Phil and David break down everything you need to know about UFN 107’s co-main event, and everything you don’t about the Tyron Woodley vortex.
Gunnar Nelson and Alan Jouban help figure out welterweight’s inertia this March 18, 2017 at the The O2 Arena in London, England.
One sentence summary
David: Tyron Woodley casually awaits to see who wins between the omni-patience of Nelson, and the anti-patience of Jouban.
Phil: The most bizarro incarnation of Shogun-Machida ever, in the eternally entertaining matchup of kickboxing vs karate
Stats: Gunnar Nelson 15-2-1 Draw Alan Jouban 15-4
Record: Gunnar Nelson -330 Alan Jouban +270
History / Introduction to both fighters
David: Nelson has had a better early half career than late stage heroics. Perhaps because his professional birth was shrouded in hype and interest. A hardcore grappler turned facepunch artist was the ideal archetype for a welterweight making waves in a division once ruled by top heavy wrestlers like Matt Hughes. Who I understand might be making his octagon return to pay for his new car. Which is actually not funny when you consider the financial situation of MMA fighters in general, but Hughes was always kind of a dick. Anyway, Nelson has only taken two wrong turns thus far: against Maia and Story. Only Maia made him look completely inert. Needless to say, Gunnar and his hyper-cool demeanor remains a welcome presence in a class ruled by Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson’s overt flaws.
Phil: From his earliest BJJ days (getting 2nd in the Absolute division and suchlike) there was a ton of hype around Gunnar Nelson. To his credit, he didn’t capitalize on it immediately- he took his early career at something of a low simmer, before… well, kind of taking his later career at a low simmer as well. His general progression has been unique to the point of being bizarre: he really does march to the beat of his own laid-back drum, and has seemed to actively resist most of the correctives offered by talking heads (more volume! cut weight!) while still maintaining an impressive level of success.
David: Jouban started his career as Gina Carano; photogenic, and taken seriously as an Abercrombie and Fitch model than an actual professional. But he’s finally evolved into Miesha Tate, minus the criticisms of being associated with a disagreeable other; photogenic, and taken seriously as an Abercrombie and Fitch model who can kick ass. He’s on a three fight winning streak. You could say his competition has been lacking, but when you’re picking ‘em up and putting ‘em down, it’s safe to say everyone’s favorite Karl Urban clone continues to earn his keep.
Phil: Jouban’s UFC career started off with that surprising knockout of the perennially underrated Seth Baczynski, but it was when he got absolutely robbed against Warlley Alves that people started to pay attention. Getting burgled on-air in this kind of way often engenders more fan support than a straightforward win might: think, say, Evan Dunham against Sean Sherk back in the day, or the huge swathe of new Shogun fans who popped up after his first title fight against Machida. Beating up bro-meme of the month Mike Perry helped, too.
What’s at stake?
David: It’s welterweight. So it’s hard to say. ‘Hard to say’ is a qualifier I feel like we’re repeating often for the so called premiere mixed martial arts organization in the world. Or maybe it’s the Woodley effect, because we all know it’s Woodley’s fault. Whatever the case, the reward for a win is probably some main card high society in Canada. A loss? Some underground lair owned by Bob Hoskins.
Phil: Worth noting that Artem Lobov(!) is fighting in a main event(!!!) due to a connection with Conor McGregor. While welterweight is weird as hell right now, even tangential connections to the McGregor Money Train could make a significant difference. If Gunni wins this one, he should definitely shout out his good Irish friend for Saint Patrick’s Day. Or not, because he doesn’t give a shit. Who knows?
Where do they want it?
David: Nelson’s game has always fascinated me. His striking reminds me of what would happen to Conor McGregor if Conor listened to the The Sprout and the Bean all day. It’s more meditative than malevolent. The lack of urgency is often a pointed criticism, but I don’t believe Gunnar would be effective any other way. This is just his wavelength. On the ground he’s much more spirited. He’s as spatially aware a grappler there is (making Maia’s win that much more impressive), like a particle of quantum mechanics gone macro, beaming his movement from one place to the next at the same time.
