With the 2016 Summer Olympics scheduled for Aug. 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sherdog.com staff and contributors sat down to put together hypothetical MMA Olympic teams for the following countries: United States, Canada, Japan, Great Britain, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Sweden, Poland and Australia. This 10-part series will map out the yellow brick road to Rio de Janeiro for the men and women who call the cage home, Zika virus be damned.
Covering just shy of 176,000 square miles and home to a little less than 10 million people, Sweden boasts a long and successful history in the Olympics. It dates back to the inaugural Games in 1896, and in the 120 years since, the Scandinavian nation has participated in every Olympics, save one. Stockholm served as the host site for the 1912 Summer Games.
No Swede has struck gold more often than Gert Fredriksson (six), a sprint canoeist who competed in four Olympics: 1948, 1952, 1956 and 1960. Away from Fredriksson’s considerable shadow, achievement in combat sports has long been a source of pride for the Swedes, as they have captured 85 medals in wrestling -- 28 of them have been gold -- and 11 more in boxing. Carl Westergren stands alone among the country’s wrestlers. The Malmo, Sweden, native struck gold in Greco-Roman wrestling in 1920, 1924 and 1932. On a more recent note, a pair of Swedes, heavyweight Jimmy Lidberg and super heavyweight Johan Euren, claimed bronze as Greco-Roman wrestlers at the 2012 Summer Games in London.
The process of constructing a hypothetical Swedish MMA team for the Olympics reveals a country still trying to find its footing in the cage. Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight contender Alexander Gustafsson, the man most feel came closest to dethroning Jon Jones inside the Octagon, has been the face of mixed martial arts in Sweden for years. That does not figure to change anytime soon, barring a serious injury or precipitous physical decline. Gustafsson appears to be the only legitimate favorite to medal, so those in charge of assembling the Swedish roster had to get creative in order to overcome a lack of depth at various weights. For example, with “The Mauler” entrenched at light heavyweight, Ilir Latifi forgoes being an alternate at 205 pounds in favor of a move to heavyweight.
Allstars Training Center’s Andreas Michael takes the coaching reins, alongside Pancrase Gym trainer Omar Bouiche and Gladius MMA’s August Wallen. They will oversee a sideline staff that includes former fighters Akira Corassani, Tor Troeng and Eddy Bengtsson.
2016 Sweden National MMA Team• Heavyweight: Ilir Latifi
• Light Heavyweight: Alexander Gustafsson
• Middleweight: Magnus Cedenblad
• Welterweight: Nicholas Musoke
• Lightweight: David Teymur
• Featherweight: Niklas Backstrom
• Bantamweight: Sirwan Kakai
• Flyweight: Binh Son Le
• Women’s Bantamweight: Pannie Kianzad
• Women’s Strawweight: Iman Darabi
HEAVYWEIGHT: Built like a fire hydrant, the 5-foot-10 Latifi packs a serious wallop in his punches and kicks, as evidenced by the four first-round knockouts on his resume. The 33-year-old “Sledgehammer” has gone 5-2 since arriving in the UFC in 2013, losing only to Jan Blachowicz and former Strikeforce champion Gegard Mousasi, the latter as a short-notice replacement. Latifi currently finds himself on a three-fight winning streak, having last appeared at UFC 196, where the onetime Superior Challenge champion pocketed a unanimous decision over Gian Villante on March 5. Alternates: Yosef Ali Mohammad, Herdem Alacabek
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT: The unquestioned centerpiece of Sweden’s MMA squad, Gustafsson has established himself as one of the sport’s premier competitors at 205 pounds. The 29-year-old sports a 16-4 career mark, and the four men to whom he has lost -- Jones, Daniel Cormier, Phil Davis and Anthony Johnson -- own a cumulative winning percentage of .885. Based out of the Allstars Training Center, Gustafsson has also spent time honing his skills at Alliance MMA in California, alongside Davis, reigning UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz and others. Victories over former International Fight League titleholder Vladimir Matyushenko, 2005 Pride Fighting Championships middleweight grand prix winner Mauricio Rua, Thiago Silva and Jimi Manuwa anchor his resume. “The Mauler” last fought at UFC 192 in October, when he battled Cormier across five memorable rounds before losing a split decision for the light heavyweight championship in a “Fight of the Year” contender. Alternates: Max Nunes, Karl Albrektsson
