It’s an early Saturday morning in September when David come and open the gate for me at Birger Jarlsgatan 18 in Stockholm. He’s about to have a tough training session with Reza Madadi at No. 18 before our interview can start. There are no sign of fatigue in his face in spite of the early hour and he explains that he wakes up 05:30 every weekday, so today can be considered a sleep-in for him. After countless jabs on the pads, bench presses and Bulgarian bag lunges they’re finished and we start talking about David’s long journey that led him to where he is today.

A grown up 11-year-old

David was born in 1979 and grew up in Hägersten, a suburb to Stockholm which back then was very different from today. “In those days there was not as much criminality, violence and drugs as there is in Hägersten today. It was a calm area, but our family situation was tough on the other hand. We were four kids and when I was 11 years old my dad left us, which meant that I had to take his role. My days would start with getting my five years younger brother out of bed, dress him and bring him to school. During the lunch break I ran home to walk the dog and right after school I went to the local grocery store where I worked with unpacking groceries. My mother already had two jobs so all the extra money I could earn were important to the family.”

”I knocked out both his front teeth and that's something I regret still to this day”

A couple of years later puberty kicked in, David became a teenager and he couldn’t take the struggle any more. At the same time his anger towards his father grew for putting the family in this situation. To be a young, pissed of guy with maximized testosterone production is not easy and the problems started piling up. “I was involved in a lot of fights, had constant contact with the police and Social services, and I was close to getting expelled from school. I remember one specific occasion that stands out because it was my younger brother’s birthday and our dad didn’t show up even though he promised he would. I was furious and got into a fight with a guy who unfortunately became the receiving end of my anger. I knocked out both his front teeth and that’s something I regret still to this day. Eventually I got a great supervisor from the Social services who helped me work out most of my problems. I also started training martial arts around this time. I had a good relation with the trainer and he later on helped me to get a job, working as a bouncer at Spy Bar.”

It was already by the age of 13 that David, through an older friend, got in contact with kickboxing. He took a lot of beating in the beginning and several times when he was on his way to practice he turned around and went back home instead. At the same time he was a promising football player and during a period of time he played for Hammarby. His temper led to many suspensions and eventually some parents in the team argued that he shouldn’t be allowed to stay. The interest for martial arts increased instead and he started taking the training more seriously. The bouncer work was enough to make a living but the working environment was tough. “The best decision I’ve ever taken in my life was to quit as a bouncer. It was so much worrying, fighting and shit, all the time. It was very different from how it is today where most bouncers are security guards and as soon as something happens they call the cops. Back then we had to solve the problems ourselves right away, the approach was a bit different you could say.”

”I took an incredible amount of beating!”

The Brazilian Swede makes his UFC debut

One day David discussed with a bouncer colleague what really works in a street fight. His colleague argued that Thai and kickboxing would take him far but that the ground game was more important. After a while David decided to give it a try and went to a BJJ gym. “I took an incredible amount of beating! I got taken down, choked, arm barred and everything you can imagine. I felt that my Thai boxing skills didn’t give me much, but instead I wanted to continue with BJJ. I trained like crazy and was almost manic. After six months I was awarded blue belt and started winning big tournaments like the European Championship.” Due to the fact that the highest graded person in Sweden was a purple belt back then, there was no one who could give David his next grade. Because of this he and his coach started going to Brazil around 2000 to find the best training.

”Wearing gloves was optional and it was allowed to kick to the groin, head-butt and jump on your opponent's head”

”We moved around in Brazil to try different gyms. Eventually we chose Murilo Bustamante and the Brazilian Top Team. We got a good connection and I started going there on a regular basis. I was lucky to have good sponsors so that I could manage financially. I really loved life over there; jogging on the beach, working out, the food, the weather and above all the atmosphere. I lived there permanently for a while, then I went back to Sweden to work and save money to go back again. Around 2003 I started to focus more on MMA and went to Finland to fight, but the rules were a bit different compared with the rules of today. Wearing gloves was optional and it was allowed to kick to the groin, head-butt and jump on your opponents head. Every weight class spanned over 10 kg and we didn’t have several rounds but instead one 10 minutes long fight without breaks. The arrangements were often tournaments which meant several fights during the same day.”

In 2006 David was awarded black belt in BJJ. Later the same year he got to fight at Wembley Arena, in front of 20 000 people, in the British organization Cage Rage against the local favorite Phil Norman, a MMA pioneer who also had won the British TV show The Gladiators. Even though David performed very well and, according to himself, won every round, the judges’ scorecards had Norman as winner. It was a controversial decision that was faced with protests even from the English home crowd. But David didn’t walk away empty handed after all. Cage Rage had a deal with the Japanese organization Pride and after the fight against Norman he received an offer to fight in Yokohama outside Tokyo, against Mitsuhiro Ishida. “The Japanese were light-years ahead of us when it came to training, fighting experience and preparations. I would fight at 83 kg and that was what I weighed during the camp, I never cut any weight at all. My conditioning was off, I felt stressed and nervous plus suffered from a big dose of jetlag. It’s fair to say my preparations were terrible but I went all in and won the first round, but I also gassed out completely. The amount of beating I took during the last two rounds was just crazy. But I learned a lot.”

