Karate Kid

When we park the car outside Combat Academy in Täby the Sunday sparring session has already started. Oliver doesn’t feel well today so he stays by the side of the mat and instructs the others instead. The gym was started by his father 40 years ago and is now run by Oliver, big brother Jesse and their mother Silja. Everywhere are walls covered with diplomas and tons of trophies, all evidence of the gym’s successful history. When Oliver finished the training session we go to Täby Centrum to have lunch and talk about his life story and fighting career.


Oliver was born in Täby Kyrkby north of Stockholm in 1991 but grew up in Vaxholm to where the family moved early in his life. His childhood was characterized by a lot of activity, both in the nature and at the parents’ karate gym. “All my childhood memories are from the nature, me and my friends fighting each other with sticks in the woods. It’s such a big difference to how many kids grow up in Sweden today. I can see the siblings to the training kids at our gym who sits with a tablet or cell phone and they get more and more of a vulture neck. You can also see how the kids’ mobility decrease when they start school and get introduced to the “sit culture”. In my family we only sit on chairs when we’re having dinner. My brother [Jesse Enkamp] started training karate at our parents’ gym first and then I followed at a young age. Naturally I became the school’s Karate Kid, everybody knew our family had a karate gym. It was kind of cool back then so I didn’t mind it. No one ever fought me, instead I got respect without having to prove anything!”

The fact is that deep down inside Oliver didn’t like the karate training. He took every given opportunity to play instead of training and he even sometimes smuggled Pokémon cards in his gi. He didn’t take the training seriously and at his blue belt examination his parents found him a bit too self-confident and failed him. The result was a furious Oliver who waited at home with a pair of scissors, threatening to cut his gi. He was given the chance to try other sports as well, which he did, but he didn’t really like any of them. That was until one day when he tried breakdance and got hooked, so a dance training per week was added to Oliver’s training schedule. When he was approaching the teenage years he would let go of all the playing and get more serious with the training.

”I was about 12 years old when I started competing and found a driving force in my training, I had a clear goal now which was to win the competitions. I wasn’t a talent in any way, I really had to work my butt off to learn and I still lost almost all my competitions in the beginning. After uncountable hours of hard work I started to get better and eventually I was selected to Stockholm’s regional karate squad. I was competing both in kata, which was Jesse’s strong area, and in kumite (fighting). My brother and I travelled around all of Europe to compete and I remember it as a fun period. When we were younger we fought incredibly much, but by the time I started focusing on the training and the competitions we suddenly stopped fighting each other and I don’t think we’ve ever fought since then.”


Love at first MMA camp

While Jesse’s successes in kata continued, Oliver started spending more and more time on the fighting and was soon selected to the Swedish national team for juniors in kumite. But the politics and rigid system of karate would soon make his martial arts path to take a turn. “During my teenage years we moved to Täby and the gym then had, besides from karate, kickboxing classes that I started attending. I still did breakdance which was great fun, but I came to a point where I asked myself what I really wanted to go for. I didn’t want to be okay in several things, I wanted to be great in one thing, so I had to choose. Since I had greater experience and better preconditions in fighting I decided to focus on that. My kickboxing coach, Roger Wikström, became like a mentor for me and I went out to compete as much as I could in kickboxing. I’ve never been a very competitive person and didn’t care so much about winning the fights, my focus was on developing my skill set. Since I was still active in the kumite I competed every month, sometimes several weeks in a row. Time passed and I was getting more and more annoyed about how limiting the competition system in karate was. In every fight I was getting warnings for all kind of small things, like holding too long or ducking in under the opponents arm. My last karate fight was in the Swedish national championship 2008 and I lost it due to warnings. Actually I almost wasn’t allowed to compete because my gi had one mark too many, it was a small one close to the back of my neck, which was against the rules. The judging in the fights was also characterized by politics between gyms and all together got me sick and tired and made me wish for a more free way of fighting. The kickboxing was still fun though, we were a good team from our gym who always went to the competitions together. The rules could vary some between the competitions and I remember when K-1 rules for amateurs came to Sweden. I actually fought the first fight in Sweden with those rules, it was an amateur fight in Ängelholm. I won it after breaking the nose of my opponent with a Superman punch.”

