To find your calling

It’s been exactly ten days since Jycken’s fight against McLellan when we meet up, an early Wednesday morning in May. He looks relaxed and content when he sits down with a big bowl of acai. We’re sitting close to Pancrase, the gym Jycken belongs to since some time, and after our interview he’ll go there for the first workout of today. Our conversation will make me realize what a unique person Magnus is and how interesting thoughts he has about life.

Magnus was born 34 years ago and grew up in Huddinge in south Stockholm. He has always been crazy about sports and played both tennis and soccer when he was young. The dream was to become a professional soccer player and according to himself he had the talent for it but lacked support and encouragement to put in the effort needed. “Keep going as long as you’re having a good time, but then you’ll have to get a real job. That’s the kind of stuff I got to hear all the time, a pat on the head along with ‘yeah yeah, you’ll grow up soon’. But when my parents were young there were not the same opportunities as there is today to fulfill your dreams, there was no one talking about starting the next Spotify or even moving to the US, it was all about finding a good job. It’s something that really annoys me how adults can kill kids’ dreams. If a kid’s biggest dream is to become a professional soccer player the adults should encourage him to train hard, have fun and go for it. Later on that kid might realize he wants to do something else, but you should never diminish someone’s ideas or dreams!”


Magnus started quite late with MMA, around the age of 22. He studied at the same time to become a naprapath but one late night he would decide to go all in on his newly found sport. “I was at a friend’s place watching the UFC when I suddenly told him that I was going to drop out of school and become a professional MMA fighter. I’d always been good in sports but every time I reached a higher level I quit, so I wanted to see how far I could actually go. I was sick of school and my motivation for a normal job was zero. At the same time MMA was so much fun and I’d noticed that I had a talent. My friend looked skeptically at me and asked if I seriously thought that I would reach the UFC and I said no, maybe not as far as the UFC but that I just wanted to train and see how far I could go. He estimated my chance to reach the UFC to 0.001% and I wasn’t much more optimistic than him, but I still thought it was at least 0.002% chance. But everything was harder back then, MMA hadn’t developed to what it is today. We didn’t really know how to train while now there are complete MMA gyms everywhere. People nowadays enter a beginner’s class and they can already execute an armbar because they learnt from watching TV or YouTube. When I started I didn’t even know what an armbar was.

Money isn’t everything

When Magnus had decided to start training full time it was just the money issue left to solve. During a trip to Brazil he found inspiration in the Brazilian people’s modest way of living and he realized that he actually didn’t need much. He calculated exactly how much he needed as a minimum to pay his bills and food and then he made a plan for how to earn it with the least amount of effort. By working as a bouncer and playing poker he earned enough and could finally go all in on the MMA. Still today he has a skeptical view on money and materialism. “In Sweden you don’t need that much to get to a good level, but to get to a very high level you need to take a big step. A friend of mine works like crazy and he earns much more than me, but we still end up on more or less the same level. He lives in the central City, I live in Bromma. He has a bit nicer car, I drive a Volkswagen. He has a 52” TV, I have a 32”. Most of the income differences gets evened out by taxes anyway so it just feels ridiculous. He puts a crazy amount of time at work and is constantly longing for weekends and vacations while I’m free every day and can do what I love.”

”I really don’t feel any interest in gadgets and stuff, I don’t remember the last time I wanted something like that. At the moment I feel that I have everything I need and I can’t think of anything that’s missing. It’s taken quite some time to reach this attitude since society is constantly encouraging us to buy stuff, with commercials that convince you that you’ll be happy if you only buy that couch. You have to fight the consumption wheel persistently. When you actually do need something, most of the time it’s not so expensive, it’s all the useless crap people buy that makes it expensive. When I buy something I truly appreciate it, sort of like when I’m on a diet for a fight. You get so extremely dry in your mouth the last day so I can then treat myself with an ice cube, and I can just lay there and enjoy it for a long time. I guess you can say I’m on a diet in life to and I recommend it. At the moment I’m thinking about investing in a bicycle, actually I’ve been thinking about it for a year now. It would be nice to be able to bike to wherever I’m going instead of going with the metro. I start by looking around on the internet, talking to people about it, go to different bicycle stores to look. I get myself really engaged in this bicycle and when I find the right one and decide to buy it, I’ll be so happy and enjoy it so much. You appreciate your stuff much more in this way compared to just buying it right away.”


To not need anything and not value money has some advantages for sure, but I’m curious about how that affects Jycken when he sits down in negotiations with the UFC or sponsors. “I’m terrible in those situations. Really terrible! I more or less tell them that if they want to give me anything I will be grateful. At the same time I wonder what it really matters in the end. It won’t do any big changes to my life anyway. My wife worked a lot during a period and then got a pay raise of 3000 kronor per month. It’s a good raise of course, but I asked her what difference that will do to our lives. I mean, after taxes it’s about 2000 kr left and what are we supposed to do with them that we can’t already do? If I worked with a salary of 1000 kr/h and got a pay raise of 2000 kr, I’d kindly turn it down and instead ask to leave two hours earlier on the Friday. If I then the next year would get another 2000 kr pay raise I’d again turn it down and now leave work at lunch time every Friday. Sooner or later the whole Friday will be free and you get more and more free time. Time is money and what do you want the most? I’m quite uncomfortable with money, I find it disgusting and a bit dirty. I don’t like discussing what things are worth in money. I’m regularly approached by people who ask if I need sponsors, but I always kindly tell them that I already have everything I need.”

Enjoying every moment

Something that people might not know about Magnus is that he always stops at a red light when crossing a street. It’s not because he’s obsessed with following rules but rather because he’s constantly trying to be present and enjoying the moment. “There’s a small forest you go through when you leave our house. I told my wife the other day that I really love every morning when I get to walk through this forest, listen to the birds, watching squirrels jumping around and kids playing. I feel so happy when I walk there. When my wife takes the same walk early mornings she thinks about how tired she is and how much she has to do at work. I’ve learnt to be genuinely happy about small things, and sometimes I get so happy I think something might be wrong with me! I can wake up in the morning and feel extremely thankful and happy, I get overwhelmed with all the emotions. It’s super important to absorb all that happens around us and being in the present. Many people sit down in the metro, go to work, sit by their desk, the day passes and ends. Weeks or even months can pass by without people even knowing what they’ve done during this time, the time just passes and disappears. During vacations on the other hand, people enjoy every little moment, takes it all in and appreciate every second. In my opinion we should have the same way of living in our everyday life. Like I said, I never cross the street at a red light. I press the button and calmly wait for it to turn green. To me it’s a chance to slow down the tempo, breath and look around. I never pick up my phone on the metro either, I use the time to just sit and think. It makes me calm.”


”One day last year I was on my way to a training session but I was really tired and felt that I needed a rest first. I thought that if I hurry and run to the gym I’ll have enough time to lay down and rest for a while before the training starts. But then I asked myself what I was doing, am I supposed to stress to rest? I decided to take it easy, walk calmly, breath and wait for green light when crossing the streets. When I finally arrived at the gym I wasn’t tired anymore, the calm walk was great rest for my body! I see people in these situations all the time, quickly saying good bye to their friends, driving home like car thieves, stressing like maniacs just to go to bed and try to sleep. But how easy is it to fall asleep when you have a pulse of 180 and a body full of stress hormones? Actually you usually won’t lose more than just a few minutes if you take it easy instead of stressing. But I know it’s difficult being present, you have to train to learn. Start by not picking up your smartphone when you’re waiting and see what happens! Try to look around when you’re waiting at the street cross over. This stuff is what meditation is all about, to be aware, to feel your arms and legs, to feel the heart beat. It’s really difficult, no question about it, but it can be done as long as we work on it.”

