Go to the Mat—A Metaphor for Resilience

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Go to the mat means to fiercely fight or argue about something, especially when you strongly believe in it and are ready to defend your position no matter what

Idioms such as go to the mat are expressions in language that convey meanings beyond their literal interpretation, often used to add color, nuance, and cultural context to speech and writing. They play a significant role in the English language by enriching communication, enhancing expression, and fostering cultural understanding. 

This article delves into the meaning of the idiom go to the mat, uncovers its interesting origins, and provides examples of its various uses. So keep reading to learn tips for effectively using the idiom in different contexts, and test your newfound knowledge with a short quiz at the end. 

Go to the Mat—A Metaphor for Resilience

What Does the Idiom Go to the Mat Mean?

The idiom go to the mat means to fight to the bitter end or to continue to struggle until one is victorious or one is defeated. The implication is that the speaker will not quit, no matter how difficult the fight becomes. 

Collins Dictionary defines the idiom as “to engage in a struggle or dispute” or “to contend or struggle in a determined or unyielding way.” The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English expands on this, stating that it means “to do everything you can to solve a difficult problem, win an argument, or support someone.”

For example, while analyzing our academic state championship success, it became very obvious that the team truly went to the mat, hanging on and persevering even in the face of intense adversity.   

Variations of the Idiom

The most common variation of the idiom go to the mat is take it to the mat.

How Is the Idiom Go to the Mat Commonly Used in Context?

Whether in a heated debate or a challenging situation, the idiom go to the mat is often employed to emphasize determination and perseverance. In this section, we’ll explore various contexts in which this idiom is used, providing examples, tips, and guidance on its effective usage.

What Are the Different Ways to Use the Idiom Go to the Mat?

The idiom go to the mat can be used in various ways to convey determination, perseverance, or taking a strong stand on an issue. Here are some different ways to use the expression with related examples to help you understand the context of the message:

  • Taking a firm stance: I’m willing to go to the mat for my beliefs and advocate for what I think is right.
  • Giving maximum effort: She’s going to the mat to ensure this project succeeds, working long hours and doing whatever it takes.
  • Engaging in a difficult challenge: The team is ready to go to the mat with their toughest competitor and give their best performance.
  • Being tenacious in a conflict or argument: They had a heated debate, and both sides were willing to go to the mat to defend their positions.
  • Going the extra mile: He’s always willing to go to the mat for his clients, providing exceptional service and doing more than expected.
  • Taking decisive action: The company is ready to go to the mat by implementing bold strategies to turn the business around.
  • Showing unwavering commitment: They’ve shown their loyalty and dedication, willing to go to the mat for the team.
  • Resolving a conflict or issue: They decided it was time to go to the mat and address the longstanding problem.

Where Can You Find Examples of the Idiom Go to the Mat?

Examples of the idiom go to the mat can be found in various sources, including literature, film, television, news articles, and everyday conversations. Here are some places where you may come across examples:

  • Books and novels
  • Business and political debate
  • Film and television
  • News articles and editorials
  • Online discussions and forums
  • Everyday conversations

Business and political discussions often include the phrase go to the mat or take it to the mat to illustrate determination, core values, and firm stances. Opinion pieces and editorial reporting often highlight these discussions:

“We are willing to go to the mat, whether it’s in small ways or large ways,” he said. (Vida en el Valle)

“I think it is an affront to our authority that we’re even having this conversation, and as for myself, I’m ready to take it to the mat.” (The Carlsbad Current Argus)

What Are Some Tips for Using the Idiom Go to the Mat?

Consider the following tips when deciding to use the idiom go to the mat in your materials:

  • Understand the meaning: The idiom typically conveys the idea of determination, perseverance, or taking a strong stand on an issue.
  • Use in appropriate contexts: It is often used in discussions about personal or professional endeavors, conflicts, or challenging situations.
  • Consider the tone: It can be used to evoke a sense of determination, resilience, or assertiveness. 
  • Provide context when necessary: If you use an idiom whose meaning may not be immediately clear, consider providing some context or explanation to ensure your audience understands your intended message.
  • Be mindful of appropriateness: It may be more common in informal or casual conversations rather than in formal or professional contexts.

What Is the Origin of the Idiom Go to the Mat?

go to the mat Ngram
Go to the mat usage trend.

The accepted origin behind the figurative use of go to the mat derives from the sport of wrestling, in which two opponents wrestle one another on a protective floor surface called a mat. The point of the sport is to overpower your opponent and pin them to the ground.

However, an even older, related term likely influenced this saying. Italian folklore tells a tale of the siege of Florence in 1530. It is said that mattresses were hung along the lengths of the bell tower of San Miniato al Monte to help minimize the damage of cannon fire, influencing the Italian expression, go to the mattresses

Go to the mattresses, meaning to go to war or prepare for battle (which is along the same ilk as go to the mats) wasn’t known in the US until The Godfather series of movies first shown in 1972. In it, Clemenza states, “…He’s thinking of going to the mattresses already.” After which, Sonny exclaims, “…You give ’em one message: I want Sollozzo. If not, it’s all-out war: we go to the mattresses.”

Although go to the mat was already well used by the 1970s, it is likely influenced by the folk memory of Florence’s siege. 

How Did the Idiom Evolve Over Time?

To continue to fight, to not back down, or never quit attacking or defending is explained both through the origin theory from Italy, as well as from the facing of an opponent over a wrestling match. No matter the actual truth behind the expression, the idiom has long been used to infer persistence and a commitment to victory in various contexts. 

What Are Some Related Terms to Go to the Mat?

Terms related to the idiom go to the mat can be helpful when deciding whether the expression is appropriate for your message. Consider antonyms and synonyms when deciding which wording works best.


These synonyms capture the idea of being resolute, persistent, or committed to achieving a goal or standing up for one’s beliefs: 

Go to the Mat—A Metaphor for Resilience 1

  • Dig in one’s heels
  • Stand one’s ground
  • Fight tooth and nail
  • Give it one’s all
  • Leave it all on the field
  • Put up a fight
  • Stick to one’s guns


These antonyms convey the idea of relenting, giving in, or stepping back from a position of determination or strong conviction. They signify a lack of perseverance or a willingness to compromise.

  • Back down
  • Give up
  • Surrender
  • Yield
  • Retreat
  • Compromise
  • Concede
  • Withdraw

Go to the Mat: Test Your Knowledge!

Choose the correct answer.

What Have We Learned about Go to the mat?

Despite various theories behind its inception, the idiom go to the mat refers to engaging in a determined and intense struggle or confrontation. It is derived from a situation where the participants give their all and fight fiercely until the end.

This idiom is often used to describe situations where individuals or groups are willing to go to great lengths or make significant efforts to achieve their goals or resolve a conflict. Whether advocating for a cause, defending one’s beliefs, or confronting a challenging situation head-on, going to the mat signifies an unwavering commitment and a refusal to back down.