Gunnar Nelson - Elite MMA Fighter!

Gunnar Nelson - Elite MMA Fighter!

1. Gunnar Nelson’s Details

Given Name  Gunnar Lúðvík Nelson
Nickname   Gunni 
Born Akureyri, Iceland
Current Residence  Stoke-on-Trent, England
Date of Birth July 28, 1988.
Nationality  Icelandic
College/University N/A
Last Fight March 19, 2022, in UFC
Last Weigh In  171 lbs
Weight Class  Welterweight   
Weight 170 lbs. (77 kg)
Height 5 ft 11 in
Reach  72 in
Career Disclosed Earnings $333,000
Fighting out of Reykjavík, Iceland
Foundational style  Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Favorite Position  N/A
Rank   2nd Degree Black Belt in BJJ        
Black Belt in Goju-Ryu Karate 
Awarded By   Renzo Gracie
Lineage Mitsuyo Maeda -> Carlos Gracie Sr. -> Carlos Gracie, Jr. -> Renzo Gracie -> Gunnar Nelson
Team/Association Mjolnir/SBG Ireland

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2. Gunnar Nelson’s Biography

“Nobody is born a winner, but anyone can develop the way of thought that guides you in the right direction.”

(Gunnar Nelson)

Gunnar Nelson has had his fair share of victories and defeats throughout his BJJ fighting career. The Icelandic talent started as a karate practitioner and fought his way to the highest platforms of mixed martial arts. Today he is an elite UFC fighter with an MMA record of (18-05-01).

2.1. Gunnar Nelson’s Early Life & Amateur Fight

On July 28, 1988, Iceland welcomed a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) champion into the world. Gunnar Nelson or Gunni for short. Gunnar was born in Akureyri to Haraldur Dean Nelson (Anglo-American), and Guðrún Hulda Gunnarsdóttir Nelson (Icelandic). He spent a major chunk of his early life in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland.

Top-Notch “Karateka” in the Making

Nelson was blessed with athleticism, playing football and ice hockey during his childhood. At the age of 13, he became inclined to train in Goju-Ryu Karate and earned three consecutive wins in the Icelandic Juvenile Kumite Championship from 2003 to  2005. In 2004, the 16-year-old athlete was selected as Iceland’s most promising up-coming-karate talent of the year.

Training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Under Matt Thornton

At the age of 17, Nelson risked his thriving karate career and took a leap of faith to train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Nelson was determined to carve a successful BJJ career for himself. To fulfill this purpose, he frequently flew abroad in search of the best trainers.

One lucky trip to the United Kingdom led him to Matt Thornton of Straight Blast Gym International. Thornton awarded Nelson a blue belt in 2006 and a purple belt in 2007.

BJJ Head Coach - John Kavanagh

The paths of Gunnar Nelson and John Kavanagh - Nelson’s second and current head coach - coincided during a BJJ seminar at Mjolnir. Kavanagh was Matt Thornton’s student and the owner of SBG Ireland. Nelson’s MMA career was flourishing even as a purple belt and grew even more under Kavanagh’s instruction. He received his brown belt from Kavanagh in 2008.

Tutelage of Renzo Gracie & Black Belt

Under IBJJF rules, Kavanagh was not eligible to elevate Nelson to the black belt level since he had not been a black belt for more than six years. Therefore, Nelson, with his trainer’s consent, joined the Renzo Gracie Academy in New York. As expected, his MMA career grew even more.

2.2. Gunnar Nelson’s Pro BJJ Combat

Silver Medalist at Mundial

With Renzo at the helm of BJJ training Nelson competed in prestigious international championships. As a brown belt, he won a silver medal in the 2009 Mundials.

Conquering Pan Championships

Nelson also won a gold and a silver medal in the 2009 Pan American (Gi and No-Gi) Championships.

ADCC Submission Wrestling

Nelson secured 4th place in the 2009 ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship by defeating BJJ black belts Jeff Monson and David Avellan.

Finally a Black Belt

Satisfied by these achievements, Master Renzo promoted Nelson to the black belt level in 2009, making him the youngest European to receive a black belt.

Jiu-Jitsu Career Continued

In 2011, Nelson again secured 4th place in the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship. Although he didn’t win any medals, Nelson received much praise simply for besting Finnish Champion Marko Helen and World Champion Bruno Frazzato.

2.3. Gunnar Nelson’s Pro-MMA Combat

MMA Career - The Beginning

In addition to being a BJJ black belt, Nelson worked extremely hard to become a black belt in Goju-Ryu karate. With his jiu-jitsu career reaching new heights, Nelson explored other opportunities that mixed martial arts had to offer. May 2007 marked the beginning of Nelson’s professional MMA career when he fought the first match against John Olesen in Denmark. Judges ruled the match as a draw.

The debut fight was a confidence booster as Nelson won the next five fights in Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.

BAMMA Fight Event

Nelson took a break after many remarkable victories and returned to the game at BAMMA 2: Roundhouses at the Roundhouse in 2010. He worked his magic in the first round and subdued Sam Elsdon. At Cage Contender 6, he overpowered Danny Mitchell. Later that year at BAMMA 4: Reid vs Watson, Nelson confronted and subdued a tough British combatant named Eugene Fadiora in the first round.

