Volcanoes and Valkyrie: Iceland's First Female Fighter Talks

Sunna 'Tsunami' opens up about training with Conor McGregor and tells us what it took to become Iceland's first female MMA fighter.

by Charlie Gilmour
20 May 2016, 9:21am

Photo by Baldur Kristjans

In Iceland, nature is something to be feared and respected. The whole country blows hot and cold: thirty active volcanoes bubble and steam while Arctic winds can send temperatures plummeting to as low as -30C in the north. It makes sense, then, that Iceland's first female fighter to hit the big time is named after a cataclysmic weather event.

Sunna 'Tsunami' Davíðsdóttir, 30, was a latecomer to the fight game. "I didn't start working at it until I was about 25," she says over Skype. Signing with all-female MMA promotion Invicta FC after such a short time "feels awesome," she says. "It's unreal. Back then I didn't realise what I was getting into or where I'd be today."

Where Sunna is today is in a position many would swap a kidney for. She coaches and trains at Iceland's flagship MMA gym, Mjölnir. Her training buddies include UFC stars Conor McGregor and Gunnar Nelson. The ocean, the mountains, and the wilderness are at her doorstep and, if all goes to plan with Invicta, glory lies round the corner.

Photo by Baldur Kristjans

Her path so far has been far from smooth. Despite having a history of breeding some of the world's most ferocious fighters—the Vikings—combat sports are technically illegal in Iceland. Hopeful contenders can hardly expect much support from the state. Juggling several jobs, training, coaching, and a young daughter—who is also training to fight—was never going to be easy.

"The past years have been hard," says Sunna. "As an amateur fighter in Iceland, because it's not legal or anything, you don't get any money. Every time I went to fight, it was on me. I'd be driving the taxi, working in the bars, working nightshifts as a bouncer and then I'd be coming in for training. That can be kind of heavy. Sometimes I just had to lie down and meditate for twenty minutes because my head wasn't clear."

Photo by Baldur Kristjans

At the start of the year she quit her various jobs in order to train, coach, and fight full time. In the hope of encouraging more Icelandic women to join the sport—to act as training partners if nothing else—Sunna runs a women-only training group, named after the Norse myth of the Valkyrie.

"The Valkyrie are supernatural female figures. They're really strong. They ride big horses. They've got big shields and swords," she says. "They decide in the battlefields who dies and who lives and they take the ones who deserve it to Valhalla."

Until that glorious day, however, most of the training partners at her skill level at Mjölnir are men. But what men to train with.

"Gunnar and Conor have both probably got at least 20kg on me," says Sunna. "Gunnar's a welterweight. Conor's a lightweight. I'm a strawweight. Conor's a cool guy. He's got that flow. He knows what he's doing. He's a good fighter and he's a good friend and he's a good training partner. He actually has a lot of respect for his training partners. That's what I've experienced."

Photo by Snorri Björns

Photo by Snorri Björns

Photo by Snorri Björns

And Gunnar?

"I looked up to him since before I started," says Sunna. "It's everything about him: he's a good fighter, he's a good person, he's a good human being. He's got this way of talking. He's got this calm mind. He gives this positive good vibe and today I'm actually friends with him. He's always going to be my number one. My daughter really looks up to him too."

Thinking of mother-daughter fighting duos immediately brings Ronda Rousey to mind. But the relationship between Sunna and her eleven-year-old daughter seems like the perfect opposite: there's none of the terrifying pressure Rousey was submitted to by her judoka mother.

"She has her own will," says Sunna. "I'm not standing in her way. I'm not pushing her to do anything she doesn't want to do. She has tried other things but she always sticks with this. I can see her maybe starting her career when I'm about to finish mine. She's eleven today and I'm about to be 31 so I would not be surprised if she'd be taking her first steps in her career. Whatever she does I'll be sticking around and supporting her 100%."

Unlike Ronda Rousey, who writes in her memoir of being regularly attacked in her bed by her mother, it's mini-Tsunami who takes the lead.

"We have these moments where we're in bed—I have this huge bed—and she ends up attacking me and taking me in the arm bar. I'm the one who has to escape!"

Photo by Baldur Kristjans

Looking forward—at her career, at her daughter's future, at the future of fighting in Iceland—Sunna the Tsunami feels, despite her name, calm and content.

"I think I've found the balance to make this work," she says. "I'm happy being in Invicta. I'm just going to enjoy that moment. The UFC is right next to it: I hope to be in there someday. I hope to experience as much as I can through this journey. Maybe I'll move there once I'm finished with Invicta. First I'm going to go get that belt. Then I'll jump over for the UFC too."

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