Two very talented welterweight grapplers will battle for supremacy this Saturday night (Feb. 16, 2013) as Icelandic sensation Gunnar Nelson takes on Jorge Santiago on the UFC on FUEL TV 7 main card in London, England.
Nelson had long been considered one of the best prospects not to be signed by the UFC and when he finally made his debut last September, he proved all the hype correct by thoroughly dismantling DaMarques Johnson en route to a first round submission victory.
Santiago is making his third run in UFC and is hoping that a drop to welterweight will finally give him better luck as "The Sandman" currently holds a 1-4 record in the promotion. The former Sengoku Middleweight champion won't have an easy road, but he definitely will hold an experience and strength of opposition edge over Nelson.
Will Nelson continue to tear through all his opposition? Can Santiago end his skid? What's the key to victory for both men on Saturday night?
Record: 10-0-1 overall, 1-0 in the UFC
Key Wins: Damarques Johnson (UFC on Fuel TV 4)
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Gunnar Nelson started out playing other sports like soccer and ice hocky, even trying out karate, but gave it all up once he fell in love with Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He earned his black belt under Renzo Gracie and did very well in competitions, earning a pair of gold medals at the Pan-American games.
After starting his professional MMA career in 2007 and quickly bursting out to a 5-0-1 record, he took a two-year layoff from the sport to improve his overall skills.
Since returning in 2010, he has destroyed everyone he faced by first round submission, including winning his UFC debut in emphatic fashion against DaMarques Johnson and then creating an aura of mystique with an icy post-fight interview.
Now, he's looking to cement himself in the division by taking out a solid veteran in Santiago.
How he gets it done: Nelson is an absolute beast on the ground. He took Johnson to the canvas and slipped through his guard like a hot knife through butter. The Icelandic grappler has the elite skills to even handle someone as experienced as Santiago on the canvas, although he shouldn't expect to easily be able to submit him as Santiago had Demian Maia in his guard for three rounds and survived all the way to a decision.
If Nelson can close the distance and put Santiago on his back, look for him to really mix up his attack with ground and pound. "The Sandman" does not have a tremendous chin and if Nelson can soften him up with heavy punches and elbows on the canvas, he might be able to create an opening to attack with a submission or better yet, just finish the fight with strikes on the ground.
It all will come down to putting Santiago on the canvas.
Record: 25-10 overall, 1-4 in the UFC
How he got here: Jorge Santiago has been in the cage with some great fighters, even before he was in the UFC, like Manny Gamburyan and Diego Sanchez. He put on a show in his first UFC run, but his chin betrayed him after back-to-back losses to top middleweights Chris Leben and Alan Belcher.
Afterwards, Santiago would go on a spectacular run outside the promotion which included winning the one night Grand Prix for Strikeforce as well as capturing the Sengoku 2008 Middleweight Grandprix in Japan. The Brazilian would defeat Kazuo Misaki for the Sengoku middleweight title and would again be victorious over Misaki at Sengoku 14 in what many considered to be 2010's "Fight of the Year."
With Sengoku's financial troubles, many foreign fighters began bailing from the promotion and Santiago was released from his contract. His second run in the Octagon didn't go as expected, losing to both Brian Stann and Demian Maia before once again being released by the promotion.
He bounced back by earning consecutive first round victories on the local circuit and also dropping down to welterweight, where he was again signed by Zuffa and expected to make an appearance in Strikeforce last November. Instead, after the Strikeforce event was cancelled, he returned to UFC as an injury replacement to fight Nelson.
How he gets it done: "The Sandman" is a jack of all trades. Santiago ripped through the Strikeforce middleweight Grand Prix with kicks and knees. He submitted his way through much of his run in Sengoku with his spectacular Brazilian jiu-jitsu credentials and he showcased his sweeps and ground and pound in his comeback victory over Misaki.
When the fight is standing, expect Santiago to keep his distance and look to work his excellent head and body kicks. If the fight gets inside, Jorge will either attempt to land some big knees in the clinch or work for a trip takedown of some sort, although it's not recommended he try to go into Nelson's strength.
While the ground is Santiago's best weapon, he would be wise to try to keep this fight standing and utilize his size advantage over the Icelander. "The Sandman" doesn't have a great chin, but his striking is more than competent and he shouldn't have too much to fear from Nelson on the feet. If he does go to the ground, he will be in danger of what happened in the Maia fight where he was stuck on his back for three rounds against an elite grappler.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest factor for this fight has to be Santiago's history in the UFC. "The Sandman" has found success everywhere except inside the Octagon, getting released twice by the promotion after disappointing performances. Dropping down a weight class doesn't guarantee everything will suddenly get better especially if he hasn't conquered those demons in the back of his mind.
Santiago has the overall skill and the experience to potentially defeat Nelson, but that all goes out the window if he doesn't have the confidence to perform to the best of his ability.
Bottom Line: Nelson is an absolute beast once the fight goes to the canvas and he's extremely aggressive and technical. Nelson has finished all 10 of his victories and that means there's always a great shot at something incredibly exciting happening. Santiago is no joke either as he's been in some absolute wars throughout his career and has finished some fights in highlight reel fashion too. As long as this fight isn't 15 minutes of Nelson laying in Santiago's guard like Maia did, this fight should be great.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Fuel TV 7? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!