Grading the Prospects: Gunnar Nelson


This is the fourth in an UnderGround Blog series by Daniel Caton, on grading the prospects in MMA, similar to the way the NFL grades prospects, based on strength of competition, size, speed, agility, and martial arts background, among other factors.

Caton's previous piece was on Khabib Nurmagomedov. Today he analyses Gunnar Nelson.

Prospect Grades uses a numerical building block system of grading, where fighters are awarded points based on:
•Strength of competition
•Skill set

Strength of Competition:
30 base points: UFC (four or more fights)
20 base points: Strikeforce
16 base points: Bellator (who have done an astounding job at signing young talent)
12 base points: TitanFC/OneFC/MFC/KOTC/LEGACY
5 base points: Any shows below

Prospect points for size range 10-40
Size points potentially weighs heavily in the score total, as size is frequently the attribute that separates the Jon Joneses from the rest of the stable.

Skill Set:
1-7 Prospect Points are awarded in a number of categories. If there is a glaring hole, negative points can be awarded.
Striking (Offense)
Clinch Work:__
Striking (Defense)
Grappling (Top Game)
Top Control:__
Transition Ability:__
Submission Ability:__
Grappling (Bottom/Defense)
Takedown defense:__
Escape ability:__
Submission Defense:__

The retirements of Chuck, Tito, Randy, etc, which are being followed by the retirements of Pride legends signal a new age.  There is new crop of athletes to cheer for. Understanding the room to grow, and when they will peak, is key.  Age hugely determines where they will be five to ten years from now.
From 14 to -10 Prospect Points are awarded for age.
18-21              15      
22-23               14     
4-25                 10         
26-28                 5      
29-30                 0      
31-32                -2
33-36                -4
37+                  -10

This, the fourth Underground Blog Prospect Report, is on...
Gunnar Nelson
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 170 lbs 
Range: 72”
Age:  24                                   
Record:  10-0-1
UFC Record: 1-0
Strength of Competition: 1 UFC Fights/ 2  BAMMA


SOC: 19  (2.9)

Size: 18   (1.8)

Age: 10   (3.0)  

Striking- boxing 1 clinch work 3 kickboxing 1 footwork 5   Positioning 3 chin 2 composure 0 cardio -4  Grappling- Takedowns 3  Top Control 5   Transition 7 Submission 7 TD defense 2  Guard Work 3 Escape ability 3 Sub D 3   
Total Grade— 91 C

Build:  Gunnar doesn’t possess the range or length of a Nick Diaz, but has the size to compete with UFC welterweights. The Icelandic fighter has an exceptional base and strength.  He seems to have the outlook of someone that may be able to drop down to lightweight.  Athletically he isn’t a Papy Abedi or an elite athlete.  He contains very flexible hips and solid explosion from his legs.

Pros:  Nelson is truly an elite level grappler.  Only Maia could even compare to his mat skills.  He has a karate background and it really shows in his wide side stance.  Oddly, unlike a Machida, he uses his leaping forward techniques to grab and clinch, not strike.  This is really a unique attribute when you compare how to defend it, puzzling in fact. 

Despite showing a lack of a fundamental striking game, his karate base stance allows him to dart in close. Once in tight, it’s really his world. He’s able to use the clinch for takedowns on a consistent basis, by sinking in double under hooks and sweeping from the bottom in most cases.  His top game is going to be really unmatched in MMA.  Even Johnson, who rolls with Jeremy Horn daily couldn’t defend it.  And once on top… he finishes.  He seems to favor back control over most techniques.  And he gets there at will, due to his uncanny transition and control ability.   After reviewing film, it’s all in his hips.  He keeps them tight and low, where it’s really hard for an opponent to shake him off his base. 
And did I mention he finishes?  The necks of opponents must come with incentive because even he doesn’t sink the RNC, he finishes with neck cranks and jaw pressure.

Cons:  Despite his elite level of grappling, Gunnar still has holes, and it falls in his striking game.  Even when evaluating his recent fights, the same problems kept showing - he too often leave his lead hand down, and doesn’t protect his right side when throwing off the lead leg or hand.  That’s a problem when you think of some of the power guys at 170 that can end nights.  He keeps his hands low in general, even early on when conditioning shouldn’t be a factor.  He does have good footwork and keeps spring in his movements, but doesn’t use it enough to strike or counter. 

His ground ability is so good that he’s looking only for it.  Many times his opponent’s hands are down, wanting to defend the take down, but he doesn’t take advantage of it.  The one thing we have learned from Machida’s base is you can attack and get out.  Gunnar’s only focused on getting in to drag them to mat, but eventually someone’s going to force him to stand.  He has question marks in his conditioning - the one fight I reviewed that made it to the second, he was visibly tired.

Overall:  An unorthodox find as far as a prospect.  What we have in Gunnar is an elite submission artist with uncanny transition ability.  He is very strong for someone his size and could possibly compete at 155.  Despite the obvious holes defensively in his striking he can work to overcome it.  Right now he does enough with his stance to make him elusive enough to not get caught flush. He doesn’t use the ground and pound nearly enough, for someone with such great control.  He would rather work for a transition than force the opponent to open with punches.  Nelson’s stand up will need some development, which should happen over time.   

