When the Olympic Games were resumed in 1896, many ancient sports were brought back to life, with the exception of one glaring omission. That sport was called pankration. In English it meant all power. It was the ancient Greek version of mixed martial arts.
It was introduced in 648 BC and became the most well-documented Western martial art. It was one of the most violent sports ever. The rules were brutally simple too. No bite. No creaking. Everything is alright. And everything went on a rampage.
To mitigate the harshness of the rules, pankration was never fought to the death. In fact, if you killed your opponent, you lost. The goal was not the death of the opponent. It was his submission. If you killed a person it meant that she never submitted. His spirit of him lies undefeated and that meant your spirit must have been the one he lost.
Pankration can last indefinitely. If it takes all day to make your opponent scream uncle, then you definitely need to take your time. There are no breaks. You can use any bare-handed means at your disposal. It doesn’t matter how deadly it is. Kicks everywhere, punches everywhere and various kills are all part of this brutal sport. The fighters were divided by age and not by weight divisions. The Greek poet Xenophanes called it “a terrible contest … of all tricks”.
As this was ancient Greece, no protection was ever used in the boats. At most the fighters had himantes. These were strips of skin that were wrapped around the hands. They didn’t really protect anything. This was the only cover in this ancient Greek sport.
The sport was cheerfully adopted by the Romans. However, they wanted more blood. The fighters were forced to fight with spiked gloves. When such barbarism was finally rejected by the Christian Byzantine emperor Theodosius, pankration also died out.
There have been many examples of incredible feats by great Greek pankration fighters. One of the most surprising stories was about Arracion. He has won the Olympic pankration three consecutive times. During the third time he won, he faced a particularly formidable opponent. To escape a death grip, he delivered a kick that sprained the opponent’s ankle. The injury caused his opponent to be subjugated and Arracion was declared the winner. However, he was already dead. Kicking while he was in a death grip also broke his neck.
While the Olympics were reborn again, pankration did not bounce back with it. However, many still asked for it to be brought again. The Olympic Committee still refuses, but until he’s welcomed back into his old home, pankration fans can watch MMA.
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