UFC Fight Night 204: Gunnar Nelson vs. Takashi Sato prediction, betting odds, preview 1

After nearly 30 months away from the sport, Iceland’s Gunnar Nelson returns at UFC Fight Night 204 this Saturday to take on Takashi Sato of Japan. Last fighting in September of 2019, Gunnar Nelson suffered his most recent in a two fight skid, both intensely competitive against Gilbert Burns and Leon Edwards who now hover over most of the division. Prior to that Nelson gave fans his best in a career-high performance where he submitted Alex Oliveira in the second round at UFC 231.

Since beginning his hiatus in 2019, Nelson has signed a new multi-fight deal with the UFC, first planning to break it in with a fight against Claudio Silva. However, barely two weeks out, Silva was pulled due to injury and Sato stepped in. Having bounced between wins and losses in his last four, Sato has also been out for over a year, last competing in November of 2020. The former Judoka turned MMA standout will look to start a new winning streak on his return.

Betting Odds

Iceland’s Gunnar Nelson will return to the octagon as the -350 favorite over his Japanese opponent.

  • Nelson: -350
  • Sato: +280


Both men share the similarity that they fight out of a wide karate-esk stance and tend to tread light on the feet looking to burst in. They are both patient and tend to do a lot of damage by setting up their big weapons rather than wearing their opponents down with volume.

However, major differences become apparent from here. Gunnar Nelson stands orthodox primarily and looks to land a variety of shots but his best is his right cross. He will switch stance though, and when he does he becomes lead leg dominant and fans can expect to see the right front side kick come out as soon as this happens. Sato on the other hand stands southpaw, and like Nelson does his best with the rear cross. The fact that the two will be standing in opposite stance will mean that the cross is open for both, to both the head and body. It’s likely we see almost a fencing match between the two, patiently moving and out looking to blitz at the right moment. However, what makes the largest difference here is the variety and power.

Sato sits down on his punches a bit more than Nelson, who often lands while he is floating into his opponents space, therefore Sato tends to land the purely heavier strikes usually. Nelson uses more weapons and the biggest criticism of Sato is that he often goes to his cross too often, even to the point of being predictable. The 1-2 is his bread and butter and it’s no secret. Contrastingly, Nelson will burst and exit in the opposite stance, opening up new potential combinations and attacks, he has to be extremely careful when he enters as Sato only needs to land perfectly to end things but Nelson is the far more varied striker.

Sato usually uses the lead hand to jab, slap, and fight his opponent’s lead hand in order to shift right and open up the angle for his cross. One of the tactics in combinations we see is the 1-3-2 or jab, hook off of the right and then the left straight, however, the cross is more of a slap for the lead guard of his opponent. The only issue with being so active off of the lead hand is that it’s at the cost of his own guard and he has been known to eat left hooks as a result.

In terms of grappling, Nelson is the far more decorated jiu jitsu player, with Sato’s background coming by way of Judo. Sato has good top control, and the best aspect of his game are his throws, trips, and ability to stay upright even when it looks like he is about to be slammed or tossed himself. Nelson will have a harder time securing the takedown against the cage when he is forced to deal with the upper body of Sato than most of his past opponents. However, Nelson’s takedowns do not typically come from the clinch, he chains his striking bursts to his entries and forces himself into a double leg usually on the cage, then securing the grip and turning the corner. He almost exclusively looks for double legs. On the mat Nelson is lethal on top, he grapevines the legs before scooting his way to high mount which allows him to threaten arms, opening up elbows which in turn open up the submissions. He uses hip pressure to maintain a solid posture and focus on the attack with his upper body, and most of the time this forces his opponents to turn away and give up the back.

The one caveat to Nelson’s style is that the same patience which makes him such a threat in other areas becomes a detriment on the bottom. He will methodically attack limbs but in the process take ground and pound to get there due to a lack of urgency. Likewise in the clinch he sometimes goes into pure grappling mode, fighting for clinch position and failing to keep up with the strikes he takes in the meantime.

Regardless, however, in general while the striking and clinch fighting will be competitive, once the two hit the mat, Nelson should have the advantage.


This is a very exciting match-up for fans of martial arts, as the two are both patient but also lethal when the opportunity presents itself. Expect a game of tag on the feet where both look to sharp shoot and land on the other. Also, expect some educated scrambles should Nelson shoot as both men present problems for one another in the clinch. However, the largest hole in Sato’s game is that he is known to give up the back even standing, and that’s exactly where Nelson wants to be. Whether he takes the back and drags Sato down or takes Sato down and transitions to the back I believe that Nelson will end the fight there.

Prediction: Gunnar Nelson to win via submission (potentially rear-naked choke)

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