UFC Glasgow: Gunnar Nelson vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio Toe to Toe Preview – A complete breakdown – Bloody Elbow

Gunnar Nelson vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio headlines UFC Fight Night 113 on Sunday, July 16th at the The SSE Hydro in Glasgow, Scotland.

One sentence summary

David: The Fonx vs. The Ponz punctuates the denouement of cool vs. cruel.

Phil: Eyyyyy meets Hmmmm.

Stats

Record: Gunnar Nelson 16-2-1, Santiago Ponzinibbio 24-3

Odds: Gunnar Nelson -175 Santiago Ponzinibbio +155

History / Introduction to both fighters

David: We’ve been through this before. Gunnar Nelson, like some martial arts protagonist, is the man with a past – full of mystery, intrigue, but fighting real battles to reflect the rage beneath. Well, everything except the rage beneath part. A prospect fans spoke about in hushed tones finally entered the UFC, and for a moment, tumbled out of fashion. Two losses, only one of which was truly unexpected, and Nelson seems to have put it behind him. His career has come full circle. He’s a really underrated fighter with ice for blood, a mace for a fist, and tentacles for appendages. Okay he’s not an anime character, but surely you get where I’m going with that.

Phil: Gunnar Nelson has always been a man who is utterly, completely indifferent to what everyone else wants from him, to an extent which is oddly refreshing. Too small for welterweight? He doesn’t care, he thinks cutting weight is unpleasant. His style is too low pace to win decisions? He’ll just focus more on blowing people out of the water with a single piece of well-timed offense. He is a genuine individual, here to examine mixed martial arts from his own stoic Icelandic viewpoint, and take what he determines as valuable from it. One day he’ll probably retire to teach BJJ or make ice-sculptures or something, with exactly the same calmly idiosyncratic work-ethic.

David: Santiago Ponzinibbio, whose last name is really easy as long as you scream to yourself “two bee’s!”, has led a career arc entirely different for the same reasons as Gunnar. He was a nobody who became a somebody that seemed like he could stumble back into being nobody only to right the ship and remain somebody. He’s been all action, all the time in recent years with the success to match. And like Nelson – I would argue – their recent success has hinged on matchmaking. They’re perfect for each other in ways at least one man won’t appreciate this Sunday.

Phil: I’m glad you’ve finally found a heuristic to preserve yourself from your Argentinean nemesis. The Ponz represents the front-runner of a group (…herd?) of dark horses who populate the welterweight division, including Zach Cummings, The Leech, Randy Brown, and Belal “Remember The Name” Muhammad. Like Neil Magny before him, he seems to have figured out that in a crowded division you can really get somewhere just by putting on consistent, violent fights and winning a lot.

What’s at stake?

David: I had actually forgotten who the welterweight champ was. That’s less a slight on Tyron Woodley, and more on welterweight in general. The division has seen some of its elite either retire only to be reborn as Michael Bisping bad blood, or open steakhouses and buy dumbass trucks like they’re both important sigils for a Shakespearean downfall.

Phil: It’s very hard to break into the upper echelon at welterweight. The Ponz will need to shed the image of being a decent fighter who went on a streak, who is nonetheless destined to crash and burn at some point (the aforementioned Magny, or Matt Brown). Nelson still likely needs to do some work to erase the memory of getting pantsed by Demian Maia in his core skillset.

Where do they want it?

David: On the feet. Ponz is an incredibly well rounded striker. His boxing isn’t super flashy when you really think about it. Yea he has some skull shattering knockouts. But he’s well rounded in very technical, broad ways. With good lateral movement, he slides in for position to attack and he’s able to pressure as well as counter with a shocking amount of grace. He’s not a dynamic combination puncher IMO. But because he has such intelligent punch entries, he doesn’t need to be. He just needs to find the seam and OOOHHHH. He chambers his shots well and has a surprisingly high level understanding of range when you ignore his defense (a little less technical). As in, he lunges efficiently when looking to close the distance but doesn’t get caught out of position. It’s a testament to what he can do just straight boxing an opponent that the only fighter who actually caught him was Lorenz Larkin. For all of Larkin’s faults, he is nothing if not a fighter you don’t want to roll the kickboxing dice with.

Phil: The Ponz understands a core concept behind his striking: he is not going to get out of there safely. He is simply not built to be able to win a fight without taking some licks from the opponent. You can’t jump in the water without getting wet. The most impressive development he showed was against Sean Strickland, where he put the young prospect up against the fence and mixed up mashing his lead leg with overhand rights and takedown attempts, while shrugging off the jabs which Strickland landed in return. Ponzinibbio is happy to chop down the tree while ignoring the chips and splinters which fly back to him.