”A true fighter doesn't pick opponents, you have to be prepared to fight the best”

After his debut in Pride, the organization got acquired by the UFC, which placed him in a kind of limbo. He was stuck with his contract but didn’t get any fights, which in the end forced him to terminate it. “It was tough to end the contract as I got about 15 000 dollars per fight. But I did it and had two more fights before the UFC called. They contacted the Brazilian Top Team to find an opponent for Diego Sanchez. The fight would be in three weeks and five fighters had already turned down the offer. Sanchez had an 18-2 record and was considered to be extremely dangerous, but I didn’t hesitate, I accepted the fight. In my opinion a true fighter doesn’t pick opponents, you have to be prepared to fight the best. Add to that that the UFC promised me a fight against Jon Fitch if I would beat Sanchez and after Fitch I would face Georges St-Pierre!”

David lost against Diego Sanchez but for his next bout he dropped a weight class and defeated Jess Liaudin. In his third UFC fight he lost to Mark Bocek and even though he had one more fight on his contract, UFC informed him that they were letting him go. “It was at the same time as the UFC took in all fighters from WEC. Everyone who lost on the card lost their contract, including me. It felt unfair to be kicked out after having taken a short notice fight against Sanchez and after that having a record of 1-1. I feel that bad luck and bad timing have played big parts of my career unfortunately. But who knows, maybe everything happens for a reason.”

”Now it's just like in boxing: money, money, money”

MMA shows and plans for the future

The first time David entered the octagon with a pair of UFC gloves on his hands was 1st of May 2008 at UFC 82. We’re discussing the development that has taken place since then and what the biggest differences were compared to today. “Especially this last year it has become more of a show than fighting. Rankings don’t matter anymore, they take in WWE guys just because they’re famous and you don’t have to defend your belt as long as you sell pay-per-views. Conor [McGregor] has played a big part in this and the positive side of it is that fighters can demand more money now, but on the other hand I think a lot is ruined by this shift of focus. Now it’s just like in boxing: money, money, money. I also think that fighters have become better in MMA in general, but at the same time we no longer see fighters who are extremely skilled in one of the disciplines in MMA, e.g. striking or wrestling.”

The last couple of years have included several fights in the Superior Challenge for David, an organization he has high thoughts about, even if it’s clear that his goal is still on the other side of the Atlantic. “Superior Challenge is extremely good, the most professional organization I’ve fought for beside Pride and UFC. Everything flows smoothly and the whole arrangement is amazing, the only thing missing is the audience unfortunately. But yes, I want to get back into the UFC. I train with UFC fighters every day and my performances on training shows that I am on that level. I’m there, I just need to get the chance to prove it! I owe it to myself, but even more I owe it to the guys helping me every day and those who have helped me to come this far.”

There are fighters who, when they retire from fighting, are filled with a vacuum and don’t know what to do with their lives. David has already so many on-going projects that he won’t have any problems to fill his days after his fighting career. Except giving PT classes and running MMA Bootcamp in Stockholm, he just released his first web course: Being a Fighter. The course gives useful tools in how to handle struggles in life and how to build a mental strength, everything with references back to David’s own life experiences. But he is still not done fighting. “You need two things: motivation and staying free from injuries. I have both, plus a solid training knowledge which is also important. But we’ll see, if it doesn’t work out with the UFC or Bellator soon it will start to feel like a waste of time. I have other projects that generates much more income than fighting, but this is an ego thing that I want to pursue.”

”The person I'd love to read an interview with is Randy Couture!”

Which fighters are David inspired by? “I like José Aldo, Fabricio Werdum, Cain Velasquez, Rafael Dos Anjos, Cowboy [Donald Cerrone] and also the Diaz brothers. I loved watching Georges St-Pierre until the end, when I was staying awake to 4 AM to watch him jab for five rounds. Of course I also watch the PPV kings like Conor [McGregor] and Ronda [Rousey], even if I don’t consider them being the best in MMA I still end up watching their fights. You fall for the hype. But the person I’d love to read an interview with is Randy Couture! It’s crazy how he just disappeared, Captain America in the UFC Hall of Fame who everybody suddenly stopped talking about. It shows the incredible power the UFC possesses; how easily they can build a fighter like McGregor and at the same time make someone disappear like Couture. I don’t think people realize the power they have. To read Couture’s story and his view on everything that happened would be amazing.”

FighterInterviews thank David for his time and wishes him good luck, both in his upcoming fight and also in his pursue of a comeback in the UFC!