Gunnar Kristinsson is used to boxing being banned as Iceland’s only pro fighter

Gunnar Kolbeinn Kristinsson laced up a pair of boxing gloves for the same reason many do – to get fit.

He dreams of ending his career in the same way many do – as the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.

But there the similarities end; for the Icelander is the only active male professional fighter from a country which banned professional boxing 64 years ago.

"I started boxing when I was 18," he tells Mirror Fighting . "I was trying to get fit, I was a bit overweight and looking for ways to get in shape.

"I was working with Skuli Armannsson who was the first from Iceland to fight in professional boxing but who only fought one fight. He recommended I tried it because I had long arms; I did one workout and was hooked."

Kolbeinn Kristinsson, now 31, had the choice of just four boxing gyms in a country of 360,000 people which even today allows only a form of amateur boxing.

He would split his time between one four miles away and another which required a 90-minute round trip.

On top of that, he worked full-time as an electrician, fitting in his workouts either side of a day's toil.

"At first it was fine because there were a couple of guys from the older generation still around but as the years went on it became harder and harder to spar," he says.

"People didn't really want to get in and get hit in the head, they would rather do something else!

"It was really expensive to come to Iceland at the time; it was around $1000 just for a flight, then you had to stay and pay for food, so it wasn't really an option to get people to come and train."

As well as flying across Scandinavia to hone his skills, Kolbeinn Kristinsson spent several weeks at Crumlin Boxing Club in Dublin, home to one Conor McGregor, at the invitation of his trainer John Kavanagh who also trains Gunnar Nelson, a UFC welterweight contender from Iceland.

"I went twice for a few weeks for sparring before the World Championship in 2011," he says.

"To be honest, I thought I was a lot better than I actually was, I thought I was pretty good."

But although defeat in the preliminary round was followed by an early exit from the Olympic qualifiers, Kolbeinn Kristinsson refused to give up.

"I never thought about quitting, even in the amateurs I had to work hard for everything, it's never been easy," he says.

"It would have to become really, really hard for me to quit.

"But I didn't realise how much of a disadvantage I had been at until I turned professional, I realised we didn't really know boxing in Iceland; we thought we knew a lot more than we actually did."

Having turned professional with a Swedish license in 2014, Kolbeinn Kristinsson was once again on the road as he sought out fights across the region.

Four of his first six bouts took place in Finland with the others held in Sweden and Denmark.

"I would just get fights on my own," he says. "I would get in touch with various promoters and matchmakers I knew and ask them to put me on cards.

"I'd have to pay between $1000 and $2000 for the opponents myself and I didn't get paid at all – I'm still not really making any money from boxing!

"It was frustrating but I couldn't do much about it so it would have been a waste of energy to be angry about it. I knew if I kept putting in the work then things would work out in the end."

Kolbeinn Kristinsson eased his way to 10 victories from as many fights but still felt he was taking two steps forward and then one back.

"I fought in Finland in 2018 against a guy who was alright but not at my level," he says. "It went to a six-round decision and it was a lot harder than it was supposed to be. At that point I realised I needed a better level of coaching."

He was put in touch with SugarHill Steward, nephew of the late, great Emanuel, and now trainer to heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury.

And a trip to the famed Kronk Gym in Detroit proved to be just the latest eye-opener.

"The intensity of the training was super-high in everything we did and I wasn't used to that," Kolbeinn Kristinsson admits.

"The first time I went there I think I improved 100 per cent, I was a different fighter."

The Icelander returned to the ring earlier this year with a second-round KO in his first fight under Steward but saw his second called off due to the coronavirus crisis, forcing him back from the United States and straight into quarantine.

When boxing returns to a form of normality, he expects to be involved with Fury's camp for his trilogy clash with Deontay Wilder.

But otherwise, his ambitions lie a little closer to home.

"The ban doesn't make much sense, boxing is not banned in other Scandinavian countries," he says.

"When they allowed it in Norway it was because Cecilia Braekhus was making noise because she was a world champion and wanted to fight at home.

"She put pressure on and they allowed it and I think that is something I have to do; if I win a title then I think I can force them to have an event and from there we will see."

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