As the sport of mixed martial arts has transitioned from the bottom of the barrel to mainstream, a large portion of its growth is credited to the United States and Brazil. It is these two countries who have produced some of the world’s top athletes, ultimately providing incomparable excitement and entertainment. As a result, MMA and promotions such as the UFC have rapidly soared through the roof.

While the UFC has spread its visits from sea to sea, there is one location they’ve yet to stop in—the country of Finland.

There, you’ll find UFC newcomer Anton Kuivanen. Kuivanen, originally from the country of Estonia, made the transition to Finland to pursue a career in MMA. However, MMA wasn’t always at the top of Kuivanen’s Christmas list as several other sports consumed his interests. Boxing, soccer, and even hockey held precedence in Kuivanen’s life at an early age.

“I never really had a big interest in MMA when I was a young kid,” Kuivanen told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “I’ve played and enjoyed many different types of sports in my life.”

Kuivanen (Heikki Hujala/Sherdog)

“I played ice hockey and soccer for the longest time. It got to the point where I lost my love for the sport and ran out of passion to continue playing them. I started boxing, and I was pretty good at it. I decided to go watch an MMA event in Helsinki back in 2004. From that moment, I decided I had to give the sport a try. I still remember my first official practice, I fell in love with the sport,” explained Kuivanen. “I’ve been training and fighting ever since.”

It was smooth sailin’ for Kuivanen out of the gate as he was able to capture his first amateur win in just eight seconds. The success continued as the name ‘Anton Kuivanen’ began to surface. After posting a 16-4 record and capturing the lightweight championship in Cage, a Finnish organization, Kuivanen received the call that every fighter dreams of—a call from the world’s top promotion, the UFC.

But the sailin’ came to an end and the wind stopped blowing. Kuivanen had his back against the wall in the most important fight of his life. He was in a battle with fellow 155-pounder Justin Salas in his UFC debut at UFC on Fuel: Sanchez vs. Ellenberger. After 15 long minutes, Kuivanen saw his nine-fight winning streak come to an end. Needless to say, it was a difficult loss to swallow.

“It was extremely hard to handle,” the 28-year-old confessed. “The hardest part was knowing that I didn’t perform to my best ability. I need to give credit where credit is due. Salas was able to execute his game plan perfectly against me. A few things went wrong in my preparation for this fight. I felt like I was frozen throughout the fight and couldn’t get comfortable. The loss after nine straight wins woke up the hungry beast in me who had fallen asleep.”

Fortunately for Kuivanen, life is filled with second chances. And so is the UFC. This time, Kuivanen will meet Mitch Clarke in a lightweight clash at UFC 149 on July 21 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Kuivanen knows what’s at stake and this time, he’ll be prepared for it.

Kuivanen (L) (Heikki Hujala/Sherdog)

“The opportunity to fight in the UFC again means everything to me. I’ve sacrificed a lot and worked harder than ever before to earn my first win in the UFC,” admitted Kuivanen. “It will probably be the best moment of my life, but let me enjoy the ride first.”

“Mitch has a strong wrestling base and he better be willing to give everything he’s got. I feel I’m technically superior in all aspects of the game compared to him. I believe that I’m also faster, stronger and smarter than Mitch. I believe those facts will make the difference on Saturday night when it matters the most,” said Kuivanen.

While nothing is ever guaranteed in the world of MMA, Kuivanen is confident he’ll deliver in impressive fashion. A fashion that fans will remember for a long, long time.

“I’m predicting a flashy knockout, either sooner or later. If the opportunity presents itself, I might just submit him too,” said Kuivanen. “Anything goes in this fight.”

Top Photo: Anton Kuivanen (Antti Latva-Kyyny)

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