MIDDLEWEIGHT: Cedenblad, 34, is the quintessential late bloomer. Unbeaten since 2012, he has rattled off four straight wins over Garreth McLellan, Scott Askham, Krzysztof Jotko and Jared Hamman -- not exactly a murder’s row of middleweights but a nice run at 185 pounds nonetheless. “Jycken” has put in stops at various high-profile training camps, including Alliance MMA and the American Kickboxing Academy in the United States, and has gone 12-2 since losing his first two pro bouts, falling only to Mats Nilsson and Francis Carmont. Cedenblad has delivered 12 of his 14 career victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission, eight of them inside one round. Alternates: Mats Nilsson, Jack Hermansson
WELTERWEIGHT: “Nico” has gone 3-2 since touching down in the UFC in October 2013, his wins over Alessio Sakara, Viscardi Andrade and Alexander Yakovlev offset by losses to Kelvin Gastelum and Albert Tumenov. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt with well-rounded skills, Musoke has proven to be a potent finisher inside the cage, with four wins by knockout or technical knockout and five more by submission: three by rear-naked choke, one by guillotine choke and one by armbar. The Allstars Training Center rep has put away seven opponents in the first round, including 12-, 49- and 76-second finishes on the regional circuit. Alternates: Andreas Stahl, David Bielkheden
LIGHTWEIGHT: A graduate of Season 22 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Teymur has the wind of a five-fight winning streak at his back. The 27-year-old was a four-time national muay Thai champion in Sweden, and those skills have made for a successful transition to MMA. Teymur made his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut in February with a second-round knockout against countryman Martin Svensson and backed it up by stopping Jason Novelli with punches at UFC Fight Night “Rodriguez vs. Caceres” on Aug. 6 in Salt Lake City. Alternates: Reza Madadi, Daniel Teymur
FEATHERWEIGHT: Backstrom’s first run in the UFC did not go according to plan, as he was released by the organization following consecutive defeats to Mike Wilkinson and Noad Lahat. Still, his talents are undeniable, and at just 26 years of age, he has plenty of time to develop into the kind of fighter who can compete consistently at the sport’s highest level. Since parting ways with the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2015, Backstrom has returned to the regional scene and executed back-to-back rear-naked choke submissions on Georgi Stoyanov and Danijel Kokora. His height, at 6-foot-1, and reach, at 74 inches, give him physical advantages over many featherweights. Alternates: Martin Svensson, Frantz Slioa
BANTAMWEIGHT: An American Top Team rep who has competed in the UFC, Pancrase, Bellator MMA and Titan Fighting Championship promotions, Kakai has been one of Sweden’s most consistent performers. The steady and durable 26-year-old has never been finished in 16 professional appearances and enjoyed a nine-fight winning streak between March 14, 2009 and March 9, 2013. Once a champion in the Sweden-based Zone Fighting Championship organization, Kakai appeared on Season 18 of “The Ultimate Fighter” but was eliminated by Chris Beal in a qualifying match. Alternates: Emil Hartsner, David Haggstrom
FLYWEIGHT: Le has kicked off his pro MMA career with four wins in his first five outings, a decision loss to Shamal Tashkilot under the Cage Warriors Fighting Championship banner his lone misstep. The 27-year-old Swedish Top Team export last appeared at an International Ring Fight Arena event in May 2015, when he took a three-round unanimous decision from Bilal Musa in Stockholm. An Ake Bergvall disciple, Le has recorded back-to-back victories since his defeat to Tashkilot two and a half years ago. Alternates: Bilal Musa, Ricky Granstad
WOMEN’S BANTAMWEIGHT: The reigning Cage Warriors women’s bantamweight champion, Kianzad started her career 8-0 and trains out of the same Rumble Sports camp that produced Nicolas Dalby and Mikkel Parlo. At 24, she already owns wins over Milana Dudieva, Annalisa Bucci, Jessica-Rose Clark and Lina Lansberg -- the woman who will face Brazilian juggernaut Cristiane Justino in a UFC Fight Night headliner on Sept. 24. An accomplished amateur boxer, Kianzad has not competed since she failed to make weight for her September showdown with Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder Tonya Evinger at Invicta 14. There, Evinger handed the Iranian-born Swede her first professional defeat, stopping Kianzad with second-round punches. Alternates: Lina Lansberg, Lina Eklund
WOMEN’S STRAWWEIGHT: Darabi operates out of the same Pancrase Gym that helped give rise to Magnus Cedenblad and Karl Albrektsson. The 24-year-old has stumbled after christening her pro career with consecutive wins over Lena Tkhorevska and Veera Nykanen, as back-to-back losses have followed those triumphs. Darabi has not fought since she wound up on the wrong side of a majority decision against Minna Grusander at a Fight Night Finland event in October. Alternates: None
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• United States
• Great Britain