Recently, I was up to Nyköping in Sweden, about an hour south of Stockholm. It was December and cold, and temperatures on the day I arrived went to -14 and threatened bleakly to stay there. Circumstances were grim, so grim in fact that even the sun decided to retreat, hiding itself away at about two o'clock in the afternoon.
I flew from Berlin's new Brandenburg airport to Arlanda on the north side of Stockholm. From there, I jumped on a train that looked like a relic from a gilded age of international rail travel. That took me into the central station. I then took another train for about an hour to Nyköping.
The reason I had come to Nyköping was to spend some time with former professional boxer, top contender, and European champion Erik Skoglund. Erik had been one of the biggest names in the 168lbs division and in the mix for a world title by the middle of 2017. In the September of that year, he had fought Callum Smith in Liverpool in the opening stages of the World Boxing Super Series and lost a close, hard-fought decision. A few fights later, Smith would fight the sport's biggest name Canelo Alvarez in the US.
With twenty-six wins out of twenty-seven fights, Erik began to train for his next bout, this time in London against Rocky Fielding. He never got there. Fielding, a year later and now a champion would also get a big fight against Canelo Alvarez.
What happened to Erik is that while sparring in late 2017 in preparation for the Fielding fight, he suffered a brain injury that left him in a coma for ten days and then in need of extensive rehab.
Here is how I described his injury in the first part of an article I have just written for NY Fights: “Here is the thing about the human brain. It is both incredibly vulnerable yet susceptible to trauma. The skull is like a crash helmet, but if the brain bangs up against its sides, you can get a bleed. And when that happens, the results can be horrific. In Erik's case, blood leaked into the space between the brain and the skull. And when that happens, the softest thing (the brain) in that enclosed area (the skull) is what gets squeezed under pressure.”
After recovery and rehab, Erik is in a much better condition today. I trained with him in his gym in Sweden, and after I had held the pads for him, I could not type for the rest of the day. He's big, and he's strong, and he wants to fight again. The world, or those in it with the responsibility and sway to grant or take away his dream, will probably err on the side of caution. I know because I spoke to them. You can read the whole thing here and here.
I sat with Erik a lot over two days, and the interview gave me much more than I could use in one article. One thing was spoke about was his homecoming fight against Oleksandr Cherviak in 2015 at the Rosvalla Arena in Nyköping.
Boxing has had a turbulent legal history in Sweden. As ESPN wrote in 2015, “Sweden has long been ambivalent about boxing: when the 1912 Olympics were held in Stockholm, there was no boxing as it was banned there at the time. […] After worries were voiced about the sport's safety, boxing was banned again in Sweden in 1970. That ban wasn't lifted until 2006 – and even then, there were restrictions on the nature of contests.”
Skoglund-Cherviak was the first time in decades that a twelve-round fight had been held in the country.
“I remember that show,” Erik told me in December. “My promoters and I were having this back-and-forth with the politicians about putting it on. Eventually, they asked me where we should have it and whether we should do it in Stockholm, Gothenburg, or Malmo. I said we should have it in Nyköping.”
It was not a suggestion that went down well at first with Sauerland Promotions, who were putting on the fight. Erik remembers: “They said to me, ‘There's only 50,000 people in Nyköping. You can't have it there. That's crazy.' And I said that if we did it the right way, we could do 5,000 tickets in Nyköping. It will be sold out, and the atmosphere will be insane. So they said, ‘Okay, we'll do it in Nyköping, but you better sell the arena out.'”
Skoglund-Cherviak took place on 19 September 2015. It sold out. “That atmosphere,” Erik said in December, still remembering it with awe. “It's the craziest thing I've ever experienced. When I went into the ring always, I went in to Bob Marley's ‘Three Little Birds.' But when I went out that night, I couldn't hear a single note of it. It was crazy. The crowd was shouting my name, and there was a roaring. There wasn't silence until the national anthem. And after that, it exploded.”
Skoglund won on points. He would fight two more times in Nyköping, against Derek Edwards three months later and Timy Shala a year after that. But like everything in life, it is the first one that still stands out.
Read my full two-part article on Erik Skoglund – ‘What is He Willing to Do?' – on NY Fights: