UFC interim featherweight champion Conor McGregor’s preparation for his upcoming title unification bout against Jose Aldo at UFC 194 took a turn for the David and Goliath this weekend when he engaged in some friendly sparring with a real life giant.
And not just any giant, either. McGregor welcomed Icelandic strongman and actor Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, best known for playing Ser Gregor Clegane on the Stockholm Syndrome-inducing HBO series Game of Thrones. In other words, The Notorious took on The Mountain. In shocking twist for anything GoT-related, just this once, everybody lives.
Björnsson’s fellow Icelander, UFC welterweight Gunnar Nelson, was also on hand for the session. The strongman tagged both fighters in a photo on his Instagram account, saying “Had a good day for these champs.”
Nelson responded with a post of his own, writing “Absolute honor to have my Viking brother visit us training, beast of a man!!”
McGregor’s contribution to the Instagram love-in brought the notoriously McGregory bluster with: “Today I had a bare-knuckle fight off a 180kg monster called 'The Mountain' I'd never fought, or even seen a man that big before.”
Björnsson, who is 6’9” and 419lbs (making him a full foot taller than his sparring partner and 274 pounds heavier than his fighting weight), has an extensive athletic background. he briefly played professional basketball in his native Iceland before a career-ending injury sent him to the weight room for rehab. From there, he got hooked on strongman competitions. He placed 3rd in Iceland’s Strongest man in 2010, and has come in first every year since. He was also named Europe’s Strongest Man and holds a number of top 10 finishes in the World’s Strongest Man finals.
When he’s not acting or competing, he dabbles in the occasional combat sport. In 2014, he tried his hand at some boxing sparring.
But his interest in fighting is purely for fun. When he was asked if he’d ever considered going into martial arts like strongman-turned MMA heavyweight Mariusz Pudzianowski in his Reddit AMA last year, Björnsson replied that “We have Gunnar Nelson, he is one of the best MMA fighters in the world pound for pound as it is, I'll leave that up to him for now. I think it differs between individuals as it is I enjoy watching MMA.”
He then went on to reveal that being able to lift anything is “fucking GREAT!”
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