Deadlift world record holder and ex-World’s Strongest Man Hafthor Bjornsson faces arguably the hardest test of his incredible career on Saturday, stepping into the boxing ring to take on seasoned professional Steven Ward in Dubai.
Weighing in at a staggering 344lb ahead of his boxing debut at the sold-out Conrad in Dubai, Icelandic giant Bjornsson knows that he is a rank outsider against former light heavyweight champion Ward, despite holding a mammoth weight advantage of around 127lb over his opponent.
Cynics poured scorn on the credibility of the bout when it was announced in December, yet there is reason alongside the novelty for the hulk who won World’s Strongest Man in 2018.
Bjornsson has a more even-looking clash of the titans against Briton Eddie Hall – the man whose deadlift record he broke last year – on the horizon in September, and sees a tune-up against a foe who would be daunting to many professional boxers as an ideal opportunity to understand the task ahead of him.
“It was a great way to focus on something else,” the man who played “The Mountain” in hit TV show Game of Thrones told iFL, looking ahead to a meeting with Hall that is being promoted as “the heaviest boxing match in history”.
“I get to give my body a break from being so heavy. I was close to 200kg (440lb) for almost a decade, and that’s not healthy for your body long-term, so I decided to do something new.”
Bjornsson is likely to enter the contest more than a stone heavier than Nikolai Valuev, the towering Russian who was known as the world’s largest heavyweight before his final fight in 2009.
He is also substantially heavier than Tyson Fury, the current WBC king who weighed in at 273lb before his knockout victory over Deontay Wilder to win his belt last year.
“The weight difference is there but this fight is all about ring experience for me,” admitted Bjornsson, adding that Ward is a similar height to Hall.
“I have only been training for six months and I have never done it before, so I’m excited for this exhibition.
“This is huge preparation for my fight with Hall. It’s one thing training in the gym but to be preparing for an actual fight and experience the traveling, the pre-fight stuff, having a referee there and understanding the rules of boxing, it’s all new.”
The bout will take place over three rounds, with Ward’s Northern Irish countryman, former two-weight world champion Carl Frampton, among the commentary team on a platform charging considerably less than the usual prices for pay-per-view headline fights.
“The first time I met him, the lift doors open, he dips down and comes out sideways because he’s so wide,” said Ward, speaking to BBC Sport at a time when traditional opportunities to improve his single-defeat 14-fight career have been limited by the pandemic.
“Life’s about taking risks and taking opportunities. This is an opportunity that was handed to me. A bit of a mad one, but sure – why not?
“I’ve replaced my boxing boots with a pair of runners. The plan is just to do a full Forrest Gump around the ring for nine minutes.”
Even if Bjornsson fails to catch Ward or ends up taking decisive blows himself, he expects the scrap to stand him in good stead for a showdown with the rival he describes as his “biggest enemy”.
“I don’t want [Eddie] making excuses that he didn’t have the preparation I had,” warned Bjornsson.
“I hope Eddie does this as well, as I want him to be at his best. I believe if he doesn’t do this then I’ll knock him out in the first round.”