Wrestling Is By Far The Best Background for MMA Competition – Guest Article By Dave Camarillo

Editors Note

Where I’m from, I’m known as that guy who knows all about MMA. Not exactly true, but I’ll take the plaudits.  To be honest, it’s more like I’m  in my Luke Skywalker phase when it comes to actually being a MMA journalist. So if I’m Luke, then Dave Camarillo is essentially my Yoda.

One of my best interviews and in my eyes, one of the smartest men in MMA, Camarillo was more than happy to impart some of his knowledge for the readers of MMA UK. In this article, Camarillo explains why he believes that wrestling is the best background for MMA competition.

If you like this article (which no doubt you will) then send me some feedback so I can try and convince Dave to write more!



Wrestling is by far the greatest background for

MMA competition!

By Dave Camarillo: BJJ Black Belt, Judo Black Belt, Head Grappling Coach at American Kickboxing Academy, Trainer of World Heavy Weight UFC Champion Cain Velasquez


There are three crucial components for an MMA fighter to be successful.


I: Technique (know how)

A fighter must display a decent level of technique in order to have any success in MMA. I define technique as gaining leverage by using movements of the body in a planned and skillful manner.

Technique must be developed within all three ranges of fighting: Striking from the feet, Striking/wrestling in the clinch and fighting on the ground in the top and bottom position. If one aspect of fighting is neglected the fighter will develop a hole in their game for their opponents to expose. A fighter must also consistently improve their technique throughout their career. In a sense, the fighter must evolve to face uncompromising challenges from opponents who follow this mindset.


II: Athleticism (strength, speed, stamina)

A fighter must be athletic enough to push their technique in chaotic situations. If the degree of technical ability is outmatched by an opponent’s athleticism then the fighter loses position maybe even the fight. To counter an opponent’s athleticism a mixture of technique and athleticism is required. Remember: A tired fighter is a non-technical fighter.


III: Mindset (hard work, smart work)

A fighter must be tireless in their efforts preparing for a fight. They must push themselves as far as any elite caliber athlete. They must live fighting to be a successful fighter putting other aspects of life on hold. They must also be smart about how they train. Technical development requires long hours of drilling parts of the game that are not exciting to drill. But the smart fighter accepts this as part of the lifestyle.


Fighting Arts:

Now that we understand the ground rules for creating a great fighter we must then, as prompted, ask ourselves what style is best for creating such a fighter?

I tend to look at things in a mathematical sense. So in choosing ‘the best’ art to start with I will look at the three most common and see how they stack up with the demands of today’s MMA fighter.

Muay Thai:

This is arguably the greatest striking art in existence. It is technical, builds athleticism and hardens a fighter. In all three categories it excels. The major issue for choosing it as a starting art is, besides the clinch, has very little applicable grappling technique. With that it takes a hit in the technique category as well as building grappling athleticism.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu:

BJJ is probably the most technical art in MMA. It teaches the student to use leverage over an opponent from virtually every ground position. It enables a fighter to finish a fight from almost everywhere including the standing position. Because of this it is the most versatile of the arts.

My main issue with BJJ as being the ‘best’ art lies in how technical it is. There is a simple rule: The more technical the more lazy a student will be. Why? MMA is a very athletic sport. Years and years of relaxation in training teaches the body to be too relaxed. The problem with that is it makes it hard for the fighter to deal with scrambles and being in the bottom position in a fight. The BJJ’er must move more in MMA than in a BJJ match, the requirements are more intense.

Another issue with BJJ is its lack of takedowns. Most BJJ classes are 90-95% ground techniques. There are many BJJ and Abu-Dhabi World Champions than can barely take an opponent down. This is a major mark against BJJ as the best starting art.


I choose wrestling as the best “one art” for an MMA background. It excels in every area I have outlined. It is a very technical art, it creates tremendous athleticism and the hardest workers in the business. At The American Kickboxing Academy we have a bunch of top wrestlers in MMA. Training them is very easy. Their bodies always say yes, there minds understand a hard work ethic and they develop in other areas so rabidly because of this.

