Growing up

Sanny is sitting sweaty after a running session and uses the time while we talk to stretch, something he says he needs to do more often. I ask him to tell me about his life from the very start. “I was born in 1991 and I grew up with my parents, my little brother and my older sister in Trångssund, Huddinge. My first five school years were spent at Edboskolan. When I was 12 my dad found a house in Alhaurín de la Torre, outside of Malaga in Spain. With dreams of opening a restaurant there the whole family packed up and moved on short notice.”

I suppose it must have been tough to move away from your friends at that age and suddenly find yourself in a new country where you didn’t know the language, Sanny confirms. “It was a big and tough transition for me and my siblings, but it got better with time. My sister and I went to a Spanish school and as soon as we had built a decent vocabulary things started to run a bit smoother, even though the verbs were always difficult to conjugate correctly! We had a lot of spare time after school and one day we joined a friend on a Kick/Thai boxing session and I got hooked. Prior to that I had tried all kinds of sports: football, hockey, ping-pong, handball, aikido, but I had never encountered something as fun as Thai boxing. Unfortunately my parents’ restaurant dreams burst after a couple of years and we moved back to Sweden.”


At this point Sanny has already stopped stretching and is lying on the floor with his head on a punching bag. “I was 15 years old when we came back to Sweden and started the 9th grade at Engelska skolan in Gubbängen. After that I got in to the Electric Guitar program at Kulturama High School. My interest in playing the guitar started in Spain where I was the only left handed student in my class. I got exclusive rights to the left handed guitar, so I was able to bring it home with me every day and practice. My sister and I were also looking forward to more Thai boxing training so our dad helped us find a good gym and we joined Slagskeppet in Stockholm. I was extremely shy back then, I mostly hid behind my sister. We enjoyed it at Slagskeppet and I ended up spending 8 years there. I trained every day after school and got a lot of support from my trainers, not only with dedicated training but also with studying when it was difficult. School always got first priority and the rest of the time was filled with training.

Career and gym affiliation

Sanny comes across as a very competitive person and he did indeed start Thai boxing competitively at an early age. “First I fought 7 or 8 D-class fights, then one C-class fight in Finland and my first B-class fight was the Swedish National Championship Final. It was my first National Championship, I was 17 years old and I managed to win it against all odds. Even today it’s the win I value most, the most important milestone in my career and the biggest feeling of happiness ever.” Sanny fought the tough and merited David Teymur in the final and won by decision after three rounds, a fight people still talk about. Shortly after the tournament, the documentary film Sanny aired on TV for the first time.


”It was my coach Molle [Andreas Gavell-Mohlin] who put me and the filmmaker Martin Mork in contact with each other, as he had an idea about a documentary film. I still remember the premiere: a crowded movie theatre where we received overwhelmingly positive reactions! It was an unreal feeling, both to see myself on the screen but also to realize what I had accomplished. Martin really succeeded in communicating the right emotions through the movie.”

With a National Championship title on his CV and the documentary film spreading, more and more people were talking about the young talent. In 2011 it was time for Sanny to participate in his first real professional tournament, Rumble of the Kings, where he received just as much attention for his performances in the ring as he did for his entertaining entrances. He entered for his first fight to the track I’m sexy and I know it by LMFAO and for his second fight he chose Sunny by Boney M. He laughs when he thinks back. “It’s always fun to do stuff that people will remember, I tried to joke a bit with some humorous songs and to open up. The fighting that night also went quite well!” In the first fight he knocked out Finland’s Pasi Luukanen with a spinning elbow which got the whole arena going. In the final, experienced Martin Akhtar didn’t have enough to stand up to him and the judges awarded the 3-0 win to Sanny.

