For Karl Albrektsson, being one of the best isn’t enough

Karl Albrektsson raises his arms after a fight in the Bellator cage. Karl Albrektsson is currently on a three-fight winning streak including a fight in Bellator. Photo Credit: Bellator

The night of Superior Challenge 21 was Amilcar Alves’ 40th fight, according to him. Tapology lists him as 18-21 with no amateur fights, but it’s not surprising that one of fights didn’t get recorded anywhere. Since 2006, Alves has been fighting anywhere and everywhere; from tiny regional organizations to M-1, Shooto Brasil, even the UFC. This fight, however, would be his last.

Alves got a few strikes in on the feet, but “King” Karl Albrektsson was blasting him with heavy kicks against the fence. After a minute of this, the twenty-seven year old Swedish fighter took him down, and dominated the rest of the round on top. Round two went the same, with Albrektsson getting him down earlier this time. Albrektsson got half-mount against the cage, and rained unanswered blows until the fight was stopped.

Afterwards, the interviewer tried to put the microphone in front of Albrektsson, but Alves mentioned he wanted to say something, and Albrektsson motioned for the interviewer to give Alves the mic. Through tears, Alves reflected on how proud he was of his career, before saying “I think it’s time to let the new generation come,” congratulating Albrektsson, and wishing him luck.

In Swedish, Albrektsson spoke of his strategy. He said that Alves was a dangerous opponent, and that he chose to tire him out by taking him down. He ended the interview by saying “I have much respect for Alves, that he fights on such short notice. Truly, respect. He’s a true warrior, he has the spirit of what MMA symbolizes. That you dare, dare to be brave, and it doesn’t matter who you’re up against. You’re there to fight.

While Albrektsson gave his post-fight interview, Alves took off his gloves. The Brazilian fighter stood patiently while Albrektsson complimented him in a language he likely didn’t understand. Instead of dropping his gloves in the cage as per tradition, Alves walked towards Albrektsson, gloves in hand, and passed the torch to him. He chose the right person to carry it.

Karl Albrektsson hugs with Amilcar Alves following their fight.
Karl Albrektsson and Amilcar Alves after their fight in Superior Challenge. Photo Credit: Superior Challenge

Albrektsson (12-3) has always been an athlete. He told MMAnytt TV that he was already 6’2 and over 90 kg (194 lbs) by the time he was 15. He played hockey and boxed. He fought his first pro MMA fight in 2012 at 18. Competing in the 90+ kg division in Sanda, he took home gold from the 2014 European Wushu Championships, and bronze from the 2015 World Wushu Championships.

In 2016, at 4-0, Albrektsson fought now-Bellator Light Heavyweight Champion Vadim Nemkov (14-2). Albrektsson won a grinding, grappling-heavy split decision, at one point shooting a takedown that speared Nemkov right through the ropes.

A high-level win like that may have one wondering when they’ll see Albrektsson in the UFC. Him signing with Bellator may imply to some that that’s not his goal. Albrektsson, however, clears up any confusion in his interview with MMAnytt TV, explaining that he wants to grow as a fighter and “be as mature as he can” by the time he debuts in the UFC.

This makes a lot of sense looking at his record, for two reasons. First, Albrektsson often took fights at Superior Challenge, a Swedish regional promotion, in between his fights with RIZIN and Bellator. It’s clear that accumulating experience is a priority for him, whether it be the Superior Challenge octagon, the Bellator circle-cage, or the RIZIN ring. The second reason is that Albrektsson does have three losses on his record.

In 2016, he lost a decision to Valentin Moldavsky (10-1) in RIZIN’s Openweight Grand Prix. While Moldavsky’s currently ranked third in Bellator’s heavyweight division, he’s still probably the least intimidating person the light heavyweight prospect’s lost to.

In 2017, Albrektsson fought Jiri Prochazka (28-2-1) in RIZIN. Other than elbows being allowed, they fought under RIZIN’s usual ruleset, including the ten minute first round, followed by a five minute second round. Albrektsson was competitive with Prochazka on the feet, and took him down multiple times, controlling most of the round. In the final minute of the round, Albrektsson nearly finished Prochazka with ground and pound.

Prochazka managed to sweep and get to his feet, and, in the final seconds of the 10-minute round, pour a volume of strikes on the exhausted fighter. Albrektsson had been wrestling for nearly ten minutes with no rest, and Prochazka dug deep, and punched and punched until the fight was stopped with Albrektsson against the ropes. The result was surely disappointing for the Swedish prospect – in part, because he had been running away with that fight. Though unsatisfying, it was still an impressive performance against someone who is currently ranked #2 in the UFC’s light heavyweight division.

The third and final loss came in a competitive fight with UFC/Bellator veteran Phil Davis (22-6) in 2019. After the fight, John McCarthy alluded to Albrektsson’s toughness, and Phil Davis responded “Absolutely. I actually trained with him once in Sweden. He’s not to be slept on. He is, through and through, one of the toughest guys in the gym, one of the hardest workers in the gym. I knew right away, he’s bringing it.”

When shown the replay of his third-round ground and pound finish, Davis said “I couldn’t get him flat the way I wanted to. That’s just a testament to how tough he is. Even when he was dead tired in that third round, he did not give up good position.” Albrektsson claims to have learned a lot from that loss.

Having close fights with some of the best fighters in your weight class while dominating everyone else you fight would be impressive enough on its own. However, what’s really inspiring about Albrektsson is that just competing with the best does not seem to be enough. He still seems to consider himself a work-in-progress. In between these wars, the twenty-seven year old is running through opponents on the Swedish regional scene to stay busy. After his loss to Davis, he took the aforementioned fight with Amilcar Alves, in which he received the retiring fighters blessing.

After that, he beat Viktor Nemkov (30-8-1) via unanimous decision at Bellator 257. Albrektsson joked with the journalists at the press conference about having beat both Nemkov’s; when a reporter asked how he felt spoiling their night again, he smiled and said “I like it” before getting serious and complimenting them and their team. He also discussed the possibility of being an alternate in Bellator’s light heavyweight tournament.

Even after this, Albrektsson still took a fight with Vladamir Mischenko (10-11) at Superior Challenge 22 next month to stay busy, finishing him via ground and pound in the first round.

It’s clear that he could’ve been in the UFC awhile ago – he’d almost certainly be ranked right now. The twenty-seven year old’s patience implies that he believes he can be an all-time great fighter, and that he knows he isn’t there – yet. It’s a very honest, realistic self-evaluation from someone with very high goals in mind. Some might call that a champion’s mindset.

WRITER’S NOTE: Thank you very much to Sonja Söderström Malm for translating for me despite my implicit refusal to learn what time zone Sweden is in)