Gunnar Nelson vs. Albert Tumenov: The Hidden Gem of UFC Fight Night 87

Fightland Blog

By Jack Slack

Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC

UFC Fight Night 87: Overeem versus Arlovski is sneaking up on us and no one is really talking about it. Perhaps it’s because many expect a tedious fight between two men who have been known to turn fights into lengthy slogs when they're worried about getting hit. Perhaps it is the god awful co-main event between Stefan Struve and Antonio 'Bigfoot' Silva. Who knows? There are, however, half a dozen good talents in addition to the main eventers who are hidden throughout this card and well worth your attention. Let's run down the names and what you should be keeping an eye out for in each.

Albert Tumenov vs Gunnar Nelson

This fight is one that the hardcore fans are already considering as the one to watch on the Arlovski-Overeem card. In the already stacked welterweight division these two are names who could crack the upper echelon at any time and who bring skill sets unique enough that even if they take some bumps on the route you will always be able to say “it would be interesting to see how [current welterweight champion] would cope with that.”

For Gunnar Nelson it is the combination of fiendishly tricky jiu jitsu with a points karate base. He doesn't throw many combinations, he doesn't have the slick slips, parries and counters, but he distance fights excellently. You know by now what a points karate stylist does, he maintains a solid few feet between himself and the opponent and convinces the opponent to either rush to close it and run onto a punch, or sit still at the other side of it—whereupon the karateka will close the distance quickly himself. Lyoto Machida was the classic example of this in MMA but they are becoming more common with men like Stephen Thompson utilizing the same sort of strategies with more kicks thrown in. Brandon Thatch is a better fighter in combination and had been having good success kicking the legs of Gunnar Nelson in the early moments of their fight, but as Thatch was in a range which would be safe from most kickboxers, Nelson blitzed in with a pair of punches and decked Thatch.

The vulnerability in a style which uses retreat so often is that the feet remain active, pushing off of the floor and directing movement, rather than in a position to pick one up and check a kick. Every great mover can be susceptible to low kicks and Brandon Thatch showed that in nice two-kick combinations against Nelson.

Who doesn't love two-touch kicking combinations?

On the ground Nelson is top notch as MMA fighters go. It might be difficult to remember that because in his last bout he was absolutely smothered by Demian Maia, but Maia's pure grappling skills have always been near divine. If you haven't seen that performance I suggest you load it up on Fight Pass because it was among the most beautiful grappling displays in MMA history. Full of moments where Maia would give Nelson just one option, and then ruthlessly punish him for committing to it.

Beautiful smash passes galore.

It was by no means an embarrassing performance for Nelson though, who scrambled to the top several times and even threatened Maia with his powerful guillotine at a couple of points in the bout.

While few are going to be able to smother Nelson as Maia did, a more obvious shortcoming in Nelson's game is the gap between the stand up and the mat. There are still fighters at the top of the game who don't have the strongest wrestling but have the great striking and the threatening guard—the issue is that if they begin losing in one area they have no control over the transition to the other. This was abundantly clear when Nelson took on Rick Story. Every time Nelson wanted to take Story down, Story would stop him. Every time Nelson wanted to strike, Story would smother him in the clinch. It wasn't helped by Nelson's extensive use of punch-and-clutch. A great strategy unless the guy you're clutching is much stronger in the clinch than you. Each time Nelson entered, Story would land a couple of body shots and Nelson would push away again.

As the speed and timing based style of Nelson began to fade in the later going, Story's grueling work to the body paid dividends.

First round Nelson.

Fourth round Nelson.

Against Nelson is Albert Tumenov. Tumenov has terrific hands but doesn't always show himself to be what you would call a great boxer. He has a great deal of difficulty with the distance game which was demonstrated amply by the kicking of Lorenz Larkin and Nico Musoke. Often Tumenov will simply stand on the end of his opponents' kicks, take them, and then grab a hold and try to do something after already suffering the abuse of the blow. This left him limping and switching from stance to stance against Larkin.

When he does start backing opponents up towards the fence, he has similar troubles in trapping them there. Lorenz Larkin repeatedly circled off perfectly against Tumenov—often simply waiting for Tumenov's right hand to come, rolling it off his shoulder or guard, and moving out behind it.

