Quick, name all the notable boxers who were born in Iceland.
OK, name ONE, and they don't have to be NOTABLE…
We can wait, but it's hard…
Gunnar Kolbeinn Kristinsson is a current practitioner, and so I reached out to the 11-0 heavyweight overseen by Salita Promotions, to get a sense of how and why he is entered into the realm of pugilism, a rarity in his home nation.
“I grew up in a lower/middle-class household, had four siblings and both parents worked,” Kristinsson told me. “We didn't have anything extra but everything we needed. My parents lived in a town called Egilsstađir when I was born, but had to go to Reykjavik for the birth because I didn't turn the right way. We moved around a little before we moved to Garđabær, where I grew up and my parents still live in the same house today they bought almost 30 years ago.”
And boxing…not something that many people over there in that Nordic isle, population 360,000.
“So I was working at a storage facility when I was 17/18 with a guy called Skuli Armansson, who then became the first Icelander to fight a professional fight,” he continued. “He and Vilhjálmur Hernandez, one of my coaches, were opening a boxing gym. This was January or Feburary 2007, and he wanted me to come try it, said ‘you've got long arms, you can beat up people,' and I did and the rest is history.”
So it sounds like he took to the sport immediately…
“From the first time I tried boxing, I was hooked and from the first sparring session I was in love with it. There are right now seven boxing clubs in Iceland. At the time I started boxing there were only four boxing clubs, though, ” Kristinsson said, of the nation which boasts of being the only NATO entrant with no standing army.
And when he tells people at home he's a boxer, are they super surprised?
“So it's very mainstream in Iceland to go to college and get a business degree,” continued the 31 year old hitter. “So a lot of people were surprised that I was all in on boxing, they even joked around saying, ‘What? You're still doing that boxing thing?'… I think it's mainly because of the fact that no one in Iceland's history has ever done anything in boxing, so it was hard for people to fathom me doing anything. But I turned disbelievers into believers!”
Gunnar fought outside his home region Jan. 17, for the first time, scoring a stoppage win over 6-5-2 Dell Long.
To my understanding, Gunnar is the only active male fighter in his homeland and just the third in the country’s history…
“Yes it's true. First was Skúli Ármansson, who fought once in the US but had not thought about the visa thing and was sent back home at the airport next time he was going to fight, which slowly lead to his retirement. Then there is me, and then there is the only girl, Valgerđur Guđsteinsdóttir (4-2), who decided to go pro because I went pro and was doing good. So technically I was the second in my country's history.”
Gunnar, said Salita, will travel back and forth from Iceland to Detroit. In his homeland, you will work with trainers Vilhjalmur Hernandez, Dađi Ástþórsson and Arnór Már Grímsson at Hnefaleikastöđin ÆSIR gym in the capital city of Reykjavik; how and where did the Icelandic coaches learn boxing, I wondered.
“Since there is no boxing heritage in Iceland it's not as easy as you'd think,” he informed me. “Good thing boxing is a universal language. Dađi Ástþórsson was one of the original competitive boxers in Iceland, fighting numerous times before switching to coaching after an injury. Vilhjálmur had a great interest in boxing and started off coaching his son, who when he was very young was the most prominent young boxer in Iceland. Vilhjalmur then opened Hnefaleikastöđin Æsir gym and had Skúli as the head coach ans learned under him before taking over full time about a year later. Arnór is a 3 division national champion with 40 fights and wins abroad, he turned to coaching after a freak eye injury.”
Gunnar is in the coaching stable of Sugar Hill Steward (now training Tyson Fury) at Kronk.
“So the main thing was when I started working with Sugar Hill, he had a clear path on how he wanted me to box, this was a big thing because that was one of the things I needed, a clear direction to go in. After my first trip training with him I improved about 100%. The training here is world class and good tough sparring. I think I have improved on every aspect, and still improving, always.”
Where will be in one year…and then two years from now?
“In one year I will be in a position where I will be challenging for mini titles,” Gunnar said. “In two years, mini/European title holder and knocking on the top 20 rankings' door!”
Then, it was time to a training session. Last word from the fighting pride of all of Iceland?
Gunnar: “Don't sleep on the Icelander!”