The Apostle Paul wrote to the ancient Ephesians concerning the ancient sport of wrestling to explain the reason for many of the difficulties the early Christians faced. Paul wrote, “For we WRESTLE not against flesh and blood…”
The Greek words had much more meaning to those living in the surrounding areas than what we seem to read in the English. The Greek word for wrestle was the word “pale”. It carried the meaning of: “struggling, wrestling, or hand-to-hand combat.” The readers also knew (unlike us) that this was the very same Greek word that was the root word for the Palastra; a huge palace found in the middle of most large ancient cities built for the purpose to train the best athletes for combat sports.
There were 3 types of athletes found training there morning, afternoon, and evening: the boxers, wrestlers, and the pankratists. Continual training was important to these athletes that had much more to be concerned with than the winning of awards. All 3 of these types were so closely related in our study of the evolution of Professional Wrestling, that I will explain a little about all 3 .
Boxers: Their sport was so violent that helmets were mandatory so the athlete would not have his head caved in from heavy blows. Their heavy gloves were spiked with nails and sharpened steel that was serrated to cause deep gashes. There were no rounds or rules except no clenching of your opponent’s fists. Very few boxers retired because most died while fighting. To gain a win, the opponent had to surrender or die.
Wrestlers: Most would choose to fight to the death to avoid public humiliation of having lost. The main way victory was gained was through the means of choking your opponent into submission. There were very few rules as it allowed the breaking of fingers, breaking bones such as ribs, gashing the face, and even gouging their eyes out.
Pankration: It carries the meaning of “all powerful”. These were the most fiercest and committed of all 3. They were allowed to punch, kick, bite, gouge, break legs, or do any horrible thing to their opponent they pretty much pleased. Most professionals chose to die than choose to surrender.
Wrestling in its early days was simple: WIN or DIE for the most part. The life expectancy was very short. Because of the practice of conquering enemies, there was a new roster of wrestlers to watch for pleasure every year. And if that wasn’t good enough, then they had those 1st animal matches of Wild Animal vs The Poor Unlucky Conquered Citizen.
I hope this was insightful to our evolution of Pro Wrestling.
By Terry Kent
As unique content strictly for the Professional Wrestling Historical Society