WelterweightsAlbert Tumenov (17-2) vs. Gunnar Nelson (14-2-1)
THE MATCHUP: Two of the most promising young welterweights in MMA meet in what is unquestionably the most intriguing fight on the card.
Nelson struggles to adapt. That is the story of his last two defeats. Not only has Nelson struggled to adapt in the gym, not showing anything new after his first loss to Rick Story in 2014, but he has struggled to adapt in the fights themselves. Perhaps this is because Nelson has a very limited arsenal everywhere but on the ground. As John Crouch told Story during their fight, the cross is more or less Nelson’s only punch. He will dazzle with the occasional kick and he uses his punches to enter the clinch, where he is very crafty and strong, but Nelson’s game at distance largely consists of three or four strikes and a lot of bouncy footwork.
Given the mannerisms of these two fighters, you might guess that Nelson, with his lowered hands and casual air, is the more confident defender. On the contrary, Nelson relies almost entirely on his hands and feet for defense. If he cannot get out of range or time A Parry, he gets hit. Tumenov, on the other hand, has more layers to his defense. He can slip, but he also loves to pivot around his opponent and attack from angles. He can parry and block, but he keeps his hands free enough to wrestle when the need arises.
Tumenov’s offense is, like his defense, multi-faceted and remarkably organic. Not only does he regularly attack with more weapons than Nelson, but there is more variation within those weapons. Tumenov will change the level of a right hand to account for the head movement of his opponent; he will throw the right hand away in order to set up the hook; if the opponent steps out of range for the hook, he will effortlessly replace it with a left high kick; and so on.
Nelson’s greatest asset, and his greatest chance in this fight, is his grappling. The Icelander is a surprisingly effective wrestler. Not only does he possess some solid chain wrestling in the clinch, but he times reactive takedowns very well from range. On the ground, Nelson has superb top control and guard passing, though he struggled mightily with Demian Maia’s grappling in his last fight. There is no shame in being outgrappled by Maia, but one has to wonder how much belief Nelson will have in his grappling this time around after being so thoroughly dismantled in his last showing.
THE ODDS: Tumenov (-180), Nelson (+155)
THE PICK: Nelson is a young fighter, but Tumenov is only 24, with just six years of pro MMA under his belt. With excellent boxing, smart counter wrestling and the ability to either pressure or counter at will, Tumenov is essentially a super-charged Story; and since Nelson has made no obvious improvements since his loss to Story, that makes Tumenov a fairly easy pick. Nelson’s timing with strikes and takedowns will make him a constant threat, but without Tumenov’s consistency and tactical thinking, he is likely doomed. Tumenov by unanimous decision is the pick.
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