During this time Thai boxing was increasing in popularity in Sweden and people preferred the shorter Muay Thai shorts instead of the long shiny kickboxing pants in kickboxing. Oliver’s gym took a strategic decision to re-name the kickboxing trainings to Thai boxing, which led to an increase in gym members. Most of the kickboxing trainers had Thai boxing background with made the transition smooth. Oliver was now in high school and all his waking hours was spent on either training or studies. “I never went out partying. In school I was very effective and whenever we had an hour break or lunch break I’d run to the gym to train. I chose Åva High School just because it was located close to the gym. People in school probably thought I was weird, disappearing all the time and always coming to classes sweaty with a shake in my hand. I wrote training diary every day, had both long term and short term goals and I counted every minute of training. Eventually life had become excessive structured and I realized I was getting manic, the training wasn’t fun anymore but just felt like a mandatory activity. With that insight I could start to let go of the high demands on myself and start finding the joy of training once again.”

At Oliver’s gym they had since long introduced Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and also started with general fighting sessions, containing both striking and grappling. Oliver was now widening his fighting arsenal and in 2009 he would finally get in touch with MMA. “I was invited to the MMA Academy summer camp and registered. I tried to get my brother to join me but I ended up going alone. Before the camp I saw myself as quite a skilled fighter, but during the camp a whole new world opened up in front of me. It was clear how little I knew about the ground game, which shocked me at the same time as I was completely amazed by this sport. During the first day I trained with Omar [Bouiche] and Waldo [Zapata] and with all my excitement I called home to explain to my family how awesome this was. After the camp I contacted Pancrase Gym where Omar was head instructor and signed a membership. At Combat Academy in Täby we started with MMA and flew in skilled and experienced fighters to teach our trainers. I wanted more training so I also went to VBC to train with Waldo and started wrestling at BK Aten. Every day I went all over Stockholm with my training bag!”

As Oliver progressed in his ground game he started competing in SGL, the Swedish Grappling League. Based on the results each fighter is ranked and Oliver rose in the rankings with his many wins until he was in the finale, which he won in 2010. The same year he started competing in shootfighting, but his aim was all the time set on MMA. By now he had started watching the UFC and found Georges St-Pierre and Lyoto Machida. Both had a karate background and were now two of the best MMA fighters in the world. When UFC 98 aired Oliver watched with fascination how Machida knocked out Rashad Evans and won the light heavyweight title, a moment he remembers as very inspiring. “I said to myself that that’s how I should use my karate and not throw away all the years of hard work in the dojo. My ambitions in MMA felt even better now and I thought I could get my fighting style to work by including my karate. I moved from shootfighting to amateur MMA as soon as it was introduced in Sweden and during 2011 and 2012 I competed every month. When the first National championship was held in amateur MMA I won it, after knocking out my opponent in the final in six seconds! People started talking about my pro debut in MMA and to prepare myself as much as possible I decided to go on a training trip to USA.


Training with the elite

Something that fascinates me about Oliver is that he always travelled the world to learn from the best. During his karate period he and his brother travelled to Japan five times, among other things to train with the Japanese national team. His first training trip without the family was right after he graduated from high school to Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket, Thailand. “We had two hard trainings per day for nine weeks. Even if it was tiresome it felt like a paradise to me, being able to train every day, eat as much as I wanted and drink coconuts in the sun. Towards the end of the stay I was in really good shape so I decided to take a Thai boxing fight. It was held at the Bangla Stadium and was against a Thai fighter with classic Thai boxing style. We had no protection except for the gloves and there was no weigh in. When they would wrap my hands they took a rock hard lump of tape that seemed to have been used 500 times before and wrapped it on top of my knuckles. It felt like brass knuckles. When the fight started my opponent was probably surprised by my style. I started off directly with spinning kicks and jumping punches. In the end I managed to knock him out with a front kick to the head. My foot was so swollen after the fight that I couldn’t put my shoe on, but I was still super happy that the fight went my way. The gym had a TV team that was there to document my fight and it was crazy how much positive reactions I got when it was uploaded on YouTube (watch it here). It has more than 25 000 views now I think.”

