July 15, 2017

UFC Fight Night 113: Gunnar Nelson Ready To Take The Next Step In His UFC Career

By Adam Martin

One of the most underrated fighters in the UFC today is Gunnar Nelson, who fights Santiago Ponzinibbio in the main event of Sunday's UFC Fight Night 112 card, which takes place at SSE Hydro Arena in Glasgow, Scotland.

Nelson, an Icelandic-born fighter who trains at SBG Ireland alongside UFC superstar Conor McGregor, is 7-2 overall in the UFC with six finishes, but for whatever reason his fights always end up flying under the radar. The 28-year-old Nelson is mainly known for his devastating ground game and karate-based striking attack, as well as his laid-back, care-free personality, which could be hindering his growth as a star. Because while you'd hope exciting fighters who finish fights like Nelson would become stars, ultimately fighters' personalities and ability to promote themselves is key. And Nelson hasn't done a great job with that.

Fortunately for Nelson the UFC is rewarding him for his recent two-fight winning streak over Albert Tumenov and Alan Jouban, giving him the opportunity to headline a European Fight Night card opposite the Argentinian striker Ponzinibbio in what should be an exciting fight for five rounds (or fewer, if there's a finish). The last time Nelson headlined a card was in 2014, when he fought Rick Story in Ireland. At the time Nelson was undefeated in his career and 4-0 in the UFC, and the promotion was trying to fast-track him up the division.

Nelson was a massive favorite heading into the fight with Story, but he ultimately ended up losing a split decision, and it sent him to the back of the welterweight line. A submission win over Brandon Thatch pushed Nelson back up the ladder, but a one-sided loss to Demian Maia was a temporary setback until his recent win streak, one that has gotten Nelson this second chance at a main event slot. It's a second chance that Nelson hopes to do more with, considering how deep the welterweight division is. If you aren't impressive, you get forgotten about quickly.

Stylistically, this fight against Ponzinibbio is favorable for Nelson because as aggressive as Ponzinibbio is on the feet, constantly marching forward and throwing strikes, Nelson has excellent striking defense and counter striking. And on the ground it's not even close, although Ponzinibbio has the takedown defense to make things interesting. There's always the chance Nelson gets caught on the feet, but overall he should have the advantage in this fight in the striking, the wrestling, and on the ground, and since this fight is 25 minutes, he has all the time in the world to add another submission to his UFC resume.

But if he does win this time, I hope Nelson shows a bit more personality. Yes I realize that he's just a quiet guy, but perhaps he should start taking some pointers from his SGB teammate Artem Lobov, a guy who really isn't even that great of a fighter but who has learned how to talk a bit after being teammates with McGregor for so long. I'd hope to see Nelson open up a bit more in his interviews, and if he wins, take the opportunity in his post-fight interview to call out someone in the welterweight Top 10, someone like Neil Magny who is ahead of him but who who he could beat. I know the whole "Gunnar looks sleepy" joke is cute, but I want to see him take the bull by the horns.

With a 7-2 record in the UFC with six finishes to his name, Nelson is quickly emerging as a contender in the UFC's stacked welterweight division. At 28 he's in the prime of his career, and with a two-fight win streak he has some momentum behind him right now. With his teammates at SBG all having success, it would be nice to see Nelson take advantage of this second opportunity at headlining a UFC card and run with it. He has the fighting skills, but now let's hope he can promote himself a bit too, going from an underrated fighter in the division to someone everyone is talking about.

UFC Fight Night 113: Nelson vs. Ponzinibbio takes place July 16, 2017 at SSE Hydro in Glasgow, Scotland.

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