Gunning for 2014: Nelson talks his car crash, his injury, MMA in Iceland and UFC Dublin

This week Peter Carroll caught up with Iceland’s prodigal technician, Gunnar Nelson, who narrowly escaped a potentially fatal car accident last weekend. Having suffered a knee injury in April, Nelson has yet to re-appear in the Octagon where he has impressed thus far with wins over DaMarques Johnson and Jorge Santiago.

Now, with his eyes firmly fixed on 2014, Nelson discussed his return, MMA in Iceland, his hopes for next year, UFC’s Dublin card and the crash that nearly saw him plunge to the bottom of the Pjórsá.

“I’m feeling good,” said Nelson, typically underwhelmed, even by his brush with death. “Thankfully we all escaped, I needed 10 or 11 stitches in my arm and one of my friends hurt his neck, but otherwise we’re good.

“We were going to see a volcano for a bit of an adventure and the road we were driving on seemed to be clear the whole way. We turned halfway up the road because there was a mountain blocking us, but as soon as we did the whole road was covered in ice.

“My friend who was driving tried his best to even it out after losing control, but we went off the side of a hill and rolled the car a few times.”

Fortunately for the welterweight, there was no further damage to the knee that has seen him out of action since February when he claimed a one sided decision over veteran Jorge Santiago. Undergoing MCL surgery in April, Nelson choose not to make haste on his return to combat, instead he took precaution to safe guard his future in the sport.

“My knee is perfect now, I just thought it would be better to take it easy and wait for it to be completely healed before I came back. There was no single incident that led to the injury, so that kind of told me that maybe I had been training too hard, for too long.

“Especially with the meniscus, I’ve seen guys trying to hurry back from the same injury and it just keeps going again and again. I didn’t want to take that chance so I was in no rush.”

“After the surgery I was just doing exercises to build my knee back up, it was about a month before I got back on the mats and started grappling again. Obviously I wasn’t doing as many sessions as I usual, but after that it took me about two months to get back to regular training,” revealed the Icelandic fighter.

As for the time he had to take away from mitts and mats at Mjolnir, Nelson admitted there was a lot more to his life than MMA that kept him active.

“I spent the time enjoying my life in general. I love fighting and training, but it’s not all I want to do with my life. I’ve got a lot of interests and I like to keep myself busy. I got to spend a lot of time with my family and friends too, and that’s very important to me.”

Having learned his trade in Ireland under the watchful eye of John Kavanagh at Straight Blast Gym, after a chance meeting at age 16 with the Godfather of Irish MMA, Nelson is now sending his own promising youngsters to the Emerald Isle in search of experience.

Living with Kavanagh for a year in Dublin, Nelson got the ball rolling early in his MMA career, flourished as a grappler and now the SBG coach is helping a new generation of Icelandic talent.

In September, Kavanagh made his return to the promotions chair with Euro Fight Night with several Mjolnir fighters getting their first experience at MMA competition. The event was broadcast across Iceland, highlighting recognition for the sport in a country where MMA is still illegal.

“Euro Fight Night was a great for all of my guys, I was very happy with the performances. It’s a huge opportunity for them to compete and I’m sure there will be a lot more professionals coming out of Iceland in the future.

“It’s still illegal to compete over here, but the sport has grown massively. For my fights I get a lot of interviews and they broadcast the fights on the TV. Attitudes are changing towards the sport in Iceland.

“You don’t have to look further than our club to see the growth of the sport in the country. We have nearly a thousand people training here now, whereas two or three years ago, it was probably only half of that. There’s definitely a lot more people following the sport too, so hopefully the law can change in the future.”

The clinics Nelson put on in his early shows were unforgettable for those who were lucky enough to see them. With fluid, almost uninterested movements, Nelson would goad his opponents in before leaping into his attacks.

His grappling was utterly devastating even against the most capable of opponents, and although he seemed every bit as comfortable in his UFC outings, for Nelson his projection into the world’s elite has been notable.

“Fighting in the UFC was a huge step up in competition, every time you get in there you’re guaranteed to be fighting a really tough guy.

“You know that these guys have made it to the top of a smaller promotion and beaten some good fighters to get there, so they’re solid. They’re really great fighters so you know you have to be prepared,” he acknowledged.

With whispers emerging from UFC’s latest trip to Manchester referring to an earlier date for the UFC’s trip to Dublin, originally scheduled for September, many people began to speculate on the April/May dates that have been thrown around.

Nelson, who has strong ties with the city, admitted that fighting in the nation’s capital is something that interests him.

“I would love to fight at the UFC in Dublin. I don’t know whether it’s going to be early or late in the year, but I love the place – it’s been like a second home to me.

“I’ve fought in Dublin a few times and a lot of my training is based there. To fight on a UFC card with Conor, or any or my team mates, would be really great as well, so that’s something I look forward to.”

Although the European standout knows where he wants to fight, there is no individual in the 170 bracket that he has set his crosshairs on, instead he visualises himself taking on everyone.

“When I look at the welterweight division I see a lot of really interesting fights,” he admitted. “There’s no one I would really call out, but I can see myself fighting every person in there, they’re all possible opponents.

“As far as individuals are concerned, I don’t think about that too much. I just want to fight people that will help me climb the welterweight ladder.”

As for his return, the undefeated prospect is eyeing early 2014.

“Next year, hopefully I’ll fight a good few times. I presume I’ll be fighting early next year, but I’ll have to sit down with the UFC and talk about that.

“I’ll be back in Dublin for training in December, so I might find out then.”

By Peter Carroll – @PetesyCarroll

Owner/Editor of Writer, Podcaster, Producer of 'Notorious: Conor McGregor' film, 'Conor McGregor: Notorious' TV series, 'Ten Thousand Hours', 'The Fighting Irish' and more documentary films.

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