Granat ready to explode
Luke G. Williams
In an exclusive interview, Luke G. Williams speaks to Sweden’s promising heavyweight prospect Adrian Granat about nicknames, pressure, a brewing domestic rivalry and much more …
Appropriately enough for a man whose surname - roughly translated from his native Swedish - means ‘hand grenade’, Adrian Granat is a talent who is set to explode into the top rank of the heavyweight division over the next couple of years.
You’d think that Granat’s surname would have earned him a typically hyperbolic nickname, such as the ‘Grenade’ or ‘the Swedish Bomber’, yet he is instead known as ‘the Pike’. Not knowing much about fish I’ve always been puzzled as to the derivation of this somewhat unconventional moniker. However, the man himself is pleased to explain to Boxing Monthly the suitability and derivation of his aquatic nickname.
“I got the nickname from my old amateur trainer,” he says. “I was thin, tall and could punch hard. Just like the pike. This fish is very common in Sweden and it is the best hunter in the sweet waters of Sweden. My old trainer gave nicknames to everyone, and I guess mine stuck.”
Nomenclature to one side, what is undeniable is that Granat has thus far made a spectacular start to his professional career, assembling a perfect ledger of 12-0, with 11 stoppages. With his imposing 6’7½” height, formidable power in both fists and impressive athleticism, many observers are tipping the 25-year-old for superstardom, but the man himself remains resolutely and charmingly down-to-earth.
“I’m happy that I’m being appreciated and highly thought of,” he tells BM, “But at the same time I’m trying not to care about it, because that would put a weight on my shoulders, which is something I don’t want. So I care about it but I try to not let it affect me. I just want to do what I love, which is to box. Boxing makes me happy, but I am trying to stay with both feet on the ground.”
Born Carl Wilhelm Adrian Granat in Malmo, Sweden in 1991, ‘The Pike’ came to boxing via a well-worn path, namely that of the classic ‘troubled teenager’, although he is keen to emphasise that the Swedish equivalent of a ‘misspent youth’ is not quite as extreme as life on the mean streets of urban America.
“Compared to the standard of living in [some places in] America, growing up in Sweden is a piece of cake,” he explains to BM. “It’s not that I had it hard, but you can still be a troubled child even if you come from Malmo. [As a boy] I used to get involved in a lot of fighting and this sort of stuff. Don’t misunderstand me though - I didn’t have a bad upbringing. I just never liked it if anyone ‘messed with me’, so to speak!”
Steered in the direction of a local boxing gym by his school, in the hope that it would instil in him some much-needed discipline, Granat describes his discovery of boxing in almost mystical terms.
“I remember it well,” he says of his first visit to the gym. “I was sold immediately. I was around 12 and something surged in me … I needed something to help me be able to handle myself, in case anyone did anything towards me, so boxing gave me quite a bit of self-security and confidence. It was fun and I fell in love with the sport.”
Granat’s amateur career was successful, although his opportunities for international experience were limited in Sweden, where boxing has had a low profile for many years, partly because of a ban on professional pugilism which began in 1970 and only came to an end in 2006.
Despite scooping national amateur titles in 2009 and 2012, Granat is modest in his own appraisal of his spell in the amateur ranks. “In my amateur career I had a lot of ups and downs,” he shrugs. “I had a natural talent. I was skinny but I could still knock people out, so I’ve always had my punching power, but I had a little problem with my mind, my mentality.
“I could win against, for example, the English junior champion, but might lose at home against a local fighter because of anxiety or because I was a little bit nervous before my fights. That hindered me. But gradually I learnt to cope with this, so now it’s no problem.”
In a country with so few full-time boxers (less than 40 at the time of writing), turning pro was a risk, but one that Granat was more than willing to take, even though his university education could have led to a comfortable and far less precarious existence as an accountant or financial auditor.
“Boxing is a passion,” he emphasises. “I’m not satisfied sitting in an office typing numbers in to a computer. That doesn’t satisfy my needs as a person. Maybe it’s not exciting enough! Whatever the reason, I’ve always wanted to be a professional boxer. Ever since I started out at amateur level, I always talked about being a professional, so it wasn’t a hard decision [to turn pro], it was what I had always wanted. It’s like a need inside of me. I want to do this so bad.”