“It was somewhat of a stepping stone for me into the international scene. Kasra [Ashhami], who arranged Rumble of the Kings, got me in touch with Glory and 6 months later I was fighting under contract for them.” In May 2012 Glory arranged a -70 kg Slam Tournament in Stockholm and Sanny was scheduled to fight Max Warowski but in the last minute he received news that his opponent had been changed. “I had prepared for Warowski and on the same day as the weigh ins I found out that the plans had changed and that I would face Warren Stevelmans instead. At first I thought “Shit, I’m not gonna do it”, but fortunately I did. When the bell rings I always have full focus regardless of who I’m fighting. I dominated the fight and proceeded to the quarterfinal, which was to take place in Rome a few months later. My opponent was Albert Kraus, a true legend in the sport, but once again things didn’t go as planned. The day before the fight Shemsi Beqiri approached me and said Kraus had become sick, and had been replaced by Yoshihiro Sato. Beiqiri also took the opportunity to tell me that this was a very bad change for me, so my level of nervousness increased”. Like several times before, Sanny managed to silence all sceptics by knocking out Sato in the second round, and becoming the second person ever (together with Buakaw Banchamek) to do so. The semi-final was an incredibly tough clash with the Dutch fighter Robin van Roosmalen in which Sanny came up short. “It became obvious in my fight against van Roosmalen that I was too inexperienced, I did my absolute best but I just made too many mistakes. But the overall experience was amazing, I remember one moment in particular in my fight with Sato when we locked each other in the clinch. I looked up to the big screen and saw the text Dahlbeck vs. Sato and was suddenly hit by where I was and what was about to happened, it was a crazy feeling.”


After the Glory tournament Sanny faced a hard year, characterized by broken promises, distrust and betrayal. “Everything turned to shit with my gym Slagskeppet. It started with me not getting paid by fight organizers as I had been promised, then personal conflicts surfaced and all trust between me and my coach disappeared. My finances got pretty bad as a result, I had no money and was forced to move home to my parents. I lost all motivation for training and replaced it with parties. I was in really bad shape and in desperate need of money which is why my fight against Sebastian Mendez in 2013 went as it did. I hadn’t trained at all for the fight but felt obligated to take it. I received a lot of criticism after that and felt terrible. I was really close to give up Thai boxing forever!” Sanny lost the fight and ended the relationship with his coach and gym.

“I went around training in different gyms but I couldn’t find that family feeling that is so important to me. Mackan [Markus Österblom] and I started talking about how great it would be to open our own gym and finally established a good group of driven and ambitious people and opened Odenplan Fightgym in March 2014. Everybody contributed with what they could. I’m really bad at administration and paperwork but I have a strong name in the business and contributed with my network.”

With the opening of the new gym his training motivation came back and also his passion for Thai boxing. “I fought twice during the first months after opening of OPFG and felt that I was getting back in shape. In January 2015 I got another fight against Yoshihiro Sato so I went to Thailand for my training camp and from there to the fight in Tokyo. I managed to knock him out a second time and finally felt I was in the right place in life!”

After his success in K-1, interest in Sanny skyrocketed. Yokkao was one of many that became interested, and in May 2015 arranged a fight in Bolton for the World Championship belt between the British Jordan Watson and Sanny. “The fight wasn’t supposed to be for the belt, but short before they asked Jordan if he wanted the fight to be for the title and he agreed.” It started off as a very close fight, Watson with solid lowkicks and Sanny responding with sharp elbows. Sanny’s domination increased throughout the fight and in round 4 he knocked his opponent to the ground twice before the judge stopped the fight and awarded Sanny with the win.

”2013 was a tough, but important experience for me and I learnt a lot from it. Now I make sure I’m always involved in agreements and negotiations, and control more about my fighting arrangements. I also try harder to find people I really trust because otherwise the risk of being backstabbed is always there, unfortunately. The contract I had with Glory was for two years but it was cancelled because I didn’t compete. I was supposed to fight Andy Ristie in Los Angeles but that was at the time when everything around me was a complete mess. It was a pity, but I wasn’t ready.”


