Conor McGregor, Gunnar Nelson Mesh Well Despite Contrast in Personalities

By John Joe O'Regan Jul 18, 2014
Conor McGregor spent part of his training camp in Iceland. | Dave Mandel/

Conor McGregor spent a sizeable portion of his UFC Fight Night Dublin training camp away from home.

The unorthodox featherweight based himself in Reykjavik, Iceland for a month and trained at Gunnar Nelson’s gym Mjolnir. He found the Scandinavian island a beneficial place to train.

“The air is fresh, you're training surrounded by beautiful mountains, all this scenery, phenomenal food,” McGregor told “And it’s a great place to go and prepare for a fight. There's no distractions whatsoever.”

Life has changed considerably for McGregor since he became a face in the UFC. The media in his Irish homeland has embraced him, and so have his countrymen. He’s gone from being a top talent appreciated by the cognoscenti to having a mainstream presence in the national media.

When he walks around Dublin now, McGregor can expect to find himself accosted every few minutes by fans who want to take a picture, get an autograph or just have a bit of a chat. McGregor, a born star if ever there was one, has embraced his new role fully, but he also knows that he needs space to focus and do his work.

Halli Nelson, father of Gunnar Nelson, has known McGregor since the Irishman was a youth. He’s seen how life has changed for McGregor since he stepped up onto the UFC platform. He’s seen a similar thing happen for his son in Reykjavik, though he notes that the Icelandic fans are less excitable than their Irish counterparts.

“Dublin is crazy for Conor. And even though he likes it like that, he also realizes that he needs a little bit of time off and to be inside the training camp away from the publicity and all the phone calls,” says the elder Nelson. “And it’s necessary for Gunni to do the same thing by coming to Dublin for the last period of his training camp. That was very good for him, though it isn’t the same craziness for Gunnar in Iceland as what it is for Conor in Ireland.

There is a stark contrast between the level of fanfare in Ireland and Iceland, although Halli says things are beginning to change in his home country.

“You know the Irish, they are a little bit crazy, “he said. “No, I don’t know, it might be a cultural thing, maybe the Icelanders don’t get as emotional as the Irish do. If you look at the atmosphere around this UFC in Dublin, tickets selling out in minutes, it’s more intense here.

“In Iceland we had famous actors who for years could walk down the street without being hassled for pictures or autographs. Now it is changing a bit, especially with [the onset] of mobile phones with cameras and people wanting pictures with famous guys, but certainly it is nothing like here [in Ireland] or the United States.”

McGregor and Nelson have trained together for years, a result of the close relationship between SBG Ireland’s coach John Kavanagh and the Mjolnir Gym in Iceland. It takes only a cursory glance at the two to see how opposite they are in temperament. McGregor’s excitability contrasts with Nelson’s unflappable cool; they are fire and ice.

“Conor isn’t putting on an act, this is how he is. He was always like this, intense. Like at the weigh-ins he would be up in the face, and when he would talk to you everything was full-force. He has always been like that,” Halli said with a laugh. “Gunnar has always been the other side of the spectrum, calm and cool. And that is not an act either, that is how it is. And then you get those two guys in the gym, and they just click. They learn so much from each other, and they take so much from each other.”

Despite the differences in personality, McGregor and Nelson seem to mesh well.

“They are good friends. They maybe don’t hang out too much together outside the gym. They have different personalities, but you don’t have to have the same personalities to have a friendship going on. Especially with a training partner,” Halli said.

“It always seems strange to me when people ask how Conor and Gunnar can be friends when they have such different personalities,” he continued. “I say well, look at your friends: Do you all have the same personality? Of course not.”

This weekend is Nelson’s second fight of 2014. In March he submitted Omari Akhmedov by way of first-round guillotine to extend his UFC winning run to three, with two of those victories being inside the distance.

Prior to March, Nelson hadn’t fought since February 2013, the result of a knee injury which had required surgery. Any doubts about ring rust being a factor were addressed with the March win, and the elder Nelson says Saturday’s fight will be equally unaffected by cobwebs.

“Gunnar has said it before and I can only repeat it: He doesn’t believe in ring rust. He thinks it is more in the mind than anywhere else. You train in a gym every day and you spar every day. Competition is different from that but every competition is different anyway,” he said. “So I agree with Gunnar. Ring rust is something you put in your mind; you shouldn’t dwell on it. [If you’ve been in this game] a while, you know what’s going to happen [in a fight]. Or actually, you know that you don’t know what’s going to happen in a fight.”


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