Santiago was hoping a drop in weight class would fix his woes inside the Octagon.
He thought wrong.
Nelson worked some unique kicking attacks early on, but it was actually Santiago who landed the biggest strikes in the opening round, really finding his groove at the end of the frame.
The Icelandic prodigy made the proper adjustments heading into the second round, securing a big takedown and really working ground and pound while passing Santiago's guard. Both men were Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts, but Nelson was incredibly smooth, eventually passing to full mount in the final minute and landing some solid shots from top position.
Despite his success on the ground, Nelson kept it standing in the third round, really pressing the action and making Santiago fight off his back foot. The Renzo Gracie black belt put some serious pressure on Santiago and landed his best strikes of the night, working a solid uppercut that connected consistently while also throwing some nice straight punches.
Santiago tried to go for broke at the end with a big combination and landed a huge right hand right before the bell but it was too little too late as the judges all awarded Nelson the decision victory.
For Jorge Santiago, he actually didn't look that bad here and I gave him the first round of the fight due to landing some harder strikes. It took a few minutes for him to find his range, but his right hand was really working for him in this fight and it's a shame he didn't go back to his kicks and knees he threw early because they seemed like they were working. He looked much better at welterweight, lighter on his feet and quicker overall, but he still couldn't handle the speed and awkwardness of Nelson.
For Gunnar Nelson, he's quickly becoming one of the most interesting and unique fighters on the UFC roster. His fighting style is so strange, with his hands low, throwing random kicks and not being afraid to try anything. Hopefully he remembers to keep the hands up in his next fight though, or he could find himself on the receiving end of a huge shot. His grappling was his biggest strength here and while he showed some strides in his striking, he still definitely needs work.
Nelson doesn't have a ton of power in his punches yet, but he did land a few good shots against Santiago that hurt him. It would have been nice to see him really turn it on in the third and go for the finish when "The Sandman" was wobbled, but that's something he'll learn in time. Going the distance was good for him as it was the first time he'd done it in victory and he proved he's got excellent conditioning even at the highest platform of the sport.
Next up for Nelson will hopefully be someone like Pascal Krauss, Kyle Noke or John Hathaway. I also wouldn't mind seeing him drop down to lightweight as being a smaller welterweight is going to catch up to him at some point.