Alexander Gustafsson (above) could be instrumental to the UFC in working with local Swedish media.
All the pieces are coming together for a UFC in Sweden by the end of 2011.Â Â
“It's true,” UFC boss Dana White told Swedish site MMANytt.se last week when asked about the promotion heading to Sweden in 2011. The UFC's plan to bring the Octagon to Scandinavia for the first time was reiterated Saturday night after UFC 126, when White was asked about potential bouts in Sweden or Japan. Â Â
“We think we're going to get it done,” White said. “Everything that needs to happen to go to Japan has fallen into place so far, so it's looking good. It's on our calendar this year.” Â Â
Swedish MMA Federation (Svenska MMA FÃ¶rbundet) President August Wallen confirmed that there have been meetings and dialogue with the UFC over the last several years, but no official application has been submitted for sanctioning such an event as yet.Â Â
“As all major events take time to plan, it seems likely that UFC would go for sometime during the fall,” said Wallen. Â Â
Should the UFC head to Sweden, two key fighters to consider for the bill are Alexander Gustafsson and Martin Kampmann. Â Â
Gustafsson, the only Swede under Zuffa contract, has the chance to solidify his status as one of the 205-pound division’s best up-and-comers with a win over James Te Huna Feb. 27 at UFC 127. However, win or lose, the 24-year-old is Sweden's foremost MMA fighter at this point in time and will factor prominently on a card in his homeland, where he'd be especially useful with the Swedish media. Â Â
Kampmann, from neighboring Denmark, would allow the UFC to highlight their Scandinavian roster while also having a more proven top-10 commodity on the card. Should the Dane get a big win March 3 over Diego Sanchez, he would make an ideal upper-carder for the event. Also, with both fighters slated for action in the next three weeks, bouts in the late fall would fit their timetables well, given that their next contests should come in the late spring or early summer. Â Â
The emerging firmness of Zuffa's statements regarding the UFC’s intent comes on the heels of a recent change in the Nordic land's legislation. In early December, the SMMAF received permission from the governing Martial Arts Delegation (Kampsportsdelegationen) to amend the previously restricted use of elbows, foot stomps, upkicks to the head from the ground, and mandated 90-second breaks between rounds instead of the customary 60. Â Â
Five-round title fights would still require an additional permit, however, it's not a certainty any UFC card headed to Sweden would feature a championship bout. Â Â
With a proposed ban on mixed martial arts legislated in 2006, hosting a UFC event in Sweden in 2011 would be a milestone event in a remarkable turnaround for the industry in Sweden. “The world's roughest sport has become housebroken,” was the title of a recent article in Sweden’s Expressen.se, which may sum-up the changing attitude toward MMA in Sweden. Â Â
“Very few if any sports federations [in Sweden] have ever accomplished so much in such short time,” says Wallen, who has presided over SMMAF since its formation in 2007. Â Â
MMA is now prominent in living rooms with local promotions Superior Challenge, Vision Fighting Championship, The Zone FC, and Rumble of the Kings all shown on television. UFC events, including “The Ultimate Fighter” are regularly shown on cable’s TV4 Sport throughout the night and live UFC events are on the premium network Canal+ Sport. However, many prominent Swedish brain scientists and doctors have been publicly outspoken and critical about the sport’s safety, stating their opposition to it in both print and over the airwaves.Â The admission of MMA as an officially recognized sport in the country, receiving tax payer money, led to additional scrutiny. These themes may re-emerge when the UFC firms up a date in Sweden. Â Â
But, where might that date be? Â Â
The logical destination would be Stockholm’s Ericsson Globe, or “The Globe” as locals call it.Â The 14,000 seat arena has played host to NHL’s early season efforts in recent years, as well as everything from Pope John Paul II’s 1989 mass to the 2000 Eurovision Song Contest. The colorful venue is in the self-proclaimed “capital of Scandinavia,” an ideal site for Zuffa's first foray into the region.