Difference between Sambo and Wrestling

Key difference: Sambo is a type of martial art discipline that originated in Russia. Wrestling is a physical competition for gaining and maintaining superiority over an opponent, by using a string of grappling techniques.

Sambo is an acronym for SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya, which is the Russian for “self-defense without weapons”. Played as a combat sport across the world and in Russia, its country of origin, Sambo is also a form of martial art. It was devised in the first half of the 1920’s by the Soviet Red Army, in order to enrich their hand-to-hand combat techniques. Sambo is influenced by other forms of martial arts as well, such as Wrestling, Judo, Folk style wrestling, etc. Sambo gained recognition in the year 1938, when it was declared an official sport by the USSR All-Union Sports Committee. Although it isn’t an Olympic sport, Sambo has its fair share of supporters for this cause and a decent fan following as well.

The sport is regulated by its apex authority, which is the FIAS (The International Federation of Amateur Sambo). Basically, there are three main styles of Sambo at present. The first is called as Sport Sambo, which is pretty much alike Olympic Freestyle Wrestling or Judo. Combat Sambo is the second variant of Sambo. This type was developed for the military. This form is exactly similar to the modern MMA, i.e. the Mixed Martial Arts. The third and the final format of Sambo is known as Freestyle Sambo. This format was developed by the ASA (American Sambo Association) in 2004. Though it doesn’t permit striking, but choke holds and other forms of submission are allowed in Freestyle Sambo.

Wrestling is a physical competition between two opponents, who jostle to gain and maintain superiority over each other. The origin of Wrestling dates back to 15,000 year old cave paintings from France, Egypt and Babylon. Over the years, Wrestling has gained much popularity and following, which has led to it’s evolution as an Olympic sport. Wrestling has also influenced many sport cultures around the world. Moves from the sport of Wrestling have been borrowed by variants of martial art disciplines such as Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, MMA, etc. Wrestling’s inclusion in various continental and exclusive competitions, such as the Common Wealth Games, has largely helped its cause of finding acceptance in all hemispheres of the world.

Being a combat sport, Wrestling basically involves the implementation of one’s strength, through techniques like throwing, joint locking, clinch fighting, etc. For this purpose, the sport of Wrestling is invariably known for having grappling as its focus. Various styles and techniques of Wrestling have gone on to inspire martial art styles and military practice drills. Some of these prominent Wrestling styles followed currently are:

  • Greco-Roman Wrestling
  • Freestyle Wrestling
  • Grappling
  • Beach wrestling and
  • MMA

Notably, many Folk Wrestling forms belonging to various countries, such as koshti pahlavani from Iran, naban from Myanmar, pehlwani from India, penjang gulat from Indonesia, schwingen from Switzerland, etc., are not in the scheme of things of FILA (the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles). More surprisingly, these forms of Folk Wrestling have failed to be recognized by FILA, as international styles of Wrestling.

Comparison between Sambo and Wrestling:




Origin of the term

From Russian words: SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya

From Old English: wræstlunge

Country of Origin


Origins of wrestling go back 15,000 years through cave drawings in France, Babylon and Egypt

Time of Origin

Early 1920s

Around 15000 years ago




Olympic Sport




Said to be Anatoly Kharlampiev

No common consensus

Apex authority

FIAS (The International Federation of Amateur Sambo)

FILA (the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles)

Image Courtesy: fscclub.com, thestar.com

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