The UFC makes its third return to Scandinavian shores on the 4th October for UFC Fight Night – Nelson Vs Story. It will be the first time both fighters have featured in a UFC main event and for Nelson is a testament to the impact he has made on the 170lb division since joining the UFC back in 2012. While the UFC actively looking to push the Icelandic star I look to answer the question, “Is this the main event Sweden need or the main event Gunnar Nelson deserves?”
14th April 2012 was the promotions first show in Stockholm and was headlined by a Light Heavyweight bout between Sweden’s own Alexander Gustafsson and Thiago Silva. At that time the event was the fastest selling European event in the history of the promotion, selling out in three hours. The show drew 15,248 fans in attendance and a gate of $2.23m. Not bad for the promotions first show in Sweden. But things didn’t go so smoothly when the UFC scheduled their return a year later. UFC on Fuel TV 9’s main event was plagued by a cut that Alexander Gustafsson received in a sparring session a week before his fight with Gegard Mousasi. The promotion were able to rectify the situation by bringing in Ilir Latifi who was one of Gustafsson’s main training partners. Whilst it was unfortunate that Gustafsson got injured, it was a blessing in disguise for Latifi who has since gone 1-2 in his UFC career. In terms of numbers the show was attended by 14,506 and produced a gate of $2.710m.
To put the attendance numbers into a little perspective, the Ericsson Globe arena has a total seating capacity of 16,000 for shows and concerts and 13,850 for ice hockey. In the UFC’s respect shows they managed to fill 95% and 90% of the arena. I’d say that’s pretty successful. The promotion has also played up to the Scandinavian stars when promoting the events which has obviously been a big part of their success given the fighters followings within their respective countries.
So in answer to the question “is this the main event Sweden need?” then I would argue that they have been relatively spoilt when it comes to main events. I get that the second show didn’t turn out as it should but the UFC did everything they could given the timescales and didn’t cancel any cards or promote any other bouts to the main event. Alexander Gustafsson, Thiago Silva, Gegard Mousasi, Ilir Latifi, Rick Story and Gunnar Nelson as headliners? I’d be a happy Swede with that!
So now moving onto the question of whether or not this is the main event that Gunnar Nelson deserves? Gunnar’s character has let him fly relatively under the radar for a while but it’s fair to say that his exposure to Conor McGregor has only helped to bring him to the forefront of the minds that matter within the promotion. And then there is the fact that he is unbeaten in fourteen fights with an 85% stoppage rate. Let’s not forget that!
Gunnar will be making his third outing of the year, having only fought once in 2013 due to some injuries he picked up. And a win over Story will cap off an incredible 2014 for the Icelandic star who has picked up performance of the night awards in his victories over Omari Akhmedov and most recently Zak Cummings. Rick Story will be the big test that Nelson has been working towards and will give him the opportunity to break into the top ten of UFC Welterweights. Story has evolved as a mixed marital artist having made an initial storm in the division as a wrestler seeing him rack up six wins on the bounce including a victory over current Welterweight Champion Johny Hendricks.
But since his loss to Charlie Brenneman (who was a late replacement for Nate Marquardt) Story has been on a very bumpy ride on his journey to rebuild himself as a 10 ten fighter. Arguably though Story has had anything but an easy journey fighting Kampmann, Maia, Pyle, Ebersole and Gastelum. His last fight against Leonardo Mafra was the first time he has been given a “breather” if there is such an analogy to be had in the sport of MMA. Now it’s straight into the fire again for Story and in my opinion Gunnar is a very bad matchup for Story.
While Story is deemed the more powerful striker I would give the striking edge to Nelson who is far more diverse with his striking. Although I don’t see Story winning this fight anywhere but on the feet. He needs to try and make this a dirty fight and utilise some boxing from within the clinch and then get the hell out of there and hope that he can adapt that strategy for the duration. But I don’t see Nelson letting him do that and think it will only be a matter of time before the fight hits the mat which is where Nelson is most comfortable.
Gunnar Nelson is a star in the making and his cool calm persona only adds to the mystery. He has upped his game since joining the world’s biggest promotion and has been rewarded with a headline bout against a tough opponent. It’s fair to say that this next fight will be his toughest test to date but equally a win for Nelson over Story will be biggest win of his career and where better to get that win than in Scandinavia?