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Wrestling vs. Sumo: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on October 12, 2023
Wrestling is a broad term for a sport where two opponents grapple to pin or submit each other; Sumo is a traditional Japanese wrestling form where the aim is to force the opponent out of a ring or touch the ground.

Key Differences

Wrestling, as a term, encompasses various styles and forms practiced worldwide. It can range from folk traditions to more modern forms like freestyle and Greco-Roman. These styles have specific rulesets, and the primary objective is to pin the opponent's shoulders to the mat or make them submit.
Sumo, on the other hand, is deeply rooted in Japanese tradition. It's more than just a sport; it's a cultural ritual. The primary objective in Sumo is to either push your opponent out of the circular ring (dohyō) or make any part of their body other than the soles of their feet touch the ground.
Wrestling can be seen in various global events, such as the Olympics. The athletes wear tight-fitting singlets, and matches occur on a mat. Various techniques, including throws, pins, and locks, are employed to defeat opponents based on the specific wrestling style.
In contrast, Sumo wrestlers, or rikishi, wear mawashi (large belts), and their matches take place in a clay ring. The bouts are typically short and intense. There's also a significant spiritual aspect to Sumo, with many rituals performed before the actual bout, reflecting its Shinto origins.
While both Wrestling and Sumo involve grappling, they differ in techniques, attire, objectives, and cultural significance. Wrestling is a versatile term that can refer to many styles, while Sumo is specifically Japanese, with a unique identity and set of customs.

Comparison Chart


Global, with ancient forms in many cultures.
Japan, with deep cultural and spiritual roots.


Pin opponent's shoulders or submission.
Push opponent out of ring or touch ground.


Typically a singlet.
Mawashi (thick belt).


Usually on a mat in a square or rectangular area.
Dohyō (circular clay ring).


Variable, depending on style and rules.
Typically short, can end in seconds.

Wrestling and Sumo Definitions


The act of grappling with an opponent and trying to throw or pin them.
The two siblings engaged in playful wrestling in the backyard.


A traditional Japanese form of wrestling where the objective is to push the opponent out of a circular ring.
Sumo wrestlers are revered in Japanese culture.


A combat sport of ancient origin, aiming to control the opponent.
The Olympics feature both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling.


A heavyweight wrestling sport steeped in ritual, originating from Japan.
He visited Tokyo to watch a Sumo tournament live.


An athletic activity that involves skills in bringing an opponent to the ground.
Wrestling is a popular sport in many high schools across the country.


A sport where large participants use their size and strength to force opponents out of a ring.
The grand champion of Sumo is called Yokozuna.


A sport where two competitors attempt to subdue each other in bare-handed combat.
He has been practicing wrestling since he was 10.


A form of wrestling where any part of the body touching the ground means defeat.
In Sumo, bouts often end quickly due to the intense power of the competitors.


The sport of engaging in close hand-to-hand combat to pin the opponent.
She won the national championship in women's wrestling last year.


Japanese wrestling characterized by its ceremonial traditions.
Before every Sumo match, there's a purification ritual.


A sport in which two competitors attempt to unbalance, control, or immobilize each other by various holds and maneuvers.


A Japanese form of wrestling in which a competitor loses if forced from the ring or if any part of his body except the soles of his feet touches the ground.


Present participle of wrestle


(uncountable) A stylised Japanese form of wrestling in which a wrestler loses if he is forced from the ring, or if any part of his body except the soles of his feet touches the ground.


A sport where two opponents attempt to subdue each other in bare-handed grappling using techniques of leverage, holding, and pressure points.


A rikishi (sumo wrestler)


A professional tumbling act that emulates the sport of wrestling. Also called "professional wrestling". It is distinguished from sport wrestling — which has strict internationally recognized rules and is conducted on a mat — by being scripted, rehearsed, conducted in a boxing ring rather than on a mat, and televised as entertainment.


A Japanese form of wrestling; you lose if you are forced out of a small ring or if any part of your body (other than your feet) touches the ground


A wrestling match.


(countable) The act of one who wrestles; a struggle to achieve something.


Act of one who wrestles; specif., the sport consisting of the hand-to-hand combat between two unarmed contestants who seek to throw each other.


The act of engaging in close hand-to-hand combat;
They had a fierce wrestle
We watched his grappling and wrestling with the bully


The sport of hand-to-hand struggle between unarmed contestants who try to throw each other down


What's the primary attire for Sumo wrestlers?

Sumo wrestlers wear a thick belt called a mawashi.

Is Sumo exclusive to Japan?

Sumo originated in Japan and is deeply rooted there, but there are international Sumo competitions.

Are pins a common objective in all forms of wrestling?

No, while many wrestling styles aim for pins, objectives vary.

Can women compete in wrestling?

Yes, women's wrestling is popular and recognized in global competitions.

Are there weight classes in Sumo?

No, Sumo doesn't have weight classes, making size advantages significant.

Is wrestling a global sport?

Yes, wrestling styles and forms are practiced worldwide.

How long is a typical Sumo bout?

Sumo bouts are usually short, often lasting only a few seconds.

What's the primary difference between freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling?

In Greco-Roman, holds below the waist are prohibited; in freestyle, they're allowed.

Do wrestling styles vary by country?

Yes, many countries have traditional wrestling styles specific to their cultures.

Is there a female equivalent for Sumo in Japan?

Women aren't allowed to compete in professional Sumo in Japan.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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