Freestyle Wrestling Rules

Freestyle Wrestling
Photo Credit: Lilyana Vynogradova /

Freestyle Wrestling is a combat sport contested on an octagonal mat with a circle inside. It is one of two variants of wrestling that take place at the Olympic games, with the other being Greco-Roman Wrestling. In Freestyle Wrestling, athletes are permitted to grab opponents below the waist and use their legs for both attacking and defensive moves. The sport incorporates elements from a variety of other disciplines, including sambo, judo and traditional wrestling.

Unlike Greco-Roman Wrestling, both men and women compete in Freestyle Wrestling at the Olympics. The sport is also contested at a wide variety of different weight levels including light flyweight, flyweight, bantamweight, featherweight, lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, light heavyweight, heavyweight and super heavyweight.

Freestyle Wrestling has featured at the modern Olympics every year except for 1896 and 1912. The United States is by far the most successful nation – topping the medals table with a grand total of 110. The Soviet Union have amassed 56 medals, whilst Japan are in third position overall with 45.

Object of the Game

In Freestyle Wrestling, the main aim is to tackle an opponent and place their shoulders firmly on the mat for a couple of seconds – which is known as a “pin” or “fall” and will result in a victory. However, an athlete can also win a fight in a variety of other ways, which are explored in greater detail in the “Winning” section below.

Players & Equipment

Two performers participate in a Freestyle Wrestling match, which is contested on top of a large mat with eight sides. A circle is marked inside this octagon, and this is known as the fight circle. Participants are required to wear a variety of clothing items during an Olympic match. These include:


A Freestyle Wrestling uniform is known as a singlet, and is often made of Lycra or spandex so it will fit tightly to the skin – offering maximum flexibility for the athlete and minimal grip for the opponent.

Wrestling Shoes

Freestyle Wrestler athletes also wear specially designed shoes for contests, which provide them with grip and mobility when they are competing on top of the large spongy mat. These shoes are usually built with rubber soles.

Blood Rag

Freestyle Wrestling athletes will also carry a blood rag with them into every fight. This is essentially a handkerchief, and can be used to wipe away any blood or sweat that may be compromising a performance or endangering an opponent.


Like with Greco-Roman Wrestling, a fight helmet is optional in Freestyle Wrestling. Some wrestlers receive recommendations from their medical team to wear headgear in order to protect themselves, although many prefer the freedom of not having a helmet during a fight.


There is a very specific points system used in Freestyle Wrestling, with the more complex and difficult moves scoring higher values than the simpler ones. Wrestlers are also awarded points for adopting an offensive approach and taking the fight to their opponent.

Takedown (2 - 5 points)

Takedowns can score anywhere between two and five points. These are moves that involve at least three points of contact (e.g. two arms, one knee) and vary in value depending on execution and style. For example, a high scoring takedown will be one that involves a strong throw from a standing position that lifts an opponent’s legs above their head.

Reversal (1 point)

A “reversal” is when a wrestler manages to outfox their opponent and turn a defensive position into an attacking one. One point is awarded to the wrestler who manages to achieve a reversal during the fight.

Exposure (2-3 points):

Exposure or the “danger position” can score a wrestler two or three points. This is when a wrestler puts his/her opponent on their back for a few seconds. The number of points scored will depend on the effectiveness, execution and length of the exposure move.

Penalty (1-2 points)

In Freestyle Wrestling, an athlete may also be penalised if they flee a hold, back away over the mat, or take a timeout when they are not forced to because of bleeding. If a wrestler persistently offends they will be cautioned. Three cautions can lead to disqualification. A wrestler is entitled to challenge cautions, which will either be upheld or overturned by the judges.

Out of Bounds (1 point)

If a wrestler places one foot outside of the designated fight area, their opponent will be awarded an “Out of Bounds” point.


There are numerous ways to win a match in Olympic Freestyle Wrestling. These include victory by pin, technical pin, judge's’ decision, default or disqualification.

By Pin

Most wrestlers attempt to win a fight by pin or fall. This involves locking an opponent’s shoulders down on the mat with control for one to two seconds. Once a pin is made, the referee will check with the judges for their verdict. If they concur with the referee, the fight will end and the athlete who made the pin will be crowned the victor.

By Technical Pin

A technical pin/technical fall victory is awarded to a wrestler who achieves a ten point lead over their opponent at any stage during the fight.

By Decision

If no pin or technical pin is achieved during a fight, the judges will check their scorecards to see which wrestler scored the most points throughout the contest. The highest scorer is declared the winner.

By Default

If a wrestler can no longer continue a fight due to injury or does not take part in the contest for any reason at all, they will forfeit the match and their opponent is awarded the victory by default.

By Disqualification

If a wrestler repeatedly breaks the rules and/or receives three cautions during a fight, they will be disqualified and their opponent will be handed the win.

Rules of Freestyle Wrestling

  • An athlete is forbidden from locking in a leg scissor move to the head, neck or body of their opponent. Scissor moves on the legs or arms are, however, permitted.
  • If a wrestler is considered to be passive, they will be placed on a thirty-second shot clock. If neither athlete manages to score any points during those thirty seconds, the opponent is awarded a point. The passive athlete will also be given a caution.
  • If a wrestler receives three cautions during a fight, they will be disqualified from the contest.