Gunnar Nelson has never needed his words to make an impression.
The 2009 IBJJF Pan American Championship gold medalist entered the UFC ranks seven years ago, and over the course of his 12-fight Octagon career, he has secured seven submission victories.
Those incredible jiu-jitsu skills earned him a co-main event in March against the streaking Leon Edwards. And while Nelson didn’t leave the Octagon with a win against Edwards, he left with something potentially more valuable – a lesson.
“You always learn from your fights and especially from your losses,” Nelson said. “From that fight against Leon I definitely learned that in that fight I should have pushed the pace a bit more because I was still quite fresh when the fight was over. And I definitely could have pushed him through a bit more and not waited as much.”
That strategic thought process is something “Gunni” will have in his back pocket when he goes to battle with Gilbert Burns this Saturday at UFC Copenhagen.
Burns stepped into the bout against Nelson on short notice after Thiago Alves was scratched from the card. For Nelson, a matchup against a fellow jiu-jitsu specialist such as Burns intrigued him and fired him up even more for his co-main event.
“The classic striker versus grappler is always exciting, but I think we’ve seen that many, many times,” Nelson said. “And I think that it’s rare that you get two guys that are really, really good on the ground like that to go against each other. You don’t see it as much and I think that’s what makes this fight very exciting.”
Fighting a submission ace like Burns excites Nelson heading into Saturday, but the location of the fight also adds anticipation for the Iceland native.
Twelve years ago, Nelson had his first professional mixed martial arts fight in Denmark. Fast forward to today and he’s in the co-main event on the first ever card in the country he started his career in. That full circle journey is something that Nelson is proud of, but he knows it’s far from over.
“I definitely think I belong here,” Nelson said. “This is the level where I want to compete. I didn’t start doing MMA just to train and jump in here and there and compete. I wanted to compete against the best and that’s what I am.
“It’s cool to fight finally in the UFC here,” Nelson said. “I enjoy fighting here. These are Vikings; they love fighting so it’s going to be a good atmosphere.”
A win over Burns at UFC Copenhagen would go a long way in helping Nelson get back into the welterweight rankings.
Make sure you tune into the fights on ESPN+ with the main card starting at 2pm/11am ETPT.