Hafthor Bjornsson retired from the strongman sport in 2020 after winning his 10th consecutive Iceland’s Strongest Man competition, in order to focus on retraining as a fighter ahead of his long-awaited, highly anticipated grudge match against fellow strongman-turned-boxer Eddie Hall. Since then, he has dedicated his time to fight training, as well as intense cardio and conditioning workouts to improve his endurance.
In a recent video on his YouTube channel, Bjornsson challenges professional UFC welterweight fighter Gunnar Nelson to a grappling match, to determine whether Nelson’s expert technique and experience in MMA is enough to overcome his own considerable strength and bodyweight.
“I never went against anyone like you,” Nelson tells Bjornsson prior to the fight. “I know you’ve come down a lot in weight, so maybe that favors you or not.”
It turns out, Bjornsson’s sheer size and strength are more than enough to present a challenge; while the former strongman lacks formal technique, he is still able to last a whole 15 minutes against Nelson in their second round, successfully restraining him a number of times. Nelson concedes that Bjornsson is a “surprisingly good” fighter, and even admits there were a few occasions where he thought his ribcage might be about to burst.
“That’s stupid strength,” he says. “He was able to keep going, and that was not just his conditioning, he was smart with his fight, he used his weight well… He’s not just heavy and strong, he’s athletic with his weight. He could be 50 kilos lighter, and still with that athleticism, he’d be really hard to deal with.”
Bjornsson, for his part, is not surprised by his own success in the ring; unerring self-belief is perhaps his biggest secret weapon.
A post shared by Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (@thorbjornsson)
“I honestly believed before coming here that I would be able to take you,” he says to Nelson. “You have to understand that I’m a super competitive guy, and I always believe that I can do everything I put my mind to. And even though Gunnar is a top-class athlete in this sport, one of the best in the world, I still, because of my competitiveness, thought ‘well with my strength, never say never.'”
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