Gunnar "Gunni" Nelson versus Rick "The Horror" Story Welterweight
Emotionless Icelandic grappling prodigy takes on rugged and skilled divisional gatekeeper.
Shark eating wunderkind looks to trade punches with the National Guard.
Weight class: Welterweight (170lbs)
Gunnar "Gunni" Nelson
14W-0L-1D (4W-0L UFC)
3 (T)KOs, 9 submissions
UFC ranking: #12
Fighting out of: Mjolnir / Straight Blast Gym
Rick "The Horror" Story:
4 (T)KOs, 4 submissions
UFC ranking: N/A
Fighting out of: The MMA Lab
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
Phil: Gunnar Nelson has long been held as one of Europe's most exciting MMA prospects, a genius from pure grappling who has made the jump to mixed martial arts before coming into his athletic prime. While injuries have kept him on the shelf for extended periods, he has passed every single test put in front of him thus far. According to google / urban dictionary a "gunni" is a horned (and probably mythical) furry animal, or an article of New Zealand drug paraphernalia. Awesome...?
One of the elements earning Nelson some more attention is his connection with his friend (and complete polar opposite) Conor McGregor. Like McGregor, he fights from a bladed karate base, and normally focuses his stand-up around the left straight, which is sharp and powerful. This is complemented by an array of kicks. Here the comparisons to his Irish counterpart end, because his stand-up is clean and technical, yet it is secondary to his ground game. He works excellent reactive clinch takedowns, and once on the mat is absolutely predatory with respect to advancing position and landing ground strikes and submissions.
David: I'm sure the readers are sick of hearing about McGregor even when a fight has nothing to do with him, but until that stat dashboard fails to go bonkers whenever he's mentioned, I'm afraid we're stuck with the guy. Unfortunately I couldn't find a picture of Conor fighting Rick Story, but alas...
Gunnar is his own beast (for example, all of his strikes are purely weapons for something greater: his grappling), and I think ready to take on more high profile fights to earn himself a title shot that he has the ability to win. On the feet, he's unique. He owns an absolutely wicked uppercut from his lead hand from his southpaw stance, and works seamlessly in guard where he transitions to side control with ease.
Phil: Rick Story was himself once considered one of the brightest and best at welterweight. The high point of his career was when he strung together wins over future champion Johny Hendricks and a decision over Thiago Alves, who was then ranked at #3 in the world. Story's run of success came to a crashing halt when he dropped an upset decision to a short-notice Charlie Brenneman. Since then, he's been slowly settling in as a kind of gatekeeper to the upper tier of the stacked welterweight division, alternating wins and losses.
In terms of fighting style, Story is fundamentally a pressure fighter. His best strength is just that: he is extremely strong, and his primary tools reflect the power he brings to the table. He backs opponents up with ripping hooks to the head and body, and employs a smothering, aggressive clinch game against the fence. His offensive takedowns are good, and he has powerful ground and pound and a nasty arm triangle. He used to fight out of a relatively small gym (Brave Legion), where he was part-owner, but has since moved to the Lab with John Crouch, Benson Henderson, Alex Caceres et al and has looked greatly improved.
David: I'll try not to let you do all the work, but there's just not much to add. Story revealed all the goods early in his career, which basically makes him the Sharon Stone of Welterweight (that's really sexist isn't it?).
What are the stakes?
Phil: Poor Ricky Story. While he's still young, that collection of losses appear to put him firmly in "gatekeeper" territory. He's clearly being fed to Gunnar as another step in the young Icelander's progression. However, if he can upset the apple cart, he can seize some of Gunnar's momentum for his own, and break back into the upper echelon.
David: He's 30 years old. I sometimes wonder just how invested guys like Joe Silva and Dana are in some of these fights and fighters. Does Joe get secretly pissed off, and ragequit like an adolescent gamer while playing Destiny after prospects take hard losses?
Horror versus Myth... how does it go down?
Phil: Story presents an interesting test on a number of levels for the young grappler. He's a much tougher and more capable striker than anyone that Nelson has faced thus far. The possible exception to the rule would be Jorge Santiago, but the Brazilian is far, far more fragile than Story. "The Horror" has a top-shelf chin, and has only been badly rocked once in my memory (against Kelvin Gastelum). This is a man who has taken clean shots from Ellenberger, Kampmann, Hendricks and Alves, and not looked massively perturbed at any of them.
