UFC Fight Night 53 October 4, 2014 Welterweight Matchup: Gunnar Nelson vs Rick Story By @fightnomics Big Picture: It’s a UFC Double Header this weekend, and the main event from Sweden promises to promote one man up the crowded Welterweight division ranks, while the main event later in the evening from Halifax could determine the next title contender in that division. With Gunnar Nelson headlining his first UFC card, it’s clear that he is thought to be one of the top European fighters on the roster, and therefore someone that could be pushing his way into contention within the next year. The #12 ranked Welterweight Nelson opened as the favorite and has stayed put at -360, with the underdog Story currently at +300. Nelson is a strong favorite, as he has been in every UFC fight in his career. But he’s not nearly the biggest favorite on the Sweden card, with Max Holloway (-700) and Niklas Backstrom (-800) leading the charge. Still, nearly four-to-one odds are a steep price to pay for Nelson, so let’s see what the numbers say about how this fight will go down. Summary Stats:
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Tale of Tape Matchup: The stance of these two fighters will make for an interesting battle within the fight itself. Story is a Southpaw, but Nelson will switch stance often to suit his plans for attack. The awkwardness of this could slow down the pace of the standing exchanges at first. But overall, it’s still Nelson who gets the better of the Tape by being four years younger and still very much in his prime. Story isn’t “old” by UFC standards, but he’s just on the wrong end of the Youth Advantage in this one. Striking Matchup: It will be a sharp contrast of styles when these two fighters face off on their feet. But then, that’s usually the case whenever Gunnar Nelson strikes. His unique style has been described as “Machida-esque,”and the numbers explain why. Nelson switches stance and using the very wide karate base that Machida uses. He also is very reserved, yet simultaneously very accurate in his striking. These traits define Machida as well. Nelson circles away often, boosting his excellent strike defense, and doesn’t bother using jabs. In fact, in UFC history only a handful of fighters exceed Nelson’s 91% head strike power share. That means he only uses jabs in 9% of his standing head strikes. Instead, when he does decide to fire off power strikes, he lands them with 41% accuracy, well above the UFC benchmark. It’s a tricky style to deal with, but not an unbeatable one. A fighter with a strong chin, a conservative attack, but who can control the cage can certainly win rounds against Nelson. Nelson dropped one round on two judges’ cards against Jorge Santiago, largely due to Santiago being the more active striker in two out of the three rounds. That’s an opening for Story, who has outworked opponents by 29% in total volume, and averages over 15 strike attempts per minute of standing time. That’s the second highest striking pace this weekend, only slightly behind Max Holloway. Now contrast that with Gunnar Nelson, who averages only 5.2 strike attempts per minute while standing, far and away the lowest of any fighter on the double header. It’s a huge difference. And it could cost Nelson some rounds if he doesn’t land anything damaging or get control on the mat. Grappling Matchup: Gunnar Nelson is a champion-level grappler and black belt in jiu jitsu. And the interesting thing is: people must know it. How else do you explain that in his 4-0 UFC career to date, there has been only one attempt to take him down (by Zak Cummings, which failed). So with 100% takedown defense, the elusive Nelson hasn’t really been tested on his back. Offensively, it’s a different story. Nelson hasn’t been quite as quick to attempt takedowns, but he’s been dominant when he gets there. He also finished three out of four opponents with a choke. Nelson’s perfect grappling stats are impressive, and his takedown accuracy runs at 71%, well above average. Story’s takedown defense is only average, so should Nelson go on the attack he should gain top control eventually. Story does have wrestling experience and above average takedown accuracy, but he might think twice about falling into Nelson’s guard. So Nelson may have a little more of a challenge getting this to the mat given Story’s wrestling base. But again, five rounds is a long time for opportunities to present themselves, and Nelson really only needs one takedown to win a round, and possibly the fight. Once on the mat Nelson’s submission game will be patient and well executed. Story has tapped before to high level grapplers, and he’ll be constantly on the defense when this fight drops levels. Reed’s Pick: Nelson by Submission (click for latest MMA odds) Reed’s Recommended Play: There’s reasons to be worried playing Nelson at too steep a price with his sometimes seemingly unhurried style, but putting him into parlays with other solid favorites this weekend will mitigate your exposure, and still likely return a win. Five rounds is a long time for an opportunity to present itself, especially given Story’s aggressiveness. It’s not a great play, but Nelson should come through one way or the other. He should eventually find opportunities for a submission, and could be in the running for a performance bonus, although likely not Fight of the Night. And he still probably won’t break a smile. The Over of 2.5 rounds is -125, the Under -110. At nearly pick em’ prices for a Welterweight fight, the value is better for the Under. Just barely. But if we learn that the small cage will be used in Sweden, then the Under becomes a more solid play. It’s a five-round fight, so look for better value taking Nelson Inside the Distance at -160, or by Submission at +115, with a tiny hedge on a Story by Split/Majority Decision prop at +1320. “Fightnomics” the book is now available on Amazon! Follow along on Twitter for the latest UFC stats and MMA analysis, or on Facebook, if you prefer.