Igbo Wrestling: Traditional Nigerian Wrestling

Igbo wrestling, also known as traditional Nigerian wrestling, is a traditional form of unarmed combat practiced in the Igbo region of Nigeria. The sport has been around for centuries and has been passed down through generations, making it an important part of Igbo culture.

In this article, we will look at the history and rules of Igbo wrestling as well as examine how it is practiced in modern times.

igbo wrestling fight

Table of Contents

Is There Wrestling in Nigeria?

Yes, wrestling is a popular sport in Nigeria. The most popular form of traditional Nigerian wrestling is called Igbo wrestling. It’s a type of African wrestling, a very old and popular sport in Nigeria, where it is known as ‘Olo’. It has a long history in the Igbo people’s culture and is deeply connected to their traditions.

What is Wrestling in Igbo Culture?

The Igbo wrestling tradition is a form of unarmed combat practiced in the Igbo region of Nigeria. It involves two opponents competing against each other using grappling techniques and hand fighting. The aim of the sport is to outmaneuver and overpower your opponent until they cannot continue anymore. Many Nigerian elders believe that wrestling is an important part of Igbo culture and tradition, with many wrestlers being highly respected in the community.

Why is Wrestling So Important in the Igbo Culture?

Wrestling is the ideal solution to resolving conflicts and ranking among tribal members. Various villages come together for dynamic nighttime wrestling competitions, a contest that lends itself as an assessment of both physical strength and skill while adhering to core values and customs. Wrestling also has a spiritual element to it as it is believed that its practice can protect and bring luck or strength from the ancestors.

Igbo Wrestling Facts

• The traditional form of Igbo wrestling has been practiced in Nigeria for centuries.

• It is a type of unarmed combat where two opponents grapple each other for victory.

• Wrestling is a popular sport in the Igbo region and is deeply rooted in their culture.

• Igbo wrestlers are highly respected in the community and are known for their strength and determination.

• The rules of traditional Igbo wrestling are strict and the matches are often very intense.

• The sport is still widely practiced today, with tournaments held throughout Nigeria.

• Wrestling is also a form of entertainment in Igbo culture, where wrestlers often perform for crowds.

Igbo Wrestling Rules

Igbo wrestling involves two opponents, who face each other in a circular ring. Usually, there is a sand floor in the ring, similar to beach wrestling, but sometimes the fights will take place on grass and even a mattress

During the match, each opponent is trying to overpower the other and wrestle them down until one of them is declared the winner. The wrestlers must remain standing during the match, and no hitting is allowed.

Many common wrestling techniques like shots, throws, locks, takedowns, escapes, and holds are allowed. If either wrestler falls to their knees or touches the ground with any part of their body, they must restart the match.

There are a few other rules that must be followed during Igbo wrestling matches, such as no biting or hair-pulling. If a wrestler is found to be breaking the rules, they are immediately disqualified and the other wrestler is declared the winner.

Moreover, a traditional wear of loincloth is usually worn by wrestlers during matches, and the ring typically has a referee to ensure that the rules are followed.

The Difference Between Igbo Wrestling and Wrestling Today

Entertainment vs Competition

1. Igbo wrestling is traditionally a form of entertainment, as opposed to amateur wrestling which is competitive in nature.

No Submission Holds

2. Traditional Igbo wrestling does not involve any strikes or submission holds, whereas modern wrestling does.

Humility and Respect Vs Winning and Prestige

3. Igbo wrestling is seen as a lesson in humility and respect, while professional wrestling is more focused on winning and the prestige of championship titles.

Low Popularity vs Respectable Status

4. Women’s wrestling is less popular in Igbo culture than men’s, whereas women wrestlers are highly respected in modern wrestling.

Bundle of Yams vs Prize Money

5. Traditional Igbo wrestling awards the winner with a bundle of yams, whereas professional or amateur wrestlers typically receive championship titles and prize money.

Physical & Spiritual vs Physical Only

6. Igbo wrestling is not just physical, it also has a spiritual element to it that modern wrestling does not.

Different Equipment

7. The equipment used in Igbo wrestling is much simpler than the modern-day ropes and ring as well as the protective gear and wear that is mandatory today.

Amateur Referees vs Pro

8. The referees of an Igbo wrestling match are usually respected men from the villages, whereas in professional wrestling there are usually multiple referees who are certified and trained in the sport.

Cultural Identity vs Global Sport

9. Traditional Igbo wrestling is an expression of cultural identity, whereas professional wrestling is much more of a global sport.

Involves Ritualistic Dancing

10. Lastly, Igbo wrestling involves ritualistic dancing and singing that modern wrestling does not.

What Happens if You Lose an Igbo Wrestling Match?

If you lose an Igbo wrestling match, it’s not seen as a disgrace. Instead, it is viewed as a lesson in humility and respect for the opponent. The loser is seen as having been humbled by their opponent and is expected to show respect to them afterward.

Women Igbo Wrestling

Although women’s wrestling is not as popular and widespread as men’s, it does exist in Igbo culture. Women wrestlers are usually seen as embodiments of strength, courage, and resilience.

Women’s wrestling is slightly different from men’s as there is less emphasis on physical force and more on agility, speed, and technique. However, the rules remain the same and the matches can still be very intense.

Igbo Wrestling Prize

The Igbo wrestling prize is traditionally a bundle of yams. The winner of the match is awarded a large bundle of yams to bring back to their village. The yams symbolize strength and fertility, which are seen as essential qualities for a successful wrestler. The bundle of yams also serves as a reminder of the importance of wrestling in Igbo culture.

Is There an Igbo Pro Wrestler?

The Igbo wrestler currently competing in professional wrestling is Moose (Quinn Ojinnaka). He is a former football player who played for Atlanta Falcons, New England Patriots, and St. Louis Rams who made his pro wrestling debut in 2012.

Moose is known for his athleticism and power and is considered to be a formidable opponent in the ring. He has held championship titles in both Impact Wrestling and Ring of Honor and is currently competing on the NXT brand. Moose represents the Igbo people in pro wrestling and is a source of pride to many fans from around the world.

What is the Yam Festival in Igbo Culture?

The yam festival, or Iwa-Ji, is a celebration of the harvest in Igbo culture. It is also considered to be a festival of wrestling, where two villages come together for a night of intense competition. Traditionally, each village would select its best wrestler to represent them in the match, and the winner would be awarded a prize of yams. During the festival, wrestlers perform for crowds, and people from all over come to watch.


In conclusion, Igbo wrestling is a unique and important part of the Igbo culture that has evolved over time but still remains deeply rooted in tradition. It is a source of pride for the Igbo people and carries great spiritual significance.

The prize of yams represents strength, success, and fertility which is something that all wrestlers strive to achieve. Despite the differences between Igbo wrestling and modern professional wrestling, they both serve as a source of entertainment and great pride to many people from around the world.