensive wrestler can get a penalty to lock hands (except cradles) around the torso of the defensive wrestler. It can only be done if the opponent is standing on their feet or close to the fall count. A referee will consider overlapping fingers as locked hands.
  • An offensive wrestler can also get a point in ‘danger position.’ This is the position when a defensive wrestler’s body assumes bridge position in order to be avoid being pinned down. A ‘danger position’ is considered when the wrestler’s line of the back or the shoulder is vertical or parallel to the mat, forming an angle of less than 90 degrees, but the position is assumed only to resist the fall. Danger position can also be assumed if the defending wrestler supports themselves on the elbows to avoid their shoulders being forced on the mat.
  • Points can also be scored through the grand amplitude throw, which records any action or hold by the offensive wrestler that causes their opponent to lose contact with the ground or leads to a sweeping curve in the air, leading them directly to the ground or in the danger position.
  • Strikes and kicks aren’t permitted.
  • In freestyle Olympic match, if no wrestler scores in the given session, the referee of the match will identify the more passive player in the game, giving them a 30 second window of opportunity to score. If the player fails to score, their opponent will get a point.


Certain aspects of Kabaddi that one must keep in mind while playing:

It must be understood that in wrestling, pinning down a wrestler is essential, but not the only way to win a game. For winning the game, players must perform certain actions or holds that gives them points. For instance, correct hold while standing on the mat or in a parterre position with three points of contact will give the wrestler points. Overall, scoring can only be accomplished in following ways.

  • Takedown- Up to 2 points are awarded if the opponent is taken down on the mat and the other player is controlling them.
  • Escape- Up to 1 point is given to a player who gets away from the mat or gets into a neutral position when pinned down.
  • Reversal- Up to 2 points given to the player who gains control of the opponent from underneath them.
  • Near fall- Up to 3 points are given to the player who gets their opponent to fall down but can’t get them pinned. These points are given when shoulders of the opponent are within 4 inches of the mat (at least 2 seconds), when one shoulder touches the mat and other is at 45 degree angle or when wrestler is in high bridge.
  • Penalty Points- Up to 2 points for illegal holds, technical violations like going off the mat, grabbing clothing, locking or overlapping hands.



Currently, Freestyle Wrestling is governed by certain specifications to ensure better competition and fights amongst equals. The international men’s freestyle is divided in different age categories, which includes schoolboys, cadets, novice, juvenile, juniors and seniors. Different weight classes are also defined for the game. This includes following weight classes for men,

  • 57 kg
  • 65 kg
  • 74 kg
  • 86 kg
  • 97 kg
  • 97-125 kg

For female wrestling, it is

  • 48 kg
  • 53 kg
  • 58 kg
  • 63 kg
  • 69 kg
  • 69-75 kg

The tournaments are structured with the concept of direct elimination. The ideal number of wrestlers are placed in age/weight categories and different weight class competitions are held each day. Elimination and qualification rounds are held. The final round includes two victors of elimination round who compete for the first and second place, and an awards’ ceremony is held after the finals match.

Matches take place on thick rubber mats, which are designed with shock-absorbency features. The mats for every even are new. The wrestling area for freestyle wrestling has a nine-meter diameter with 1.5 meter of border as the protection area. There’s a red zone or the outer circle, which is used to judge the passivity of the wrestler. Inside of it is a central wrestling area, which is 7 meters in diameter. Then, there is a central circle with one meter in diameter. In Olympic Games, the mat installed is no greater than 1.1 meters in height. The colour of the protection area is different from the mat’s colour.


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Olympic Wrestling Mat- Notice the colour borders used for establishing zones

The equipment used in the games includes a singlet, which is a one-piece garment made from spandex and Lycra. This prevents the opponent from using anything over the wrestler as leverage. Red and white coloured singlets are worn. A special pair of shoes are worn for increasing mobility and flexibility of the wrestler, and they are light and flexible. Handkerchiefs can be carried by the players to stop bleeding or clean up bodily fluids. Each wrestler is recommended to wear a headgear for freestyle matches.


