Freestyle wrestling is the worldwide practiced version of wrestling where grabbing the legs is allowed. In the USA, wrestling is also held in high regard and is an integral part of the athletic landscape in the school system, but the style they practice is slightly different and is called folkstyle wrestling. But what is the difference?
Freestyle wrestling is the internationally accepted wrestling style contested at the Olympic Games. Folkstyle, also called collegiate wrestling, is only practiced in the United States and is very similar to freestyle, with a slightly different focus and scoring. Freestyle emphasizes stand-up wrestling, rewarding big throws and takedowns, while in folkstyle, ground control is more important, and wrestlers spend more time on the mats.
The differences between the two styles are important for both competitors and spectators. Still, they are also interesting regarding their effectiveness and transferability into other disciplines like MMA and submission grappling.
What Is The Difference Between Folkstyle and Freestyle Wrestling
Folk wrestling can refer to any native wrestling worldwide, like Sumo, Cornish, oil, and many others. The word folkstyle wrestling is usually used to describe the style practiced exclusively in the USA at the high school and collegiate level.
The style is the same for an uneducated spectator as the Olympic discipline of freestyle wrestling. Wrestlers wear the same outfits, use the same competition area, and can attack and use their legs, unlike in Greco-Roman wrestling.
Many folkstyle competitors also participate in freestyle tournaments, but despite all the similarities, the two styles have enough differences to make them distinct. They share the same techniques but have slightly different goals, reflected in the matches’ scoring system and dynamics.
The end goal of both is to pin the opponent’s shoulders to the mat (also known as a fall), but to say it as broadly as possible, freestyle’s best outcome is to perform a high-amplitude throw or takedown, while folkstyle is about control on the ground. If no fall is achieved, the wrestler with the highest accumulation of points wins.
The most significant difference is how the ground wrestling works, but each difference should be looked at separately for better clarity.
First, we can notice the different focus in the fall criteria. In folkstyle, for a fall to be complete, you need to pin the opponent for two seconds, while in freestyle, the required time is only one second.
The other way of winning a match is by technical superiority, which means opening a big lead. For folkstyle wrestling, the gap is 15 points, while in freestyle, a 10-point difference is enough to win the match.
Both styles start every match with competitors on their feet in the neutral position, aiming to take the opponent down. All takedowns, regardless of whether they have back exposure or amplitude, are scored with 2 points in folkstyle. High-amplitude and arching throws are discouraged because of their danger, and suplexes are banned.
In freestyle, takedowns are scored differently, and a lot more importance is placed on their type.
High-amplitude throws like suplexes, which take the opponent from their feet straight to their back with feet above the head, are worth 5 points and win a period right away. Less dramatic takedowns are worth 3 points, while taking the opponent down to his belly gets you only 1 point.
Near Falls And Exposure Points
Near-falls are positions where one wrestler holds their opponent in a position where he has almost pinned them. In folkstyle, near-fall points are scored when the bottom wrestler is at a 45-degree angle to the mat with one shoulder down. 2 points are awarded for near-fall holds between 2 and 4 seconds, and 3 points for 5-second holds.
In freestyle, there is no time requirement, and it is enough to expose the opponent’s back to the mat even for a split second to score 2 points, known as exposure points.
Because of this rule and the higher-scoring takedowns, freestyle matches often end much quicker after a solid takedown and multiple exposure points earned in a sequence.
Escapes and Reversals
As you can see by the rules differences, collegiate wrestling emphasizes control on the mat. In folkstyle, the bottom wrestler must actively try to improve their position and is awarded a point for escaping into a neutral position, which is not present in freestyle.
Reversals involve moving from the bottom position into the top one, effectively reversing the situation. This action is worth one point in freestyle, while in folkstyle, you will get two.
Freestyle wrestlers often defend themselves on the bottom and wait for the referee to stand them back up in 10–15 seconds. This is considered stalling in Folkstyle, and the defensive wrestler must always try to escape or reverse the position.
There are generally no referee standups like in freestyle, and there is enough time to work toward a pin, escape, or reversal for both wrestlers.
A significant rule considering ground wrestling is clasping. In folkstyle, the top wrestler cannot clasp his hands together while on the mat (but is allowed to when attempting takedowns and pins). This gives the bottom player a legitimate chance of escaping or reversing the situation.
Freestyle matches are separated into 2×3-minute periods, while American folkstyle uses three periods. For high school competitors, they are 2 minutes long, while for collegiate wrestlers, the first period is 3 minutes.
Freestyle and Folkstyle vs. Greco-Roman
You may have noticed we are leaving the other Olympic wrestling style, Greco-Roman, out of the discussion. This is because freestyle and folkstyle are basically the same style but with differences in scoring, while the same cannot be said about Greco-Roman.
The most significant difference is that Greco-Roman forbids holding below the waist and using the legs for trips. This means only the upper part of the body is used for wrestling, making the style a lot more limited.
This leaves hand fighting, headlocks, body locks, and arm drags as the only viable attacks. On the positive side, this rule set creates opportunities for some super impressive throws.
A good analogy for the connection between Greco-Roman and freestyle can be made using boxing and kickboxing, where boxing only allows punches from the waist up. In contrast, kickboxing permits punches and kicks at all levels.
There are more differences in the rules between freestyle and Greco-Roman, but none are as profound as the lower body ban.
Folkstyle vs. Freestyle for BJJ
Without a doubt, submission grappling is the fastest-growing sport at the moment, and I assume most of you are interested in how freestyle and folkstyle wrestling translate into jiu-jitsu since this is the main topic of this site.
Both folkstyle and freestyle are excellent for no-gi grappling, and the majority of high-level players have become at least decent wrestlers. But out of the two, folkstyles’ particular skills are better transferable to submission grappling due to the focus on groundwork.
As I said, freestyle is mostly stand-up wrestling with big takedowns and limited mat time. In contrast, collegiate wrestling emphasizes ground control and escapes, which is precisely in the realm of jiu-jitsu.
Because folkstyle wrestlers spend more time on the mats looking for a pin or a reversal, they are better at this part of the game.
The same goes for the transfer of skills into MMA. Ground control is crucial, and the ban on hand clasping may favor folkstyle wrestlers who learn how to ground and pound.
But all in all, both styles are an excellent complement for any grappler, and they use the same set of techniques, just with a different focus.
International freestyle wrestling and American folkstyle use the same set of techniques and end goals, but the two styles reward different aspects of the game through their scoring systems.
Freestyle scores big throws and takedowns the most, and matches often end quicker. Folkstyle removes the most dangerous throws, like suplexes, and instead focuses on controlling the opponent on the ground and exposing their back to the mat for longer.
Both are great styles of wrestling and can serve as excellent bases for submission grapplers, or they can at least be used as supplementary training.