The Ultimate Fighting Championship's ultra-violence is coming to Stockholm on Saturday, with Sweden’s own Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson set to grab the hometown spotlight for the first time, contributor Jimmy Lazenby explains.
The evening's fights, which will take place at Stockholm’s Ericsson Globe Arena, have sparked huge interest in Sweden as it’s the first UFC
visit since Sweden legalized mixed martial arts (MMA) in 2008.
The event features four additional Swedish competitors besides Gustafsson, who claims that, despite the home-crowd advantage, he will be treating it as an ordinary fight.
“Everybody will be there supporting me and it will be a little bit strange since I have been abroad so much, but a fight is a fight and I will prepare as before,” he tells The Local.
“At the end of the day, it's just me and another fighter in the cage.”
“The Mauler” has only lost one of his fourteen fights and on Saturday he fights Brazilian Ju Jitsu black belt Thiago Silva.
A win would be Gustafsson’s fifth in a row and there are rumours that he will soon fight for the world championship.
However, it is not just Gustafsson who has sparked Sweden’s interest in the sport.
The fact that a live mixed martial arts live show will be performed in Stockholm has caused a surge in interest in Sweden.
Ryan O'Leary of the mixed martial arts fan website “MMA Viking” told The Local how gobsmacked he is by the fans' response.
“The site has received so many emails and messages through Facebook and Twitter
, it has been crazy," he explains.
"Just from Scandinavia, we have had over 100,000 visitors, so you'd be surprised how many fans are discovering the sport."
As the new fans continue to pour in, Gustafsson himself is also predicting big things for the sport.
“It is not a mainstream sport yet, but after this event it will be, the people in Sweden are very open minded,” he said.
Since signing for the UFC, Gustafsson has been fighting all over the world, including Australia, Abu Dhabi and the US.
For the first time in three years, he will be fighting just over an hour away from his home town of Arboga in central Sweden.
But the sport’s popularity in Sweden has walked a long road.
Swedish egulations have been late in catching up with the popularity of combat sports abroad.
Boxing was banned for thirty years and an MMA ban was added in 2007.
In 2008 though, the ban was rescinded and a number of small MMA promotions have begun putting on events.
At the same time, MMA-focused gyms have sprung up all over Sweden.
O'Leary agrees that while the sport is not there yet, mainstream interest is where it is heading.
“It is surprising that everything has come together so quickly. Having the event at the Globe, where the NHL kicks off their season, says something about how far the sport has come," he says.
MMA is a young sport, with the first UFC event occurring in the US in 1993.
The sport has its roots deep in professional wrestling in Japan and no-holds-barred fighting in Brazil
Modern competitors utilize skills from diverse arts such as boxing, wrestling, Ju Jitsu and kick boxing in a fight which can occur on the feet, against the cage wall or on the ground.
The bouts take place in a 1.5-metre tall steel cage, which is in place to prevent combatants from falling out. A bout can be won by knockout, technical knockout or submission (when a fighter gives up due to a choke or joint manipulation).
While it may sound brutal and can get bloody, mixed martial arts has a surprisingly healthy safety record, with no deaths or serious injuries having occurred in a UFC event.
That being said, broken bones and concussions are not uncommon.
While Sweden's first UFC event is big news, smaller promoters have been holding events featuring some of Europe's top talent for years.
Stockholm-based Superior Challenge is one such organization that has served as a starting point for some of Sweden's UFC stars.
Having cut their teeth in smaller shows, Reza Medadi, an experienced wrestler, Magnus Cedenblad, a young all-rounder, and Jorgen Kruth, a veteran kick boxer, all search for wins in their UFC debuts.
Success could be the start of a career as successful as Gustafsson's.
While the event at the Globe itself has sold out, fans can watch the event live on Canal+ Sport.
UFC fighters will also be making appearances around Stockholm to answer questions and UFC President Dana White will be conducting his traditional game of hide and seek on the streets of Stockholm, with fight night tickets as prizes.
With Gustafsson looking to maul himself one step closer to a world title, and four other fighters looking to cement their place on the biggest stage their sport offers, Swedish sport has a lot gain this weekend, as UFC continues fighting to become a mainstream sport in Sweden.