Governing Bodies

United World Wrestling: It is the international governing body for amateur wrestling and wrestling at the Olympics. The body presides over Greco-Roman Wrestling, Freestyle Wrestling and others. UWW also hosts the flagship event known as Wrestling World Championships. The representatives in the body are from each of the 174 national wrestling federation’s around the world.

Wrestling Federation of India: This is the Indian governing body of wrestling which governs freestyle champions, Greco-Roman and other similar types of competitions. The body organizes various national and international events, including camps for qualifying tournaments. The body affiliates with the Indian Olympic Association and UWW.




Olympic Freestyle Wrestling: Freestyle wrestling, which began in the UK in the 19th century, is a part of the Olympic Games. The game made its debut in 1904 and only featured American athletes in the initial stages. The first Olympic freestyle competition for women was held in Athens 2004. The Indian Olympians have won several medals in freestyle wrestling over the years.

In Rio 2016, Wilfried Dietrich, Artur Taymazov and Aleksandr Karelin in men’s category and Kaori Icho, Saori Yoshida and Irini Merleni in Women’s category has been the top medalists.

Wrestling at Commonwealth Games: This is an optional sport for players during the Commonwealth games. Introduced in 1930, the game wasn’t featured in the Melbourne 2006 games, but returned in the Commonwealth Games Delhi 2010 and was featured in Glasgow Commonwealth Games, 2014. India has the second highest tally of medals (after Canada) in Wrestling at the Commonwealth Games.



National Wrestling Championship: Junior, Senior, Greco-Roman and Freestyle National Wrestling Championships are conducted every year in India. Handled by the Wrestling Federation of India, these championships are also used as a qualifier for Asian Games, Commonwealth and Olympic Games in different age/weight categories.

Pro Wrestling League: An initiative by Pro-Sportify, Pro Wrestling League is a popular championship that’s held in cooperation with the Wrestling Federation of India. Founded in 2015, the first PWL saw 6 city based teams and 66 wrestlers from all over the world. Indian players like Yogeshwar Dutt and Sushil Kumar have participated in the first season of the league.


Famous Personalities

Ghulam Muhammad: Also known as the ‘great’ Gama, Ghulam Muhammad was the first leading wrestler in India. During the pre-partition era, Ghulam played as a Phelwan wrestler and was awarded the Indian version of World Heavyweight Championship. His career spanned for over 50 years, during which he was majorly undefeated. After the partition, Gama moved to Pakistan.


Sushil Kumar: A pioneer Indian wrestler, Sushil Kumar wrestles freestyle and has won 2010 world title in wrestling (66 kg). He also won a silver in 2012 Olympics and a bronze in 2008 Olympics. Awarded Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in 2009, he is one of the premier participants in Pro Wrestling League. In 2014, he participated and won the gold medal in 74 kg division at the Commonwealth Games.


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Leading Indian Wrestler Sushil Kumar

Yogeshwar Dutt: An Indian Wrestler from the state of Haryana, Yogeshwar Dutt’s international career has spanned across a decade. He began international championships in the 2004 Summer Olympics, and has won a bronze medal in the 2012 Summer Olympics, a gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and played for the Pro Wrestling League. Awarded Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2013, he is well known for his winning streaks during the competitions.


Geetika Jakhar: A popular female wrestler, Geetika was the first Indian woman wrestler to be judged as the Best Wrestler at the 2005 Commonwealth Championships. She has won medals at Asian Games, Commonwealth Wrestling Championships and Commonwealth Games. Currently, she is serving as the Deputy Superintendent of police under the government of Haryana. She is also responsible for developing the Sports’ Excellence Program in the country.



Shivangi Gupta is a Content Writer Expert at YoGems. With years of experience in writing blogs, articles and guides, she writes about every sport. Also, she is good at sports and expert in shooting and won numerable awards at various events. She started receiving shooting training under her father at the age of 6. To get updated with her posts, stay tuned to the website.