The Brazilian Swede


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David Bielkheden (Pictures) has been fighting for attention all his life.

Born into a large family with seven brothers, sisters and half-siblings, he had to find his niche at an early age. Thus he started training kickboxing at 13. His first coach, Jen Hulten, immediately realized young David's potential, but Swedish law prevented Bielkheden from getting into the ring for another two years.

At 19 he had his first contact with Brazilian jiu-jitsu in his hometown of Stockholm. Little did Bielkheden know when he first stepped on the mats at Hilti BJJ Academy, the ground-fighting martial art would later become the focal point of his life. In fact, he was even better on the ground than fighting on the feet, and soon he was placing in grappling tournaments throughout Europe.

Hilti head coach Richard Andersson then suggested that Bielkheden enter mixed martial arts. After he lost his debut in November 2001, the young fighter considered how he could improve. The answer lied in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he went to train with Brazilian Top Team.

In the years that followed, Bielkheden visited Rio regularly and often returned to Sweden with a new colored belt in his luggage. In 2006 he not only received a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu from former UFC middleweight champion Murilo Bustamante (Pictures), he also became the first non-Brazilian member of Brazilian Top Team.

His fight career stagnated, though, following a decision loss to top lightweight Mitsuhiro Ishida (Pictures) at Pride Bushido 13. Instead of participating in the Lightweight Grand Prix in 2007, Bielkheden was locked out of fighting for more than a year following Pride's sale to Zuffa.

"It was very boring and sad," Bielkheden says. "It's not good to stay out of the ring for such a long time."

As if to answer his call for help, Zuffa closed Pride's Tokyo office last October and released the remaining fighters it hadn't brought over to the UFC. A free man again, Bielkheden couldn't wait to get back into the ring and returned to his roots to participate in FinnFight, the promotion that allowed him to make his MMA debut six years earlier.

At FinnFight 9 he scored a unanimous decision over ADCC Europe Vice President Lubormir Roumenov and followed up with a first-round knockout over experienced Croatian kickboxer Nikola Matic only four weeks later. And by a strange twist of fate, the UFC came calling again and offered him a fight against "Ultimate Fighter" season one winner Diego Sanchez (Pictures).

"I have not seen much of his fights, but he has good wrestling and stamina," Bielkheden says. "I have not seen him fight standing up, so I guess he is more comfortable on the ground."

The keys to success for the strong Swede are obvious: Keep up with Sanchez's pace and defend his takedowns.

"That's the plan," Bielkheden admits. "I will try to defend his takedowns, but if I can't do that, I will just fight off my back. When all is said and done, I don't care [how the fight ends], just as long as it's a good fight."

Bielkheden makes no secret of his goals in the UFC, but at the same time he is realistic.

"Of course I will try to become the champion in the UFC -- it's a dream of mine," he says. "But for now, I will just take it fight by fight."

Still, you realize Bielkheden means business in the Octagon when he says he would even enter it against compatriot and former training partner Per Eklund (Pictures). Fighting is his job, and the heavily tattooed Scandinavian has been at work since the days when MMA was still called NHB.

Now Bielkheden, who likes the beaches in Brazil just as much as his local football team AIK, has a multi-fight UFC contract that begins with his March 1 bout against Sanchez. "The Nightmare" will be coming off back-to-back losses, and with a good guard, better than decent standup skills and a chin made of granite, Bielkheden should provide an interesting test.

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