Sakari ’Sakkematti’ Lähderinne
Sakari Lähderinne is the chessboxing World Champion in the 75 kg weight class. Having won gold in India (2018) and in Turkey (2019) he is considered to be the leading chessboxer in his division. Representing the Finnish Chessboxing Club (FCC) he will step into the ring in the upcoming Nordic Chessboxing Event, held in Helsinki in October 2021.
His fighter name ‘Sakkematti’ is a clever hybrid of his nickname ‘Sakke’ and of the Finnish word ‘checkmate’. This nice and relaxed fellow, who found the time to answer to a few questions truly knows how to think fast and hit hard.
Year of birth: 1989
Profession: Special class teacher
Current residency: Tampere, Finland
Chess ELO rating: 1600
Number of boxing matches:
110 Olympic style
8 Pro fights
Tell us briefly about your time before you started boxing, i.e. did you do any sports already in your childhood?
As a child I was always busy and active. At the age of 8, I begun with judo and hockey, which later on changed to karate. When I was around 13, I got interested in boxing, and I’m still on the same path.
What got you into boxing and also chess, and in which way are these two, based on your experience, similar or balanced?
Martial arts have always interested me since I was young. I remember watching action movies with my friends (Steven Seagal, Jean Claude Van Damme, etc.) and based on this excitement we fought in the yard. Rocky movies blew up the bank and since then my direction was clear. I had to learn how to box and I think I'm not the only guy who has been like this. On the other hand, chess began to interest me in my adulthood when I was backpacking in India, where I ended up with a group that was passionately playing chess. Later on when I was studying to be a teacher, we decided to set up a "chess club" with friends and thus playing became more regular. I have found that playing chess is suitable counterweight to boxing. After hard boxing exercises, chess has served as a nice way to relax and get thoughts out of everyday life and workouts.
How were you introduced into chessboxing and to whom do you think it is suitable for?
Coincidentally, I ended up watching a chessboxing match on YouTube. At that point, in addition to my boxing, my skills in playing chess was already rather good. I joined in Helsinki for chessboxing training and after a couple of months later I had my first match in Berlin in 2018. In all its simplicity, chessboxing is suitable for anyone interested in both sports.
What is your strength in chess and in boxing – and should both be developed equally?
In boxing, my strengths are speed and good technical skills. Although my chess will still require a lot of practice and improvement, I’m able to cause at least a small headache in all chess players in my weight class in a chessboxing match. I think I have good nerves under pressure, both in the boxing ring and on the chessboard. In chessboxing, in order to succeed, both areas must be at a good level, otherwise the match will end short. For example, I knocked out a 2000 ELO-rated fighter in the 2019 World Chessboxing Championships, so a good boxer can drop a tough chess player. This said, the opposite is also true.
How did you prepare for the Chessboxing World Championships - to what extent did you think India was different in comparison to Turkey, where you defended your title?
I prepared intensively for both championship tournaments. I had a personal chess coach, with whom we played once a week, and in addition I got homework and played hard online. There were 7-10 weeks of boxing workouts and other physical exercises during the last couple of months. I went to India (2018) with a pretty relaxed attitude because I was still a novice in the sport. The loss would have been annoying, but it would have been forgotten quickly. The following year (2019) the pressure to succeed was tougher because I had already won the gold once.
How does it feel to be the dominant world champion, even though chessboxing is still quite an unknown sport?
Of course it feels pretty nice, but it’s not an insanely big thing, because chessboxing is still a young and evolving sport, where the skill levels vary quite a lot. Personally the main thing is that I have noticed major improvement in chess and in addition through chessboxing I have had the opportunity to meet wonderful people in different countries.
The acknowledged founder of chessboxing, Iepe Rubingh, died unexpectedly in early summer 2020. What possibly can you tell about him, and to which direction do you see that chessboxing is going in the future?
The sudden death of Iepe was a sad thing, not only for me personally, but also for the entire chessboxing community. Iepe was very charismatic, who always told stories. After almost every chessboxing match I went for a beer with Iepe and the rest of the team to in order to chat and exchange experiences. Fortunately, after Iepe, there are other active and passionate leaders who are willing and able to push chessboxing forward. I believe that the sport will continue to spread to new countries.
Despite the corona, a Nordic Chessboxing event has now been launched in which you will also compete. To what kind of people do you think this event is primarily intended; for those interested in chess or boxing?
I think the event will arouse interest in the crowds of both sports, as there will be a good level of chess and boxing. In addition, one may enjoy the fabulous Paasitorni facilities and the stylish arrangements. I need to underline that chessboxing is best when it is experienced live. Thus, I warmly welcome and encourage people to come to watch the upcoming chessboxing bouts, held in Helsinki in October 2021.
Any last words, which you would like share without any specific question?
Yes, over the years I have had several inspiring and skilled boxing coaches. Just to name a few, I’d like to address my thanks to the already deceased Yrjö Kosunen and Pauli Ojakangas, as well as to Igor Ivanov, who is still in the books of the living. I will end by sending my greetings to two sport associations, the Kajaanin Kuohu and to the Iisalmen Urheilu-Vesat, which will always be close to my heart.
Interviewed by Tero Pajunen. | Photo by Alper Sevgör.
YLE, the Finnish public broadcasting company interviewed Sakari on the radio after his victory in India. The interview is still available for you to listen (in Finnish) > https://areena.yle.fi/audio/1-4502554