When he started thinking about the pro debut in MMA Oliver decided to visit Alliance Training Center in San Diego, USA. He would stay for eight weeks and lived in the gym’s attic among dirty protections and sweaty clothes. “I trained like crazy during those weeks. I did a pro session in the morning and two sessions in the evening, more or less all trainings that were on the schedule. Up until the last week I had trained with several skilled fighters such as Ross Pearson, Jeremy Stephens and Justin Lawrence but still not the gym’s main star Dominick Cruz. The whole camp moved up to Las Vegas during my final week because Cruz was preparing to fight Urijah Faber. I did the six hour long car trip together with Brandon Vera and the boxing coach. Up there I was asked to jump in and spar with Cruz and I tried not to give him too much respect in the cage. Right away he started with his unique footwork while I hit over and over but missing every time. When I started aiming towards the body instead of the head it went better and all together it was a very interesting sparring that I’ll carry with me. He explained to me afterwards that his movement style comes from the fact that he had his strong side forwards when he wrestled and when he was boxing he had it back. The constant shifting between wrestling and boxing resulted in constant shifting between right and left side, something he then developed.”

Later on Oliver also visited BJ Penn’s gym in Hawaii, the Brazilian Top Team in Rio de Janeiro and Lyoto Machida’s dojo in Belém. He also went back to USA, this time to the American Top Team in Florida where he wrestled with Thiago Alves and became a personal sparring favorite of Gleison Tibau. When I meet Oliver for this interview he has just been home a few weeks since his last trip which was to Montreal, Canada and more specifically Tristar Gym. “I sparred with Rory MacDonald, we did ten rounds with small gloves. He had just found out that he will face Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson in June and my fighting style has several similarities with Stephen’s, e.g. I use a lot of side kicks, I constantly use my front leg and I fight with one side forward. Besides from that Rory and I could control our techniques well which meant we could keep a high pace without going too hard. We didn’t grapple that much but during the few sequences we had on the ground I felt that he was on a different level that standing up. The second last day the main coach Firas Zahabi asked me if I could come in the next day to spar with Georges [St-Pierre]. I said yes right away but I was a bit nervous as I didn’t know what expectations he had. The next day Georges came in with his big smile and explained that he just wanted some relaxed rounds with focus on having fun. We did quite many rounds and standing up I kept up well with him and he gave me compliments for my footwork and my karate inspired fighting style. When we ended up on the ground it was another story. He timed his takedowns perfectly and I was really stuck! As soon as I tried to move one way I got caught in a triangle and when I went the other way it was an armbar. Maybe it’s not that weird that he’s so good on the ground, considering he’s a black belt in BJJ under Renzo Gracie and he’s wrestling with the Canadian national team. But it was a very fun end of the trip, Georges is absolutely one of the best I’ve ever trained with!”

An injured pro

In March 2013 it was time for Oliver’s pro debut. He was booked for IRFA 4 in Solnahallen against Finnish Kari Paivinen. “From what I’d seen of him he seemed to be a striker so I prepared for a stand up war. Shortly after the fight started he shoots in and takes me down. I was completely confused when I was laying underneath him and I realized my game plan had fallen apart in a few seconds. We continued the war on the ground and in the third round he threw me and in the turbulence that occurred when we landed I managed to catch him in a reversed triangle. I felt such a relief when he tapped! That fight really taught me to never get stuck with a game plan, you have to be able to adapt depending on how the fight develops. Until this fight I had always had a playfulness where winning or losing didn’t matter, but as a pro it was extremely important to keep the zero in the record, especially if you wanted to the UFC.”


Oliver had started training at Pancrase when he found MMA, but during one summer when the gym was closed he trained with the guys at Stockholm Shoot instead. The first training he got to train with Alexander Gustafsson and all of them were very nice to him. By the end of the summer he chose to stay with them. The gym was later split into two new gyms: Nexus Fight Center in Alvik and Allstars Training Center in the city. Oliver joined Allstars where the training had less focus on technique than at Pancrase but one the other hand it was way more physical demanding. When it was time for his second pro fight he was in great shape and felt invincible, a feeling he hadn’t felt before. “I faced Erik Greisson at Trophy MMA in Malmö and my self-confidence was on top. In the first round our heads collided and I started bleeding a lot just above the eye. Between rounds one and two the doctor examined the wound and said that if it bleeds this much after the next round he will call off the fight. I understood that I had to finish him so I went out with an offensive aggression. I got his back and submitted him with a rear-naked choke.” Two wins and zero losses, it was time for a well-deserved summer break.

