Following an injury that halted all of his momentum, IBO light-heavyweight world champion, Sven Fornling (15-1) is riding on the road to recovery. A huge unification bout scheduled for May of this year disappeared, but Sweden’s proud champion is determined to get back into the mix.
“It was the worst of luck. I had everything booked with a fight against Artur Beterbiev,” he told me. “It was a unification fight with the IBO belt I have and the IBF belt he has. I was just kicking-off the training camp for that fight, and after the Murat fight I had some time off and I think I started out too hard in training camp. So, I did some laps running and I felt something a little bit strange in my leg. It just didn’t heal – it got worse and worse.”
He continued to tell me of his suffering, “Eventually, about a week later, I fell in sparring and I couldn’t stand up properly. I had to go to a doctor and check it out. It was a stress fracture. It’s when you push yourself too hard, there is a crack in the shin bone. That was a major setback, of course, and I had to walk with crutches for, I think, six weeks. After that, it’s been a long way back, but I really took my time and I’ve been patient. Now it’s almost fully healed. Some things I can’t do 100% – I have to be careful, but most importantly, I can be in the ring and I can box again. That’s awesome.”
The thirty year-old last set foot in a ring when capturing his IBO world title last December. After eight months away, he hopes to be back in action as soon as possible. “I hope to be back in the ring, maybe later this year in October or November,” he said. “I have an x-ray at the end of August and hopefully then they will see that it’s completely healed and I have no pain from it. It was a tough time. I became world champion and I thought everything was built for success, but then this happened and I had some tough times this year. All these things, basically, it only makes me more certain of myself of what my goal is and what I want to do. It only motivates me to give a little bit extra.”
Due to Fornling’s absence, an interim title fight was sanctioned and contested by Igor Mikhalkin and Timur Nikarkhoev. Mikhalkin, a former IBO light-heavyweight champion himself, scored a one-sided unanimous decision. “I know Igor pretty well. We’ve been sparring together many times,” Fornling explained. “Igor is a stable, solid fighter. He never (makes) many mistakes. He’s very accurate and has great stamina. It was a pretty easy win for Igor, but the opponent was tough, but limited on that level.”
It might not be his first choice to fight Mikhalkin as the pair fight out of the same promotional outfit, but equally, it’s not a challenge he’ll shy away from. “I’m not sure at the moment because we’re in the same stable. If it makes sense to make this fight with Igor and we can all agree on terms, why not? He’s a good opponent, it’s a good fight and let’s make it. But it’s a little bit of setback for me because my goal was to unify other world titles. I had a long dispute with Badou Jack, I was hoping to fight him, but he’s shown no interest in it. It’s in Erol’s (Fornling’s promoter) hands and I trust him to make the best of it. If it’s Igor – I’ll fight Igor. If it’s someone else – no problem, I’ll bring it.”
The champion Fornling defeated to take the title back in December was Karo Murat. Murat has competed at world level and has only previously lost to Nathan Cleverly, Bernard Hopkins and Sullivan Barrera – all high-class 175lbs operators. He added his name to that list with a high volume of punches, dropping the iron-chinned Murat in round one, en route to a unanimous decision win. A result he could be immensely proud of, “I was pleased with my performance. It was a bit of a chaotic fight, you know? I didn’t expect to catch him so early, like I did in the first-round,” he explained. “He went down from a straight-right and I was like, are you really hurt? Are you playing me? Then he came back really strong. I’m satisfied with the performance, but two days after the fight, I sat down and watched it with my coach with critical eyes and we see many things that need improvement. I still need to work on my defence and footwork. I expect the next fight to be one step up and I need to bring more to the table.”
Murat was deducted a point for a punch to the back of the head and attempted to utilise other tricks to gain an advantage during the bout. Sven told me of how he had prior knowledge and was well aware of what Murat might try to do. “We’ve been in sparring camps together many times and I know he’s a dirty, dirty fighter. At the weigh-in, he tried to headbutt me and I headbutted him back. I know his style. If he wants to bring it dirty, then bring it dirty. It doesn’t affect me. I’m going to tear you apart, if you do so.”
Despite reaching the level of success he has so far attained, boxing isn’t his full-time job. It might be one day, but for now, a large part of his time is devoted to a somewhat more ‘normal’ occupation. “I am a public accountant. I studied economy and worked many years as an accountant. On the side, I’ve always had boxing and it’s got bigger and bigger. I’m not like the guy who thinks it’s fun with numbers, with money I’m counting after a fight. It is a decent job and I needed something to study besides boxing and it just kept going.”
But even when our conversation drifts to life away from the ring, I could constantly detect his love for the sweet science. He is without any doubt a fighter at heart. “I’m a fighter. Every hour, basically every minute of every day – I’m thinking about something about boxing. It’s a really big part of my life.”
Anyone reading this who is contemplating writing Fornling off when it comes to unifying the 175lbs division might want to hear his story of a 2017 bout that no-one expected him to prevail in. “In 2017, I became the Swedish champion after I beat Naim Terbunja. Terbunja won the Golden Gloves as an amateur and he won the Swedish National championship ten or eleven times and I wasn’t even qualified to compete. One time I qualified and I got a bronze medal. I was a really poor amateur. Before that fight, they were telling me, ‘he’s a good guy but he’ll get crushed by Terbunja’. I proved them all wrong (He won a near shutout decision). That was a massive day for me,” he concluded.