Freestyle Wrestling Rules

Bruce Gabrielson
Southern Maryland Wrestling Club
Level I AAU Official
July 1998
(Rules updated to spring 1999)

Note: What I have presented below a very rough overview of various rules and procedures as they exist at this time. Rules change often, so please don't consider this the "final" source for rules.

Freestyle and Greco-Roman Wrestling
Folkstyle/Freestyle Differences
Weight Classes
Wrestling Mats
Scoring Terms
Competitor Pairings
Team Scoring
Scoring Rules & Terms
Penalty Calls

Freestyle and Greco-Roman Wrestling

There are two Olympic styles of wrestling, freestyle and Greco-Roman. With one major exception, the rules of the two styles are almost identical:

In Greco-Roman, a wrestler may not attack his opponent's legs, nor use his own legs to trip, lift or execute other moves. The wrestler must wrestle from standing without the top of his head against his opponents chest. This is called passivity, and will result in a call of "CONTACT" by the official. The official will say "contact red" or "contact blue" before actually indicating a passivity by holding an open palm hand in the air with the offenders color indicated. There is also a slight relaxation in not requiring a high arch by the attacker when a gut wrench is initiated on the mat, plus some modifications on hand attack when excaping. Note that in either freestyle or Greco-roman, a wrestler who continually avoids contact may be called for fleeing the hold. This results in a caution and 1 point award to the agressor.

In freestyle, both the arms and legs may be used to execute holds or to defend against attack. If legs are used as part of the attack by an agressor, no points are scored and the wrestlers are returned to standing. Only one official needs to see the leg usage for the move to be nulified.

If legs are used to prevent a move, the attacker receives whatever points are gained, a caution point or points, and choice of position. If a throw from standing is blocked, the attacker receives 2 points plus the position choice. If a move on the mat is prevented, the attacker receives 1 point plus choice. In either case, the offender receives a single caution.

Folkstyle/Freestyle Differences

Freestyle is similar to the "folkstyle" wrestling popular in American schools and universities, but with different scoring, match procedures, and strategies. Freestyle and Greco-Roman place little emphasis on control, while folkstyle, control is very important. In freestyle, wrestlers are brought to their feet after about 15 seconds of no scoring. Since control isn't important, the bottom wrestler isn't expected to do anything but stall. Only at the college level does folkstyle control time equate to extra points.

Another difference related to control is the ability in freestyle to score points without having control of your oponent. Some moves such as tilts, front headlocks from the knees, and crotch lifts while under attack can score continuously without ever gaining control. The pictures show first a common set-up for a front headlock without being in control while the second picture shows a crotch lift being used to counter a leg attack.

Slips are another major difference between freestyle and folkstyle. In freestyle, the attacker is not penalized for attempting a move provided he can make it to his knees (belly facing the mat) on the mat after a failed attempt. Also, for this reason, the attacker's move does not end until there is a slip or the referee blows the whistle. The wrestler being attacked must actually take the move away by reversing direction or preventing the attacker from making it back to his belly. Simply stopping a move with the attacker exposed does not constitute an exposure. Current rules allow the wrestling to continue after a slip with no points scored to the person on top.


Tournaments are held under the sanction of various organizations for insurance reasons. The two largest organizations for wrestling are USAW, the national governing body, and the AAU, the oldest athletic organization. There are also various folkstyle organizations holding competitions throughout the US primarily during the winter months. USAW in the National Governing Body for wrestling in the US.

Weight Classes

An athlete competes at a weight class and age group consistant with other similar athletes. Each age division has set weight classes. Younger age wrestlers use smaller weight spreads than older age groups, with the youngest age groups starting as light as 35 lbs in some organizations. In madison-type events, neither weight classes or age groups are defined ahead of time. Weight groupings are often dependent on a general rule of 2 years and 10%.

Athletes are weighed in prior to the competition, and must be at the weight level or below in order to participate in the competition.

International and open age weight divisions are:

52 kg
57 kg
62 kg
68 kg
74 kg
82 kg
90 kg
100 kg
100 - 130 kg

The weight classes converted to pounds, are approximately:

114.5 lbs.
125.5 lbs.
136.5 lbs.
149.5 lbs.
163 lbs.
180.5 lbs.
198 lbs.
220 lbs.
286 lbs.

Wrestling Mats

Wrestling is contested on a mat, with a nine meter circular competition area. There is also a 1.2 to 1.5 meter protection border on all international mats.

