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Pankration is a sport or martial art introduced in the Olympic games in 648 BC. It combined striking and grappling, and a match would be won by submission of the opponent. A contestant could signal submission by raising his hand, but sometimes the only form of submission was the death of one of the contestants. Joint locks and choke holds were common techniques of accomplishing this. In fact, there were only two rules: contestants were not allowed to gouge each other's eyes out, or to bite each other. The ancient Olympics also had a less violent pankration contest for young boys.

Ancient sculptures and pottery paintings depicting naked pankration fighters show blade-like hands and crouches reminiscent of modern martial arts.

Among pankration fighters, Dioxippus was the most famous. He won several Olympic games as no one dared challenge him. He became friends with Alexander the Great, and was challenged by one of Alexander's soldiers named Coragus. Coragus fought with weapons and full armour, but was still defeated by the unarmed Dioxippus; Alexander was ashamed for his army and forced Dioxippus to commit suicide.