Gunnar Nelson's Showdown with Rick Story Will Tell Us How Far Icelander Can Go

Kristian IbarraFeatured ColumnistAugust 21, 2014

May 25, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; General view of UFC championship belt following UFC 160 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

At 13 years old, Gunnar Nelson started training in Goju-Ryu karate. Two years later, he won the Icelandic Juvenile Kumite Championship title. 

That explains his Lyoto Machida-like stance inside the Octagon.

At 17 years old, the Icelandic fighter stopped his karate training to focus all of his attention on Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Three years later, Nelson earned his black belt from Renzo Gracie.

That explains his nine submission victories, three of which came against UFC-level talent.

So, just how good is Nelson?

In short: very. Just check out his only decision victory against Jorge Santiago at UFC on Fuel TV 7:

In length: keep reading.

Currently ranked 12th in the UFC's welterweight division, it's obvious Nelson still has a ways to go before he can find himself sharing the Octagon with anybody who needs to get past TSA with 12 pounds of UFC gold. But having only been alive for 26 years, he still has plenty of time ahead of him to get there.

On paper, it's easy to explain why Nelson has been unstoppable throughout his seven-year career: He hasn't really fought anybody. He'll get his chance relatively soon when he steps into the cage with five-year UFC veteran Rick Story on October 4.

Jul 16, 2014; Atlantic City, NJ, USA; Rick Story (red gloves) throws a punch at Leonardo Mafra (blue gloves) during a welterweight bout at Revel Casino. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Sure, most of you probably think that pitting Nelson against the 15th-ranked fighter in the division won't say much about Nelson's ceiling. Even if he beats Story in dramatic fashion, you'll probably just nod your head to no surprise—despite just two spots separating these two fighters in the rankings, Nelson is supposed to win (and win big). 

Truth is, a matchup with Story should tell us more than this fight does at first glance.

It will tell us how Nelson deals with the pressure of headlining his first UFC card with a potential 13,850 Swedes supporting their adopted continental son. 

It will tell us how Nelson deals with Story's pressure-first fighting style that has frustrated and seen him victorious against fighters such as UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks and former welterweight title contender Thiago Alves. 

Nelson's striking and grappling abilities make him a tough matchup for anybody in the Top 15, not just Story. 

He's elusive and intelligent enough of a striker to "Machida" his way out of a brawl against fighters like Jake Ellenberger, Hector Lombard, Matt Brown and Robbie Lawler. Should fighters like Tyron Woodley, Demian Maia, Rory MacDonald and Hendricks manage to wrestle the black belt to the ground, he's savvy enough of a grappler to contend there, too.

Go ahead and keep shaking your head in disagreement. That's fine. Just realize that Dana White and friends are doing everything they can to keep this European flame that Alexander Gustafsson and Conor McGregor lit back when they had their meteoric rise to stardom.

Should they find potential in Nelson as one of few keys to the European market (they do), they'll bring him along slowly and give him plenty of time to develop his skills enough before headlining another European event—except this time it'll be for that extra carry-on. 


Kristian Ibarra is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He also serves as the sports editor at San Diego State University's student-run newspaper, The Daily Aztec. Follow him on Twitter at @Kristian_Ibarra for all things MMA.