During the summer Oliver was injured when he jumped in during an exercise to make the pairs even. He shot in for a takedown, put his hand on the mat and got his training partner’s weight on top of him. The arm over extended and the elbow cracked which resulted in a visit at the emergency clinic and an arm cast. This was the beginning of an injury period for Oliver and he wouldn’t be back in full training again until Christmas. The next fight was booked against Guram Kutateladze at IRFA 6 for March 2014. Oliver felt self-confident prior to the fight but the final week of preparations didn’t go as he had planned. “I had been to Guram’s gym down in Lund for a training camp when he was the instructor and I knew that his level of training wasn’t the same as mine, so I accepted the fight and felt calm. The week before the fight I did a big mistake. We ran sprints on a treadmill and I had forgotten my running shoes but I thought I could as well run barefoot. When I jumped of the treadmill after about 15 minutes of running my calves were swollen and cramped a lot. To make it better I went to a Thai masseuse and asked her to just work on my calves. She pressed really hard with her elbows and when I walked away from there they felt destroyed, but I was still hoping it would be better the next day. When I woke up the next morning I could barely walk. My calves felt like made out of concrete and it was just 4 days left before the fight. On the fight day it still wasn’t any better and when I tried to warm up with the skipping rope I had to stop after only ten seconds. I realized that my strongest weapon, my footwork, wouldn’t be possible to use and I had to have another strategy, I had to turn it into a wrestling fight. We had drilled a lot of cage wrestling at Allstars so I felt comfortable with that. I got the fight to where I wanted it and managed to lift and slam him several times. I didn’t manage to finish him but I won by decision after three rounds. Given the circumstances I was happy with my performance, it was the best I could do in that situation.”

After Oliver’s third fight his elbow injury started to come back and he had to take a few months to let it heal. When the body felt good half a year later he had his fourth fight against Polish Lukasz Bieniek who he finished with a rear-naked choke. His MMA record was still intact but the body was protesting more and more. In the end of 2014 he competed in the National championship of Submission Wrestling but had to pull out due to the elbow and understood that he couldn’t continue to use it like this. He started searching for alternative ways of training and took a break from martial arts.

Movement training and The Ultimate Fighter

Boxing was out of the question because of the elbow and the training at Allstars was too hard for Oliver’s worn out body. He started with gymnastics instead and quickly learnt how to do handstands and L-sits. Body control and movement training was fun and he heard about a guru in the subject named Ido Portal. “This was before the MMA world got to know him through Conor McGregor. He arranges seminars and training camps all over the world and one of them caught my interest, it was called The Movement Experience. It was during a weekend in Prague, but when I wanted to sign up it was already fully booked. I wrote to him and explained that I was a professional fighter with a big interest for movement training and that I would love to participate in the camp. Shortly after I received the answer ‘Congratulations, you have a spot.’ On the flight I sat next to Jonas Parandian from Naprapatlandslaget who has been to almost all Ido’s camps and it was nice to be with someone I knew. The movement training was on the most basic level and the topic was how we can move our bodies. Most of the time we worked on finding new ways of movement, e.g. moving the head sideways horizontal or moving the chest in circles without moving the shoulders. Thanks to the karate and dance my body control was on a relatively high level and the exercises were quite easy for me. I’d expected to come home from the camp with more motivation for movement training and even less for martial arts, but it was actually the opposite. I realized how wide their spectrum was and that I was only interested in the parts that were possible to connect to fighting.”

Earlier in his career, Oliver had competed a bit in Sanshou and now when the elbow was better he thought he could test his shape at the National championship of Sanshou. He hadn’t trained fighting or even punching a pad in a long time and was a bit worried about how his body would react. He won his first fight even though it felt a bit weird, but in the second fight his opponent threw him to the ground and it injured his collar bone. He tried to continue but when his breathing got heavier he had to pull out. It turned out his collar bone joint was dislocated and Oliver was once again prescribed rest from fighting. Half a year later The Ultimate Fighter was having tryouts for season 22 and this time they were focusing on lightweights.


”The idea to go hadn’t crossed my mind since I was injured for a long time and completely out of shape. But all the people around me encouraged and supported me so much that I finally changed my mind and sent my application. The injuries might heal in time I thought and went to Las Vegas in April of 2015. I knew that the tryout procedures were short and that each person only had a few minutes to show his skills. The whole morning was spent waiting in line and signing papers, and then we were divided into groups and the tryouts could finally start. For me the first step was grappling and we were supposed to show our skills on the mat for 90 seconds. It’s obvious they want to see finishes so I didn’t care about positions at all, I just attacked again and again. I didn’t finish the guy but I suppose I showed enough since I proceeded to the next step which was hitting pads. I was worried about my collar bone but luckily we would only be hitting pads for a minute, so I went in there with full energy and hit as hard and as fast as I could. Joe Silva was standing in front of me and after only 30 seconds he said ‘Oliver, you’re done!’ I went off the mat while the rest continued and that was a great feeling. The final step was the interview part and I really tried giving of myself. They looked at my record and saw that I’d won 3 out of 4 fights on submission and asked with a worrying tone if I was a wrestler, but I ensured them that I was a striker and that made them look a bit calmer. In the previous season they had a lot of wrestlers and it’s not the best TV when fighters are just holding each other down for three rounds. In the evening they would shout out the names of the fighters who made it to the show and for each name the nervousness increased in the room. The other Swedes, Martin [Svensson], Frantz [Slioa] and David [Teymur] had already been called out and after what felt like an eternity I heard ‘Oliver Enkamp’.”

The summer came and Oliver went with his brother Jesse to Brazil where they visited Lyoto Machida’s dojo. Oliver wasn’t very impressed by the training but he still had a few good grappling sessions. In the end of the trip Oliver’s bad luck came back and he hurt his knee in a leg lock attempt. He tried to take care of it but could feel right away that it was bad. “When I came home from Brazil it was just a few weeks left until I was supposed to fly back to Las Vegas and TUF. I rested my knee and hoped that it would heal up but when it was only a week left and I received an e-mail with the flight details I realized I had to take a decision. Would I go in spite of the injured knee and hope that I could still do a good performance or cancel and hope for a new shot in the future when the preconditions were right? I couldn’t sleep at all that night, my head was spinning. In the end I came to the decision to prioritize my health and explained to the UFC exactly what had happened. They told me that it happens all the time, that I shouldn’t worry and instead get better quickly so I can get back to training. They also said they will keep their eyes on me. It was such a relief to have made up my mind and I haven’t regretted it since then.”


Due to the injuries Oliver couldn’t train at Allstars but his motivation was on top. He was then contacted by Jonathan Svensson who asked him to come to Pancrase and train with him and that became sort of a new start for the ex Pancrase fighter. “I already knew most of the people from the time when I trained there, so I felt like home right away. A joy for training came to me which was the strongest feeling I had felt in a very long time. My focus went back to technique and at the same time my passion for martial arts came back to life after being gone during the whole injury period. The philosophy at Pancrase correspond very well to mine, that the smartest fighter wins, not the toughest. In my opinion Omar is the best MMA coach in the world, and I have trained with some of the most respected ones in the business. My will to learn new things grew and I realized that I hadn’t felt it since I was an amateur and the pressure to keep a perfect record wasn’t there. At Pancrase I could train and still let my knee, elbow and collar bone heal at the same time. My development peaked during the last months and I feel that people will see Oliver 2.0 in my next fight.”

An artist’s thoughts

The philosophy around MMA and how to think about martial arts are topics that Oliver can talk about for hours. All the years of training around the world, at different gyms, different styles, with different trainers has created a big well of knowledge and experience that he often dives into to contemplate, improve and develop. It’s very interesting to discuss these bigger questions with Oliver and sometimes it feels like talking to an old, wise martial arts master rather than a 24 year old fighter. “People always see me as very young and those who don’t know me think I’m inexperienced. But if you for example compare me with my friend Jycken [Magnus Cedenblad] who many consider to be a true veteran in the sport, we actually started training MMA at the same time. Besides from that I’ve trained with the elite in many parts of the world and I’ve sparred with more UFC fighters than most Swedes. If you count all martial arts I’ve had quite a lot of fights throughout the years. You could actually call me a martial arts veteran in a young person’s body!”