Now I have a manager, Eva Tannemyr, who has taught me a lot. She’s never been in the fighting business before, so she’s learning from me at the same time. The advantage with Eva is that we have always the same goals, if I make money she does as well, which is very different to how it worked with Slagskeppet. If I lost income and got in a tough financial spot, it didn’t affect them at all. The Yokkao contract I was offered wasn’t good economically so we turned it down. They pushed a lot for their possibility to promote me but I felt I could take care of that well enough on my own. Last year was all about building, building, building, and it’s starting to feel like we are actually getting somewhere and the financial side is getting better. My end goal is to be able to fight for a living. I still have my normal job on the side of the fighting business, a weekend job as bartender at Berns in Stockholm, which gives an okay weekly allowance. My dad’s company sponsors me financially and then I also do a little bit of everything, like commercial works. It’s actually quite nice to try different things so you don’t get bored. The music is just a hobby at the moment, it would be great to play more seriously with friends but there’s simply not enough time. My next project is a movie that will come out next year in which I have a small part in a fight scene. We’ve already shot some scenes and will continue next week. It would be fun to continue in the movie business if possible!”


”Previously I decided everything with regards to training, but now I get more help to plan it. My coaches Molle and Lex are always on my back about how lazy I am, and that I have to train more. We always adapt the training after how my body feels, for example if I’m too tired in my upper body we go more for kicks that day. I complement that with strength training for which I have a great personal trainer, Marcus Cirin. He truly understands my body and it’s great to see how I develop and can optimize the contact between the different muscles. However, in the end no one knows my body better than myself, so if I’m completely exhausted I might just do one easy training session that day. The more and the harder I train, the more rest my body deserves. Due to this the amount of training varies, it can be anything from 5 to 15 workouts per week.”

“When it comes to planning the training for a specific fight it’s mainly my coaches who study my opponent. During practice they add attacks or a certain behavior that is significant for my opponent so that I can learn and adapt. I haven’t had much sparring unfortunately, it’s something I would like to have a lot more of, especially when I meet these top ranked boxers. In Thai boxing I’m comfortable since I can use a bigger range of attacks, but K-1 is more limited. For example I can’t throw elbows so I have to trust my boxing a lot more. I go to Thailand in 2 weeks and will have plenty of good sparring there. But I think I’ll also need some more quality running training with sprints and intervals. Rehab and stretching would do me good as well. To sum it up I feel that my training has a lot of potential to be further optimized and it will be exciting to see what results we can accomplish by developing it.”


”Training discipline is something I could improve a lot, some people call me the world’s laziest fighter! There are expectations that fighters should train all the time and basically never do anything else. But everybody functions differently, I know that I just get injured and unmotivated if I train too much. On the other hand, when I train I don’t throw a single punch or kick that isn’t 100% focused. Even if I’m lying down dying and throwing my last kick, it will be strong and with full focus.” I ask him how he acts when his alarm goes off early, cold winter mornings and the schedule says morning workout but the body just wants to stay in bed. Sanny admits, with a smile, that it has happened too many times that he turns off the alarm and continues sleeping. Maybe it can be considered encouraging that even the world’s best fighters also cheat sometimes!


Most of Sanny’s fights nowadays are in -70 kg and normally he weighs 73-74 kg so he doesn’t need to lose that much weight prior to his fights, which he is happy about. “I used to compete in -67 kg but I realized that I can’t lose that much weight in a healthy way and I don’t like to train when I can’t push myself to the maximum limit because I haven’t eaten enough. My coach Molle has tried, unsuccessfully, to control my diet previously, but I love food more than I love life so I have to control that part myself! I don’t eat candy or chips, it’s only about food, like lasagna, mashed potatoes, potato gratin and sauces. I don’t have any specific days when I eat different, I eat good food every day. Yesterday, for example, I started cooking homemade mashed potatoes with cream, meatballs and cream sauce at 22:30 and then enjoyed it at midnight. My philosophy is that everything will work out better as long as you’re happy. And of course, I don’t eat food like that all the time, I also eat a lot of salads and I make juices with my juice extractor. I make a 2 liter juice consisting of ginger, lemon, cucumber, celery, spinach and kale every morning so I get a lot of vitamins as well.”


“I’ve never believed in food supplements. If I would ever use it the only reason would be because it has great flavor, like chocolate! At the moment I’m just testing some natural stuff like extra vitamins and omega 3, but I believe that natural food is always better."

