It’s time for MMA session at Pancrase this Monday morning in May. The atmosphere is more focused than usual, maybe because both Oliver Enkamp and Zebastian Kadestam are preparing for next week’s fights, in the UFC and ONE Championship. Omar demonstrates the drills and his students execute them in pairs, and he’s constantly present to adjust until the techniques are performed with perfection. When someone is without a partner, Omar puts on a pair of gloves and joins the drill. His movement and punching combinations show no evidence of the fact that he is turning 50 this summer!


The hard school of Algeria

Just about a year after Omar was born 1967, the family moved to his father’s country of birth, Algeria. He lived there for about 12 years and he still has many memories from that time. “During that period I spoke both French and Arabic, besides Swedish, but I lost those languages when I moved back to Sweden. The Arabic school was tough and we got a lot of beating. I asked a lot of questions and had strong opinions about religion, which wasn’t appreciated by the teachers, so I received countless ruler lashes. After a few years the fundamental group FIS (Front Inslamique Salute) started growing and gaining more power, which resulted in total chaos. I saw 13-year-old girls get shot in the street for not wearing head scarf. It was madness, and around that time we decided to move to Sweden.”

When the hard school of Algeria changed to the Swedish school, young Omar was facing a clash of cultures. “Our teachers didn’t dare to discipline the students who talked and caused trouble, they were way too nice. To me, it’s crazy with teachers that don’t set boundaries for the kids; both the teachers’ and the parents’ roles have to be extremely clear. I’ve worked with kids and teenagers, so I know the consequences of not having any rules.” Omar educated himself at Hasselakollektivet, and after that, he took care of criminal youngsters for several years. At the same time he worked as a bouncer and was constantly facing peoples’ worst sides with drunkenness and street fights. The nature of this work was tiresome and eventually Omar quit, and instead he focused fully on his big passion in life – martial arts.

Japan in sight

Omar had learned discipline, not only from school, but also through judo practice since 6 years of age. Thanks to his father’s connections, he got to train with the Algerian national team and he developed rapidly. After the move to Sweden, he continued training judo, but when he later on got to see Bruce Lee deliver spinning kicks on the movie screen, he changed to karate and taekwondo. Since then he has tried more or less all existing martial arts. “Haha, yes, I guess I’ve tried just about all of them. There was a constant search of the ultimate martial art back then. I was a true martial arts geek who didn’t just appreciate the fighting part, but also everything around like history and the philosophical side.”


With the lack of internet and Youtube, Omar found his inspiration in the Black Belt Magazine and in video material he had found from different Pancrase fights in Japan. “They started to write about Shootwrestling and I saw fights with [Minoru] Suzuki, [Ken] Shamrock and other legends of that time. The combination of punches, kicks and takedowns was completely new to me and it blew me away. I was especially fascinated by the full contact rules, which in Sweden was more or less considered deadly at that time.” Full of motivation, Omar decided to complete his pursuit of the ultimate martial art and booked a flight ticket to USA. With the help of an acquainted, it was arranged for him to train with Carlson Gracie Team in Miami, Florida.

”That was the first time I encountered BJJ, and I wasn’t impressed. I’d trained so much judo throughout the years that my first thought was that this was newasa! There was no major difference so I got a bit disappointed, as I had been expecting something else. But I really enjoyed shootwrestling, which was exactly what I was searching for.” After defeating a BJJ black belt in the final of a tryout at Rickson Gracie’s gym for a competition and still not getting selected, Omar changed gym to Beverly Hills Jiujitsu where he met Bas Rutten, and they clicked straight away. Omar and Bas still have contact to this day, most often via Facebook where Bas sends crazy videos.

After a couple of training sessions in Beverly Hills, Marco Ruas (MMA legend who won UFC 7 in 1995) approached Omar and asked if he wanted to try out for a fight in Japan. Several big names were there, such as Genki Sudo (fought in Pancrase, UFC and K-1) and Kazushi “The Gracie Hunter” Sakuraba (beat four members from the Gracie family, the most well known win came after a 90 minutes bout with Royce Gracie in Pride 2000). “My main goal had always been to get to Japan, to compete there at least once in my life. So when I got the offer I got super happy. The hype over there was indescribable! We couldn’t walk in the streets, especially not with Bas and Semmy Schilt who got so much attention.”

