Grading the Prospects: Gunnar Nelson

Thursday, January 31, 2013

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.