The Cage Fighting Kids Of Pankration: Is This Sparta Or Sport?

Published March 7, 2015
Updated September 20, 2020

Mixed martial arts is growing in popularity at an incredible rate. Should kids have a place in the cage?

Kids Fighting In A Cage

Mason Bramlette, 7, being choked by Kristofer “The Arm Collector” Arrey, also 7, during 2013 California State Pankration Championships Youth Division.

As the popularity of mixed martial arts (MMA) and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) continue to skyrocket, the debate as to whether it is sport or glamorized brutality has only grown. Pankration, a version of MMA fighting which has been adapted specifically for children has taken the argument to an entirely new level.


Kristofer “The Arm Collector” Arrey, 7, and Cross Betzhold, 6, enter their fight at a United States Fight League Pankration All-Star tournament at the BlueWater Resort and Casino, in Parker, Arizona.

Parents across the United States are sending their sons and daughters by the millions–some as young as five years old–to take part in cage fighting events that conjure images of ancient Sparta and appear to be little more than organized brawls.

caged kids tough defeat

Six year old Daniel Arrellano cries after his loss at the 2013 California State Pankration Championships Youth Division, where he came in second place in the 5-7 under 55 pound classification.

Proponents of the ‘sport’ say that the events promote fair play and self-discipline, as well as the ability to learn how to win and lose with grace. They add that before the US childhood obesity epidemic, a little extra exercise can’t hurt too much.

Naturally, critics paint a much more grim picture of it all. Not only are they concerned about the immediate health of the children participating in the brutal sport (some kids don’t wear head protection; others’ gloves feature less than an inch of padding), they’re also worried about its effect on their long term emotional development.

Some politicians have gotten involved, too. Senator John McCain has referred to professional MMA as “human cock fighting” and in 2008 wrote letters to the governors of all 50 states asking to have it banned.

Kids Training For MMA

Training before a fight in a Pankration tournament held at Adrenaline Combat Sports and Fitness, Mason “The Beast” Bramlette, 7, and Justin Ramirez, 7, grapple on the mat with their coaches looking on.

New York based-photographer Sebastian Montalvo traveled across the U.S. to document the events, the kids participating in them, and the culture surrounding it. As the project wore on, Montalvo found that the biggest factor driving the growth of the Youth MMA movement is, somewhat unsurprisingly, the parents. “They’re mega-competitive,” Montalvo said. “They love their kids 100% and they just want them to win.”

Kids MMA Tournament

Mason “The Beast” Bramlette, 7, weighing in before his fight at a tournament at Adrenaline Combat Sports and Fitness in San Bernardino, California.

Training For California State Pankration Championships

Mason “The Beast” Bramlette training on a heavy bag at the Ultimate Fitness Gym shortly before the 2013 California State Pankration Championships.

Kids Practice MMA

Being leg-choked, Mason ‘The Beast’ Bramlette struggles to free himself from a submission move popularized by the much larger and stronger adult professionals.

caged kids walled up

During a United States Fight League Pankration All-Star tournament held at the BlueWater Resort and Casino, Kristofer “The Arm Collector” Arrey, 7, pins Cross Betzhold, 6, against the cage.

caged kids deep thought

United States Fight League Pankration All-Star tournament held at the BlueWater Resort and Casino. The cage can be a lonely and daunting place for a fighter, whether that fighter is an adult or a child.

Chris Conolley, an MMA teacher who owns Spartan Fitness in Hoover, Alabama points out that not all youth MMA training is the same. For example, Conolley says he teaches his students to get in shape and have fun–none of the techniques they learn are used to inflict pain on another person.

Said Conolley in an interview, “It’s an outstanding way for them to get in shape, exercise. Childhood obesity now is a big issue…[this can] get them on the right path conducive to fitness.”

caged kids it hurts

“The Beast” Mason Bramlette cries after taking a heavy punch during 2013 California State Pankration Championships. As the referee asked if he wanted to continue his father urged him to stay in the ring.

That being said, Conolley’s method is more of an exception than a rule. To parents involved in the event, encouraging their children to stay in the ring and see the fight out is a way to teach them valuable lessons about life. To others, it’s little more than Spartan.

Trophies For Winning MMA Tournament

Kriss Arrey, 7, and Justin Ramirez, 7, receive trophies after winning a Pankration tournament organized by the United States Fight League in Riverside, California.

Erin Kelly
An All That's Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she's designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Citation copied
Cite This Article
Kelly, Erin. "The Cage Fighting Kids Of Pankration: Is This Sparta Or Sport?.", March 7, 2015, Accessed June 24, 2024.