When you think of Scandinavia, you can’t help but think of the Vikings. From their compelling mythology to the image of ship borne reavers and intrepid explorers crossing the broad oceans in search of plunder and new lands is an enduring and inspiring one.
Of course, there’s a lot more to Scandinavia than that, including beautiful scenery and progressive governments but you have to think that the physical and spiritual successors of the Vikings would have a real contribution to make to the fast growing sport of MMA, and so it is.
With the UFC making their second trip to Sweden this week, I thought it was a good time to have a look at MMA in Scandinavia.
There is a stark difference between the individual nations of the region in their approach to MMA, with thriving scenes in Sweden, Finland and Denmark and even a healthy scene in Iceland contrasting with the sport being outlawed in Norway as the country enjoys a law where sports that encourage knock outs (as opposed to having them regularly happen by accident) are banned.
There are moves to change this, with Norwegian government officials and activists like the NMMAF working towards getting the sport legalised.
Of course, there are martial arts clubs in Norway like everywhere else and there are high profile Norwegian fighters, like former UFC Welterweight Simeon Thoresen (17-4) and former DREAM champion Joachim ‘Hellboy’ Hansen (22-11) who have never been able to perform in front of a home crowd.
Hopefully that will change soon.
Of course, this vibrant scene would be hollow without some talented local fighters and there are more than a few, led by top UFC contender Alexander Gustafsson (15-1) who’s progress to main event status in the UFC has facilitated the promotion’s forays to Stockholm.
Lining up behind Gustasson is a laundry list of top (or soon to be top) talents like Tor Troeng (15-4), Mats Nilsson (9-2), David Haggstrom (7-1) as well as up and comers like Sirwan Kakai (9-1) and Pannie Kianzad (3-0).
Not to be outdone, both Denmark and Finland have healthy scenes and top fighters of their own, with Denmark boasting companies like Fightergalla and Royal Arena as well as accomplished fighters like consistent UFC top ten welterweight Martin Kampmann (20-6), Kenneth Rosfort-Nees (15-6) and Mikkel Parlo (9-1).
Finland is often overlooked by westerners, but in an MMA context this is madness as healthy promotions like Cage and Fight Festival continue to produce interesting shows and a conveyor belt of impressive talent, including current Cage Warriors #1 contender Joni Salovaara (12-5), recent Invicta signee Katja Kankaanpaa (7-0) and others like Anton Kuivanen (17-6) and Tom Niinimaki (18-5).
Lastly, I want to speak about Iceland, oft overlooked as it’s away in the North Atlantic, halfway between the rest of Scandinavia and the Americas but very much home to the same breed of people, arguably even more so due to its relative isolation (check out their government’s handling of the financial crisis – brilliant, I wonder why we don’t see that on the news more…)
Of course, Iceland isn’t all that big, with a population of just over 300’000 (making it smaller than Greater Glasgow, population wise) compared to be between nine and five million apiece for the mainland Scandinavian nations. However, one gym Mjolnir (associated with the SBG family of gyms but I’ll come back to that) stands out with their top prospect Gunnar Nelson (11-0) impressing in the UFC despite his laconic tendencies.
I guess when you win elite level fights without discernible effort and looking like you just woke up, people sit up and take notice.
Despite one of its major nations being one of those which holds MMA to be illegal, Scandinavia is a hotbed for MMA, something which can only continue as their promotions are well run, their fighters are talented and hungry and the fans are passionate and knowledgeable.
The UFC have noticed, and if you are any kind of MMA fan, you should keep an eye to the North as well – I’d recommend www.mmaviking.com as your best news source there. Great site.
The Vikings made an impression around the world, and Celtic fighters like new UFC signing and former Cage Warriors double weight class champion Conor MacGregor and surely soon-to-be-in-the-UFC Robert Whiteford have spent much time as team mates with their Nordic cousins via SBG and Sweden Fighters learning and improving together.
There is a reason that some of my favourite Scots and Irish fighters often use the twitter hash tag #IamtheViking.