How does Pankration compare to modern MMA?

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Pankration, the Greek word, is basically similar to MMA. It was originally developed by combining boxing and wrestling techniques into a singular contest. Today we shall discuss the comparison of Pankration to modern MMA.

Origin and Similarity of Pankration to MMA

The Greek ‘Pankration’ means ‘All powers’, in broader meaning ‘complete victory’. Pankration was a combat sporting event introduced into the Greek Olympic Games in 648 BC. It  was an empty-hand submission sport with few rules. The Pankration fighters used all the techniques of Mixed Martial Arts, including boxing, wrestling, and other techniques such as kicking, holds, joint-locks, and chokes on the ground. 

Pankration was barbaric as they savagely fought with each other. They were the fighters of primitive age. Since Pankration had few rules. They had no weight classes, meaning lighter fighters had to face heavier and powerful opponents which might cause death of the weaker. They used boxing, wrestling, grappling, arm locks, leg kicks, and chokes to win with little interference from the referee. Only biting and eye-gouging were prohibited in the Pankration fight. 

Also, Pankration matches were contested outdoors in a sandy pit under the scorching sun. They were treated inhumanely during the fight, as there were no rounds. Besides, the fighters were not allowed to take water breaks or a minute to gasp for breath. Whereas in MMA, fighters are not meant to kill each other and they are entitled to stop the fight by tapping. However, the techniques MMA and Pankration  are basically the same. But the intention is different. With Pankration the fighter displayed his heroism, even at the cost of opponent’s death.

Modern Pankration

In 393 AD, the Pankration along with Roman Gladiatorial combat and all Pagan festivals was abolished by the official order by Christian Byzantine Emperor Theodosius. With gladiators they had no connection to god as Pankration had. Roman Gladiators were mostly condemned criminals, at least in the eyes of the authority. Also, other sword-wielding gladiators fought with other gladiators and wild animals for entertainment in the Colosseum of Rome just like other sports.

The name of Pankration did not  die yet. There is still, modern day Pankration. Interestingly enough, the modern Pankration is just the opposite of the original Pankration. It is quite refined and civilised. Today’s amateur Pankration is a modern combat sport with no direct links to the earlier mutual barbaric nature of the fight. The modern day Pankration is an amateur form of Mixed Martial Arts with emphasis on skill and safety. They wear headgears to get the benefit of protection. This version of Pankration is less serious than present day MMA.

Pankration Associated with Greek Mythology

All the ancient Olympic Games were primarily a part of a religious festival to  honour Zeus, the father of the Greek gods and goddesses. 

In Greek mythology, it was said that the heroes Heracles and Theseus invented Pankration.  Theseus was believed to have used Pankration, the skill of boxing and wrestling, to defeat the Minotaur in the Labyrinth.

Minotaur, in Greek mythology, a tremendous monster of Crete that had the body of a man and the head of a bull.

Minotaur would eat seven young boys and seven young girls over the years. When the third time of sacrifice came, the Athenian hero Theseus volunteered to go with the help of Ariadne, daughter of Minos, a demi-god and the king of Crete. He killed Minotaur and ended the tragic tribute the monster had been enjoying so far in the maze. In fact, killing Minotaur with bare hands was a heroic act dedicated to Greek God.

However, after Pankration’s initial ban in 393 AD, the ancient Olympic sport found new life in the form of Neo-pankration. Upon the revival of the Olympics in 1896, Pankration was not reinstated as a competition. Because its rules on hitting an opponent barehanded are a serious concern to a much more ‘polite’ society where restraint in behaviour is important.


Apparently MMA and Pankration are the same type of fights, using various techniques from many popular martial arts. The significant difference is the intensity of combative fights. The Pankration fighters had to undergo extreme ordeals. The tragic death often happened to entertain the Greek audience. The fight had to be finished with Complete Victory. The original Pankration has been replaced by an amateur Pankration with safety emphasised.

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