Phil: Lyoto Machida was the karate philosophy translated to striking, but Gunnar tends to embody the karate philosophy translated to… everything. Hit and don’t get hit; land the single shot with as much efficiency as possible; timing. It’s an approach which feeds through to his striking (an approximate mirror of Lyoto’s lunging straight left as the soul of his approach), his wrestling (single counter shots), and even his grappling, where he focuses on lightning quick back-takes and submissions. The idea of the perfect being the enemy of the good is taken to extremes- when Nelson has lost, he hasn’t had the small, opening-generating tools to been able to lever his way back into the fight in any significant way. However, when he wins, it tends to be clean, crisp and dominating.
David: Jouban gets labeled a brawler because he is. But he’s a modern MMA brawler; overloading pressure and combinations with a treasure trove of different attacks that rarely overlap. Whether kicks or overhands at midrange, or knees and elbows in the clinch, Jouban is just hunting and hunting like a lion. Gunnar Nelson anti-matter in other words. He’s not an outfighter, and likes to close the distance with chopping kicks with his left kick, and counter with a stiff straight left, or pressure with the same stiff straight left. There’s no real qualitative diversity to his striking, but there is a quantitative diversity to his striking, which is how he’s lasted as long as he has despite his one-note approach.
Phil: Jouban’s main weapons are physical. He’s tough, keeps a great pace, and is very strong and reasonably quick, while being a big welterweight. However, he also does a great job of leveraging those weapons into a cohesive whole, and ensuring that his opponents have to deal with them head on- he meets takedowns without conceding his operating range, and racks up attritional damage with the left body kick and some increasingly sharp counterpunches. He’s always reminded me a little of Luke Rockhold, albeit one without the same kind of specific tuning to avoid the more traditional forms of MMA offense (Rockhold’s check hook variations), and without the grappling. He’s a difficult man to fight without taking a hurting.
Insight from past fights
David: Both of their last fights are mirror images of the respective strategies they intend to take. Gunnar didn’t waste any time dealing with Albert Tumenov’s intimidating box-attack, spending large portions on the ground, getting mount, and elbowing Tumenov’s frontal lobes when he could. The same thing he’ll be looking to do against Jouban. Meanwhile, in a cage far far away, Jouban scrapped away against Mike Perry like a Walter Hill film. Tactically, it doesn’t bode well for Jouban. Perry landed more than his fair share, and even though Gunnar suffers from a classic case of sleepwalker, his instincts are well equipped to deal deflecting and countering Jouban’s full speed ahead attack.
Phil: As mentioned, Jouban’s coming out party was his fight against Warlley Alves. That fight showcased his flaws (being hittable early), and his strengths (being a difficult man to grapple against, and his endless pace). His defense has sharpened up as of the Perry fight, but his reliance on footwork and parries early in fights to keep him safe has always been a problem for him.
David: I like the word somnambulant, but sometimes I worry it’s gonna be a literal description for Gunnar’s behavior in the cage. If he’s too carefree, watch out for Jouban’s five knuckle ambien.
Phil: Age? Jouban is surprisingly old and experienced, at 35 years old. On the other hand, he’s only in his 6th year in the sport, and despite a damage-heavy style appears to be improving appropriately.
David: Nelson has the ability to time his takedowns through Jouban’s attack, but also to actively counter Jouban’s attack with strikes. It’s strategically simple from Gunnar’s point of view. Pragmatically, these things are always easier said than done, but a strong philosophy tends to inform effective cage tactics. Gunnar Nelson by RNC, round 2.
Phil: Picking an early Nelson win isn’t indicative of how strongly I feel about this fight, which I think is actually very close. It’s more a question of how their flaws line up- I don’t trust Jouban’s defense early, and Nelson almost always starts extremely quickly. However, if Nelson starts to slow, expect Jouban’s pace and thunderous body kicks to take over. Gunnar Nelson by submission, round 1.