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Tiger Style: Wrestling 101

Everything you need to know to start watching Mizzou wrestling.

Mizzou after winning their 10th consecutive conference title.
@MizzouWrestling on Twitter

Mizzou Wrestling 101

You may have heard about Mizzou’s ranked wrestling team. Maybe you read about their move back to the Big 12 conference this season after winning ten-straight conference titles. Perhaps you know about Head Coach Brian Smith and his .746 career winning percentage and 2-time NCAA Coach of the Year honors since accepting the position in 1998. Whatever it was that piqued your interest in Mizzou Wrestling, we want to make sure you have the understanding and vocabulary to keep up with one of Mizzou’s most successful sports programs. Here is your crash course in folkstyle college wrestling.

Structure: Folkstyle seasons typically start in October/November and ends in March with conference tournaments and a national championship. During the season, teams will compete in duals and tournaments. Duals are between two teams with individual wrestlers at each weight class. These competitions between two wrestlers at each weight are called matches. Each match contributes to the overall team score in a single night.

Weight Classes: College men’s wrestling has 10 weight classes per the NCAA: 125, 133, 141, 149, 157, 165, 174, 184, 197, and 285 pounds.

Mizzou after winning the 2022 Southern Scuffle tournament.
Sam Janicki

Match Scoring

Periods: Folkstyle has 3 periods. The first period lasts 3 minutes, while the second and third periods are each 2 minutes.

Positions: Folkstyle wrestling occurs in 3 positions: top, bottom, and neutral.

Neutral is when both wrestlers are on their feet and neither have control.

Top and bottom both occur on the mat, with the wrestler on top having control over the wrestler on bottom in what is referred to as “referee’s position”.

During matches, wrestlers are given red and green ankle bands the referee uses with corresponding wrist bands to show points. The first period starts with both wrestlers in neutral. After the first period, the referee flips a red/green chip to determine the wrestler who decides the starting position for the next period. The wrestler can choose top, bottom or neutral, or can defer and decide the starting position for the third period instead (similar to the coin toss to start a football game and determine possession).

Keegan O’Toole after a win at home.
Riley Hogan/Mizzou Athletics

Overtime: A match goes into overtime if the score is tied after the first three periods. The wrestlers first compete in a two-minute sudden victory period where the first wrestler to score a point wins. If neither wrestler can score in this time, there are then two 30-second periods where both wrestlers are given an opportunity to escape from bottom. If both wrestlers are able to escape then the wrestler with more riding time wins. If the riding time is equal at the end of both periods than the wrestlers repeat the cycle starting in sudden victory.

Scoring: The ways to score are by Takedown, Reversal, Escape, Near Fall, Penalty Points, and Cautions.

  • Takedown: 2 Points
  • Reversal: 2 Points
  • Escape: 1 Point
  • Near Fall: 2 or 4 Points
  • Penalty Points: 1-2 Points
  • Cautions: 1 Points

Takedowns: When a wrestler gets behind their opponent and forces them down to the mat on their stomach, side, knees, or weight on all fours they are awarded a takedown. This can also be done by taking an opponent directly to their back or buttocks without getting behind them AND becoming the offensive wrestler as a result. They are now “on top” or the “top wrestler” and their opponent is “on bottom” or the “bottom wrestler”.

Noah Surtin in the top position after a takedown.
Sam Janicki

Reversal: When the bottom wrestler gets out from underneath the opponent’s control and gets on top of and/or behind the opponent AND becomes the offensive wrestler.

Escape: When the defensive or bottom wrestler gets out from underneath the opponent’s control, gets into neutral position AND faces the opponent.

Near Fall: When the offensive or top wrestler turns the defensive or bottom wrestler over onto their back and holds them at a 45 degree angle or less for between 2-4 seconds (2-4 counts by the referee). A 2 count is 2 points, and a 4 count is 4 points. A near fall can be held past 5 seconds, but no more points are awarded. The top wrestler must release the hold after the count for points to be counted and to start a new move.

Penalty Points: Common penalties are locked hands and stalling. Locked hands is when the wrestler on top claps around the torso or legs while the opponent is on the mat. Clasping your hands with the bottom wrestler standing is legal. Referees will hold up their hands clasped and let the action continue until there is a break. For the bottom wrestler this is often called a “free move” as they have an opportunity to risk exposing their back to get away with a roll as the referee will not count near fall at this time. Stalling is when a wrestler is not engaging from neutral or not looking to advance position, turn, or escape when on the mat. There is one stall warning then one point for the second and third times a stall is called. A fourth call is 2 points, and a fifth call is a DQ, costing that wrestler the match. Stalling is typically one of the more controversial calls due to the amount of subjectivity.

Cautions: A caution occurs when a wrestler moves before the whistle is blown. Wrestlers are given two warnings before a point is awarded to their opponent. One point is awarded each time a caution occurs after the two warnings.

Rocky Elam handfighting in the neutral position.
@MizzouWrestling on Twitter


There are five types of wins in Folkstyle wrestling: regular decision, major decision, technical fall, pin or DQ/injury.

A regular decision is a win by anywhere from 1-7 more points than your opponent.

A major decision is a win by 8-14 more points than your opponent.

A technical fall (often called a “tech”) is a win once you score 15 points more than your opponent. Once this happens, the match is stopped, even if there is more time left in a period.

A pin is called by the referee and occurs when the top wrestler puts their opponent’s shoulder blades down to the mat and ends the match.

Jarrett Jacques working to pin his opponent.
@MizzouWrestling on Twitter.

A DQ/disqualification occurs when the opponent is disqualified from the match because of too many penalties OR when a wrestler is illegally injured by an opponent’s illegal hold and cannot continue wrestling.

Finally, an injury default is awarded when the opponent is injured accidentally during the match and cannot continue wrestling.

Each type of win contributes differently to the team score at a match, which is outlined below.

Dual Scoring

Dual scores refer to the total team score made up by points awarded from each match.

  • Pin, Injury Default, DQ or Forfeit: 6 Team Points
  • Technical Fall (Tech): 5 Team Points
  • Major Decision: 4 Team Points
  • Regular Decision: 3 Team Points

A team winner is decided after all 10 matches have gone and points have been awarded for each type of win. For example, a hypothetical team score could be Mizzou 23 and their opponent 13. In this example, Mizzou could have won 6 out of 10 matches with 4 decisions (3 points each), one tech (5 points), and one pin (6 points). Their opponent won 4 of the 10 matches with 3 decisions (3 points each) and 1 major (4 points). However, you can see that if the opposing team still won only 4 out of 10 matches but all those wins were from pins (worth 6 points), they would have scored 24 team points and won.

Tournament team scoring works a little differently, but I will save that guide for closer to March.

Peyton Mocco celebrates after pinning his opponent.
@MizzouWrestling on Twitter.

Final thoughts

While this is still a lot of information, wrestling is like any other sport: it takes time to learn and become familiar with. Imagine reading a full breakdown of the rules of basketball or football. Those would probably be a bit daunting as well if you were not already familiar with them. The best way to start understanding wrestling is to watch it and read about it. Luckily for Tiger fans, Mizzou is a wrestling school.