The scores tell us that: Gunnar Nelson is the real deal. Already an elite talent, as far as a skill set is concerned.  But, there is this big gapping defensive hole in his game.  That hole will need filled up in the near future. He’ll move up rather quickly. But eventually, a wrestler is going to force him to stand; as he won’t be able to take them down.   In a division that doesn’t possess many elite grapplers he can contend.  Nelson will pose as a confusing opponent to figure out and defend against.  The great thing is, the welterweight division is top heavy. He has to develop a striking game and once he does, he’s a real top 5 talent.    He is a rare prospect indeed, as he already has an elite weapon.   If he can work his striking game around supplementing that, he will be dangerous.

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tags: UFC      Gunnar Nelson (detail)  

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Recent Comments »

Doctor Snuggles site profile image  

2/19/13 3:48 PM by Doctor Snuggles

Not really. His problem isn't really keeping his hands low, but that he needs to work on his footwork and angles, which he himself admitted and was excited about after the fight (great mindset). In the fight it seemed more like he was trying new things out, and he wanted more stand-up experience, which he also sort of confirmed in post fight interviews. Especially in mma, hands up should be the absolutely last resort, and keeping yourself out of harms way with footwork, angles, counters etc is way more important. Even in boxing the "keep your hands up" mantra is really a terrible oversimplification and does not really say much.

DanielCaton site profile image  

2/19/13 2:49 PM by DanielCaton

If it comes off as authoritative, that was never the intention.  It's a working system, that will continue to evolve over time.  It's very like Mel Kiper's system in grading NFL prospects, from projecting college players to the NFL.  And there is no fact, especially in MMA.  The scores and grade are based purely on my input.  Someone else's views are always welcomed, just like scouts in the NFL and NBA have different values based on different players. I was only drawing attention to the defensive lapse in his striking.  He keeps his hands low and will get peppered with shots.  It'll need corrected.  As for his footwork, it was merited on his ability to work in and out of ranges, which he has shown brillantly in the past.  But this previous fight it was missing.  But seriously, I've never stated that my grades were perfect and the UFC and MMA in general should respect them, after all...I'm just a fan.

hybridfc site profile image  

2/19/13 1:11 PM by hybridfc

Ok, first off no need to behave like a little bitch about it. Secondly, he basically just won a fight by striking, he only scored two takedowns in that fight. And this was against a guy who won the strikeforce MW gp by strikes no less. One of Gunnar's key shortcomings in that fight was his footwork. When he got caught it was because his footwork had led him into corners and his reluctance to hold a high guard meant he got clipped.... but you scored his footwork a 5... I just feel like your 'grading system' is an attempt to quantify the unquantifiable. Fighter's aren't the sum of their individual technical and physical assets, there is a great deal more to it than that. Equally, you can't break someone's striking game down into "boxing" "kickboxing" and "footwork". It is simply ridiculous. I do genuinely appreciate the effort you go to with these breakdowns, but I just think such a concept is inherently flawed. You attempt to impose objectivity yet apply a purely subjective breakdown. Sure, state your opinion, but don't pass it off like some algorithmic fact drawn from some knowledge that the rest of us on the UG aren't privvy to. Just because your articles are posted by the UG blog does not make them authoritative, and your petty comments on the threads often detract from their legitimacy. Just my 2 cents. Oh, and FRAT.

DanielCaton site profile image  

2/18/13 7:48 PM by DanielCaton

I think after seeing another of his UFC fights, seems my issues were correct.  Thanks :)

Olive Garden Table For One site profile image  

2/2/13 12:03 PM by Olive Garden Table For One

He barely cuts to get to 170, he really needs to get himself to lw, unless he has the subs to negate the monster wrestlers on ww

DanielCaton site profile image  

2/2/13 11:57 AM by DanielCaton

He very well may be the #1 prospect, it's the highest prospect score I've given.  91 is an elite caliber guy, and I do think his future is possibly at 155.  And for the guys bitching about the cardio bro's.  The guy has a 91 score and you all are complaning.  The guy is a monster and no one wants to fight him. 

Olive Garden Table For One site profile image  

2/1/13 5:50 PM by Olive Garden Table For One

I can't understand that grading system, but it seems anti-Irish if it doesn't rate Our Gunni as the #1 MMA prospect

Mufasatheking site profile image  

2/1/13 4:57 PM by Mufasatheking

lol after the sam eldson fight the commentators mentioned how gunnar still isnt breathing hard, barely broke a sweat and "his heart rate is still probably at 130".

Mufasatheking site profile image  

2/1/13 4:52 PM by Mufasatheking

I just watched his fight with Iran Mascarenhas and he didnt seem that tired in the second round. He was breathing a little hard but had no problem swinging bombs constantly. he does seem a little wild with his striking, that might leave him open.

irishrottie site profile image  

2/1/13 4:38 PM by irishrottie

There is a grappling match of him vs a guy called Piotr Stawski that weighs about 250 pounds of muscle. Goes about 20 mins i think,, his cardio does not need improvement.