Stefan Struve, Cub Swanson and Tom Watson preach UFC’s gospel to the converted in Stockholm
Three UFC fighters with stories of their own – heavyweight Stefan Struve, featherweight Cub Swanson and middleweight Tom Watson, are in Stockholm this week, and on Thursday they were preaching from the fight gospel.
The message was heard, loud and clear, by a group of wide-eyed teenagers at FightZone, an MMA and Brazilian ju-jitsu gym in the city.
In some areas suburban areas, unemployment is high, hopes are low. Salvation is some way off. So it is in this area of Stockholm.
Where MMA at times can be treated like the scruffy cousin of the mainstream sports world, the kids on the block in the northern district of Stockholm can identify with fighters.
Because they are exactly that. Refugees and immigrants, or simply teenagers looking for a positive direction in life. The dozen or so teenagers here, from tall to small, listened intently to giant 7ft Struve, Swanson and Watson as they explained their meandering paths towards becoming professional MMA fighters with the world’s leading fight organisation, which puts events on across the globe, has 360 fighters on its roster, and has a value, estimated by Forbes, at approaching $2 billion
That is a world away, quite literally, from the teenagers with their inquisitive minds, and then, when they took to the mats with the fighters, quite startling skills.
Martin Lavin, once a tearaway, now an MMA teacher at FightZone, with cauliflower ears and bright ginger beard, explained how he had poor grades, and would constantly get into fights, until he joined the FightZone Gym, run, owned and funded – either by themselves or by the subs of members – by husband and wife Hans Ersson and Margareta Myhr.
“Hans changed my life. In a way, he tricked me into becoming involved, but this really is my life now,” he explained. “It completely changed my life. I finished University with two degrees, in Business Management and Economic Affairs, and now all I do is teach, I train, and I compete.”
BJJ black belt Myhr herself has recently finished on the podium in internationally renowned BJJ tournaments, while her husband, Hans has lived and breathed the sport all his adult life. He was paralysed from the neck down after diving onto rocks in 1999, and now uses a wheelchair.
Yet, as a tetraplegic, it has changed nothing of his passion. Which is using MMA and the respect values to both inspire, and transform lives.
Together, he and his wife have brought many Brazilians over to the gym from the favelas in Rio di Janeiro bordering Ipanema and Copacabana, where life is unimaginably tough, and privation ubiquitous
The teachers and fighters stay with them at their home. But MMA has always been about sharing, about teamwork, and ultimately, respect
The wider picture to associate with the visit of Swanson, Struve and Watson didactic in the sense that it was to teach that you can be tough, healthy and wise – is that MMA needs to develop its role with communities, and use its most obvious role models to talk of the effects on their lives.
Their effect of the role models on the kids aged 14 to 18 is immeasurable.
“Some of those kids were really very talented, too,” said middleweight Watson, who had come from California on Monday where he had been working with Mark Munoz on his wrestling.
In the long term the MMA gym will become what the boxing gym once was – a refuge to change and shape young people’s lives which had become twisted and entangled in negative society.
As the UFC and the sport of MMA grows more, should there be a move to make fighters contractually bound to make such visits? Possibly. But most fighters I’ve ever come across take pleasure from these visits. A win/win all around.
By Gareth A Davies
MMA Correspondent, The Telegraph
(Stockholm 04 Apr 2013)