Wrestling is a popular combat sport in the many western cultures. Within MMA organizations like One Championship and the UFC, fighters with strong background in wrestling have dominated the competition, including famous fighters like Ben Askren and Randy Couture. Acceptable practices in ancient wrestling, however, diverged significantly from most modern counterparts. Ancient wrestling included many submission grappling techniques, such as joint-locks, strangulations, and limited striking.
The earliest literary records of wrestling date back over 4,000 years ago to the Epic of Gilgamesh in ancient Mesopotamia. Likewise, ancient Egyptian and Greek archaeological evidence, notably the famous wall paintings of Beni Hasan, point to a long-standing fascination with the grappling arts. The functionality of wrestling meant western cultures implemented the holds, transitions, and takedowns into both military training and competition sports. The Homeric Iliad, for instance, describers in detail the wrestling match between Greek hero’s Odysseus and Ajax at Patroclus’ funeral games.
The oldest of the ancient Greek combat sports, wrestling was first introduced into the famous Panhellenic games in the 8th century BCE, well before the inclusion of Boxing or Pankration. In official matches, wrestlers were required to score three points to win. The ancient authors Nonnus and Lucian explain how submitting your opponent with a strangulation or a joint lock, which likely included leg-locks, was considered as legitimate as pushing an opponent out of boundaries, immobilizing him with a hold, or forcing his shoulders to the ground. According to an inscription found at Olympus, a new rule was instituted banning small joint manipulation after wrestlers like the famous Sostratus of Sicyon began over-exploiting finger breaking,
Wrestling included both ortho pale, or standing wrestling, and kato pale, or ground fighting. As depictions on pottery and wall painting illustrate, the takedown techniques used during the ortho pale phase relied on both upper and lower body grips. Some fighters earned the coveted title of ‘akoniti’, or ‘dustless’, because of their ability to defeat their opponent without falling. An inscription attributed such a victory to Tiberius Claudius Marcianus because his opponents would withdraw from competition simply upon seeing him naked.
The open weight classes meant wrestling styles varied greatly. Some fighters emphasizing light movements to trip their opponents, while others relied on weight and power to send their opponents crashing to the ground. Through dedication and constant training, wrestlers strove to overcome their opponents effectively and decisively. The dynamic movements and powerful techniques exhibited used in wrestling, past and present, have cemented its fearsome reputation as a combat sport.