Pankration gives Sun Devils shot at MMA world

by Matt Culbertson
published on Friday, October 19, 2007

STING LIKE A BEE: Christian Grosinsky, 25, of Tempe practices a punch sequence with ASU nursing graduate Lars Havens at the Student Recreation Complex. Pankration is a form of mixed martial arts that includes wrestling, kickboxing and other forms of fighting.

MMA Boxing Wrestling “Where else can you choke your professor, slap an attorney, punch your boss or in one case kick a politician without getting into trouble?”

For Jeff Funicello, the mixed martial arts coach who posed the question, ASU Pankration is the safe and legal way for ASU students to fulfill that fantasy and train to compete in martial arts.

Four times a week, a group of mostly ASU undergraduate students meet in the Student Recreation Complex to train in mixed martial art disciplines nearly 3,000 years old, called pankration.

Funicello, a 17-year veteran of the sport, said about half of the team competes in competitions ranging from local events to international bouts.

“Where else can a Christian fight a Muslim, or a Hindu fight a Jew, and walk away good friends? “Funicello said in an e-mail about pankration.

Pankration is a form of mixed martial arts, or MMA, that originated in ancient Greece as one of the first Olympic events. It encompasses different martial arts disciplines, such as wrestling, kickboxing and other forms of fighting.

ASU Pankration meets twice on Tuesdays and twice on Thursdays to train in kickboxing, submission wrestling and other martial arts with the world champion Funicello, a former ASU wrestler and wrestling coach.

Funicello said he travels and competes all over the country, and has placed numerous times in world and national championships. He is a Pan American Games silver medalist and captured one of his more recent awards, a bronze medal, in world championship beach wrestling in September.

Undeclared sophomore Aaron Sims said he has been watching MMA since he was young, and he decided to take up pankration at ASU as a fun challenge.

“I wasn’t playing football anymore after high school so I had to fill the void, “Sims said. He added he is trying to improve all aspects of his mixed martial arts game with ASU Pankration, such as wrestling and boxing.

“I do a lot of grappling and submission, “Sims said. “I’m planning on competing in submission wrestling.”

Justice studies junior Kelsey Campbell said the coaches and members of ASU Pankration helped improve her skills in wrestling and make connections for her wrestling career.

“All the guys there made me feel welcome, “Campbell said. “That was so huge, especially when you’re a girl.”

Campbell, who took fifth place nationally in the women’s freestyle wrestling 130-pound weight class last April, joined the ASU wrestling team on Monday. She said she hopes to be certified to wrestle at 125 pounds by the NCAA.

ASU has been a powerhouse for mixed martial arts and UFC-style athletics since the early 1990s, Funicello said.

“We had a really good team last year ” five national champions, three world medalists, several world team qualifiers, several national placers, “Funicello said.

The ASU wrestling team has produced internationally-renowned MMA fighters such as Don Frye and Dan Henderson, who recently lost a world championship fight to current UFC World Champion Quinton Jackson.

Funicello, who currently trains with world-class MMA fighters such as Henderson, said that because of MMA’s rising popularity, most people are able to understand what pankration is about.

Danny Kessler, a 2005 ASU graduate and founder of the women’s self-defense program Angels With Attitude, said he has always been involved with combat sports and currently coaches with ASU Pankration.

“I was a high school wrestler and when I got to college I needed to find something to test me physically and mentally and push me to the next level, “Kessler said. “I train in everything now, I try to learn as much as possible and for the past six years I’ve been grappling on a national level.”

Kessler competes nationally as a representative of ASU Pankration, in competitions held by the North American Grappling Association. He won first place last January in Honolulu, Hawaii for the 147-pound weight class.

As for Sims, the ASU sophomore said he is playing his martial arts career by ear.
“When it comes to MMA, it just depends on how good I get, “Sims said. “I don’t want to go out there and get beat up.”

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