Ancient History

Mixed martial arts have only gained worldwide attention in recent years. For this reason it is easy to assume that the sport is a relatively new one. This could not be further from the truth. In fact it can be traced back as far as 648 BCE. It is likely that mixed martial arts are even older than this. Historians can not be sure of the exact origins as they predate the written word.


In Ancient Greece, there was a fighting style called pankration. Scholars believe that it combined elements of boxing and wrestling. It was inspired by similar sports found in the cultures of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Pankration was played during the Olympics. Most strikes and holds were permitted apart from bites and gouging. Fighters were known as pankratiasts.

They would fight each other until either one of them submitted or they ran out of rounds. Sometimes an opponent would lose consciousness or even die as a result of the fight. The historian E. Norman Gardiner has stated that pankration was the most popular form of athletics in Ancient Greece. Similar sports are also believed to have been played in Japan and India.


There was a combat sport in Ancient China known as Leitai. This was a particularly brutal martial art which mixed a variety of different styles, along with boxing and wrestling. Leitai was no-holds barred and could result in serious injuries. There is surviving artwork showing a Leitai picking up and throwing his opponent in front of a cheering crowd.


The Ancient Romans were well known for spectator fighting sports. An event called the pancratium allowed contestants to combine different forms of martial arts. Numerous statues exist portraying famous fighters from the day. To win during the pancratium was considered to be a great honour.