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Iceland's Gunnar Nelson readies from two-plus-year layoff for UFC Fight Night 204 return

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For Gunnar Nelson, the last two-and-a-half years have been a "weird time" living in Iceland. For a multitude of reasons, he hasn't stepped foot in the octagon, and so he has had to wait all that time to stop a two-fight skid he left back in 2019. 

"It was hard for me to get a camp going," Nelson said. "Living in Iceland, it was hard to travel, hard to get sparring partners and people over to train."

The last time UFC fans saw Nelson, he dropped a decision to Gilbert Burns in Denmark. Before that, he lost a split decision to Leon Edwards. All told, those aren't a bad couple of losses when considering both fighters' ascension up the welterweight rankings in the last few years. 

Still, sitting on two defeats is never a comfortable feeling, so while he waited for a fight to come, Nelson spent his surplus of time fine-tuning and retooling his vast skillset.

"It's good to have time away to actually build up new skills," Nelson said. "If you're always getting ready for a fight, you're always working on your game, whereas if you have some time to sit back a little bit and look at your game and go over things, you have time to progress. It's important to have that, as well. Coaching is great because it forces you to really look at the details of certain things and situations that maybe you wouldn't have done in this manner if you were just doing them yourself. When you're actually trying to teach them to somebody, it makes you look at them even closer."

Eventually, he got the call and signed on the dotted line to fight Claudio Silva at UFC Fight Night 204, but a few weeks ago, Silva suffered an injury and pulled out of the matchup.

In stepped Takashi Sato (16-4 MMA, 2-2 UFC), so instead of fighting a jiu-jitsu wizard in Silva, Nelson (17-5-1 MMA, 8-5 UFC) now must concern himself with the Japanese southpaw who has tallied 11 of his 16 professional wins via knockout. 

Although a stark change of styles could shake a fighter up ever so slightly in the lead-up to a fight night, it's something Nelson is pretty accustomed to throughout his career. 

"This has happened almost every fight, I feel," Nelson said. "I don't get too attached to the original opponent. I'm just thankful to Takashi Sato for taking the fight on short notice."

Spoken like a true veteran of the sport and of the moment. This weekend marks Nelson's 13th under the UFC banner and his fifth UFC card in London. Nelson is 3-1 in London, his lone loss coming in that split decision to Edwards.

This one is particularly special for Nelson just because of the long journey it took to get back to this point. Nelson said this is the first time he is "completely injury-free" heading into a bout in quite a while, so the eagerness is increased tenfold. 

With that in mind, he expects to show off the "best version" of himself yet. Results, opponents and performance aside, Nelson is just plain excited to make the walk to the octagon, enter the cage and feel that unique buzz that comes when the door closes behind him.

"The moment when you're in the cage and it's closing and it's starting, that's always the best," Nelson said. "There's a lot of waiting with fight week and all this stuff, and you go to the arena, you're warming up, you're watching the fights and you're waiting, but then as you're walking up the stairs, and you're both in the cage, that's the best feeling."

This story first published at UFC.com.