It feels like the idea of Demian Maia and Gunnar Nelson meeting has been batted around for years. Ever since the Brazilian dropped down to 170 lbs and the Mjolnir man proved his worth at MMA’s top table, the fascination surrounding a clash between the two Brazilian jiu-jitsu goliaths has been growing.
A former ADCC and Pan-American champion, Maia is regarded as one of the greatest proponents of ‘Arte Suave’ to ever grace the Octagon. The Brazilian announced himself to the MMA world after signing with UFC by claiming five submission victories in a row. Although his finishing rate hasn’t been as high after dropping down to 170 lbs, Maia’s first round submission win over Neil Magny back in August proved he is as clinical as ever when it comes to ‘the gentle art.’
Nelson is considered a bit of a prodigy when it comes to grappling. A pioneer of both MMA and BJJ in Iceland, across Ireland where he trained under John Kavanagh many players taking part in their first jiu jitsu class heard about the rapid ascent of ‘Gunni’ through the belt ranks. Receiving his black belt after just four years of training, the quickest it had taken any European up until that point, one of his most famous grappling performances came against Jeff Monson. Despite the obvious size advantage of ‘The Snowman’, Nelson managed to take the veteran heavyweight down and secure his back before time was called on the ADCC contest.
Speaking from Iceland, Nelson underlined his great respect for Maia ahead of their clash that has jiu jitsu players worldwide salivating since UFC announced it as part of the blockbuster UFC 194 card.
“He’s one of the best jiu jitsu guys to ever compete in MMA,” claimed Nelson. “He is one of the few guys who has been able to make his jiu jitsu work properly in MMA, I think his performances have shown that. Not many jiu jitsu guys can work their jiu jitsu in MMA bouts, he is one of them that can and he has done it really well.
“I’m excited to go in there with him, and I think it’s going to be a great fight. I’m looking forward to going to the ground and getting a little feel of what the story is with his game.
“Obviously this is an MMA fight, and I’ve always geared my jiu jitsu towards MMA. Since I started on this path MMA has always been my number one, and my jiu jitsu has been developed specifically for MMA. I can see this being a really good matchup.
“The fight always starts on the feet and I’ll definitely try to soften him up a bit, but I want this fight to hit the ground and I want to get a good feel of what he’s got going on there. I’m excited about the contest, and I’m confident that it will go my way.”
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Nelson’s performance at UFC 189 was the manner in which the stoic submission specialist sent acclaimed striker Brandon Thatch to the canvas. Although many thought the American kickboxer would be at his most devastating during the opening five minutes of the contest, Nelson sprang into a left/right combination from his southpaw stance to send Thatch down. From there, he transitioned effortlessly to the back before finishing the contest with a rear naked choke.
Although the excitement is gathering around Gunni and Maia sharing a grappling exchange at UFC 194, something the European welterweight is welcoming himself, the Mjolnir fighter also cited his great love for the standup element of the sport of late.
“I haven’t shown most of my standup I don’t think and for the last two years that has been my priority – I’ve been working a lot on my striking,” he explained. “I think I’ve developed a lot as a fighter lately. I have a lot of fire in me and I’m looking forward to showing everybody that in the near future.
“Training has been going phenomenally and there have been big jumps in my game recently. The striking department has probably improved the most because that’s what I’m focusing on. I really love training in that specific area at the moment. I fell in love with jiu-jitsu many years ago and spent a lot of time on that, and now it feels like I’m going through the same kind of thing with striking now. I go back and forth with these things and I think that’s perfect.”
For Nelson, a win over Maia would almost certainly open up more bouts for him at the top of the welterweight bracket. Gunni insisted that he believes he will capture the 170 lbs title soon and that he hopes to fight all of the top contenders in the near future.
“I think I’ll be fighting all of the top contenders in the near future. My plan is to get the title soon and then after that I want to fight all of the guys that I didn’t get to fight on my way up. I don’t know who is going to be there (at the top of the division), but I don’t mind either. I respect all of these guys and I’m ready to fight them all. I just look forward to new challenges, the future will be full of good times.”
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