From Linköping to Hollywood; Meet Martial Arts Pioneer Lars Wallin
Lars Wallin has martial arts schools, is a physical trainer to celebrities, and runs Wallin MMA at Fortune Gym in Hollywood, CA. The Swede’s adventure into BJJ and MMA started with an unsuccessful “Gracie challenge” in Rorian Gracie’s garage (this was before UFC 1) and his journey 20 years later is still taking new twists and turns. Let’s learn more about Wallin, with the motto “Points Are for Pussies”, in this exclusive interview.
Interview with Lars Wallin
MMA Viking : Can you tell me about your martial arts background, and how it all began?
Wallin: Well, I started with Judo (under Istvan Hambalek) back in Linköping when I was 5 years old and really loved it. Later when I was around 13 or so, I picked up Kyokushin Karate (under Håkan Nygren). I met Royce and started to train with him and his family in the early -90s when I moved to LA.
Video of Wallin Rolling from 2005
“Winning my first BJJ tournament with Royce and Rickson coaching me was huge for me.”
MMA Viking : Do you consider yourself the first Swedish MMA fighter?
Wallin : What kind of question is that? I have been busy here in LA training BJJ and MMA daily for over 20 years now, so why don’t you look around back in Sweden and tell me who was first, cause that’s kinda hard for me to know from here! I know that when Aftonbladet & Expressen wrote crap about me and the sport they misunderstood when I explained for them what UFC was and they called the sport “Ultimate fighting” and funny enough I have noticed that still today many folks back in Sweden believes that it’s what the sport is called!
MMA Viking : As a competitor, what moment or accomplishment are you the most proud of? As a coach and mentor?
Wallin : Winning my first BJJ tournament with Royce and Rickson coaching me was huge for me. I really looked up to them and didn’t want to disapoint them. Submitting my first blackbelt as a purplebelt in a “NO GI tournament” (before it was called submission wrestling) gave me a huge boost in confidence in my own techniques. Winning the US Nationals in BJJ was memorable because I had high fever and diarrea so it was a real challenge just to get out of bed. I was sooo weak and I guess it helped because I choked out all five opponents very quickly.
Being that I have been one of Royce sparring-partnes from early on I think my most proud moments was watching him win his epic battles in UFC & Pride. Today I have lost all interest in BJJ as a sport because I can’t stand the BS and subjective point-systems that has ruined it! I have developed my own unique style and techniques and I enjoy watching the fighters I coach using them in the cage or ring.
On a more personal note, I couldn’t help but smiling when I saw Ralek Gracie use my armbar from “L mount” in his first bout in “Dreams” instead of “pure Gracie Jiu-Jitsu”, hehe! For my own family, the proudest moments have been helping Magnus and watching him become “the World’s Strongest Man”! I have even brought Royce to some of the WSM competitions and they have become good friends over the years.
MMA Viking : You now live in Hollywood. What brought you and kept you in California?
Wallin : My dad died and I decided to look around and travel the world a bit. I met an Italian Dr. here in LA and got married 4 weeks later. She was very supportive about my training at the Gracie Academy (1.5 hours away) so I spent most of the days 5 day a week there for many years.
“I might be turning 45 this winter but I sure don’t feel at the moment!”
MMA Viking : You run the MMA program at Fortune Gym, along with having your own Walllin MMA and do seminars. What are your goals for the future?
Wallin : I take every day as it comes and don’t plan to much ahead, actually. I love the boys at the gym and there is talks about a TV-series about my life there… So there’s a good chance the Swedish TV-viewers will get to know us a lot more next spring!
I have just finished a DVD set with a bunch of unique submissions for MMA. It was produced by MMA HEAT and we are also talking about doing some other stuff that I can’t get into yet. I might be turning 45 this winter but I sure don’t feel at the moment!