He wasn’t done developing, however, and in subsequent fights has shown further improvements, including a much cleaner, sneakier straight right hand which he showed off against Zak Cummings, and a crunching jab against Nordine Taleb.

David: Nelson has more or less maintained his reputation in the cage. A smooth, brilliant grappler with a veritable grocery list of weapons at his disposal. And then a “karate based” striking game that borders between eccentric and quixotic, sometimes falling to the left (Thatch), sometimes falling to the right (Story). Nothing about his striking actually screams ‘karate’. He’s more of a classic opportunist. Which is sort of fitting for someone who trained Goju-ryu as a kid; a martial art that’s sort of like combat Sambo for Taekwondo kids that got picked on in grade school (raises hand). Neither willing to ever truly pressure, or able to truly counterattack, he manages to do both in his own hyperspace by letting his opponent’s impatience make the first move. What makes his style work is that he is fast and powerful on the feet. His right hand is dangerous, and he punishes with kicks for the seams that open up.

Phil: As mentioned before, I think a lot of people expected Nelson to either make changes to his fundamental game as time went on, or to struggle badly. As it turns out, he has done neither really. He’s still fundamentally the same guy, who looks for a singular moment of high-octane offense. He’s put on a bit more muscle, his ability to hit counter double legs is a bit more explosive, and he has become someone who can really crack if he lands that right hand, and has a one-two and three-two rather than living on a single strike, but overall he is much as he was: a kind of grappling Machida, who bounces around and attempts to draw the opponent into over-committing in order to create collisions. Unlike Machida, however, Nelson is a touch better at enforcing his own distance: he feints just a bit inside that range where most MMA fighters feel uncomfortable and compelled to attack.

On the ground, Nelson is unparalleled in the division, aside from the mighty Demian Maia. His ability to wait for sudden, killing moments is nestled down inside a crushingly tight passing game. Shoulder pressure, knee slide, mount, back-take, choke. It all comes very quickly and very nastily, and as he proved against Jouban, he’s happy to take other submissions if they present themselves.

Insight from Past Fights

David: Kind of hard to say, actually. As you mentioned, neither guy has had room to change, edit, or evolve nor have their opponents forced them display any polishing to their game they would otherwise need against the true elite. Alan Jouban against Nelson did what he always does, went in guns blazing, and like those annoying Call of Duty campers who scrubs like me can’t beat or locate, was appropriately counterdestroyed for his efforts. I think this is actually a tougher fight for Nelson than it is a tough fight for Ponz. Ponz just has to worry about the ground, and even though Nelson can get it there, it won’t be easy early on. Whereas Nelson has to worry, to the extent that he’s capable of such human emotion, about all the interactions on the feet and what needs to happen if he struggles to get it to the ground. Ponz is nothing like Story, but I could see different ways in which he could pose similar problems.

Phil: The interesting thing is that both men have been taken out by approximately similar threats to the one they face. Nelson was taken out by an attritional, high-pace volume kickboxing approach against Story, and the Ponz over-committed on a pressure game and got knocked out by a dynamite counter-striker in Larkin. In terms of movement and counter-takedowns, I think Ponz’s most relevant opponent is LaFlare, who proved that it’s possible to outwrestle and outwork him from the top. The question is obviously how much he has developed since then.

X-Factors

David: This fight is the least x-factory bout in ages. They’d sooner worry about a butterfly’s wings.

Phil: A lot of people say how small Nelson is as a welterweight, which is… sort of true. I mean, he’s six foot tall, and not incredibly skinny, and he would be a pretty vast lightweight. However, it’s notable that Ponzinibbio isn’t that big either. Both men have been fighting enormous, yoked up dudes of late (Taleb, Jouban), so it’ll be interesting to see them fight people who are a bit closer to their own size.

Prognostication

David: I’ll feel stupid picking against Nelson after the fact. But right now a Ponz upset makes sense to me. Despite his reputation, he has good posture, and his speed will be a serious issue for Nelson. Ponz isn’t Jouban, who is constantly in position to be counterattacked because he’s off balance throwing random nonsense. He’s measured, but violent. And Nelson borders on static. Santiago Ponzinibbio by split decision.

Phil: I came in fully prepared to pick Nelson. However, Ponz has shown himself to be just a bit more defensively aware of late, and I’m really not sure I can trust Nelson to go a full five round main event. I trust Ponz’s jab, leg kicks and volume more over five rounds. Should be great fun whatever happens. Santiago Ponzinibbio by unanimous decision.

UFC Glasgow: Gunnar Nelson vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio Toe to Toe Preview – A complete breakdown – Bloody Elbow

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