Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a violent combat sport. It’s a mix of boxing and wrestling. Competitors begin each round on their feet, prancing around about like boxers. At some point, the fighters usually hit the ground in an all-out wrestling match to bring their opponent to submission.
Rules have changed in recent years to make the sport safer for its competitors. The sport used to be promoted as a “no rules, fight-to-the-death” match between competitors. To be fair, it wasn’t really “fight to the death.” And there were some rules. Biting and eye-gouging and hair-pulling and head-butting and groin-shots were all illegal. However, the brutality was very legal.
In the early days, competitors faced each other in an eight-sided cage (still do) with no judges, time limits or rounds. Every fight finished with a knockout, submission, or throwing in the towel. The fights were so violent, that in 1996 former Senator John McCain called the sport, “human cock-fighting” and sought to make it illegal in all 50 states. As a result, rules have been implemented to make today’s sport less barbaric than it originated.
When Paul describes the spiritual battle that believers face against the demonic forces of the world, he likens it to a spiritual wrestling match. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
When we think of wrestling, we often think of the high school sport, where skinny boys grapple on a soft mat against each other. It is likely, however, that Paul was thinking of Pankration, an ancient form of wrestling very similar to the early days of MMA. Paul surely knew of the sport. Surely the violent nature of the spiritual battle that we face in the spiritual realm was in Paul’s mind, not the sanitized sport of wrestling today. The devil hardly plays by the rules. So, when you read of the spiritual wrestling in Ephesians 6:12, the early years of MMA is probably a good image to have in mind.