Wrestling is a remarkable art. Since I have been at AKA Koscheck has been the only wrestler submitted with me in the corner, and that was more due to knock out then the actual choke. Like I have always said, defense is easier than offense. It is easier to teach a new wrestler to avoid submission than it is to coach a BJJ Black Belt into one on a high level opponent. And since they can dictate where the fight takes place they have a huge advantage against most opponents.


To conclude I would like to take a look at the evidence. Lets look at the current UFC weight divisions and their champions (pre-WEC dismantle). Whether it is their background or the main reason for their success wrestling dominates as the key to current MMA stardom.

155: Frankie Edgar (wrestling)

170: Georges Saint Pierre (Wrestling)

185: Anderson Silva (Muay Thai)

205: Mauricio Rua (Muay Thai)

265+: Cain Velasquez (Wrestling)

When choosing a method one should ask whether or not that method prepares the student to easily pick up other arts. This is especially important in MMA. Because of the work load, technical ability and situational awareness I find it much easier for a student with a background in wrestling to pick up striking and Jiu-Jitsu versus one that has a background in BJJ learning wrestling and striking. Wrestling also is the greatest scrambling art around. It prepares the fighter for quick uncontrolled movement experienced in MMA. That mind set also makes it easier for the wrestler to transition between arts in a fight. These are crucial points on the importance of wrestling.

As a coach I came into AKA with the mindset that BJJ was the best art. But to be honest that was not a fair assessment. The reason being was because I was not just a BJJ student. I started with a far more aggressive and complete grappling art with Judo. In a few years of BJJ training I was already tapping Black Belts. My early success was because of the same reason I credit wrestlers today. I used to smash Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck when they started training with me. Now they have surpassed my abilities. In a very short time I might add.

A wrestler is an incredible machine. They rarely lose their focus, they learn at an incredible rate and they are used to high-level competition. One of the biggest complaints I get in my BJJ program is students having to train with the wrestlers in class.  This isn’t because my students get hurt, it is more because they get smashed by them.

I recently took one of my students-a national champion wrestler- to the 2010 Pan Championships. It was his first gi tournament, he fought two weight categories above his fight weight and had only worked with me for about a year. Eight matches later he won his Blue Belt division and received his Purple Belt. For an art to prove itself it can’t just do it in one arena. A BJJ’er would get destroyed in a Wrestling tournament. They would have a similar result in Judo. But wrestlers have done well in all combative sports. I have seen it in Judo, I have seen it in BJJ and Submission wrestling. They can excel in any environment and will continue to display their dominance in MMA today and tomorrow!





  1. Hey Dave, GSP’s background is karate and not wrestling. He did train wrestling as he did BJJ and Muy Thai but it’s definitely not his background. In fact he is probably more accomplished in BJJ than wrestling having gotten his black belt.

  2. GSP’s background: I know his background is not wrestling. But he wins because of how strong his wrestling is. That is the point of the article. It is the influence of wrestling that makes GSP so great. As well as Koscheck and Fitch in the same weight category.

    Gaining black belt status is an incredible accomplishment. But I find it hard to relate it to his success as a wrestler since there is no belt system in Wrestling.

    I see GSP as a much better wrestler than a BJJ practitioner. And I believe he has very good BJJ.

    Thanks for the comment.

    -Dave Camarillo

  3. Great article! Very precise where your insight has been proven and will continue. While no one singular art can be considered the very ‘best’, the ideal background if one were to have a choice, would undoubtedly be wrestling.

  4. I completely agree with the article. Do you think the sport will evolve in a direction, where arguably, wrestling won’t be the “one best art” used in mma? Wrestling covers the three crucial components, but it seems more and more that fans/refs want to see “action” pushed more in fights. I’m just wondering if this fan outcry will perhaps effect future rules/judging, especially when it relates to the use of wrestling in mma.

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