Omar’s biggest win of his career came after only two fights, when he faced the home crowd favorite Minoru Suzuki who at that time had a record of 25-15, including two wins against Ken Shamrock. Omar chocked everyone by beating the Japanese in 45 sec by RNC (watch the fight here). “That was damn fun; Suzuki was huge back then so it was a big thing in Japan. After that fight I got many calls from the USA and especially from the UFC. I had several talks with the UFC until other things got in the way.”


Doping and taking your responsibility

As a gym owner and head coach, Omar gets to meet people with very different expectations. Many of them wants him to help them, with more or less everything. “They want me to do management stuff, but it’s so much more work than people think – constantly be on the phone, negotiate, sit up late nights sending e-mails. I want to focus on the training and the strategy, not the rest. There are people who forget that they have the full responsibility for their own career. They walk in here and think that managers will get them fights, trainers will make sure they win, some girl will rub their shoulders while someone else is wrapping their hands. Some are very stupid; they watch a UFC Countdown video on YouTube and think they can become world champion. It’s tough to handle training, nutrition, media, contracts, sponsorships etc. but that’s what it means to be a fighter. If you’re chasing your dream you can’t hand over the responsibility to someone else. Those who make it have lived under tough conditions for a long time, and most of them still don’t make it all the way to the top. People have to take their own responsibility! You wanna fight? Then do what it takes and if it doesn’t suit you, change career. I can guide and give good advices, but you have to do the work yourself!”

When we start to talk about doping, and especially doping tests, Omar’s eyes fire up. It’s a topic he has been debating many times and his opinions are strong about it. “The thing with doping is that it doesn’t help a fighter as much as people think, it’s exaggerated. In my time, when we didn’t have weight classes, it made a big difference. But today it’s mainly for injuries to heal faster and to be able to train a bit harder, but it’s not going to turn you into a super human of any kind. Most, let’s say 90%, of the people I know have used substances have done it to heal injuries. What’s weird about it is that I can go to USA as a private person and get a substance as a medicine for an injury. But if I’m a competing fighter I cannot? If your knee is completely fucked up, I think you should be allowed to use any means possible to make it heal, as long as you are doping free when it’s time for you to compete. But to use a medicine that a medical doctor has guaranteed will help for an injury between fights, I don’t see a problem with.”


”Then we have the doping tests. They run in to my gym, like if they’re the SWAT team carrying out a raid! ‘We’re here to do doping tests!’ they yell. Sure, but please take of your shoes first, I tell them. Then they start pointing out people they want to test, sometimes minors and then I demand that they call their parents first. They do everything extremely aggressive and heatedly! They once came home to one of my fighters during a Saturday night when he was home with his son. Are they really allowed to knock on your door a Saturday and demand, in front of your children, that you pull down your pants a take a piss test? I would have told them to go to hell! It’s pure abuse of power in my opinion. They can come to the gym Monday to Friday, be nice and respectful, relax and cooperate. They harass people like if they were criminals, which is just madness! There are many who have quit their careers in sports because they feel harassed and unable to have a private life. I have a big problem with that kind of bullying.”

We move on to a more pleasant subject and ask who Omar would want us to interview. “Kalle [Karl Albrektsson], I would say. I believe in him. He possesses all the bits and pieces needed to succeed. You never have to call and ask if he has trained, because you can be sure that he already did his running, movement training and mental training. He is super focused and doesn’t give a damn about anything else – true discipline. He has the interest, the physique, the mental game, he can take a punch, he’s not afraid and he’s also just crazy enough. The future is bright and so far he has been flying under the radar. Many probably underestimates him, but they forget that his last two opponents have been absolutely world class. If he get some fights on the right level, nothing can stop him.”

Besides preparing his fighters for big fights he’s also searching for a new, bigger facility for Pancrase, but the situation is difficult in Stockholm. He’s very busy with work, but it’s soon time for a well needed vacation in Thailand, where he says he will forget about everything that has to do with martial arts and just enjoy some quality time for himself. We thank Omar for the chat and look forward to follow his students on the road to the top.