Inuit boxer Frank Madsen hopes to spark interest with first pro fight in Greenland
Frank Madsen left his homeland of Greenland at age eight, but he still holds fond memories of the place where he was born.
Growing up in Nuuk, the capital city of about 20,000 people located just 150 miles south of the Arctic Circle, the 34-year-old junior middleweight boxer recalls a small but friendly community where everyone knew each other, and neighbors were quick to invite each other to their homes.
One of five children born to a Danish father and an Inuit mother, Madsen spent his formative years in Denmark, taking in the vast wealth of martial arts knowledge the Scandinavian country has at its disposal. He has competed all over the world as a kickboxer, Muay Thai fighter and boxer, from South Africa to the United Kingdom, Iran to Thailand, but had never competed once in Greenland.
In fact, no professional boxing match has ever taken place in Greenland. That will change on Saturday, November 4, when Madsen (7-7, 4 knockouts) faces Octavian Gratii (8-47-3, 4 KOs) of Romania in a six-round junior middleweight bout at Godthaabhallen, the national handball team’s home stadium, in Nuuk. The show will include seven amateur bouts pitting local boxers against boxers from Madsen’s home gym in Denmark.
“I’ve always wanted to show what I learned outside to my people, how you can develop yourself and evolve and learn new skills,” said Madsen.
“It’s a dream come true that I can come home to Greenland and show my boxing for the first time, and show that you can become something. Because in Greenland it is very difficult to become something from martial arts.”
In terms of martial arts experience, Madsen has plenty to share. He first picked up karate at age six, and then switched his focus to Muay Thai at age 15, winning two Danish national championships and becoming Scandinavian kickboxing champion under ISKA K-1 rules.
He practiced his martial arts at The Colosseum in Aarhus, Denmark, where he crossed paths with ageless warrior Lolenga Mock, who convinced him to try his hand at boxing. He turned pro in 2016, winning seven of his first eight bouts, but has been winless in his last six bouts.
Headlining the first ever pro boxing fight in Greenland is an honor for Madsen, but also brings pressure along with it.
“I feel a little pressure because I have to perform and I have to win and show good quality boxing. If I do a bad match, I feel lots of pressure on me because I want to make a good example. I need to train hard and do good and do everything right so I can be an inspiration for young people,” said Madsen.
Though the most popular sports in Greenland have traditionally been soccer and handball, boxing has had a presence there for decades. Several boxing gyms have come and gone, but difficulties in arranging matches has stagnated the sport’s growth. Greenland, an autonomous country which is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, doesn’t have a national road network, so roads essentially end at the city limits, meaning the only way for boxers in different parts of Greenland to box against each other would be through traveling by boat or plane to one another.
The only boxing gym currently in operation is Fight Club Nanoq, which was founded in 2009 by Mahmoud Minaei, an Iran native who will also serve as promoter for Saturday’s show. The gym, which has about 50 members, has been a positive on the community, providing a healthy outlet to young people in a country which has struggled with mental health issues due to contributing factors like alcoholism, poverty and the near absence of natural sunlight in the winter. Greenland has had one of the highest suicide rates in the world for several decades, with nearly 96 deaths by suicide per 100,000 people annually, according to a 2023 report in the National Library of Medicine.
Philippe Kûitsé Andersen, who is one of the amateurs who will compete on Saturday’s show, says he joined the boxing club in 2020 and was “deeply depressed” and weighed 120 kilograms (264 pounds). Since then, he has lost about a third of his body weight and discovered a new sense of self esteem.
“I later lost 35 to 40 kg (about 88 pounds) and found great joy, even becoming a coach myself. I also know that there are others in the club with similar experiences – young individuals with life challenges who have become independent adults with careers and children – and I know they would point to boxing as one of the ways that brought them happiness,” said Andersen.
In a country where you can go months or years without seeing family in other cities, Madsen says a boxing club gives young people a sense of belonging which provides the support they may need during difficult times.
“Boxing can help you fight through life. Boxing is a team sport. You don’t always just hit each other, you have fun training together, you have a good time and you have hard times. With your teammates you get through life together. When you get into the boxing gym, it’s like family. If you need help mentally, they’re there for you,” said Madsen.
There is evidence that boxing’s popularity could take off in Greenland. The last amateur show in February drew a paying audience of about 400 people, despite inclement weather. The COVID-19 pandemic prevented boxers from coming to Greenland to compete, but Madsen says one previous show in 2018 drew about 1,500 people, an astonishing number for an amateur boxing event.
Madsen is hopeful that Saturday’s show will draw a capacity crowd of 1,500 people, though he expects about 800-900 people to buy a ticket for 300 Danish krone, or $42 USD. The show will also be broadcast live on Kalaallit Nunaata Radioa in Greenland, with many businesses from around the city supporting the event as sponsors.
One member each from the Danish Professional Boxing Federation and the Danish Amateur Boxing Union will make the trip, and will train officials to oversee the boxing action in Greenland.
There is still a lot of work to be done in Greenland, Madsen says. The sport will need more gyms to make domestic competition possible. Madsen says he has spoken to another boxing club in the southern Greenland town of Qaqortoq – population about 3,000. He says they’ll be ready to begin competing next spring, and he hopes to have a pro fight on that card as well.
Could this be the spark that makes boxing a major sport in Greenland? Madsen hopes so.
“I hope this will convince many people to go boxing and inspire them to train and set goals in life, to be a role model for leading the way,” said Madsen.
Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected].