Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland haven't been hotbeds of MMA talent. Over the years, there have been a few quality fighters coming out of the region that most hardcore fans would recognize instantly, but there hasn't been a large progression over the last few years in the talent being pumped out of these countries.
Norway's Joachim Hansen is probably one of the most recognized names on the list, but among casual fans -- Denmark's Martin Kampmann would fit the bill as one of the more successful Scandanavian fighters. Sweden brought two prospects to the UFC in Per Eklund and David Bielkheden, and other prospects such as Iceland's Gunnar Nelson, Swedish light heavyweight Bobby Rehman, welterweight Diego Gonzalez, lightweight Reza Madadi, and Finnish welterweight Janne Turilinta will all likely see a bright future with bigger promotions soon.
Sweden seems to be the driving force in Scandinavia as the country is beginning to produce much more well-rounded training camps for fighters as well as produce a solid amateur and professional MMA scene for fighters to test their mettle. One of the products of this progression is Alexander Gustafsson.
Gustafsson (8-0) will make his UFC debut at UFC 105 against fellow newcomer Jared Hamman on the event's undercard. "The Mauler", as he's monikered, will have to do what his fellow Swedish fighters haven't been able to do in their stints within the promotion... become successful. Both Per Eklund and David Bielkheden have gone 1-2 in the UFC with Eklund's last loss coming against Evan Dunham at UFC 95 and Bielkheden's last loss coming against Mark Bocek at UFC 97.
Alexander won't have it any easier. He'll debut in the shark tank that is the light heavyweight division, but he has some promising talent that could truly make him a success over his lightweight countrymen. Gustafsson has finished seven of his eight opponents while punching out six of those fighters, most of them within the first round. His background in boxing is easily the key to his success, and he's been known to mix both MMA and boxing into his schedule. In fact, he defeated Swedish amateur boxing champion David Loy in a boxing match. His boxing pedigree has translated well to MMA, and his precision striking coupled with his power could make him a fan favorite quickly.
A highlight of Alexander Gustafsson and training footage for UFC 105 after the jump...
Gustafsson trains out of Gladius MMA in conjunction with his team, Shooters MMA. He is trained by fellow Swedish MMA fighter August Wallen, a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Roy Harris. Currently, Gustafsson is said to be a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Wallen, but he also has the services of BJJ purple belt Joakim Lundgren, BJJ and Thai Boxing trainer Jesper Hallberg and boxing coach Andrew Michael.
What separates Gustafsson from most light heavyweights isn't simply the fact that he's a finisher or that he has an unblemished record currently. We all know that can change quickly within the confines of the UFC. His 6'5" height inside his 205 lb. frame while unleashing fury with his lengthy reach advantage make him a very tough fight for nearly anyone. He has the reach to keep opponents at bay, but he also has the boxing pedigree to strike efficiently from range without being countered. His length will easily work to his advantage on the floor, but he's still far from seasoned in that aspect. Fans would probably liken him to a Stefan Struve in terms of his look, but Gustafsson would rather unleash a fury of combinations than grapple.
"The Mauler" will have a lot to prove at UFC 105. Could he be a fighter that ultimately proves that the Scandinavian MMA scene can produce a successful light heavyweight fighter? His height, reach, and background definitely give him some huge advantages over Hamman, but we won't know the true disparity between his own training and the North American style of training until November. History would say that Gustafsson has some long odds in being a success, but there are always outliers.
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