Gunnar Nelson

After a successful return to the octagon last year, Gunnar Nelson will next fight this weekend opposite fight of the night honors collector Bryan Barberena. A series of setbacks sidelined the Icelandic Nelson for nearly three years between 2019 and 2022 including injuries.

It has been almost exactly a year since then returning against Takashi Sato, whom Nelson defeated over the 3-round distance. Bryan Barberena, who has fought the who’s who of MMA, and has earned fight of the night against Vincente Luque, Matt Brown, and Robbie Lawler among others will be looking to go to war once again. The vicious highlight reel style of Barberena will go head to head with the methodical technical prowess of Nelson.

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Betting Odds

Gunnar Nelson is being backed by oddsmakers in his octagon return at the -350 favorite.

Fight Breakdown

Gunnar Nelson is a blend of Karate style striking and high-level jiu-jitsu. Bryan Barberena is a scrappy kickboxer with good boxing and wicked elbows and knees in close. This is very much a test of range control for both men as Nelson will look to work from the outside with his wide stance and long snapping kicks in order to set up his blitzing. He will burst from a distance with one or two sniper-like punches before exiting back or on an angle outside of counter range and reset.

For Barberena, it’s about shutting down that in-and-out movement and forcing Nelson to engage with him inside of traditional kickboxing and boxing range. Barberena is creative with his upper body tools, mixing in his straights, hook, and uppercuts with step-in elbows and hammer fists to cover any and all potential angles at which his attacks can come from. His low kicks should be effective if he can land on Nelson as the bladed stance is not equipped to check outside kicks, but that’s only if he can trap Nelson at a range close enough to do so.

Nelson is very good at backing up and circling, and then lashing out with kicks to force his opponent back, never settling against the cage long enough to get pinned there. Barberena will have to work especially diligently to cut off the cage and make the area smaller rather than getting caught chasing Nelson.

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At some point, Nelson will shoot. The same wide stance burst that he uses so well to land his punches is the same look given when his level changes, which makes it very difficult to read. As to whether his opponents should be prepared to slip and cover up or sprawl is always an unsteady choice which makes his wrestling that much more effective. However, if he is not able to penetrate the floor, he is tremendous at rising into double underhooks and swiveling to the back. This will likely result in a battle against the fence, Barbeerena is very good at framing the upper body to avoid takedowns and spread his base. He is also very adept at jamming short elbows in to make wrestlers pay for their shots, but if Nelson is able to complete to transition to the back then fans will see why he is the -350 favorite.

Nelson’s jiu-jitsu prowess is highly touted because he is extremely good at maintaining methodical control over the upper body while he passes seamlessly with his hips from the guard into the side or mount and then to the back. He is very patient and he will work at a constant pace at dragging, floating over, and constantly adjusting his positioning until his opponent offers an opportunity to snatch onto a neck. In this way, Nelson often dominates scorecards en route to his finishes, and will happily take the decision victory rather than risk losing position on a, overly zealous submission attempt.

Prediction and Betting Guide

The fight starts in a battle of range, Nelson will look to maintain distance and chip away at Barberena from outside, and Barberena will look to work his way in and cut off the cage but in doing so if he finds himself rushing forward that’s when Nelson can time his level change and either take Barberena down or drive him tot he fence.

Nelson has been open about returning to his jiu-jitsu roots and it seems that in his time away primarily from coaching and teaching he has gained an even better technical understanding of his style. I think that if Nelson can take Barberena down he can exude constant control, if he ends up in the clinch, Barberna and enforce more damage but ultimately winds up on his back regardless.

While -350 is not an appealing bet it’s a very safe one taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of either man and how they match up together.

Pick: Gunnar Nelson to win (-350)

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