By Oliver Fennell

KOLBEINN KRISTINSSON wants what any boxer his size wants: to be heavyweight champion of the world.

At 6ft 6ins and 250lbs, and with an undefeated record, both his looks and his stats are marketable. He has a world-class coach in SugarHill Steward and a respected promoter in Dmitriy Salita.

There’s just one problem: professional boxing is banned in his country.

Iceland outlawed the sport entirely in 1956, citing its dangers, and only relented on the amateur code in 2002, under the supervision of the Icelandic Sports and Olympic Association. Since then, the ranks of unpaid competitors in a country with a population of just 370,000 has swelled to an estimated 700. That may not sound like a lot, but for perspective, that same proportion of the UK population would give us 120,000 amateur boxers.

“Amateur boxing is popular here,” says Kristinsson. “We have regular tournaments and a couple of thousand people will attend the biggest shows.”

Still, the powers that be remain stubborn in their stance on the pro game.

“When it was voted on, no one was in the Senate,” he says. “It was a Monday morning, when there’s the fewest people there. That’s what they do when they want something to pass – they do it when no one’s there. It hasn’t been to put to a vote again.”

Fellow Nordic countries Sweden and Norway relaxed their own pro boxing bans in 2007 and 2014, respectively, but Kristinsson points out a distinction which tempers hopes Iceland may follow suit. “In Norway and Sweden, it was not illegal, it was unlicensed,” he says. “People could stage fights; they just wouldn’t be recognised. Here, you can get arrested. One time, some people here were arrested for staging exhibitions. The police came and sawed the ring in half.”

Sweden and Norway’s cases were no doubt helped by a handful of pro boxers who excelled even without being able to compete in their home countries. Swedes Armand Krajnc and George Scott were contenders in exile during the late 1990s-early 2000s, as was Ole Klemetsen of Norway, while his compatriot Cecilia Braekhus had already built a career as one of the female greats before boxing at home four times in 2016-2017.

The ‘Ice Bear’, from Gardabaer just outside Reykjavik, believes his own successes will be key to overturning the Icelandic ban.

“People are lobbying for it, but it’s hard,” he says. “I have to put the pressure on by winning big fights. If I can win some titles, that will put pressure [on the authorities], as people will want to see me defend them here.”

He has boxed in six countries, reaching into his own pockets to ensure he stays out of the ‘away’ corner.

“I pay for my opponents,” he says. “Thankfully I have a lot of big sponsors, because I can’t sell many tickets as a foreigner – although I did hear after I fought in Austria [on September 30 vs England’s Michael Bassett] that a lot of fans there said they’d pay to watch me again.”

Kolbeinn Kristinsson and Tyson Fury

Not only does Kristinsson have to traverse Europe to get fights, he also conducts his training camps with Steward in Detroit. (“I go as often as I can, and if it’s a fight camp, it’s for a month.”) At least, as a self-employed personal trainer, he has the freedom to take time off when needed, and while he admits “it is hard” to be so itinerant, he rules out a relocation.

“Sugar wanted me to move to the States, but I’ve got a family [partner Inga and two kids, aged 11 and two] and a house here,” he says. “It wouldn’t be worth it just to go through the same struggles. It would have to be for Saudi money.”

It all begs the question as to why he even started boxing in the first place.

“In 2009, I was working with a guy that had been the first pro boxer here [Skulli Armannsson, who had one bout in the US in 2008],” Kristinsson explains. “He said ‘you’re big, you have long arms, you can beat someone up’. I wanted to get fit, so I started boxing.“I started getting into shape, started sparring, and got addicted. I started to do well. I had 40 amateur fights, beat a lot of the top heavyweights in Scandinavia and was Icelandic champion for many years. I wanted to do more, so turning pro was the logical next step.”

He did so, with a Swedish licence, in November 2014, which means it has taken him almost a decade to compile his 14-0 (8) record – a glacial pace for a heavyweight prospect. But this, hopefully, is about to change.

“This year, I want to fight five-six times, get into the top 50-100 [on BoxRec] and win a small belt with the big four [sanctioning bodies],” he says. “Next year, I want to start to challenge for bigger titles, get to a Saudi card and get paid properly. In the long term, of course, I want to be world champion.”

Already 35, Kristinsson might not have the luxury of time, and it’s fair to say there’s not yet much substance to his win column. He concedes this, shrugging his shoulders and offering a slightly embarassed smile when I ask who his toughest opponent has been, but argues it could be a good thing: “I haven’t had any hard fights, so I don’t have the same miles on the clock as the other guys in their 30s.”

A better gauge of his standing, says ‘Kolli’, came  not in competition but in sparring several top heavyweights – namely Tyson Fury, Joseph Parker, Filip Hrgovic, Agit Kabayel, Jarrell Miller, Jared Anderson and Robert Helenius.

“Fury is good. It’s strange to box him,” he says. “He’s so big, but so nimble and so fast. It takes two or three rounds to get used to it. It was good; I learned a lot.

“Parker is really good. I’m not surprised he beat Wilder. He just needed a new coach. Andy [Lee] lit a fire under him.

“Hrgovic is good at what he does, but he’s hittable. I hit him and almost knocked him out.

“Kabayel has very high cardio, high volume. He’s a strong guy, very disciplined, well conditioned.

“I sparred Helenius for three years. In the gym, he can beat up any fighter in the world. It just doesn’t translate to the ring.

“You can’t read too much into it, but sparring gives me the idea I can hang with these guys. I haven’t felt out of place; they were very even spars. Even against Fury [in late 2022], it was more even than I thought it would be.

“The division’s wide open. In a couple of years, I can beat most of them. My technical skills are up there with the top guys, I have power in both hands; tenacity and willpower. But if you don’t have momentum, it doesn’t matter. That’s why I want to fight a lot more.”

Easier said than done when you live on a remote subarctic island where doing so is outlawed. But Kristinsson says this is what shapes and proves his fighting character.

“I’m not in boxing because I’m poor and I need it,” he says. “I’m in it because I want it.

“Fifteen years, still going strong despite the obstacles, because of my desire – that proves more than fighting because you have to.”