Considering Magnus’ non-existing interest for money and the fact that a fighting career usually ends before you turn 40, I wonder if he’s ever worried about his future. Economy is an area that can cause worry for most people but, just as expected, Jycken stays calm. “I can dream about the future, but since I’m a very positive person it’s mostly about magnificent plans. I’m not worried at all, I mean how bad can it be when you live in Sweden? Just take Lyxfällan (Swedish TV show) as an example, it’s the same thing in every episode. These people always live in a big house with cars, a boat, pool, Jacuzzi but they never earn more than like 12 000 kr a month. They finance everything with sms loans and haven’t opened their mail in two years. The experts tell them that they’ll soon be bankrupt, then the bank comes in, takes over the loans and they can live happily ever after. When I look at them I know I’m safe, no reason to worry. I see myself as a sane person and there are things I’m good at that I can use when I’m done fighting. In a way it will be a fun challenge to do something else. My biggest fear is rather not finding anything that I’m truly passionate about. The idea to not find anything that gives me a kick frightens me, but I still think I will succeed. I would absolutely like to be a trainer and have my own gym. MMA has given me incredibly much in my life, I’ve travelled the world, met so much exciting people and got memories for life. It has given me happiness, joy and a lot of love. I’d like to give that to more people, to help them do the same journey I’ve done.”


The constant development

If you look at Jycken’s fight history you notice right away that a lot of time has passed between his fights, and prior to the latest one he had only had four fights over the last four years. Injuries has kept him away from the octagon but with a newly found philosophy around training he think he will be able to stay free from injuries. “I can’t promise that I’ll never be injured again, shit can always happen, but at least I don’t have pain in my body anymore. I train more than I’ve ever done before with longer training sessions but much, much lighter. I almost don’t spar at all anymore, maybe just once every third week, and the purpose then is to evaluate if what I’ve train on works. Many fighters go to the gym to spar really hard and then they go home, content having gone through a tough training session. But what did they learn? What was the purpose of the sparring? To do the same techniques and combinations like they always do, that they already know? I evaluate my trainings by comparing the gain with the risk of injury and the ideal is of course 10 in gain and 0 in risk of injury. So where do we end up with a hard sparring session? If it’s to try if a new combination actually works it might be worth it, but to just go in and spar for fun? Unfortunately many fighters have a liking for suffering. You can often hear us talk about how hard and tough we are, that it’s supposed to hurt, but we keep going anyway. But does it really have to hurt? Isn’t it better to keep your body strong and free from injuries and at the same time develop as much as possible?”

”I’ve spent some time with Alistair Overeem. We had our camps at the same time prior to the last fight. He understands the importance of not wearing out the body. He would decide to skip training a whole day and instead play video games and chill out by the pool. Those kind of decisions were taken when he felt tired and thought his body needed recovery. I saw his development during the eight week camp and during the final week he looked damn sharp! Fast and relaxed with perfect timing. He didn’t do any hard sparring, only a kind of situation sparring to imitate certain behaviors or situations. Han has realized that the most important is to be injury free and I truly believe in that mentality.”

It’s obvious that Magnus possesses a lot of knowledge about training and he uses this to optimize his own workouts. “In all sports there are three parameters to look at: VO2 Max, anaerobic threshold and working economy. The latter is something I’ve focused a lot on and compared e.g. MMA fighters with boxers. A boxer fights 12 x 3 minutes in their fights while I can perform in three rounds and it ends there. A beginner in grappling can have the best stamina in the world, but he’ll be exhausted after two minutes, simply because he has a poor working economy. As a beginner you tend to tense up and spend energy on the wrong things. Working economy is about relaxing as much as possible and only contract the muscles that are needed, when it’s needed. If a fighter goes out for a running session he’ll work on his VO2 Max but to improve the working economy he needs to be on the mat, gain experience and learn to relax. To improve the stamina takes a lot of time and effort which is why I rather focus on my working economy, because I get more out from it even though it’s lighter training, and I improve my technique at the same time. I’ve worked a lot on my kicks, stretching and finding how to relax. It’s also important to notice the difference between 100% and 95%. I can work at 100% for a few minutes, but if I’m at 95% I can go around 30 minutes. The difference in effect on the other hand is not so big, to be at 100% instead of 95% doesn’t give so much more, except making you tired more quickly.”