Balance, psychology and personality

With top level training, work, social life, movie shoots and so on, it must be a challenge to find balance with time and energy. Sanny doesn’t seem to know himself quite how he makes it work. “It feels like I really don’t have so much to do, but at the same time I know my calendar is swamped. Today for example I had training boot camp in the morning, then a running session and after this interview I have a meeting with my manager. After that I have to do laundry and finally Thai boxing session with Lex in the evening, a full day! The calendar is essential to me, if there is something I haven’t written in there then there’s no chance I will remember it, maybe because I never have two days alike. But I think my balance is pretty okay. My social life is helped by the fact that most of my friends also work in the nightclub business, so we’re all free during the day and can meet up for lunch for example. When it comes to time for myself I take it when I need it. My workout sessions feel like time for myself since I’m totally in my own bubble. I don’t really think too much about how to balance, I just do what feels good at the time and adapt."


”When it comes to my mental abilities, my mind, I would say it’s strong in its foundation. But I normally tell myself that it’s not, in order to become more nervous so that I can perform on top. I’d rather say to myself that I’ll get beaten badly than underestimate my opponent. When the bell rings I know I will perform, and if he’s better than me I’ll do my absolute best and maybe I’ll succeed. If I don’t succeed that’s just how it is, I don’t take a loss hard as long as I performed well. There are fights I’ve lost that I’m much happier with than some of the fights I’ve won.”

“In my opinion the mind will determine 60-70% of a fight’s outcome. You can train a strong mind, but only to a certain limit. You cannot train it, that extra thing that some fighters just have by nature. I’ve seen so many awesome fighters showing fantastic technique and strength in practice but in a real fight they don’t manage to perform. In those situations you can really see the importance of having control of your mind. To me the most important is to trust yourself and to have a heart, so that you always perform at your best in a fight. I don’t do any mental training at the moment, I wouldn’t mind trying, but at the same time I’m not sure how much it would be possible to change. It all comes down to whether you have it or not.”

“I often get asked if I’m nervous and afraid prior to a fight. For me there is a big difference between nervousness and fear. If I’m afraid it’s because I don’t want to make a fool of myself, but I’ve never been afraid to get beaten, I know very well how it feels so that’s not a problem. The pressure I feel is pressure to perform at the highest level. I have good self-confidence but I do my best to always keep my feet on the ground and avoid being conceited. My self-confidence has increased every time I’ve managed to exceed my own expectations with my performances. I have such a strong will to perform that you can see it in all kind of situations. Last week for example, I was at a party and we were playing a game. I was the last one in my team to go, and when it was finally my turn I was literally shaking from the adrenaline! It doesn’t matter what it’s about, if I don’t get nervous I know I don’t really care.”


I have never seen Sanny without a big smile on his face, so I’m wondering if he really is happy all the time. “I try to always be happy, most often I guess I’m too tired from workouts to be angry! Even when I’m not happy I don’t think anyone else deserves to be on the receiving end of my aggressions, and vice versa of course. My positive attitude has probably helped me a lot, but at the same time it might have made me a bit naïve in some situations. I’ve also learnt that every single person in the world doesn’t have to like me, that some problems are actually insignificant and don’t deserve your focus and energy. When I was younger it was important to me that everybody liked me and I would get really upset if I heard that someone had said something bad about me. Today I’m much better at determining which problems are real, and worth worrying about.”

Our time is up, but I’m curious to hear which fighters Sanny looks up to and who he would like to read an interview with in FighterInterviws. “I always looked up to Buakaw when I was younger, but the only fighter I’ve always had my eyes on and still do is Saiyok Pumpanmuang. He’s so awesome, the meanest fighter I have ever seen. I actually got an offer to fight him once but I felt that it was too short notice and that I was too unexperienced. Of course I want to be able to perform at my best in such a fight. When it comes to reading an interview I think Giogrio Petrosyan would be interesting, he is a very special person. We sat opposite each other in a taxi once and it felt really akward, I wonder if he maybe has Asperger syndrome or something similar. And at the same time he is so extremely good at what he does!”

Next up for Sanny is a fight in Tokyo against Marat Grigorian in K-1 World GP the 21st of November 2015. FighterInterviews wish him good luck!