Introducing Gunnar Nelson

By Roy Billington

Long seen as Europe’s number one prospect, Gunnar Nelson has finally decided to accept the UFC‘s offer to step into the Octagon at UFC on Fuel TV 5 on September 29th. After taking a 18-month hiatus from MMA between 2010 and 2012 to focus on training and competing in competitive grappling, Gunnar made his return at Ireland’s number one promotion, Cage Contender. I spoke to Cage Contender’s owner, John Ferguson, and asked him how far he thought Gunnar could go in the UFC. John said:

“Gunnar is one of the most naturally talented fighters of recent times. When you add his dedication and technical understanding into the mix you have a recipe to reach the very top of UFC. Gunni is well guided by his management and coaches and in my opinion will make very steady progress while building himself and his career to championship contender level.”

Gunnar was one of Europe’s top Junior karatekas, but after taking up grappling and MMA at his local club, Mjölnir, he decided to give up Karate. At the age of 16, Gunnar attended a private lesson with one of Europe’s premier grapplers, John Kavanagh of Straight Blast Gym in Dublin, A bond was formed between both mentor and student, and under the tutelage of Kavanagh, Gunnar quickly ascended through the ranks of BJJ. His most notable wins came against Jeff Monson, as well as in his 2009 Pan American black belt winning performance.

Teammate Brian Moore

Gunnar began his MMA career in Denmark, but is most noted for his run at Cage Contender in Dublin. I caught up with Brian Moore, who trained with Gunnar during this period of his career. I asked Brian what it was like to roll with such a renowned grappler, and he responded,”like nothing I’ve ever experienced. He’s a genius grappler and no one in the UFC will better him when it’s on the mat.”

I then asked Brian what he thought made Gunnar’s BJJ translate to MMA so well, when other high-level grapplers have failed. To that, Brian replied:

“Gunni is one of the best grapplers on the planet. His mindset has a lot to do with this reason but I think its his style of grappling – it suits ‘fighting’. Other high level grapplers who haven’t transitioned well into MMA, can be sometimes a result of their style being geared just toward BJJ.”

Finally I asked Brian about the late change in Gunnar’s opponent from Pascal Krauss to DaMarques Johnson, and whether it would affect his performance. Brian said “No. He’s a true Pro. He will impose his will and his game plan and get his hand raised. The first of many times in the UFC.”

For as long as I can remember throughout the European MMA scene, there have been fans clamouring for Gunnar’s UFC debut, and now that it’s upon us, talk has moved to how far Gunnar can go in the UFC. In my opinion, Gunnar is destined to be a top 5 fighter in the UFC — he has qualities which are very rare and usually indicate future greatness. What sets him apart is how calm and calculated he is in the cage; he reminds me of the great Fedor in his mentality. He is emotionless in cage — he never throws with anger, and every decision he makes is carefully thought out.

As for Gunnar Nelson’s grappling skills, they speak for themselves. He is without a doubt one of the best grapplers in the world, holding wins over notable opponents such as Jeff Monson and David Avellan, but what will come as a surprise to most fight fans is “Gunni’s” highly underrated stand up game; he uses an unorthodox Karate stance, and has recently added heavy leg kicks to his arsenal of attacks.

Here is Gunnar Nelson in action, against Alexander Butenko on 2/25/2012:

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