In his new Unleashed column, commentator Dan Hardy previews a huge night for Gunnar Nelson at UFC Fight Night Stockholm on Saturday 4 October.
As Stockholm prepares excitedly for the return of the UFC, one man is guaranteed to remain as cool and calm as ever. Icelandic welterweight standout Gunnar ‘Gunni’ Nelson, known for his austere nature and unique fighting style, will step into the Octagon as a UFC headliner for the first time against the fearsome Rick ‘The Horror’ Story.
Coming off an impressive submission win over Zak Cummings in the co-main event in Dublin, Gunni is familiar with the added pressure of being at the top of the card. However, this time around he won’t have team mate Conor McGregor there to bear the brunt of the attention.
I’m intrigued to see how he handles the spotlight.
The main event spot comes with a plethora of extracurricular distractions. Added media and fan attention can wear down a fighter. Nelson’s stoic demeanour suggests to me that he’ll have no problem focusing on his performance.
And he’ll need to.
Rick Story will undoubtedly be his toughest test to date. He’s a veteran of the Octagon who’s mixed with the best around and was the first blemish on the record of current strap-holder Johny Hendricks.
The Horror is a gritty, in-your-face competitor. He’ll look to close the distance on the elusive Icelander and clinch against the fence. I expect him to try and smother Gunni, stifle his unpredictable attack and grind this fight out into the later rounds.
Gunnar’s style is fascinating to watch. Like a trapdoor spider, he lies in wait until his unsuspecting opponent exposes a weakness, then strikes in devastating fashion.
It isn’t until we see him under some real pressure that a chink in his otherwise impenetrable facade may be exposed. His previous opponents have failed to mount any kind of worthy offense but Story is known for that kind of pressure strategy.
If the Icelander despatches Story in the same fashion as his other victims then Gunnar Nelson will be the name on the lips of the welterweight elite.
There may be some who doubt his star potential. There’s none of the usual self-hype and bravado in a Gunnar Nelson interview. Yet that’s what makes him such a compelling character. He doesn’t need to tell you how good he is because he’s happy to let his skill set do the talking.
In my opinion, that’s what the sport needs: less drama and more action.
At UFC Stockholm we might see the emergence of a real European welterweight contender. Make no mistake; a win over Rick Story propels Gunni into the top ten and well on the way to a shot at UFC gold.
Gunnar Nelson needs to grasp this opportunity with both hands… and then choke it unconscious!
Supporting the main attraction in Sweden is a trio of local talent, beginning with the return of charismatic featherweight Niklas Backstrom. His UFC debut against Tom Niinimaki was highly impressive. After stepping in as a late replacement, he won via an unorthodox choke and then gave an impassioned post-fight interview. He’ll look to extend his unbeaten streak in his homeland.
We’ll also see powerhouse Ilir Latifi back in action. The immense strength of this decorated wrestler is something to behold. His explosive finishes of Cyrille Diabate and Chris Dempsey were a warning to the rest of the light heavyweight division that he means business.
The entertaining Akira Corassani faces arguably the toughest test of any Swede on the card when he squares off against talented striker Max Holloway. Corassani’s three-fight UFC win streak was broken by Dustin Poirier in a Fight of the Night encounter last time out. This is a fantastic opportunity to get back in the win column and show off the skills he’s been sharpening Stateside with the legendary Renzo Gracie.
It promises to be another fascinating night of fights.
See you in Stockholm!
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