This Saturday (March 8, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweights Gunnar Nelson and Omari Akhmedov will square off in the opening main card bout of UFC Fight Night 37, airing live on Fight Pass from O2 Arena in London, England.
Undefeated in mixed martial arts (MMA), Nelson has been out of action since he beat Jorge Santiago by unanimous decision at UFC on Fuel TV 7, also in London. Slowed by some recent injuries, the talented young Icelander could be an under-the-radar contender in a very tough division.
He'll have to get past Akhmedov first, which has proved to be far from an easy task. The Russian-born "Lakec" has only one loss on his record from his second-ever fight. He impressed in his sole Octagon bout, a "Fight of the Night"-winning knockout of Thiago Perpetuo at UFC Fight Night 32 last year.
Both fighters are accomplished grapplers with striking power to match, so this one could get interesting quick. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Nelson vs. Akhmedov:
Record: 11-0-1 overall, 2-0 UFC
Key Wins: Jorge Santiago (UFC on Fuel TV 7), DaMarques Johnson (UFC on Fuel TV 5)
Key Losses: None
Record: 12-1 overall, 1-0 UFC
Key Wins: Thiago Perpetuo (UFC Fight Night 32)
Key Losses: None
With all the commotion in the welterweight division as of late, Nelson and Akhmedov definitely haven't been in the news much. Looks can be deceiving, however, as these two lesser-known fighters end any fight in an instant.
Nelson brings a world-class grappling game to the table. He won multiple gold medals at the 2009 IBJJF Pan American Championships when he was barely into his twenties. With submission victories in five out of his past six wins, "Gunni" will be looking to lock up Akhmedov in one of his lethal chokes.
If he can't get the fight to the ground, all is not lost. Nelson is also a talented striker thanks to his black belt in Goju-ryu karate.
Not to be outdone, Akhmedov is an International Master of Sports in Sambo. Russian fighters have been moving up the ranks in MMA recently, and Akhmedov fits that bill perfectly. He has more knockout wins than Nelson with six, but he also has some dangerous chokes of his own. Akhmedov should be looking to push the pace and test Nelson's readiness to get into a firefight after such a long layoff.
"Gunni" should be more than willing to engage wherever this fight goes, making this a potential "Fight of the Night" candidate. Both fighters have well-rounded skillsets, but Nelson has the slight advantage in terms of UFC experience. He'll be looking to put the letdowns of 2013 behind him with a strong showing, and he'll have the British crowd fully behind him.
Even with the odds stacked against him, Akhmedov will fight to the end in hostile territory, so expect a war at O2 Arena.
Heavily hyped prospect Gunnar Nelson will face a largely unknown but dangerous foe in Omari Akhmedov. Although this should turn out to be a battle, I expect Nelson's overall game to come out on top despite some cage rust.
Final Prediction: Nelson def. Akhmedov via unanimous decision