Granat made his professional debut in November 2013, securing a second-round TKO of Polish trialhorse Patryk Kowoll. “I put a lot of pressure on myself because I aim high,” Granat recalls of his first pro contest. “Before I turned professional I was often afraid to look bad. So before my debut I was a bit nervous, but still it was a thrilling feeling to turn pro, finally the moment was here!”
In order to further his career, Granat soon decamped to Hamburg, Germany, to fight under the banner of promoter Erol Ceylan’s EC Box Promotion stable. Ceylan, speaking to BM, recalled how the Swede’s persistence led to him earning a promotional contract.
“He originally came to Hamburg for some sparring as an amateur in 2012. He came to help Christian Hammer out before a fight and he gave a very good performance, sparring against Hammer and also Juan Carlos Gomez. He was very good and at that time I told him that if at any stage he wanted to become a professional he should find me.
“Two years later, he kept writing and emailing me saying: ‘I want to be a professional give me a chance!’ But from an email I couldn’t remember him! Anyway, he had a fight in Sweden and then our manager Thomas Schmidt said, ‘hey, this guy keeps emailing us,’ so I said ‘okay, he can come and spar and we will watch him’.
“So Adrian came, I saw him and then I remembered him straight away, so I said: ‘There’s no need to spar, go upstairs and sign a contract!’ After that he grew up very fast. He took everything on board, he was good in sparring, and we’ve given him good opponents and he’s had a very fast career so far.”
Ceylan enthusiastically assesses Granat’s strengths thus: “He’s a very good mover. He has good timing and very hard hands. He also has a big heart, he’s not scared of punches. He can take a good punch and give a good punch and he’s also a really strong guy.”
When I ask Granat himself for a self-appraisal of his talents, he pauses and weighs his words carefully. “I consider myself, how would you say … I always want to improve,” he says. “My biggest strength is that I’m big but also quite athletic. What’s also become a big strength is my mental toughness, compared to most fighters and most people in general. That would be my biggest strength, along with my natural [physical] strength and physique. I’d also like to add that I’m never satisfied, I always look for things that I’m doing wrong or not doing well enough.”
The impression that Granat takes his pugilistic craft extremely seriously is reinforced by his assessment and explanation of how he has sought to develop his uppercut. “The uppercut is important especially as a tall fighter,” he explains. “[If you have a good uppercut] you are able to stand your ground with the in-fighting when somebody comes at you. It can be quite frightening to be hit by an uppercut. Having a good uppercut means you feel security when somebody comes at you. It makes you feel secure.”
Granat’s studious and thoughtful approach has thus far paid off handsomely, in a pro career that is without serious blemish. Since his debut only Czech Tomas Mrazek has extended him to the final bell (in a six-round encounter in September 2013) while notable, albeit faded, names such as Danny Williams (KO2), Darnell Wilson (KO 2), Michael Sprott (KO1) and Evgeny Orlov (TKO2) have all been ruthlessly dispatched.
Most impressive of all, though, was Granat’s most recent performance, in March this year, when he became the first man to stop Serbian-born tough guy Samir Kurtagic, a feat that was beyond Granat’s domestic rival Otto Wallin, as well as the likes of Mariusz Wach, Denis Boytsov, Carlos Takem and Francesco Pianeta.
“My last fight with Kurtagic was my toughest so far,” Granat admits. “He could take so much [punishment]. I haven’t had so much experience in terms of rounds and he was smart and tricky, although he didn’t punch so hard. I had to be tactical, I couldn’t just punch him and it would be a KO just like that - I had to work a little bit for my victory.
“I always try to go forward; if I win on points that’s not enough for me. I put a lot of value in being able to finish opponents, so that’s what I was trying to do. I was pressuring using my ring intelligence. In the fifth and sixth I put a lot of combinations together. He was wobbled a couple of times and was taking quite a lot so the corner threw in the towel.”
