Iceland’s Bjorn Lúkas Haraldsson fiercely made his way to the finals of the 2017 IMMAF World Championships. Despite missing out on the prestigious gold medal, Haraldsson paved his way with marvelous execution.
Hailing from the small town of Grindavik, The 22-year-old Mjölnir MMA product entered this year’s IMMAF Worlds as a relative unknown and newcomer to the premier international amateur platform. Competing among the plethora of new faces, established amateur contenders and champions, Haraldsson inherited a certain mystique as his nation’s only representative in the championships alongside coach Hrolfur Olafsson.
“Ah man, it was amazing,” he stated. “The support I felt from home was incredible. I come from a small town and everyone was watching and cheering me on. The people at Mjölnir are the best! Every one in the gym was willing to take time out of their day and risk their body to help me get ready to fight in Bahrain. I cannot say one bad thing about the event. You would not be able to guess that it was an amateur league. From the pick-up at the airport to the day we left, we were treated like royalty.”
In addition to being one of the world’s most impressive training facilities, the Mjölnir gym serves as the nation’s one and only developer of MMA talent. Iceland are no strangers to success under the IMMAF banner – the national team’s biggest triumph to date came at the 2015 European Open Championships that saw Women’s Flyweight Sunna Rannveig and Welterweight Bjarki Palsson each secure gold medals.
Haraldsson (6-1) took just over 2 minutes to secure an arm-bar and dispatch of Spain’s Ian Kuchler in the opening round of bouts in the 185lb bracket. The final 16 served up a compelling narrative as famously allied gyms, Mjölnir and SBG Ireland, faced off with Haraldsson taking on Ireland’s Fionn Healy-Magwa. The SBG product himself advanced to the final-16 with a split-decision victory that eliminated the reigning Africa Open champion, Eliezer Kubanza.
Haraldsson tested the Irishman extensively in the opening round, his varied striking giving some hint of an extensive martial arts background. Another headkick thrown early in round 2 sent his opposition to the canvas for a TKO. The impact and ensuing roar meant that Haraldsson, this modestly sized middleweight, was now on everyone’s radar as Iceland’s one-man raiding party.
Haraldsson was perfectly prepared for a potential 5 days of back-to-back competition, 5 weigh-ins included. Competing as a natural middleweight in every sense, he remained at his normal size. Comfortable and operating at full efficiency, he produced triumphant performances and took on minimal damage.
“I was around 81-82 kg (178-180lbs) throughout the week,” Haraldsson told IMMAF.org. “I was in great shape and did not have think about my weight the whole week. It was crazy to see how much weight some people were cutting every day.”
In the quarter-finals it took just just 76 seconds for Haraldsson to submit New Zealand’s Stacy Waikato, again via arm-bar. Three bouts in and Haraldsson was even more the enigma and looking impossible to predict. Would his semi-final bout provide another classy knockout or swift submission?
“I started with judo at the age of 6,” he revealed, “and taekwondo at 13.” That explained it, and that was just for starters. Upon setting his sights on MMA Haraldsson dedicated himself meticulously to an education in several martial arts disciplines.
“I saw some MMA fights and thought that it was something I wanted to do since I could be a good striker and a good grappler. I wanted to get a strong grip on each aspect of MMA before eventually making the jump. I then started BJJ and became a multiple Icelandic champion in all of these disciplines and even multiple Scandinavian champion in judo. when I became a blackbelt in judo and taekwondo and wanted to have a boxing match to be my last step before giving MMA my full attention. After winning the match by knockout I moved to Reykjavík to train at Mjölnir full time and haven’t looked back since.”
By advancing to the semi-finals Haradlsson and Iceland were guaranteed a bronze medal at the very least. Now in the final-4, he came up against Australian standout Joseph Luciano. Luciano returned as a prominent contender of last year’s World Championships in addition to the 2017 Asian Open. In Manama he had already eliminated Northern Ireland’s Paddy Henderson, in addition to ending the two-year undefeated streak of Malaysian Invasion champion Theebaan Govindasamy. In the quarter finals Luciano bested USA national champion Darian Weeks via unanimous decision.
Astonishingly, the much anticipated collision ended in the opening round – Haraldsson secured his third arm-bar submission of tournament at the 2:44 mark. He was now one half of the middleweight world championship final.
Heading into the IMMAF finals Haraldsson was undoubtedly the most impressive performer of the 250+ who had been in action throughout the week.
“That is an honor to hear because the talent pool was so deep. I am very happy with my performance at the World Championship, I did my best and was very ready to compete. I think the best part is that in all 5 of my fights there was not a lot of damage, when I came home I could start training immediately.”
Haraldsson’s dominance of the bracket was eventually halted by Sweden’s Khaled Laallam. Laallam had first competed on the international IMMAF platform this year at the European Open Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he picked up the silver medal.
At the 2017 Worlds, Laallam had evidently refined his strengths. After opening his campaign with a unanimous decision over Bulgaria Rusi Minev, he advanced to out-perform exciting British up-an-comer Christian Leeroy Duncan with another scorecards victory.
In the opening round of the middleweight final, Haraldsson made his presence felt with his striking and high-kick attempts. In the early moments, one final, incredible, arm-bar finish looked to be within reach as Haraldsson scrambled for the hold against the cage fence.
However, it was to be Sweden’s day as Laallam escaped the submission attempt and proceeded to nullify Haraldsson on the ground. Laallam made efficient use of his size and strength in maintaining top position, evading submissions and dropping heavy strikes to secure a unanimous decision as his fellow finalist remained unable to solve the puzzle. The Swedish gold medalist and now world champion went on to receive the championship’s ‘Best Athlete’ award, presented by the Bahrain MMA Federation.
“I did not feel any different in the finals,” Haraldsson replied as he reflected on the outcome. “The warm up was great, the confidence was at an all time high, I had not taken any damage through the week. The simple truth is that Khaled was better than me and beat me fair and square. I even think he was the smallest guy I fought in the tournament.”
Mjölnir MMA founder Haraldur Nelson expressed confidence and pride for the man who represented their nation, hinting that we could be looking at Iceland’s next exciting professional export.
“Here in Iceland we are extremely proud of Björn Lúkas and his performance at the IMMAF Worlds in Bahrain. We at his club, Mjölnir, of course knew of his skills, but this was a very strong weight class and even though at young age Björn Lúkas is an experienced competitor in BJJ, Judo and TKD, he had only two amateur fights in MMA before his participation in the Worlds. In my opinion, he is more than ready to go pro if he so chooses and I am convinced that he will make waves in the international MMA scene in the coming years.”
On the question of his future, the Icelandic standout commented: “At the moment I don’t want to say no (to competing in more IMMAF events), but my gut is telling me to go pro.”