Although they are both combat sports, wrestling and boxing are entirely different from one another. However, seeing how MMA – a blend of many combat sports disciplines – has become so popular lately, it’s easy to see how some people can get confused about which sport is which.
Whether it’s boxing greats or wrestling legends, not knowing the differences between wrestling and boxing would be a disservice to the icons of two of the oldest, greatest combat sports in history.
With that in mind, let’s take a definitive look at the two combat disciplines, including their major differences in terms of rules, style, and popularity. It’s important to note that one sport isn’t necessarily better than the other. Wrestling and boxing have their own strengths, and gaining experience in both is far better than only focusing on one.
What is wrestling?
Wrestling is all about submission-based moves. Two or more opponents face off in a pre-designated arena, with no punches or kicks allowed. Wrestlers must use a combination of leverage, pressure points, and momentum to win.
Although it can generally be described as a grapple-based form of fighting, there are many different styles and disciplines of wrestling. There are currently four officially recognized wrestling categories, namely: Freestyle wrestling, Greco-Roman wrestling, Judo, and Sambo.
As proof of the widespread effectiveness of wrestling, several wrestling techniques are used in military hand-to-hand training, such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Krav Maga. The first form of wrestling can be traced back as far as 15,000 years ago, originating in ancient Egypt, Babylon, and India.
Aside from being one of the oldest forms of combat, wrestling is also one of the most widely respected, ubiquitous combat sports in existence. Its influence can be found in almost every country worldwide, and it remains the dominant discipline in all forms of submission-based combat.
What is boxing?
Boxing involves two opponents fighting with their fists. No other forms of fighting are allowed, which means that boxing requires far more discipline than most other combat sports. Like wrestling, it’s a combat sport that requires technical skill as much as it does physical prowess.
Boxing dates back to ancient Egypt from around 2,000 BC. However, back then, it was known as “pugilism.” Pugilism only became a recognized combat sport in 688 BC, when it featured in the 23rd Olympiad in ancient Greece.
Originally, pugilism was just two opponents going at each other with bare-knuckled fists. It was as brutal as it sounds until the ‘Queensbury Rules’ of 1878 transformed it into the boxing we know today. Thanks to gloves, official rules, and subsequent Olympic recognition, pugilism became boxing, and boxing quickly grew in international popularity.
Professional boxing matches last for twelve rounds. Each round lasts for three minutes, with a one minute break between rounds. Fighters can win by knockout (KO), technical knockout (TKO), or a scoring system. Scores are decided by three judges who monitor the fight, while a referee controls the action inside the ring.
Compared to wrestling, boxing hasn’t been around for nearly as long. In fact, wrestling is the oldest combat sport in the world. Interestingly, this doesn’t translate to a bigger following or more significant influence, at least in terms of viewership numbers.
According to multiple surveys, boxing is actually slightly more popular than wrestling, with higher average ratings and a larger global audience. Wrestling’s impact can be felt in other ways though, such as its aforementioned integration into multiple military training disciplines.
Even though both sports require technical skill, brute force is arguably a lot more effective in boxing than in wrestling. Boxers can only hit their opponents above the waist area, but they can hit as hard and as often as they please. In comparison, wrestlers must use all their limbs to attack, defend, and counter.
Boxing matches can either be amateur or professional, whereas wrestling matches can differ depending on the style and region in question. Boxing has general rules that are the same for every country where it’s an official sport, while wrestling rules will again depend on location and discipline.
Typically, the only defensive equipment a wrestler gets is protective headgear, which is designed to protect the neck area in particular. Boxers get padded gloves and mouthguards but no additional protection against head and neck injury.
Both sports have a high rate of injury. They are incredibly tough to master but, from an entertainment perspective, the compressed action of boxing appears to be the reason for its greater popularity. Wrestling may be the older, more widely used combat sport, but boxing seems to be the people’s favorite.
Of course, whichever combat sport you prefer will essentially boil down to personal preference. However, it’s worth repeating that experience in both is ideal, especially in the MMA-dominated world of modern combat sports.