Gunnar ‘Gunni’ Nelson was one of the most touted welterweight prospects for many years, even prior to signing with the UFC. Excellent performances in the cage around Europe, and on the tatami around the world consistently showed his skill and development.
A breakout moment for Nelson was his ADCC victory over former champion Jeff Monson. Vastly outweighed and with much less experience, Nelson strolled onto the mat as if he was walking downstairs for breakfast and proceeded to control Monson on route to a points victory.
Not only was this a key showcase of his grappling ability, but it also demonstrated the endearing nature of his demeanour. He is laidback, unfazed and always relaxed.
For years, insiders spoke of his talent. Many expected him to reach the UFC. In 2012 and at 9-0-1 he did just that. A first round submission over Damarques Johnson illustrated his game perfectly and then consecutive wins over Jorge Santiago, Omari Akhmedov and Zak Cummings really made the UFC fans take notice.
It seemed he was on a meteoric rise, along with team-mate Conor McGregor, but then he came unstuck in a scrappy decision loss to Rick Story. However, he bounced back in extremely impressive fashion, dropping and then submitting a dangerous Brandon Thatch.
Nelson was back and the loss was just a blip. This was the best we’d seen of him. A grappling fan boy’s dream bout came to fruition against Demian Maia, but the comeback was short-lived. A legitimate BJJ world champion, Maia dominated Nelson on the ground to score a comprehensive decision victory.
Now with a 5-2 UFC record and 14-2-1 overall, it’s still mightily impressive. But were the early notions of world titles too grand for him?
In order to get back on track, he needs to defeat Albert Tumenov in Rotterdam. He comes in at 6/4 to Tumenov’s 4/7 in the latest betting odds and there’s a distinct clash of styles in play. KO artist Tumenov has a good boxing pedigree and 11 KOs amongst his 17 victories. Nelson has fought and beaten strikers in the past and goes toe to toe with one of the game’s best every day in McGregor. He won’t be perturbed, but can he be shaken?
Following a debut decision loss, Tumenov has now won five in a row with three knockouts. However, Nelson is a very different prospect to the fighters he’s been competing against. Maia might have shut him down, but if he finds your neck he will choke you. His best performance came after his first defeat, so maybe we can expect another impressive rebound.
However the fight develops, if Gunnar Nelson wants to maintain his status as a potential future champion, this is a fight he needs to win. At 27 he still has time but he now needs to translate the expectations into reality.