There is a band, a one-meter passivity "zone" on the inside of the edge of the nine meter circle. This is close to the mat edge, and an area where wrestlers start being encouraged by officials to stay in the competition area. The official will indicate using the term zone plus the color of the offender if wrestlers move into the zone. A wrestler who fails to immediately move out of the zone can be called for passivity.

A wrestler who is in the zone and moves out of bounds under an immediate attack by an opponent will receive a fleeing-the-mat caution, loose 1 point, and also loose choice of position. The only exception to this is if the wrestler is actively trying to being driven out and the attacker "pushes" rather than actually attempts to gain an advantage.


There are three officials for every international style wrestling match, a referee (on the mat) plus a chairman and a judge. For local events, we try to have three officials on every mat, one a senior official. The judge sits directly accross from the chairman, and indicates by hand how they interprete each scoring move.

The officials award points on a majority vote. At least two of the three officials must agree on technical points and falls. It is the chairs decision on a score only when the referee and judge differ in their calls. The chair may, however, request a conference when there is a question on the score.

For a fall to be scored, there must be an agreement between two of the three officials. The confirming official does not need to see the call, only agree that the referee was in the correct position to see the fall.


The coach may remain at the foot of the platform or at least two meters from the edge of the mat during the competition. Local events generally do not have a limit on how many coaches are allowed, but larger events usually only allow one coach per wrestler. Also, at major events, the coach is not allowed to wear a white shirt.

Coaches must not interpret point scores. This means the coach may not yell out points (you should get 3) or that there is a potential for a penalty or passivity. If there is a question, the coach can not approach the chair, but may request a meeting at the table with the mat chair. Depending on the level of competition, this meeting may or may not be allowed until after the match.

Should a coach verbally or otherwise abuse an official or not obey mat rules, he/she will first receive a yellow card (go to the stands) or a red card (go home).


Wrestlers must wear a one-piece singlet, in the color assigned to them (red or blue). For international events, the wrestling singlet must be of a type approved by the international wrestling federation. Some local events may allow other colored singlets at the discression of the tournament director. In all casses, the dominant color of the singlet must be either red or blue at major events to be allowed. Wrestlers must wear wrestling shoes providing firm support for the ankles and must carry a handkerchief or paper towel.

Referees must wear an all-white shirt or pullover. Their pants and shoes are also white. Wrestlets are one red on the left hand and one blue on the right.


Depending on the age group and sanctioning organization, matches can be from two 1 minute periods with a rest to one five-minute period without rest. For local USAW competitions, below 7th grade kids are normally held in 2 one and 1/2 minute periods with a 30 second break. Schoolboys (7th & 8th grade) are now two 2 minute with a 30 second break as are cadets. Overtime for both age groups is 3 minutes. Juniors and Open are two 3 minute periods with a 30 second break. Masters are 2 two minutes with a 1 minute break. AAU matches follow FILA time limits for age groups with no US kids modifications.

At the start of each bout, the referee checks for fingernails, wetness on the skin, skin infections, and for the handkerchief before starting the match. The wrestlers then shake hands with the referee and with each other before the whistle blows.

The match starts with the wrestlers standing on their feet. The wrestlers attempt to take their opponent down to the mat to score points. Wrestling also occurs down on the mat, known as "par terre." If no points are scored after about 45 seconds, the less agressive wrestler will be called for passivity and give up choice of position. No points are awarded.

At the end of each bout, the arm of the winning athlete is raised. The wrestlers shake hands with the referee and with their opponent.

The main objective in wrestling is to pin your opponent. This is achieved by holding his shoulder blades to the mat for about one-half of a second in juniors and above, slightly longer for cadets and schoolboy, and for at least one second in kids age groups. The pin automatically ends the match. A pin is also known as a fall.

Points are awarded for performing techniques or moves within the rules. If a wrestler is not able to pin his/her rival during the match, he/she must score at least three or more technical points total to win the bout in regulation time.

If neither wrestler has scored three points at the end of the regulation time, the match will go into an overtime period with length generally 1/2 the regulation time. The first wrestler to reach three points will be the winner. If neither scores 3 points, the winner will be the wrestler ahead in points, or at the decision of the officials if there is a tie.

Selection criteria if the bout is tied at the end of overtime can be determined by cautions. The wrestler with more cautions and warnings for passivity will lose. If the marks are equal, the officials select a winner based upon activity.

If a wrestler scores 10 points more than his opponent at any time, the bout is stopped and the competitor with the 10 point lead is asked if they want to continue and try for a fall or end the bout with technical superiority, or also known as a technical fall.

A bout can also end by an injury default, a forfeit or a disqualification. Disqualification must be the result of a "flagrant" attempt to injure an opponent, or as the result of three cautions. Flagrant must be agreed to by all three officials on the mat.

Scoring Terms

Takedown - occurs when a man takes his opponent to the mat from a standing position. This is worth one point, but can be worth three if the opponent is brought down onto his back in a position of exposure (danger), and five if a high amplitude throw is involved.

Exposure - turning an opponent's shoulders to the mat. Once the line of the back area breaks a 90-degree angle, points are scored. This can occur both from the feet and on the mat. A wrestler who holds his opponent in a danger position for five seconds will receive one extra point.

Note that some moves such as a gut wrench and an ankle lace can only be used once before another scoring move must take place. However, a 1 point hold down is considered another scoring move. This happens in the case of move which starts as a gut wrench but stops for a 5 count with the back exposed and and then returns in the same direction. Moves without a body lock, such as the front headlock from the knees, the crotch lift and the "sazuski" can be repeated over and over in succession.

Reversal - when the man underneath completely reverses his position and comes to the top position in control, he has scored a reversal, worth one point.

Escape - when an athlete works to come out from the bottom position (after being under dominant control) and gets to his feet, facing his rival, he has scored an escape, worth one point. This can only be awarded if there is an active attempt by the top wrestler to hold the bottom wrestler down, and if there is hand attack as the wrestler excapes. Note that this score seldome is given.

Passivity - There are no longer disqualifications for passivity in international wrestling. The officiating team can call an unlimited number of passivity calls. Wrestlers will be permitted to place the passive opponent in the down "par terre" position or continue the bout in a standing position after each passivity call.

Competitor Pairings

Wrestlers are paired off for the preliminary round according to a numerical order determined by a drawing of lots during the weigh-in. Wrestlers weigh-in with their singlet on but no shoes. There should be attempts made at small local events where possible to not have wrestlers from the same team wrestle each other in the first match.

For international and major events, the winning wrestlers in the preliminary round are placed in Group A, while the losing wrestlers in the preliminary round are placed in Group B.

Athletes are then paired off against opponents in their group in each following round.

Each wrestler must lose two matches to be eliminated from the tournament. A wrestler who loses a match in Group A will be placed in Group B for the next round. The highest that a wrestler in Group B can place is third.

The winner of Group A claims the gold medal, while the second place wrestler in Group A claims the silver medal. The winner of Group B is the bronze-medal winner.

Final matches are held to determine places 1-3 (6 in major events) in each weight class. Place finishers 7-10 are determined by a point system.

Team Scoring

At the end of the tournament, team scores are compiled. For international events, a champion earns 10 points for his nation, a runner-up scores 9 points, third place is worth eight points, etc., down to a 10th place wrestler scoring 1 point. Local events are generally scored based on criteria points for dual scores, and 5, 3, 1 points for tournament scores. Dual meet scoring is normally based on positive match points for international style matches.

The team with the most team points including all weight classes is declared the champion.

Scoring Rules & Terms

Fall or Pin: Both shoulders held on mat, match ends

Technical Fall: 10-point margin, match ends or continues depending on superior wrestlers decision

Injury default: Athlete can not continue to compete, match ends.

Decision: The athlete who scores the most points in a bout and wins.

1 point: Takedown, Reversal, Hand-to-hand Exposure, Escape

1 extra point: High amplitude throw from mat or holding man on back for five seconds. Note: Another scoring move must take place before another hold-down can take place. Also, the count must be visibly indicated by the referee during the hold-down.

2 points: Exposure such as a roll-through or a takedown then exposure

3 points: Takedown to immediate exposure from feet; high amplitude throw without danger

5 points: High amplitude throw to danger. Normally the wrestler throws his/her opponent above the waist.

Regardless of the number of possible combinations of points, only the highest point move can score on any one move sequence.

Penalty Calls

Illegal hold without consequence - 1 point plus caution
Illegal hold with consequence - 2 points plus caution
Fleeing the mat - 1 or 2 points plus caution
Fleeing the hold - 1 point plus caution

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Note:Action pictures courtesy of Mirror Image Photography. Mat picture from NBC freestyle page. Wrestlers include Jason Gabrielson, Kevin Gabrielson, Scott Munsey, and Derek Sola.