Preview: UFC Fight Night 147 ‘Till vs. Masvidal’

Edwards vs. Nelson



Leon Edwards (16-3) vs. Gunnar Nelson (17-3-1)

ODDS: Edwards (-150), Nelson (+130)

Can Nelson finally get over the hump and become a true contender? Nelson has cut an interesting figure for a few years now, possessing a high-level background in both karate and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The Icelander has adopted an unorthodox style that is dependent on scoring a finish and has been surprisingly effective, given his lack of size for the welterweight division. Outside of the cage, Nelson has developed a cult following thanks to his stoic personality; his lack of showiness and focus on self-improvement attracted those who gravitate more towards the martial arts aspects of MMA, viewing Nelson as an antidote to, well, everything that former teammate Conor McGregor represents. Over his near seven-year UFC career, it has been a bit hard to peg exactly where Nelson falls in the division’s pecking order. Some of his wins have looked a lot worse in retrospect, and whenever Nelson has faced his best competition -- namely Demian Maia and Santiago Ponzinibbio -- he has lost in one-sided fashion. After a long injury layoff, Nelson rebounded from the Ponzinibbio loss to take out Alex Oliveira in impressive and bloody fashion, at the very least demonstrating that he deserved the shots he has been given. With that established, it is time for Nelson’s latest attempt at a run up the ladder, and he will face another one of Europe’s finest talents in Edwards.

It has been nice to see Edwards finally figure out things and have some success, as he had a rough start to his UFC career. Coming off the U.K. scene as a hyped power puncher, Edwards had his hype train immediately derailed in his UFC debut, as he lost a narrow decision to Claudio Henrique da Silva, who decided to approach the fight by repeatedly spamming for takedowns. That apparently caused Edwards to completely change his approach, as within a year, he was transitioning into a low-output grinder, which, in retrospect, makes the UFC matching him with Kamaru Usman in late 2015 look particularly cruel. Since that loss, Edwards has made that style work, even if the UFC did not treat him like a priority for most of his current winning streak. Twice a year, he would be placed halfway down a card in Europe and grind out a win over a fellow high middle-tier welterweight. Edwards finally got his main event slot in Singapore in 2018 and made good on it, earning a solid decision win over Donald Cerrone. Quietly, Edwards has won eight of his last nine bouts, and while he has not proven to be the all-out action fighter that some expected upon his debut, this is his chance to fully cash in on all the hype from years past.

This might be the hardest fight on the card to call, but it will become a lot clearer when the two fighters touch, as the result will likely depend on who has the advantage in the clinch. On the feet, the bout probably belongs to Nelson. Edwards should be able to hit the harder shots, but Nelson’s darting style and maneuverability make it a tough ask for the Brit to land those punches more consistently. With that said, Edwards will probably have to lean on Nelson’s main weakness, and that comes into play when a stronger wrestler can just hold him down. Maia had both the wrestling and the Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills to completely smother and outclass Nelson, but the more instructive example is Rick Story, who managed to plow through Nelson’s game plan with some good old American grinding. The margins are thin, though, as just being physically overwhelming is not enough. Nelson’s win over Oliveira showed that against an opponent who relies on strength and little else, the Icelander is able to technically outclass them. As such, it becomes a matter of determining if Edwards’ physical skills and technical know-how cross the threshold of what is needed to beat Nelson. Frankly, it is a coin toss. When combined with the striking advantage, the pick is Nelson via decision.

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