Nelson took another break and returned to MMA in 2012 to give his opponent, Alexander Butenko, a taste of a successful armbar in the first round of Cage Contender 12, Ireland. 

UFC Debut

In 2012, Nelson signed a multi-fight contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). He made his debut at UFC on Fuel TV 5 against Damarques Johnson. He subdued Johnson with a calculated rear-naked choke, leaving his fans in awe.

In 2013, at UFC on Fuel - Barao vs McDonald, Nelson scored a victory by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27) against Jorge Santiago, a former Sengoku middleweight champion.

UFC Career Highlights

Nelson’s next contest was at UFC Fight Night 37 against Omari Akhmedov in 2014. He finished his rival with a conclusive guillotine choke and earned his first Performance of the Night award.

This award was presented to Nelson again for defeating Zak Cummings through a genius rear-naked choke in the second round.

In 2015, at UFC 189, Nelson submitted Brandon Thatch via rear-naked choke.

Lost to Win

In December 2015, at UFC 194, Nelson lost the highly-anticipated bout against Demian Maia via unanimous decision. However, the defeat paved the way to another victory.

In 2016, at UFC Fight Night 87, Nelson submitted Albert Tumenov to earn his third Performance of the Night award. The fourth Performance of the Night bonus was presented to him after he showcased a brilliant guillotine choke to defeat his opponent in mere minutes.

Rick Story

The same year at UFC Fight Night 53, Nelson experienced the first defeat of his MMA career at the hands of Rick Story through a split decision.

Gunnar Nelson vs Santiago Ponzinibbio - UFC Fight Night

In 2017, at UFC Fight Night 113, Santiago Ponzinibbio knocked out Nelson in the first round. After losing the battle, Nelson shed some light on the reason for his defeat at the post-contest press conference. He claimed that Santiago had poked him in the eye and further said:

“I should have said something because I was seeing double for the rest of the fight. He caught me with a shot that I didn’t really see.”

He took his case to the UFC but his appeal was denied.

One Up, Two Downs

After the 2017 debacle, Nelson redeemed himself at the UFC 231 held in 2018. A well-played rear-naked choke was all it took to defeat Alex Oliveira.

In 2019, at UFC Fight Night 147, he lost the fight to Leon Edwards by a split decision. At UFC Fight Night 160, Gilbert Burns managed to win against Nelson via unanimous decision.

Takashi Sato Replaced Claudio Silva

Nelson stayed away from the MMA scene for more than two years. After his comeback, his first fight was against Claudio Silva. Silva reported a knee injury and was replaced by Takashi Sato.

The year 2022 marked another stunning victory for Nelson against Sato via unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night 204. This fight was extremely important for his MMA career as he was unable to secure a UFC win in 2019 due to injuries and a decision setback. Nelson had a lot to prove and with this victory, the MMA star did just that.

2.4. Gunnar Nelson’s Historic Fights

Gunnar Nelson vs Jorge Santiago

The black belt Nelson demonstrated excellent striking and grappling skills in an intense UFC welterweight fight at the UFC on Fuel TV 7 McDonald. He defeated Jorge Santiago in the third round via unanimous decision.

Year Event Opponent W/L/D Method Round Weight Class Location
2013 UFC on Fuel TV 7 Jorge Santiago Win Decision (Unanimous) 3 Welterweight London, UK

Gunnar Nelson vs Zak Cummings

In 2014, the UFC promotion arranged an epic welterweight fight between black belt Gunnar Nelson and an equally accomplished martial artist Zak Cummings. The epic match lived up to the expectations. The duo faced each other at UFC Fight Night 46 - Mc Gregor.

Nelson dominated Cummings with a lethal rear-naked choke in the second round and won the bout.

Year Event Opponent W/L/D Method Round Weight Class Location
2014 UFC Fight Night 46 - Mc Gregor Zak Cummings Win RNC 2 Welterweight Dublin, Ireland

Gunnar Nelson vs Sam Elsdon

In 2010, Gunnar Nelson confronted Sam Elsdon at the BAMMA 2 - Roundhouses event. The welterweight bout between the two aggressive martial artists was quite a challenge. Nelson outdid Elsdon’s game and quickly dominated him in the first round. He then proceeded to claim the win and successfully finished the match via rear-naked choke.

Year Event Opponent W/L/D Method Round Weight Class Location
2010 BAMMA 2 - Roundhouses at the Roundhouse Sam Elsdon Win RNC 1 Welterweight England, UK

2.5. Gunnar Nelson’s BJJ Instructorship

Nelson is not just a fighter but an excellent trainer, too. He cross-teaches Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and mixed martial arts at Mjolnir, SBG Ireland, Renzo Gracie Academy, and  SBG Mainline, Manchester.