If you asked me what kind of grappling base Story comes from originally, looking at his striking style and his stance, I'd actually say that he looks more like a judoka than a wrestler. He has the trademark straight posture (which possibly contributes to his excellent chin #Ruebusched), and also seems to punch in much the same way as Judo transfers tend to- tight-backed and rotary, with a clubbing rather than a snapping run-through. This basically means that his punches clearly hurt and wobble, but they rarely knock out.
What he really brings to the table from the striking perspective is volume. He's a real workhorse in all phases, and Nelson has shown a Machida-like tendency to just chill and wait around for something which will allow him to finish. This might get him in serious trouble... if it wasn't a five round fight. And the ground game wasn't a factor.
David: Actually, I think Jorge Santiago is a fine striker and is technically more proficient than Story by a mile. And yes, I wrote that before reading your next two sentences. I think the part of the reason why Story presents an interesting challenge is that Gunnar can be too relaxed. If he can't put Story away, Rick is gonna come in and swing bombs on him, to the body as well as the head. I do think that Story is reasonably talented on the feet. He throws quick, and commits to the torso, but he mostly foregoes technique in favor of all out brawling. I mean just look at that Gastelum fight. He got bombed on, and responded by throwing bombs back. "Admirable....but mistaken..."[Banevoice]
Maybe this is just me being pedantic, but I don't think he swings wildly. His shots are sharp, precise, and varied. Rather, his boxing has tunnel vision. The distinction could be the difference between him getting countered into a coma, and landing enough in the middle of an exchange to tag Nelson. Still, I consider this bout open and shut. Story doesn't have a good defensive wrestling game, and Gunnar can exploit him there.
Insight from past fights?
Phil: The first and most damning fight which springs to mind is obviously Story against Maia. Maia simply dragged Story to the ground, and then tapped him out with the dreaded head-juicer submission. OK, fine. It was a neck crank. This is common in the way this kind of style matchup plays out, in my opinion: normally fighters who lean particularly strongly on brute strength and overpowering their opponents tend to get into trouble against BJJ technicians. Their power gets turned against them, and they end up in positions they can't muscle their way out of. Alternatively, if they try fighting defensively, they find themselves far out of their comfort zone. Recent examples would be Formiga-Jorgensen and Bedford-Yahya.
David: I think Zak Cummings is a good comparison from a status perspective, but in terms of the action playing out, John Hathaway vs. Rick Story is the real blueprint. Hathaway was able to power out takedowns, and threaten him with submission attempts which is exactly how Gunnar can win this fight even if we take away his eccentric striking base.
Phil: Story's top game. I don't think we're likely to see it, but like I said, he's got pretty mean ground and pound, and a nasty arm-triangle. It certainly wouldn't be the first time a BJJ specialist got way too confident in his sub defense (Wiman-Sass, Semerzier-Fabiano). However, this kind of thing generally happens with "defensive" submissions, such as triangles and armbars. It will be interesting to see what happens if Story can get top control, regardless.
David: JZ vs. Yahya, Hominick vs. Edwards (?). My biggest gripe with with Nelson is that he plays it too cool for school. Machida gets away with the counter game because he fights with urgency. If Nelson doesn't ever win the title, it's because he's too much like Mousasi, failing to press the action where action is required. For all the hype, I didn't think he looked impressive by comparison in the Cummings fight, in part because Cummings is actually a decent fighter with size. So if there's an x-factor it's that Nelson gets too comfortable, and ends up not being active enough to convince the judges.
Phil: Nelson's tendency to just hang around and wait for the finish may get him in serious trouble at some point. However, it's difficult to see it happening against Story, particularly in a 5-rounder. "The Horror" has shown a noted tendency to give up clinch takedowns against Alves, Kampmann and Maia, and has clear holes in his game on the mat. Fundamentally, I think the matchup is like a grappling-focused version of McGregor-Poirier: a guy who leans a bit too much on his strength and toughness against a fighter who is just an absolute surgeon when it comes to capitalizing on errors.
Gunnar Nelson by submission, round 2.
David: This might look competitive for a round, or two, but after three it's a foregone conclusion. Gunnar Nelson by RNC, 4:52 of round 3.