When Jycken speaks about the importance of relaxing while fighting I ask him if that isn’t something everybody already know. We all heard it in the beginners’ class, right? “Yes absolutely, but this is what many trainers do wrong. Most of them have sometime pointed out to their students that they should relax more, but how many of them has trained their students in relaxing? Many say that the mental part stands for 80-90% in fighting, but shouldn’t we work on that then? Throughout my career I’ve always been told that with my long legs I should kick more, but that means I also have to put time on training kicks if I’m ever going to get good at it. As with everything in life you have to train on what you want to be good at! The problem is that when the knowledge about how to do it isn’t there, people take the easy road which is stating how important something is and then go back to the ordinary training. To do something about it, I now spend about four hours per week on kicks only, just kicking and kicking. I also do mental training with a psychologist since about six months back, which is awesome! I’ve learnt to sort and control my thoughts better, getting the right feeling before my fights and finding the happiness. I’ve always been interested in personal development and to have someone so professional to discuss with is really cool.”

If it’s the mental training, a sudden insight or just maturity that has affected Magnus is unclear, but it’s obvious that his attitude toward fight preparations has changed. “When I’ve been competing previously someone has always been there before the fight, trying to fire me up by screaming and slapping me in the face. But why should I have that feeling with me into the cage? I don’t slap myself prior to sparring, then I’m calm and in harmony to have a good flow. And believe me, when you enter the arena in front of 30 000 people who are screaming like crazy, it’s much more difficult to stay calm than to get fired up, but people still do this slapping and screaming about killing and going to war etc. They boost the adrenaline and go in with tunnel vision and some kind of auto pilot. I mean, look at Mayweather, he’s never fired up going into a fight. He’s always calm and relaxed, fighting in a tactical, methodical and smart way. The trainers have to teach the right culture to their students. It is super negative to have the body full of adrenaline when you’re supposed to relax and find a good flow. In which other sport do you want to have an adrenaline rush standing on the starting line?”

”At the latest weight-in I heard that many people thought I was scared, or that I had too tough diet and lost my focus. But the fact is that the whole weight-in procedure felt so damn meaningless! It’s just a big joke. When they called my name it felt completely ridiculous, why should I go up and stare at this guy? I’d tried to talk with him a bit before the weight-in but he wasn’t interested at all so I continued to laugh at the whole thing, how pathetic it all felt. Up on the stage I wished him good luck and started turning away, but I was told that we weren’t done, I had to look at him a little bit more. Why are we doing this? was all I could think. And then people are coming with questions and analyses about the weight-in, like if it was a good stare down or not. How can it be good? We’re just staring at each other! People conclude that one is mentally weaker because he turns away. Yeah yeah, whatever!”


The future as a fighter

About a month ago Jycken turned 34 which is above the average age in the UFC, but he says that he will continue until he is around 40, which means another six years of fighting. With my new way of training I’m stronger than ever, more explosive and have better stamina. I’ve got numbers proving all of it so it’s actually true. Sure, we lose some things when we get older, mainly speed and explosiveness, but since the other parts keep getting improved I think it compensates. So let’s see, maybe everything goes sideways in two years and then I’ll have to revise my plan. But I believe from the bottom of my heart that I have a chance to win the middleweight belt. Not right now, but in 1-2 years or so I truly believe I will be one of the best in the world. I’m confident.”