Granat’s pugilistic education has also benefited from working as a sparring partner for Wladimir Klitschko ahead of his contest with Tyson Fury last year. “I learned a lot,” he admits of this experience. “First of all, I got to feel that I could hang with the best, so to speak. That was quite a confidence booster. Also I got to see a champ in real life, how he works, how he operates. So I took a lot with me from that training camp. It’s not like I want to be Klitschko and do things exactly as he does but his discipline I look up to and I’ve taken that with me. Plus it made me realise I was working hard but not hard enough!”
Despite his admiration of Klitschko’s work ethic, Granat does not believe the Ukrainian will regain his heavyweight crown when he rematches Fury this July. “I can’t see Klitschko winning,” he argues. “I just can’t see it. And actually I want Fury to win - I think he’s better for the sport. Klitschko is not so good for the sport, his character is quite boring, he doesn’t bring the excitement the heavyweight division needs.
“The division needs people like [Anthony] Joshua, like myself, the guys who are coming up right now. That makes for an interesting heavyweight division, like back in the days. I’d rather see the heavyweight division going in that direction rather than keeping Klitschko as champion.”
In terms of his own ambitions, Granat sees three fighters as the main obstacles to his own world-title chances in the next few years. “I would say Joshua first, he’s dangerous,” he assesses. “I haven’t seen so much of [Joseph] Parker, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about him. And then Fury too. Any one in the [world] top ten I’d respect before I get in the ring with them, but at European level - those guys I feel pretty confident I can beat already.”
Perhaps the most intriguing potential foe for Granat at European level is fellow Swede Otto Wallin, who is part of the Sauerland brothers’ promotional outfit. The men are less than six months apart in age and Wallin’s resumé of 14-0 (10 KOs) is similar to Granat’s – they’ve even fought two of the same opponents in Kurtagic and Mrazek.
A battle between Granat and Wallin is arguably the biggest fight that could be made in Swedish boxing right now, and could be the country’s equivalent of last year’s thrilling showdown between unbeaten Britons Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte.
“I challenged him a couple of months ago, but since I’ve done so well [in my recent fights] they’ve been quite quiet,” Granat says when asked for his thoughts on this potential domestic blockbuster. “I don’t know what is going to happen. I’m up for the fight tomorrow. I would love to make a fight in Sweden like Whyte versus Joshua was in the UK.”
Promoter Ceylan, however, expresses doubt about the Sauerlands’ willingness to match Wallin with Granat. “We’d fight him immediately,” he declares. “I think Adrian could fight him with only one hand, his left hand. But I don’t think Sauerland will allow it as I think they know Otto Wallin has no chance against Adrian Granat.
“Adrian is in the first league and I think Otto Wallin is maybe in the second league. I don’t think Sauerland will risk it. It’s a dangerous step for them. I don’t think they’ll take the risk, I hope that they do but don’t think they will.”
Whether the Wallin match-up comes off or not, Granat’s vision for the rest of this year, and beyond, is clear. “I’m planning to have three or four more fights this year,” he says. “I like to stay active - it’s key in order to progress. You can only do so much in training, you’ve got to be able to see the results in fights themselves and get more experience. By the end of the year I’m aiming to fight against a good name, meaning top 20, top 15, or for the European title.
“It’s also a goal of mine to be able to fight in front of a home crowd. It would be a dream come true to bring a World or European title fight to Sweden. But also, it’s a dream of mine to fight, for example, at Madison Square Garden. If I won a world championship at Madison Square Garden that would bring me right up alongside some of the greats, sharing the same room, so to speak, as some of the greats. You see, at the same time as being a boxer I’m also a fan, I love the sport. It would be a great feeling to fight at that historic arena.”
According to Ceylan, the next step for his charge will be a 4 June showdown with Bolivian heavyweight Saul Farah. And beyond that? Does Ceylan see a world title shot in the future? “If he works hard and stays in shape, concentrates and learns then, yes, he can make a good challenge for the championship, and maybe win it. We will see. The future is open for him.”