Jorge Santiago has found the going rough in the UFC. | Photo: Keith Mills/Sherdog.com
Gunnar Nelson (10-0-1, 1-0 UFC) vs. Jorge Santiago (25-10, 1-4 UFC)
The Matchup: Nelson arrived in the UFC as one of Europe’s most touted prospects, and he lived up to the hype in his promotional debut, submitting DaMarques Johnson inside of a round at UFC on Fuel TV 5. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Renzo Gracie, Nelson showed poise and persistence on the mat against Johnson. After failing to sink a rear-naked choke from his opponent’s back with hooks in, Nelson switched to a body triangle and secured the maneuver to elicit a tap.
The 24-year-old Iceland native has twice gone on hiatus to focus on his Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and he has displayed a knack for submitting larger foes on the grappling circuit. However, “Gunni” is no one-trick pony. As a karateka with the ability to switch stances, Nelson can land precise strikes and confound opponents with his movement.
Despite a decorated career that has seen him capture the Sengoku middleweight crown and earn notable triumphs over the likes of Kazuo Misaki (twice), Mamed Khalidov, Siyar Bahadurzada, Kazuhiro Nakamura and Jeremy Horn, Santiago has struggled to get over the hump in the Octagon. The former world-ranked middleweight tries his hand at 170 pounds after his last UFC stint saw him drop back-to-back fights to Brian Stann and Demain Maia -- not exactly the easiest competition.
Santiago was at his best in a pair of drawn-out battles with Misaki, against whom he showcased aggressive kickboxing, good submissions and the ability to persevere through a number of tough spots. The Brazilian’s conditioning and kickboxing skills will be his greatest assets against Nelson, as he will not prevail in an extended ground struggle against the Icelander.
Thus far, Nelson looks to be a cool customer who will not stray from his game plan in moments of adversity. Perhaps Santiago can take advantage of the fact that his adversary tends to keep his hands low, but Nelson should not have too much difficulty taking “The Sandman” down once he closes the distance.
The Pick: Nelson will be relentless on the ground, constantly advancing position and hunting for submissions in transitions and scrambles, earning a tapout in round two.
Next Fight » James Te Huna vs. Ryan Jimmo