18 December 2021
Wrestling is one of the most ancient sports, with mentions tracing back to 15,000-year-old cave drawings, Biblical statements, and Egyptian hieroglyphs. The sport featured prominently in the ancient Olympic Games of Greek tradition has also been revered for its toughness, with many of its enthusiasts holding the position that wrestling is the most demanding sport globally. Are they right?
Wrestling is considered one of the most challenging sports ever invented for several reasons. It calls for high fitness levels, agility, determination, power, and intelligence. Becoming adept at competitive wrestling is one of the most challenging objectives anyone can set for themselves.
Understandably, many might disagree or hold different opinions on this question. To help settle the debate in the minds of everyone reading this, we’re going to take a closer look at some of the factors that make wrestling rank high, if not at the very top, among the toughest sports in the world.
Let’s get right to it.
The ability to go through the training, exertion, self-denial, and sacrifice that it takes to engage in competitive wrestling is highly uncommon among ordinary people, as it calls for rare levels of determination. Facing off against an opponent who is just as, if not more, determined and motivated than you calls on these reserves even more. Wrestlers will have to endure hardship and frustration in and out of the ring if they are to succeed, and the ability to maintain one’s focus and composure while undergoing these trials is what makes them some of the toughest sportsmen and women out there.
A wrestling tournament is neither a quick nor easy affair. Going through multiple rounds against multiple opponents, all hoping to pin you down or throw you off the mat requires extraordinary levels of endurance. Wrestling is a one-person sport that doesn’t allow for substitutions or time-outs. For these reasons, wrestlers at competitive levels put themselves through very high levels of cardiovascular training to ensure they have the conditioning to go the distance.
Just like in a game of chess, wrestling calls for the ability to out-think and out-maneuver an opponent that has the same goal of winning as you do. There are plenty of instances where a stronger, faster, and more agile competitor will be overcome by one that outclasses them regarding mental acuity and knowledge of the sport. Without the ability to strategize and plan ahead, keeping your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses in mind, wrestling success will elude you.
Perseverance and Toughness
A good wrestling match will take a lot out of anyone. Facing a solid opponent will see you thrown, pinned, placed in painful and uncomfortable holds, and generally frustrated. With all of these obstacles in your way, you will still need to find a way to hold on until you find an opportunity to turn things around. This calls for a level of toughness and perseverance that few people can demonstrate.
While wrestling might not be considered a martial art in the traditional sense of the word, it shares many of the hallmarks of one and often incorporates the techniques of many (judo, for example). Discipline in life, in training, and in combat is at the heart of any martial art, and the same applies to the sport of wrestling. Strict diets, grueling exercise regimens, and intense training sessions are all part and parcel of any serious wrestler’s daily life. Only the most disciplined among us can successfully achieve the levels of self-control required.
This goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway – for the most part, wrestling calls for extraordinary levels of strength. While some competitors may win because of their superior agility, intelligence, experience, or sheer luck, these are the exceptions, not the rule. Weight classes make it impossible to have comical mismatches in this category, but sheer weight often doesn’t translate to strength when it comes to wrestling. Wrestlers will typically put themselves through grueling strength-training regimens to get their strength levels up and give themselves the competitive edge they need to overcome their opponents.
Higher-level wrestlers need to make even more significant sacrifices and subject themselves to sterner disciplines than many outside the sport might assume. This is because competitive wrestling is based on weight classes, where competitors need to be reasonably similar in weight to compete against each other. They often have to subject themselves to rigorous diets to keep their weight within certain bounds. This physical constraint, taken in conjunction with grueling exercises and mental pressure, means that participants need exceptional levels of self-control and discipline. That’s toughness.
While this might not seem like a relevant metric to include in such a list, it’s important to note that the culture and notions surrounding wrestling are particularly tough. Long before boxing and such sports came about, wrestling was the quintessential ‘tough guy’ sport, and it’s only today’s efficiently-regulated and safety-oriented version of the sport that somewhat hides the essential nature of an encounter between two warriors on the open mat. It calls for physical and mental toughness to exist in this environment, and wrestlers have it in spades.
NOTE: There are various types of wrestling to be found worldwide and through the ages, including Greco Roman, Amateur, Freestyle, Beach, Oil, and the multiple categories of Collegiate and Professional wrestling. They all have some elements in common, but we’ve focused on typical regulation wrestling of the type seen at the Olympics for our purpose here.
As we’ve seen, a lot more goes into wrestling than immediately meets the eye. While there are plenty of sports and disciplines out there that might meet or exceed the wrestling requirements in some of the categories we’ve covered, virtually none match up to it on all counts. For these reasons, you shouldn’t be afraid to state that wrestling may very well be the toughest and most rewarding sport in the world.