Pictured above: Steam Sweden’s Robin Roos, Andreas Gustafsson Berg and coach Jörgen Hamberg – via SMMAF|Photography Viking.
By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran
The world’s number-one ranked nation in Amateur MMA will arguably host its most significant national championships in years as the Swedish MMA Federation begins preparations for its national team and a critical 2019 campaign on the international competition platform.
Taking place in the city of Vasteras on January 26-27, the SMMAF Championships will crown Sweden’s 2019 national champions and earmark gold medalists as primary picks for the renown national squad.
After producing a high volume of silver medalists between the 2014 and 2015 IMMAF World Championships, the nation secured its first international titles at the 2015 IMMAF European Open. From there, Sweden progressed to top the medal tables at all subsequent World and European championships across the next 2.5 years.
It was not until the climax of the 2018 event calendar, at the IMMAF-WMMAA Unified World Championships last November, that Sweden and the rest of the world felt the presence of a major new force under the now unified IMMAF and WMMAA banner, as Russia triumphed and smashed World Championships medal records.
IMMAF.org spoke with Jörgen Hamberg, one of SMMAF’s decorated national team coaches, to discuss his perspective of the 2018 World Championships upset and how Team Sweden can regroup for 2019.
“We noticed that the biggest difference (at the 2018 World Championships) was the entrance of the wrestlers. Team Russia brought a team where all are great wrestlers and the game changed enormously,” coach Hamberg explained. “We had the wrestler, Andreas Gustafsson, taking silver this year (at senior middleweight). He failed only in the finals, against his shadow from Russia, Dzhamal Medzhidov. As coach I can see him dominant in wrestling against anyone else.
“Team Sweden has two reflections: one for the team and one for the sport of MMA. For the team, [Sweden] has to evolve its wrestling skills. To beat a wrestler you have to possess the wrestling tool to match and then add the rest of the MMA toolbox to combine and overcome.”
In the IMMAF world team rankings, division rankings and pound-for-pound rankings, Swedish gold medalists ascended with their own brand of grappling prowess, showcased through past champions such as Cornelia Holm, Gabriella Ringblom, Rostem Akman and Serdar Altas. Coach Hamberg believes that Sweden’s dynamic shifted in 2018 with more of the nation’s newest crop of domestic standouts and international representatives favoring a striker’s approach.
“We had the wrestler in Cornelia and others who were submission wrestlers and BJJ players making effective use of their skills in MMA. Sweden has been a pretty much a standup nation [in 2018] and was not fully prepared.”
For the first time in almost three years, Sweden was unable to secure a single gold medal, while junior flyweight Millie Eriksson earned silver in addition to senior standout Andreas Gustafsson, yet still a shock after Sweden had ruled supreme at the European Open just five months prior and continue to be represented by some of the best amateur competitors in the world.
At the 2018 Worlds, Sweden’s athletes were eliminated by a diverse list of rival nations and skill sets, including Russia who have put the world on notice across the majority of weight divisions, bringing us to a pivotal moment in the history of the Swedish team as we are set to witness their 2019 response.
“The new era is that the Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestlers are superior in physics and pressure in demolishing strikers and BJJ players on the ground,” coach Hamberg added. “However, the Russians appeared less aware of dealing damage, mostly offering pressure and positioning. This is our reflection on how the sport may evolve in the long term – will Russia develop to be more active on the ground and continue to prevail, or will the other teams learn to meet the wrestlers takedown and counter with better damage ratio?
“Every team has to be better wrestlers and better at avoiding takedowns to be able to handle the fight on the preferred terms. Swedish clubs are taking this seriously and will adapt to the new challenges. We are looking forward to year 2019 with our IMMAF family.”