As the UFC welterweight division looks to reorder itself after longtime champion Georges St. Pierre’s departure, Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 37 event from the O2 Arena in London features a very exciting match between top prospects when Gunnar Nelson takes on Omari Akhmedov.
Nelson comes into the fight with an undefeated 11-0-1 record, while Akhmedov boasts a 12-1 resume riding an eleven fight win streak. Stylistically, this fight has all the makings of a “Fight of the Night”-winning affair as both fighters look to nudge themselves closer to the top ten in what is arguably the UFC's deepest division.
Gunnar “Gunni” Nelson, who I can only imagine took his uninspired nickname from his hockey playing days, has looked extremely impressive in his first two UFC fights, submitting DaMarques Johnson and dominating Jorge Santiago for a decision. At only 25 years of age, Nelson is still improving, and many expect it to be only a matter of time before he joins the ranks of the UFC's elite.
While Akhmedov isn't as well established as Nelson, he is part of the recent Russian invasion that has taken the Octagon by storm. If these Russian fighters have one thing in common, it’s that they fight like wild men. Akhmedov's record speaks to that, as he’s collected ten of his twelve career wins in the first round. That includes his UFC debut, a slugfest KO victory over Thiago Perpetuo in a “Fight of the Night” winner at UFC Fight Night 32.
On the feet, this is a tactician vs. brawler match up. The tactician Nelson, coming from a karate background, utilizes a wide based Machida-esque stance that is growing in popularity. He has shown strong kicks and accurate boxing.
Though Nelson holds a technical edge, the Russian will show a huge advantage in terms of raw power. Akhmedov demonstrated this in his UFC debut by flooring Perpetuo with a looping right hook thrown while backpedaling.
Nelson showed a strong chin in his fight with Santiago, and it will likely be tested again in London. Don't look for him to trade punches as willingly as he did with the Brazilian. Instead, expect the Icelandic fighter to take the fight to the mat.
If the fight does hit the ground, it is certainly advantage to the Renzo Gracie black belt Nelson, but Akhmedov is no slouch either. Four of Akhmedov's first round victories have come via submission, and he holds the rank of International Master of Sports in Sambo. The key factor in this department will be whether or not Nelson can take Akhmedov down. Nelson has shown fluent transitions between his striking and takedowns, and Akhmedov's takedown defense is still very much unknown at this point.
However, the Russian will be the bigger fighter after coming down from 185 pounds. Akhmedov and his fellow Sambo fighters have proven difficult to hold down once the fight hits the floor. As good a grappler Nelson is, he may have trouble holding Akhmedov down for a whole round.
Overall, this is an evenly matched fight that could go either way. Nelson will have an edge in the technical striking and grappling while Akhmedov in size and striking power. Cardio may play the deciding factor late in the fight as the Russian has yet to see a third round.
I see Nelson using Akhmedov's aggression against him to duck under his punches and drag the Russian to the ground. From there, Nelson will control him for long enough to earn a decision or maybe catch him in a submission in the later rounds. What do you think?