Does Sambo Work?

You may have heard Khabib talk about Sambo or Joe Rogan tell you how Khabib’s father is a Sambo master who trained him from a young boy to be the world’s greatest fighter. Now you want to know if this Russian martial art is the real deal or as fake as the WWE.

Does Sambo work? Sambo works both in MMA and self defense scenarios. The two greatest MMA fighters of all time, Fedor and Khabib both come from Sambo backgrounds. Sambo was designed to be effective for use by the Soviet military. Sambo techniques are stress tested in regular sparring and competitions proving that Sambo does work. 

Chael Sonnen’s View On Sambo

Chael Sonnen released a controversial video where he disregarded Sambo as not being a legitimate sport and said Khabib does not really have a Sambo background. Chael’s point was that Sambo was essentially a fake sport used as propaganda by the Russian government to show the world how strong Russia was, that it had its own super powerful martial art. Sambo tournaments were just a publicity stunt where Russians would win all the matches proving how much better Russia was than other nations.

Chael continued that no serious athletes were training in Sambo. That real athletes in Russia only trained in wrestling. Khabib’s background in Sambo was not beneficial to his MMA career it was in fact his wrestling background and the hours he spend in the mecca of freestyle wrestling, Dagestan that turned him into the great MMA fighter he is.

Chael likes to use hyperbole to bring attention to himself, however he does make some good points. Wrestling and Judo are far more popular and prestigious in Russia than Sambo. Both wrestling and Judo are Olympic sports and athletes on the national team are looked after financially. Sambo athletes are much less well known and are not paid nearly as much as wrestlers and Judokas. Due to this wrestling and Judo attracts many more and higher quality athletes than Sambo.

A lot of Sambo athletes were former Judokas who couldn’t make the national team. Fedor is a perfect example of this. Fedor was the number 3 ranked heavyweight Judoka in Russia. He tried for many years to be a national team member and represent Russia in international competitions but always just fell short. After failing to become the number 1 Judoka in Russia Fedor transitioned to Sambo where he became a multi time national and world champion. Khabib is also an example of this phenomenon. Khabib started off as a freestyle wrestler but he wasn’t able to get past the tough local competition in Dagestan and like Fedor found it was much easier to win Sambo titles. Khabib’s own father wanted Khabib to focus on Judo and win an Olympic gold medal as he realized this was more prestigious than Sambo.

Even though Chael makes some valid points overall he is trolling. Sambo may not attract as talented athletes as wrestling and Judo it still does attract numerous high level athletes. Sambo is a growing sport which currently is practiced widely in the former republics of the Soviet Union. Sambo competitions are real and you can witness very talented athletes competing in difficult tournaments. The Sambo federation is actively trying to grow the sport, get more athletes competing and get the sport in the Olympics.

Wrestling and Judo may have played a role in Khabib’s and Fedor’s MMA development but Sambo also played a significant role. Fedor uses a punching technique which is taught extensively in Sambo. Fedor and Khabib both use throws and trips which they perfected while training Sambo. Fedor and Khabib both have strong ground games with lightening quick armbars which they both learned in Sambo. Wrestling does not have a submission based ground game and Fedor and Khabib did not practice much BJJ so both of their strong ground games can be attributed to their training in Sambo.

Here Is Chael Talking About Sambo

How Does Sambo Work In A Street Fight?

How Does Sambo Work In A Street Fight? In a street fight you can use Sambo to throw your opponent on a hard surface knocking them unconscious. You can use Sambo to choke out or break your attackers arm or leg. You can use Sambo to punch and kick or even headbutt your attacker until they are incapacitated. 

Sambo is a mixture of martial arts. Sambo gives you many different strategies and techniques you can use to win a street fight. You can use a takedown, submission or strikes. These different options make Sambo very effective for self defense. A boxer only has the ability to win a fight via punches but what if the boxer breaks his hands or the attacker is too close or far away to punch. With Sambo if an attacker is too close to punch you can use a takedown or headbutt. If an attacker is too far away you can kick. This makes a Sambo athlete much more effective in a street fight than a one dimensional fighter such as a boxer or wrestler.

Does Sambo Have Groundwork?

Does Sambo have groundwork? Yes, Sambo has groundwork. In Sambo athletes can score points for pins and win via submissions. The most popular submission in Sambo is the armbar. Sambo groundwork is similar to Judo where athletes have to quickly attack submissions either from throws or immediately after hitting the mat before the referee will stand the athletes up.

Sambo’s groundwork is in between BJJ and Judo. It is longer than Judo and there is more guardwork but it is much less developed than BJJ groundwork. The referee will stand Sambo athletes up fairly quickly if there is not a lot of action taking place on the ground. Sambo unlike Judo allows leg locks. Sambo athletes are known for their kneebars particularly rolling kneebars which start standing and end up on the ground.

Sambo athletes are great at quickly transitioning from a throw into a submission. This is a skill which BJJ is still developing. BJJ athletes could learn a lot from Sambo and its ability to roll into ground submissions from the standing position.

Why Is Sambo Effective In MMA?

Why is Sambo effective in MMA? Sambo is effective in MMA because it incorporates the 3 major skills you need to succeed in MMA; takedowns, submissions and striking. Sambo athletes are experts at not only those 3 skills but mixing those skills together and transitioning between one another.

Fedor is the perfect example of this, he was able to throw a striking combination and before you know it he had engaged a clinch, thrown his opponent and was raining down a ground and pound storm.

The only thing Sambo athletes need to watch out for when transitioning to MMA is the lack of jacket. Sambo athletes need to modify and abandon some of their techniques which rely on a jacket to be effective. However this is not too difficult and Khabib and Fedor had no problem altering their Sambo techniques to ensure they worked in MMA. Both Fedor and Khabib were masters at throwing and tripping their opponents utilizing a heavy Sambo based takedown game.

Does Sambo Beat BJJ?

Does Sambo beat BJJ? Sambo beats BJJ if both athletes are standing as Sambo has superior takedowns. Sambo beats BJJ if strikes are allowed as Combat Sambo teaches striking while BJJ does not. BJJ beats Sambo in a grappling match where submissions are allowed and athletes can pull guard.

Sambo athletes are much better than BJJ athletes at throws and takedowns. Sambo like Judo is heavily focused on the standing aspect of grappling. Sambo athletes are experts at taking their opponents to the mat. In contrast BJJ focuses on ground fighting and submissions. BJJ athletes have more advanced ground games than Sambo athletes and are more well versed in submissions. In a Sambo match a Sambo athlete will dominate a BJJ athlete but in a BJJ match particularly one where you can pull guard a BJJ athlete will dominate.

Sambo is much better suited to MMA than BJJ. In MMA takedowns and takedown defense are extremely important. If you can not wrestle in MMA you will struggle. Sambo athletes are much better at wrestling than BJJ athletes as they spend much more of their training perfecting their takedowns. Combat Sambo which is very similar to MMA also has strikes whereas BJJ does not. A Sambo athlete who is use to wrestling and striking in combination will be much more effective in MMA than a pure BJJ athlete who struggles at takedowns and has no striking experience.


Sambo is an effective martial art that works in MMA and street fights. Sambo athletes can also transition to Judo, wrestling and BJJ due to the similarities between the sports. Sambo athletes are overall balanced athletes who excel in takedowns, submissions and striking. Khabib and Fedor have both shown that Sambo not only works in MMA but may be the best base.

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