How MMA saved Alexander Gustafsson after being jailed as a teenager

December 28, 2013

In an interview with the Swedish language site Expressen.se, Alexander Gustafsson, now 26, reveals how MMA turned his life around after he spent 15 months in jail as a teenager.

Alexander Gustafsson was born in Arboga, Sweden in 1987. As a kid he tried various sports inclduing soccer, ice hockey and bandy (similar to hockey, but using a ball instead of a puck).

Gustafsson have problems during adolescence. And as a 15-year-old got his first conviction, for assault. In 2005 he was sentenced for aggravated assault and sentenced to 15 months in jail.

In 2006 he movedy to Gothenburg, Sweden and, on the advice of a friend, began to train MMA.

In 2007 he started to fight, and after an impressive eight straight wins, in 2009 he got a chance in the UFC.

Gustafsson beat Jared Hamman in debut. Then "The Mauler" lost his second fight in the UFC, against Phil Davis. He decides then to go over to the USA to train, with Davis.

He won six straight fights and got a title shot vs Jon Jones in September, losing by decision after what many call the fight of the year.

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It is a cool December evening in Stockholm.

We sit at a Persian restaurant to summarize a remarkable year for Alexander Gustafsson, and to look forward to in 2014. And also to talk about something difficult.

Anyone who has met Alex knows the person he is today, what a role model he is for Swedish martial arts.

But in his past are a number of convictions for aggravated assault. These took place between 2002 and 2006, when he was in his teens.

"This is the only interview I am doing about this," said Gustafsson. "I feel like I want to have my say. Then I want to leave it and look forward. This happened when I was a teenager. Today, I am a completely different person.

"As a youth, I always had a lot of energy. And I had no real goals. Thus, I had great parents, great family, but I did not know where I was going with all this energy.

"I ended up in negative ways and it became a destructive behavior.

"I cannot defend it in any way. It is something I am ashamed of. It was..."

Gustafsson searches for the right words.

"There were some circumstances when I grew up," he continued. "It was very groupings and there were fights on the town. It lasted a few years, then I moved away. From Arboga to Gothenburg. To get away from all that.

"I was young, I was stupid."

"The time in prison? It was hard. I was young, I was stupid. I left a secure home for a quite precarious existence."

Gustafsson is asked what his salvation was? How did you become the person you are today?

"MMA," he said. "When I started with it so everything turned. It was really a wow experience. There was something special. I liked the special atmosphere at the club, including the guys. The instructors were strongly for discipline and structure, and I have had problems with that before. Now I got it there. And it was in connection with an interest I had.

"I realized pretty quickly that this was something I wanted to do, and that what I had been doing previously was not at all sustainable.

"t was a relief. From having been out with a destructive behavior - to that. Wow, I'm free!. A ton WAS lifted from my shoulders.

"And not only that. I saw how my parents lit up, my siblings, my grandmother. People who love me. Those who have always been there and supported me, even during the tough times. Now they saw that I had been given structure. I came home with a smile on my face. I had found a calling in life."

"It has just grown and grown, becoming larger and larger. Now I'm an athlete. Now I live MMA."

"It is with me all the time. It gives a sense of security and a balance in life.

"And I must emphasize pastor Wiggo Carlsson. He was like my spiritual mentor. He gave me advice about most things and I got a peace of him. It was a great man. But he passed away last year, unfortunately ... I carried the coffin at his funeral.

Alex collects himself slightly, and then looks back on the year that has passed.

"2013 ... It's been tough," he said. "I have just fought a match and I lost. But much good has come from that game as well. There are mixed feelings."

Does it feel weird to get so much credit for a loss?

"Yes, indeed," said Gutafsson. "I have won several years in a row, and I have never received so much attention before. It feels a little half-fishy indeed. But so it is. I met the world's best fighter and made a good match. People had well figured me out in advance. But I'm a perfectionist, I want that belt, that's what I work for."

"First, I figth now, March 8 in London. I meet Jimi Manuwa and should win against him. Then, hopefully, a re-match against Jon Jones, and take home the belt.
Aiming for new title match."

"Manuwa's tough! I see it as my toughest match so far, actually. Because he's a lot like me. But ... he is an Alexander Gustafsson, from two years ago," says Gustafsson, smiling.

Read entire article... (orginal Swedish language)