Greco-Roman Wrestling Rules

Greco-Roman Wrestling
Photo Credit: Leonard Zhukovsky /

Greco-Roman Wrestling is a combat sport performed on a circular mat. Participants are required to use their upper bodies to execute a variety of different moves to pin their opponent and/or score points in order to win the fight.

Many believe that Greco-Roman Wrestling is the oldest sport on the planet, with ancient cave drawings suggesting that competitions may have been held way back in 3000 BC. When the modern Olympics was first launched in 1896, Greco-Roman Wrestling was a feature, and the sport has continued to appear in various formats at the games ever since (with the exception of a hiatus in 1900).

The Soviet Union top the overall medal table in Greco-Roman Olympic wrestling, although Finland, Sweden and Hungary have also experienced a huge amount of success. Cuba fared well at the most recent Summer Olympics by picking up two golds and a silver, whilst Russia, Armenia and Serbia also collected a variety of medals during the 2016 tournament.

Aleksandr Karelin of Russia is considered by many to be the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of all time, grabbing gold medals in 1988, 1992 and 1996 and a silver in 2000.

Object of the Game

The objective of Greco-Roman Wrestling is to defeat the opponent over three rounds (all two minutes in length) using a variety of upper-body techniques. There are numerous ways to win a match, which are explored in greater detail in the “Winning” section below.

Players & Equipment

Greco-Roman Wrestling is contested exclusively by males at the Olympics, and is performed at a variety of different weight levels. Equipment for a typical fight includes the following.


A Singlet is the term used to describe a Greco-Roman Wrestler’s uniform. These garments are light and tight to assist with flexibility, and are usually manufactured with materials like Lycra.

Wrestling Shoes

Given how Greco-Roman Wrestling is contested on a mat, athletes must wear special shoes that offer good grip, flexibility and balance when they are jostling for position against their opponent on a spongy surface.

Blood Rag

It is not uncommon for athletes to bleed whilst they are engaged in combat during a Greco-Roman Wrestling contest. If this should happen, a fighter can remove their “Blood Rag” (which they tuck inside their singlet) to stem the flow of blood.


Helmets are optional in Greco-Roman Wrestling. Some athletes may require them due to their physical condition, whereas others may choose not to wear them out of personal preference.

Fight Mat

All Greco-Roman Wrestling contests take place on a circular fight mat. These are constructed with thick rubber material and are marked with zones that indicate the “Out of Bounds” area and also the “Passivity” area. If a wrestler spends a lot of time in the Passivity area, it indicates they are on the defensive and are not taking the fight to their opponent.


Greco-Roman Wrestling involves a very specific scoring criteria with different points values attributed to different moves.

Takedown (2 - 5 points)

A “takedown” is when a wrestler hauls his opponent to the ground from a standing position. Takedowns can score anywhere between 2 and 5 points, depending on their technicality, cleanliness and control. For example, if a wrestler can lift an opponent high off the mat in an effective way that sends legs directly above the head, he will often score 5 points. A more opportunistic takedown with less control (from the side or stomach) will score 2 points.

Reversal (1 point)

If a wrestler is in a defensive position on the mat and can overcome this to gain an attacking advantage, they are awarded a point for a “reversal”.

Exposure (2-3 points)

2 to 3 points can also be awarded for “exposure”. This is when a wrestler exposes his opponent's back to the mat for several seconds. Again, technicality and execution will be considered in terms of the exact number of points scored.

Penalty (1-2 points)

If a wrestler takes a time-out that was not forced by bleeding, their opponent will be awarded a Penalty point. These types of points may also be awarded to opponents if a wrestler breaks the rules in any way, such as using illegal moves like striking or grabbing below the waist. Occasionally, the referee will caution a wrestler or disqualify them completely for repeat offenses.

Out of Bounds (1 point)

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


Like with many other combat sports, there are numerous ways to win a fight in Greco-Roman Wrestling. These include by pin/fall, technical pin/fall, judge's’ decision, default or disqualification.

By Pin/Fall

Most wrestlers will attempt to win a match by pin/fall. This is achieved by firmly grabbing the opponent’s shoulders and locking them onto the mat for a period of 1-2 seconds. The referee and judges will determine if a pin/fall is valid. If a fall is achieved, the match ends and the wrestler who executed the successful pinfall wins the fight.

By Technical Pin/Fall

If a wrestler is leading by eight points during any break in action, he will be crowned the victor by “Technical Pin/Fall”.

By Judges’ Decision

If neither wrestler manages to win a contest via pin/fall during the three rounds, the judges will check their scorecards to see who has achieved the most points. The highest scorer will be awarded the win. If the scorecards are tied, the wrestler who has incurred fewer penalties and executed a greater number of higher scoring moves will be crowned the victor.

By Default

Occasionally, a wrestler may not be able to perform due to injury, and in this case his opponent will be awarded the win by default.

By Disqualification

If a wrestler continues to break the rules repeatedly, the referee may disqualify them, which will result in their opponent winning the match.

Rules of Greco-Roman Wrestling

Greco-Roman Wrestling has a particular set of rules that sets it apart from other forms of wrestling.

  • Holds below the waist area are forbidden. This includes grabbing opponent’s knees, thighs or legs.
  • Leg trips, kicks and knee strikes are also forbidden.
  • Each fight round is separated into three segments: one 60-second segment for neutral position combat (on their feet), and two 30-second sequences for ground combat (on the mat).
  • The wrestler who scores the most points in the 60-second neutral position segment will be granted the on-top advantage for the ground combat period. If the wrestler on top cannot score any points, his opponent on the bottom is awarded a point for good defence. The wrestlers then switch positions to allow both athletes a chance to earn points on top.
  • If neither wrestler scores any points during the first neutral position segment, the officials flip a coin to determine who begins the ground combat sequence on top.
  • The aim is to accumulate as many points as possible during every segment, as this gives the wrestler the best possible chance of claiming a victory on points if a fall cannot be attained.