Photos by Magnus Andersen
Are you looking for a fight? If so Haraldur Nelson, manager/father to the UFC’s Gunnar Nelson and CEO of Mjölnir, Iceland’s first MMA gym, is waiting for your call. According to recent outbursts on social media, nobody will face his fighters in the cage.
“I have to say it's insane how many MMA clubs are just looking for easy fights for their fighters or have no intention in fighting fights that they accept,” he wrote. Getting fights for Mjölnir MMA has been “a nightmare… many gyms are just looking for easy and one-sided fights for their guys. Gyms have been asking for fights for fighters with much more experience then the fighters we put forward to fight them but are still afraid to fight our guys.”
In less than a decade Mjölnir has risen from the glaciers to become one of Europe’s most well respected establishments. Against all the odds, the gym has gone from a rag-tag bunch of martial arts enthusiasts in mismatching gi’s to a sprawling, three story complex catering for over 1,200 members, producing one Gunnar Nelson along the way. But that fame has clearly come at a price.
“When I mention Mjölnir it’s like the phone line gets cut!” Nelson said one promoter recently disclosed. “Every gym I’ve talked to,” said another, is “scared shitless of the Vikings from Mjölnir.”
“It’s the same problem I have for my own guys,” said British professional MMA fighter and promoter Danny Mitchell, who has struggled in the past to find matches for Nelson’s team. “A gym gets a certain reputation and opponents don't want to face a 'scary' gym… They make excuses. They want easy fights, [not] fighters that come from a gym with much reputation.”
“They see Gunni in the UFC and think every Mjölnir fighter is like some evil clone of him that cannot be stopped. I have the same issue with my team. It’s unfortunate… But luckily my own team will always step up and take on all comers. Which is exactly how it should be!”
Mitchell’s money is located proudly alongside his mouth—he fought Gunnar Nelson back in 2010, and was beaten with a rear naked choke in the first round.
“Everyone wants to be a 'fighter' but only a select few want to really fight,” he said. “It’s about testing yourself in the most extreme way!”
“This lack of professionalism is very frustrating,” said Haraldur Nelson when we spoke to him, “and very disrespectful to the fighters that are actually making a career of this sport. They have been preparing for a fight both mentally and physically with hard training, weight cutting and so on. Not to mention the fact that amateur fighters usually have to pay their own way and for us here in Iceland traveling cost is very high. And because of our bad experience with all the pullouts we hesitate to buy airfare early, which of course makes it even more expensive.”
“Maybe the fact that amateur records are now online publicly at websites like Sherdog doesn’t help. This might have the affect that many fighters are overly concerned about their amateur record. The MMA world can sometimes be pretty unforgiving when it comes to professional careers and losses and maybe this is also affecting fighters at amateur level. At least we have too many gyms just looking for easy fights. Not looking to learn, only looking for a W.”
As we have written about before, picking fights abroad is essential for Mjölnir as MMA is still technically illegal in Iceland.
“We are working hard on this here,” said Haraldur of the ban, “but it will not happen over night. We want to do this in as professional way as possible and we look towards how this was done in Sweden as a good role model. I lead a workgroup that right now is working on the regulations, translation and other things that we need to take into consideration. We have had discussions with people at congress and this is on the right track. I’m hoping to see some big developments in the year 2015.”
“Truly it is frustrating,” said Sunna Davíðsdóttir, Iceland’s first female MMA fighter, of the current situation. “Fighting is what I do and all I want to do and I accept any challenge. I told Halli my manager I'll fight flyweight, strawweight or go up to fight in bantamweight or even fight guys—amateur or pro—but nothing happens, they keep pulling out.”
“As a fighter it does not break me in any way cause I'm always training as if I have a fight tomorrow and when a fight is scheduled I go even harder which makes me stronger. Every time they call it off I get more hungry to get in there so it keeps me going knowing I'll get back in there one day to do what I love to do—fight!”
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