In addition to this, Tumenov can be a painfully slow to adapt throughout a bout. In a number of his fights he has spent minutes eating strikes and not finding any joy with his own until he finally finds some success late in the day and begins to pile on the punches. Against Larkin it was the body shots which came to Tumenov late, against Musoke it was the slapping left hook to step offline with the right straight.

While thought of as a boxer, Tumenov's knockouts in the UFC have come by way of his kicking game. A faked right hand into a left high kick sent Matt Dwyer to the deck.

It was also a right high kick along the cage which pinned Lorenz Larkin in place long enough to hit with some good punches. The more Tumenov kicks, the better he looks.

Against Nelson, Tumenov stands to reap the benefits of being a better combination fighter in the later going but should be looking to help this along because the fight is only scheduled for three rounds. Cornering Nelson on the fence—provided he can stay out of the clinch—working the body, or pounding the legs would help Tumenov considerably. And of course the earlier Tumenov can get to work tiring Nelson out, the easier it will be for him in the late going when Nelson decides he needs takedowns to secure the victory. For Nelson, I would hope to see him punch-and-clutch his way to the mat in the early going and consolidate a dominant position, dropping elbows until the round's end. This is something Nelson has shown himself to be mindful of, only attempting submissions from very advantageous positions when the round is expiring—spending as much time landing telling blows from the top as possible. This has every chance of being a great fight and is more than enough reason for you to tune in.

Kyoji Horiguchi versus Neil Seery

I have had a soft spot for both of these fighters for some time but they are polar opposites in their backgrounds and methods. Horiguchi was the star pupil of Kid Yamamoto, winning a Shooto title young and his sole loss in his last eleven came in an obviously rushed shot at Demetrious Johnson where Horiguchi gave the flyweight king problems on the feet but had few answers on the mat. Neil Seery, meanwhile, was a journeyman brought in at short notice to lose to Brad Pickett at the O2 in 2014, and instead put on a brawl which had the crowd well on his side by the end. Horiguchi is the karate kid and Seery is the working man's slugger, but they are both tremendously entertaining to watch.

It is no secret that the flyweight division is dying on its arse because the UFC can't get people interested in it. This is likely because the best fighters at flyweight do not fight each other to earn title shots, they fight average flyweights and are gifted title shots when Johnson needs a challenger.  We don't get to see Benavidez, Dodson, Cejudo, Horiguchi, Bagautinov and Moraga fight each other until well after they have been used to provide a quick title fight for Johnson (and you don't see many real flyweight contender match ups even then). Add to that the fact that fights like this—containing a guy whose sole recent loss was to the champion—are down at the bottom of the card and it doesn't take a genius to see why no one is invested in any of the flyweights that Johnson fights.

So on to why you should care. Horiguchi is another karate stylist with a neat boxing streak. He will close the distance with a one two and then immediately either move his head, dive into a clinch, push his opponent away, or drop into a weave.

The weave is where he picks up many of his big connections and he has dropped a good few fighters with his weaving left hook.

The guy has some of the best power at 125—a division which is short on big hitters—but also some of the slickest ways of getting it home. Tons of tournament karate classics are visible in his bouts including the Rafael Aghayev favourite of pushing out of a momentary clinch into a lead high kick.

The old switch forty-five stance change.

And I'm still not sure how he got so much forward motion on this bizarre skipping knee strike.

Meanwhile Neil Seery is coming off his biggest win to date as he finished John Delos Reyes in a bout which he showed himself to be just a little slicker than the meat-and-potatoes banger we expect. From the opening jab thrown by Reyes, Seery was landing his right across the top, boxing him up en route to submitting him with a guillotine choke.

This bout is exactly the kind of flyweight matchmaking that I was complaining about as the top five flyweight, Horiguchi takes on a guy who doesn't even appear on the UFC's own rankings. But I was introduced to Seery by him spoiling what should have been a showcase for Brad Pickett, turning Pickett into a wrestler with his solid counter fighting on the feet. With Horiguchi always having been slick enough to avoid grinding brawls it is certainly possible that Seery could take him into an uncomfortable new place, and with Horiguchi's habit of giving up his back in almost every fight he's had, Seery could quite conceivably pick up an impressive victory.

The Arlovksi versus Overeem card is looking fairly drab in all honesty, but there are some possible gems hidden in there. Get back here Monday for the post fight breakdowns.


Check out this related story:

Overeem and Arlovski: The Inner Turmoil of the 'Chinny' Fighter