MMA Viking : You were at the UFC in Sweden, and I remember a Tweet you sent “At the UFC Stockholm, Too bad I’m on the outside of the cage!”. Do you have any regrets you never stepped into the Octagon?
Wallin : OK, if you knew me , you would never ask me that question because I truly live in the present and spend little time thinking about what could have been. I know my potential and level but my back-injury before a “King of the Cage” match ended all chances for a MMA career. It took years for me to find a way to be able to spar and train without going numb in my legs. But it was also what helped me find my own unique style and techniques, and today I am who I am because of it, so it’s all good!
“What I felt at the UFC Stockholm was more a feeling of coming full circle.”
When I left this country it didn’t exist at all… Then I have spent many years visiting schools and helped students and fighters that deserves a chance to fight… Guys like Per Eklund, Rami Aziz, Niclas Danielsson, Nicklas Bäckström, Anny Hammarsten, Johan Jorup, Tor Troeng and many others. I am still a Swede in my heart and I have always kept my door open to help Swedish fighters any way I can.
So to finally be able to sit in Globen and look around… Watching the thousands of fans, fighters cheering for the new generation of Swedish fighters was VERY moving to me! And it would have been awesome to have been inside that octagon and ended my 20 yrs in the sport fighting in front of a Swedish crowd that did not even exist when I got started.
MMA Viking : What of you think of today’s MMA scene? Sweden?
Wallin : I have said for a long time now that Swedish fighters are world-class in many ways. Physically and mentally they are outstanding. There are a lot of great Muy Thay tradition and karate also so the kicking part is great too. When it comes to takedowns there has been alot of improvement in the last few yrs it looks, but I think many fighters would benefit in coming down to SoCal and for ex drill with my friends at Reign TC. The submission-game and boxing is where I think many things could get better. Today everyone is good at the pro level so you need to bring some unique tools and style to stand out!
When Magnus Cedenblad, Alex Gustafsson and Tor Troeng were here in SoCal and trained with the guys at Reign so many were baffled by their physical dominance, they are really world class and I hope that both Magnus and Tor manage to show up at their best for UFC future because they’re really good!
MMA Viking : I’ve seen you on Swedish TV, doing personal training for some of the TV personalities that travel through Hollywood. What are some of the celebrities you have trained?
Wallin : Haha, yeah Jeremy Williams ( fd WBO champ hw boxing and coach for “Bully beatdown” on MTV) and I got fooled into a tequila-race by some girls in “Lyckan i LA”! That was embarrassing! I train a lot of producers and even some Swedish ones so that’s how I ended up doing a season on “Hollywoodfruar”, “Lyckan i LA”, Ana Gina Dirwas show mm.
The list of Swedish celebs have grown alot lately, people like: Filip Hammar, Fredrik Wikingson, Bingo Rimer, Katrin Z, Hans Wiklund, Pontus Gårdinger, Josephine Bournebusch, Isabel Adrian, Ana Gina Dirwa are probably names that most Swedes are familiar with. The list of celebs have become quite long through the years. It felt more glamorous to train a-list clients in the beginning.
Nowadays it doesn’t matter much if its’s an orthodox jew or Denzel Washington that’s waiting at the gym. It’s just a job and they are just people like the rest of us. I understand that people at home are curious but this is Hollywood and this is where they live you know! Your readers can go to LarsWallinPT.com if they want to see a list of some of the celebes I have trained.
MMA Viking : Any fighters you’ve trained that we should keep an eye on?
Wallin : I believe guys like Rami Aziz, Nicklas Bäckström, Niklas Danielsson, Johan Jorup could go far if they stay clear from injuries. It looks like Brendan Shaub is on his way in to me so hopefully I can bump up his submission-game. I have a super-talent in a 18 yrs young Russian named Alex Zaytsev but he is not sure if this is something he would like to do or not yet. But man, if he does… WATCH OUT! Chris Reilly (former 10th planet) has brought a lot of his fighters to us in the last few weeks and many of them look really great!