Mastery of movement – Gunnar Nelson on improved striking, Akhmedov, recovery, the title and UFC Dublin

Returning after over a year of competitive inactivity, Gunnar Nelson caught up with PETER CARROLL ahead of tomorrow night’s showdown with Omari Akhmedov in London’s 02 arena.

Over a year since his last outing in the UFC, side-lined having sustained a similar injury to his coach John Kavanagh and team mate Conor McGregor, Gunnar Nelson will make his long awaited return to the Octagon when he faces off against Russian knockout artist, Omari Akhmedov, in London’s 02 on Saturday.

His lack of animation outside of competition is often a talking point, but there is no denying the enthusiasm of the Icelandic prodigy when it comes to his quest for mastery of movement. In the lead up to his return Nelson prepared in his own gym, Mjolnir in Reykjavik, as well as in Dublin’s Straight Blast Gym under the watchful eye of John Kavanagh, and explained why he thinks fans will see a new side of him at UFC Fight Night 38.

“My camp was split between Iceland and Ireland and I’ve really been focusing on my striking in the lead up to this fight,” said the stoic submission specialist. “I’m very comfortable grappling and I wanted to work on what was needed. I started out training karate when I was kid and eventually my ground game became stronger than my striking, but now I feel like that’s changed again.”

His reason for moving between the two countries seems to pertain to his pursuit of a greater understanding of movement, with each sparring partner contributing a new sequence of transitions for him to resolve.

“There’s no real reason why I split the camp, it’s just something that we do. Obviously John is my coach and we always have training partners go back and forth. Cathal Pendred and James Gallagher came over this time and it’s always good to train with different bodies and different movements,” he said.

Revealing that he took extra time out to guarantee the stability of his knee in an interview with SevereMMA.com in late October, Nelson once again highlighted his confidence in his recovery.

“It wasn’t bad,” he laughed implying that his time away from MMA was in fact, quite good. “My knee is fully healed to the point that I’m not even aware of it anymore. Sometimes people come back from these injuries and they can’t stop thinking about it going again, but mine feels no different than before the surgery.  In the fight game you always get little knocks and breaks are needed, but I feel great at the moment.”

With pictures of Pendred and Gallagher surfacing from their trip to Iceland and constant chatter on social media sites among the SBG stable mates about karate, it would seem Nelson has gone back to the art that gave him his first taste of martial arts competition.

“Karate was my first martial art and I’ve always worked from that on my feet, it was fun to go back and play around with it again. We’ve been working on a lot things though, not just karate, I’m always looking to add to my arsenal.”

Never allowing himself to be pigeon holed, Nelson believes he has advanced considerably since his last showing for the UFC, a decision win over Jorge Santiago in February 2013.

“I’m always trying to be innovative and creative with martial arts and a lot has happened since my last fight,” he said. “In martial arts I’ve always believed that people develop in phases and then suddenly they will take a jump to the next level. The longer you have trained, the more infrequent these jumps seem to come, but I’ve definitely taken a big jump since my last fight.”

Nelson generally seems to dehumanise his counterpart in the lead up to a bout, objectifying them as an obstacle that presents only variations and patterns that he then has to decode. Although it wasn’t much, the Icelandic star made a brief comment on his opponent for Saturday, Omari Akhmedov.

“I’ve seen a few of his fights and he’s clearly a power-based fighter with heavy hands. He’s quite awkward with his timing from what I’ve seen, but I think I’ll be able to figure it out. Hopefully everyone will get to see a new side to my game,” he said.

Even when he was first starting out, despite his unbeaten record, Nelson could appear nearly unsatisfied with some of his wins, like his personal objectives for each contest far surpassed the coveted victory his fellow martial artists aim for.

“It’s not all about winning,” he revealed. “This is martial arts, I am aiming so much higher than just a win every time I compete. Martial arts have brought so much love and joy to me and I want to carry this on for as long as I can. The sport constantly motivates me and it’s very important for me to be creative when I perform.”

Nelson also highlighted how he believes that his journey to the title may take less time given that UFC welterweight champion Georges St Pierre has taken a step back from competition.

“Now that GSP has retired it’s really opened up the division. I think a shot at someone in the top ten seems a lot more realistic if I’m successful on Saturday and that’s what I’ll be looking to get for my next fight.”

Due to his emergence under the tutelage of John Kavanagh in Dublin’s SBG, the welterweight admitted that a place on the UFC’s card when they return to the Irish capital, announced for July 19th in the 02 yesterday,  would ideally be his next time to compete.

“I would love it if my next fight was in Dublin. That would be something that I could really look forward to, fighting there again is something that I really want to do.”

By Peter Carroll – @PetesyCarroll

Ireland's leading MMA media outlet. Home of Severe MMA Podcast. Producers of 'Notorious,' 'The Fighting Irish' & other MMA docus