The scene is ancient Greece. Athenian hero Theseus presses forward into the heart of the Labyrinth and right into the clutches of the mighty Minotaur—a dreadful creature, half-man, half-bull. Using his wrestling pedigree, Theseus works to escape the grasp of the wretched beast. He then turns the battle tide with some nice boxing combinations before finally choking out the Minotaur using primitive jiu-jitsu skills. All before 8 a.m.

Alright, so it’s a fight that took place in the altered mind of some Greek philosopher after a weekend of experimental drug use. Mythical or not, however, the storied battle would inspire a new sport to be added to the 33rd Olympic Games in 648 BC. That sport, by its nature a mixture of boxing and wrestling, would be called pankration, a word meaning “all powers” in Greek.

That’s right, mixed martial arts in the Olympics over 2,600 years ago. How far we’ve regressed.

In 1993, Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki adopted the historical Greek sport, added in a little Japanese martial flair and renamed it Pancrase. Twenty years later, this evolved “hybrid wrestling” product continues to entertain combat sports fans of the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

Over time, Pancrase (also the name of the promotion) has undergone various rule changes, gradually transforming from something akin to professional wrestling to a legitimate mixed martial arts format with regulations similar to today’s widely followed unified rules. Under new management and with a new image, the longtime promotion now looks to expand its popularity by making its events available for viewing across the globe. Pancrase 247 will be streamed live via internet pay-per-view. But who will be watching?

With Pride FC several years defunct, the novelty of Asian MMA has begun to refresh itself. New prospects have cropped up across the region and production values have been fine-tuned for a more universal appeal. World-class events combine top Asian talent with international household names like Brock Larson, Arnaud Lepont, Jorge Patino, Jeff Monson, Joachim Hansen and Melvin Manhoef. The fights produced by these events often rival the best of what the UFC has to offer.

The revamped Pancrase organization is only one of several quality Asian promotions which have been vying for attention (and revenue) from the western world. ONE Fighting Championship, Road Fighting Championship, Pacific Xtreme Combat and Legend Fighting Championship have all taken steps to tap into western markets on some scale. However, they’ve all met with limited success thus far.

With all this momentum and such great strides being made in Asia, one would expect North American broadcasters such as AXS TV to be actively pursuing deals with the flourishing Asian promotions. What gives?

For the most part, it’s a simple matter of logistics. While it’s nice to see Asian MMA back on the upswing, the inconvenient truth is one of a 12-hour time differential between North America and east Asia. Thus, although the timing may seem right, it will never be ideal for an Asian MMA’s western movement. As I write this over Saturday morning coffee, Deep is about to kick off the main card of its Nagoya Impact: Kobudo Fight event. Suppose it was to offer a stream of the event, would I tune in? Maybe, since I’m already up. Would I pay money to watch it? Doubtful. Would I pay to place advertising in the broadcast? Not a chance.

If an event has big enough names, hardcore MMA fans will rearrange their sleep schedule to watch an Asian show at zero-dark-thirty or some early A.M. hour. But hardcore fans comprise a small percentage of the MMA fan base. The bottom line is that a promotion will never bring in more than a fraction of the numbers on a morning stream that it would if the same event streamed during primetime. In fact, said promotion will be lucky to make enough to cover the expense of producing the online stream.

The obvious answer is the tape delay. Simply record the event and re-broadcast it at a more marketable time. Unfortunately, most sports fans balk at this concept. The idea of watching an event that took place 12 hours ago simply doesn’t fly with those of us who want to feel like we’re part of history being made, however small that history may be. And that’s not to mention the prospect of results getting leaked and spoiling the whole deal. Most fight fans will watch an occasional replay of one of their favorite fights (or events), but when it comes to investing a couple hours on something new, fans prefer it to be live as much as free.

It’s doubtful that western television marketers will find a way around this snag. Thus, Asian promotions will continue to be on their own as they seek western attention. There really isn’t a good solution, but if Pancrase and other promotions from the Far East want to gain popularity and tap the North American market, they will probably have to do a bit of compromising. For example…

Pancrase 247 will kick off at 5 p.m. Japanese Standard Time on May 19 in Tokyo. That means the event will stream live in New York from approximately 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. on Sunday morning. Could there be a worse time to broadcast a sporting event to the east coast of the United States? If Pancrase was to move its event up just four hours to a 1 p.m. start, its live stream would begin at midnight in New York. Almost everyone is still up at midnight on a Saturday night, greatly increasing the odds of a successful online venture. In fact, in this case, the event would sync up rather nicely with the conclusion of UFC on FX 8.

This approach has the potential for moderate success, but in the end, the only way to close the distance from east to west is to establish a physical presence. Pancrase already has an organization operating in the United States, but until it breaks down and hold an event in North America, fans aren’t likely to take the Japanese seriously. Of course that’s a monumental undertaking, the success of which will require a novel appeal beyond simply that of the ethnic strain.

Perhaps smaller steps would make more sense. If the new Pancrase teamed up with a promotion like Cage Warriors Fighting Championships, or even M-1 Global, they could co-promote events and gradually impinge on North American markets. This would also reduce the time difference (depending on where the event is held) and make Asian MMA seem less distant. However, co-promotion has yielded unfavorable results in the world of MMA. Not to mention, with the sudden and horrific demise of Pride FC, Asian promotions are justifiably hesitant to rush toward western territory. It could be years before we see that kind of move again, but one can always dream.

As for the added viewing options, we diehard fans will take all we can get—just not at the wee hours of the morning. Saturday night’s alright for fighting. Sunday morning, not so much—unless, of course, you’re a Greek hero commissioned to slay a mythical beast and end the reign of an evil king. In which case, I’ll buy your pay-per-view.

Photo: Rin Nakai (Taro Irei/Sherdog)