“My next fight will probably be next autumn. I want to have two or three fights per year so I think there’s only enough time for one more fight this year. It’ll most probably be against a higher ranked opponent, maybe someone who’s around top 15, like Rafael Natal. All the way up to top 10 I feel that I’m a better MMA fighter and would probably win 9 out of 10 fights against all of them. Next year I will have five straight wins and that will get me someone from top 10. If I win that fight I’ll have six straight wins and then my name can start popping up in title contender discussions with a little bit of luck. I’ve trained with Luke Rockhold who’s the current middleweight champion0 and he would probably beat me in 8 out of 10 fights right now, but in 1-2 years the odds will be 50-50 if I keep training in the right way.”

Joakim Engberg is a merited MMA coach who helps Alastair Overeem, among others, for his fights. Jycken brought his family to Albuquerque for his last training camp, just to train with Joakim. In spite of illness and injuries he’s very happy with the camp and will have Joakim as a coach for upcoming fights as well. “We’ve been friends for a long time now and he’s a really good coach, extremely knowledgeable. To me it’s important if you go away with someone for 5-6 weeks that this person is also a friend. I want to be able to knock on his door in the middle of the night if I need to talk, and I can do that with Joakim. Unfortunately I sprained my ankle and was sick during a part of the camp so most of the time I spent resting by the pool, talking game plans, taking walks and just enjoying my time. I realized that it doesn’t matter, what am I supposed to learn during the last four weeks that I don’t already know? The reason to go from the beginning was to spend time with Joakim but mainly to get away from Sweden. In the US I’m anonymous while here in Sweden everybody wants to talk about the fight, even in the grocery store, and my wife was going nuts hearing the same questions over and over. I used to be nervous, stressed and felt performance anxiety for my fights. Add to that a super tough training camp with a dehydrated and starved body. If you lose the fight after nine weeks of suffering it feels like you did all of that for nothing. That’s why I’m trying to have a lot of fun during the camp, keep the diet easy and stay relaxed. If you have three fights per year and suffer from anxiety for eight weeks prior to each fight it means that you feel terrible 24 weeks per year, what kind of damn life is that? It’s crazy! People need to re-think what they’re doing and have fun.”

Sources of inspiration

Like always, we’re curious to hear more about sources of inspiration, and since Magnus is a real MMA geek there’s a long list of fighters that he likes, but there is one person’s name that comes up right away. “Omar [Bouice]! He has done so much for me during my whole career and it was extremely tough to leave Pancrase when I did it. The gym was in a downturn back then I’d say, and several of the people I trained the most with left. Now there’s new people and amazing sparring partners, like Saidbou [Sy], Abbe [Joof], Kalle and Ludde [Karl and Ludvig Albrektsson]. They’re monsters, all of them. Omar is fantastic, a unique person and a lovely human being. He’s always calm and in harmony, and he’s also a true technique geek and I love that.”

”Since I’m a commentator for the UFC events at Viasat I get to see a lot of fighters. I think Matt Brown is great, his attitude and toughness inspires me. He’s the kind of guy who walks through fire to win and I look up to his mental strength. I can enjoy watching Demian Maia, even if he can be a bit boring his grappling is excellent. Albert Tumanov has a relaxed and nice boxing which is fun to watch. He has got obvious gaps in his grappling but I can still appreciate his movement and quick hands. Mighty Mouse [Demetrious Johnson] is so good that it’s a joke! I would also say that Luke Rockhold is up there with Mighty Mouse as the most complete champion. Luke’s stand up is really good but he’s also an awesome wrestler and a BJJ blackbelt. I like him a lot, all the guys at AKA (American Kickboxing Academy) are so damn nice! I’d love to have my camp there but unfortunately it’s very expensive. A long stay hotel there costs me like 60 000 kr for four weeks while the same in Albuquerque costs 20 000 kr.”

We have to end the interview with that and wish Jycken good luck on his way to the UFC middleweight title, it’ll be a pleasure to follow him!