”Something Omar and I share is the view on how to teach fighting, in what end to start. The basics are not as many people think, how to hit a straight right. It’s about how you stand, how the feet are connected to the ground, how the shoulders are positioned and what body posture to have. A few years ago I started creating my own concept for how to teach fighting to people without any experience. Someone who starts training MMA today will probably learn how to do an armbar from one person, some boxing from another and wrestling from a third etc. There is no clear structure with development steps. In karate they have clear demands on what a person should learn and in which order, thanks to the belt system. My system is based on a similar idea but for MMA and without belts. It’s also about having periodic training so that things come in different cycles. In many MMA gyms they train extremely hard all year around while for example in athletics they have build up periods, preparation periods, competition periods etc. Last but not least it’s very important to me that you train MMA as its own sport and not Thai boxing, wrestling and BJJ as separate sports. It shouldn’t be called MMA in my opinion since it’s not a mix of other martial arts anymore, it’s its own martial arts, it’s fighting. This way of thinking and the structure of martial arts training has been implemented at Combat Academy and I’ve been able to get feedback on how it works. During the times I was injured I had the opportunity to give more private trainings and it was very developing for me as well, to teach martial arts in a systematic and structured way to people without any previous experience.”

”The training must also be adapted to your genetics, depending on the type of body you have. My muscles for example are of an enduring long distance type, which is easy to see when I’m running hills and I’m always the last one in the start but still the first one to reach the top. I did my own experiment in which I ran the same hill ten times with full recovery in between and the result showed that all ten rounds had the same time. A fighter who looks like Rousimar Palhares or Melvin Manhoef, with high level of muscle mass, would start strong and then get worse time for each round. Regarding mobility I don’t need to stretch anymore, I can put my foot behind my head at any time. Much mobility also means instability so I need my injury preventive training to strengthen my muscles rather than increasing the mobility. With good knowledge about your body you can optimize your training and fighting. This fact makes it unreasonable to let a coach who’s handling 30 different fighters to create your training plan. Why should all train in the same way when we’re built in different ways? An individual training plan is a must if you want to compete on the highest level.”


”I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I want to achieve with my fighting. My attitude has changed from seeing myself as a fighter to a martial artist. It is the art in martial arts that fascinates me. My fights are my paintings and my fighting career is a gallery. I want to be able to proudly show my paintings, which is the reason I’m disappointed when my fights turn in to boring wrestling matches rather that action packed wars. The transition to this attitude has helped me to move my focus from winning every fight which reduces the pressure and allows me to perform better. When I allow myself to fight freely, without pressure and with focus on joy and true martial arts I get the best results.”

The Future for ”The Future”

Since Oliver is a true martial arts geek I’m curious to hear about what fighters he follows and are inspired by. “There are fighters that I like in periods, like Conor McGregor who was cool to follow when he was a rising start, but then his talking got kind of tiresome. GSP and Lyoto Machida were my favorites but then Georges quitted and I got a bit tired of Lyoto. But there are two fighters that always inspired me and the first one is Mohammed Ali. He had beautiful footwork and an incredible mentality, something I aim to achieve as well. The second one is Kazushi Sakuraba, the small Japanese who never backed down from a fight. He faced the biggest and most ripped fighters from the West and was a bit chubby himself but he compensated with an awesome technique and a great warrior spirit, very inspiring!”

Oliver’s last fight was in November 2014 and he has now started to look for a new fight. This summer he turns 25 and with a laughter he asks if this might be the turning point when people stop seeing him as a youngster and instead starts asking if he should start consider kids and a family. We talk a little bit about what the future looks like for him and what he plans to do the day he hangs up his gloves for good. “I’ve got two goals. One is my own martial arts school in which I hope to help people with their training and progression, and the second goal is my fighting career. Even if I still want to reach the biggest organizations it’s not money or glory that is driving me, it’s my own development and the chance to release the artist within me. I would try to stay and fight until my last bone in my body breaks, only as long as I enjoy fighting and right now I want to have many more fights. When I have around ten paintings in my gallery that I’m really happy about and have had the chance to show my whole skill set, then I’m satisfied.”

It’s hard not to be excited about Oliver’s upcoming fights and what seems to be a bright future! FighterInterviews are grateful for this very interesting conversation and wish him all the best.