Pankration and Muay Thai are two uniquely different martial arts, but both have incredibly impactful styles for use in combat sports.
Modern Pankration uses many styles for ground and fighting on the feet, but Muay Thai focuses on a high variety of striking options.
So what are those main differences, and which is actually better for learning or using in a fighting situation?
Keep reading to find out how pankration vs Muay Thai shapes up against one another.
What are the differences between Pankration and Muay Thai?
Pankration has a ground game with submissions, takedowns, and pins. On the other hand, Muay Thai is more focused on striking with kicks, elbows, punches, and knees.
The only way to put your opponent down in Muay Thai is by leg trips. This is usually done after a successful kick catch or during a clinch.
Pankration is usually fought on a mat like with BJJ and Wrestling. In Muay Thai, fighters battle it inside a square or rectangular ring.
The clothes that fighters wear are also different. Pankratiasts commonly wear short-legged Gi, similar to Judo and BJJ. Or sometimes, in competition, they will look the same as an MMA athlete.
Muay Thai fighters usually fight wearing shorts, ankle pads, and Thai arm bands. Thai arm bands are believed to increase the athlete’s confidence and good luck.
Pankratiasts typically wear MMA gloves during sparring and competition. Muay Thai fighters use heavier 12-16oz boxing gloves.
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Pankration can be dated back to ancient Greece. It was introduced to the Olympics in 648 BC. While Muay Thai originated in Thailand, others call it Thai Boxing.
Ancient pankration was more of a messy fight rather than a sport. It had little to no rules. The only thing illegal was eye and mouth pokes.
Pankration is one of the oldest and most brutal martial arts. Before it entered the Ancient Olympics, people arranged fights and made them into entertainment t while betting on the fights.
One of the most significant ancient pankratiast was Arrhichion. “What a fine funeral if you do not submit at Olympia.” said Arrhichion’s trainer while the pankratiast was being submitted by a stranglehold.
Arrhichion found a way to counter the submission inches away from losing his championship glory. He was successful, but his neck snapped, resulting in his immediate death after his opponent quit.
Despite dying in the match, he has still been declared the winner due to his successful submission. Because of this, the people crowned him the most famous pankratiast.
Muay Thai was born in the 13th century in the Sukhothai dynasty of Thailand. It was first taught to Thai soldiers for them to defend their land from invaders.
They combined Muay Thai with armed combat. Soldiers used it as a ‘Plan B’ when their weapons were unavailable.
As time went by, Muay Thai became a sport. Today, Muay Thai is one of the most famous combat sports.
Pankration fighting style is almost identical to modern Mixed Martial Arts. Pankratiasts will have the choice to fight on the ground or stand up.
The stand-up fight of pankration involves a mixture of boxing and kickboxing. But in ancient pankration, the strikes were more vicious; almost any strike was allowed.
Pankration’s ground game is a mixture of wrestling, judo, and jiu-jitsu. You can perform throws, takedowns, and submissions to earn points or finish the match.
Muay Thai is a pure striking showcase. This sport mainly relies on the arms and the legs as the primary weapon during a match.
Some moves that make Muay Thai’s fighting style unique are the elbows and knees. Muay Thai fighters set these moves up during clinches.
You can also catch a kick to the body and follow it up with a foot sweep. This move is excellent in destroying your enemy’s balance. Timing is critical in this technique; if you pull it off, it’ll open a good leg sweep opportunity.
If you knock your opponent down in Muay Thai, you can’t finish them with punches. It’s like boxing; your opponent will be given a chance to recover.
Finishing the fight
Both martial arts can finish the fight with strikes. But in pankration, the fight can end via submission due to the availability of the ground game.
In Muay Thai, you can end your opponent via TKO or KO. TKO is when the referee stops the fight due to multiple unanswered shots.
Knockout is when you land a shot or two that makes your opponent drop. If they couldn’t stand properly or fell unconscious, that’s a knockout.
The KO and TKO situations are similar in pankration and striking martial arts. The availability of a submission finish makes pankration stand out to Muay Thai.
To win via submission, you must first take your opponent down. You can either grab one of his arms, legs, or neck for a submission.
A submission win is a lot harder than a KO win. This is true if you have an opponent who’s excellent at scrambling out of your lock attempts.
If the pankratiast is locked in a submission, the opponent is expected to tap his hands anywhere. This tap signifies that the fighter is quitting the fight.
Some fighters choose to endure the submission. These guys usually get slept, especially if they face a chokehold.
Ancient and modern pankration almost has an identical way of finishing a fight. The only difference is ancient pankration is more brutal.
Is Pankration or Muay Thai better for self-defense?
Both pankration and Muay Thai are excellent in self-defense. But pankration is better because of its ground capabilities. This makes the fighting style of pankration more versatile and dangerous, especially for strikers.
You can’t expect your opponent to constantly stand and throw hands in a street fight situation. It’s also better to take the fight to the ground.
Having ground fighting capabilities will give you the advantage of immobilizing your opponent. They can’t throw a proper strike if pinned to the ground.
Another advantage of taking the brawl to the ground is you’ll take less damage.
What makes pankration even better in self-defense is the practicality of its moves.
Is Pankration or Muay Thai easier to learn?
Muay Thai is easier to learn than pankration. This is because Muay Thai only requires you to learn striking. You’ll need to understand different Judo, BJJ, and Wrestling moves in pankration.
All the techniques you need to know in Muay Thai are punches, kicks, elbows, knees, clinches, sweeps, and catches. You’re all good if you know these and practice them regularly.
Unlike in Muay Thai, you’ll study the basics of Wrestling, Judo, BJJ, and almost every striking sport in pankration.
Learning the basics of other martial arts isn’t enough if you want to be better in pankration.
This makes pankration more challenging because you’ll need to study different styles simultaneously.
Because it involves multiple martial art techniques, learning pankration makes it even harder. The bright side of this is you’ll be a more versatile fighter.
But remember, nothing is complicated if you’re passionate about your work. If you like pankration, you’ll find a way to make the experience enjoyable rather than overly complex.
Who would win a fight between a Pankration and Muay Thai fighter?
A pankratiast would win a fight against a Muay Thai specialist. This is because a pankratiast has a more versatile fighting style. They can take the fight to the ground. As we all know, a ground battle is any striker’s weakness.
This is proven in an event by TFC, where a group of pankratiast mauled the Thai boxers to the ground:
The pankratiast will have an advantage on a no-rules fight because of its ground game capability. If the pankratiast holds the Thai boxer to the ground, they can’t fight back anymore.
But if the fight is striking only, then the Muay Thai fighter will have a chance. Muay Thai has a more aggressive and explosive way of striking than pankration.
Regardless of the fighting chance of Muay Thai on the feet, pankration has still the more dominant and versatile fighting style.
Another great example is the super fight between Rodtang Jitmuangnon and Demetrious Johnson. Rodtang is a Thai Boxer, while DJ has a background in pankration.
They fought Muay Thai in the first round. Rodtang was landing clean, but DJ weathered the storm and landed his own combinations too.
In the second round, the ground game is allowed. DJ immediately took his opponent down and eventually won via RNC.
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Joe Bloom is the lead author and editor of MMA Hive. Joe has been a passionate mixed martial artist in training since 2019, having studied Boxing and Muay Thai at BaliMMA and Soma Fight Club, as well as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with RitualsJJ.