2.6. Gunnar Nelson’s Championship & Accomplishments


(Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu)

  • World Jiu-Jitsu Championship (Gi)
  • Pan American Championship (Gi)
  • North American Grappling Association
  • Pan American Championship (No-Gi)


  • Ultimate Fighting Championship
  • Nordic MMA

Records/Medals - Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

  • World Champion
  • Pan America Champion
  • Scandinavian Open.
  • Pan American No-Gi Champion

Event Year Medal/ Record
World Jiu-Jitsu Championship (Gi) 2009 1 Silver Medal
Pan American Championship (Gi) 2009 1 Gold Medal
Pan American Championship (No-Gi) 2009 1 Gold Medal
Pan American Championship 2009 1 Silver Medal
Scandinavian Open 2009 1 Silver Medal

3. Gunnar Nelson’s Main Achievements  

He won the North American Grappling Association (NAGA) Middleweight Championship once.

He won the Pan American Gi Championship once.

Year Weight Class
2009 Middleweight

He won the Pan American No-Gi Championship once.

Year Weight Class
2009 Middleweight

4. Gunnar Nelson’s Main Achievements (Belts)

4.1. Black Belt

Position Belt Event Year
1st Black Pan American No-Gi Championship
2nd Black Pan American No-Gi Championship

4.2. Colored Belt

Position Belt Event Year
1st Brown Pan American Gi Championship 2009
2nd Brown World Jiu-Jitsu Championship 2009

5. Gunnar Nelson’s Main Achievements (MMA)

He won the UFC Performance of the Night award four times.

Year Opponent
2017 Alan Jouban
2016 Albert Tumenov
2014 Zak Cummings
2014 Omari Akhmedov

He won two Nordic MMA Awards.

Year Award Opponent
2018 Submission of the Year Alex Oliveira
2015 Submission of the Year Brandon Thatch

Worldwide MMA Rankings

Rank Title
51 Greatest MMA Fighter of All Time
29 Current Best MMA Welterweight Fighter

6. Gunnar Nelson’s BJJ Professional Record Breakdown

Professional Jiu-Jitsu Record Breakdown
14 Matches 8 Wins 6 Losses
By Submission 4 1
By Points 4 4
By Decision 0 1

6.1. Submission Methods W/L

Submission Method 4 Wins 1 Loss
Rear Naked Choke (RNC) 2 0
Armbar 1 0
Guillotine Choke 1 0
Kneebar 0 1

7. Gunnar Nelson’s BJJ Fight History

Year Event Opponent W/L/D Method Stage Weight Class
2011  ADCC World Championship Alexandre Ribeiro L Points 4F ABS
2011  ADCC World Championship Bruno Frazzato W Points R1 ABS
2011  ADCC World Championship Andre Galvao L Points 4F 88 kg
2011  ADCC World Championship Marko Helen W Points R1 88 kg
2011  Mjolnir Open Bjarni Kristjansson W Submission (Guillotine Choke) N/A ABS
2011  Mjolnir Open Brynjólfur Ingvarsson W Submission (Armbar) N/A ABS
2010  Health & Fitness Expo Mike Russell W Submission (RNC) N/A Superfight
2010  Grapplers Quest: Beast of the East Azunna Anyanwu L Points N/A ABS
2010  Grapplers Quest: Beast of the East Ronnie Mikvenski W Points N/A ABS
2009  ADCC World Championship Vinny Magalhaes L Points 3RD ABS
2009  ADCC World Championship Alexandre Ribeiro L Submission (Kneebar) SF ABS
2009  ADCC World Championship David Avellan W Submission (RNC) 4F ABS
2009  ADCC World Championship Jeff Monson W Points R1 ABS
2009  ADCC World Championship James Brasco L Referee Decision R1 88 kg

8. Gunnar Nelson’s MMA Professional Record Breakdown

Professional MMA Record Breakdown
24 Matches 18 Wins 5 Losses
By Knockout 4 1
By Submission 12 0
By Decision 2 4
Draw 1

8.1. Submission Methods W/L

Submission Method 12 Wins 0 Loss
Rear Naked Choke (RNC) 7 0
Armbar 2 0
Guillotine Choke 2 0
Neck Crank 1 0

9. Gunnar Nelson’s MMA Fight History

Year Event Opponent W/L/D Method Round Weight Class
2022  UFC fight Night 204 - Volkov vs. Aspinall Takashi Sato W Decision (Unanimous) 3 Welterweight
2019 UFC Fight Night 160 - Hermansson vs. Cannonier Gilbert Burns L Decision (Unanimous) 3 Welterweight
2019  UFC Fight Night 147 - Till vs. Masvidal Leon Edwards L Decision (Split) 3 Welterweight
2018 UFC 231 - Holloway vs. Ortega Alex Oliveira W Submission (RNC) 2 Welterweight
2017  UFC Fight Night 113 - Nelson vs. Ponzinibbio Santiago Ponzinibbio L KO (Punches) 1 Welterweight
2017 UFC Fight Night 107 - Manuwa vs. Anderson Alan Jouban W Submission (Guillotine Choke) 2 Welterweight
2016  UFC Fight Night 87 - Overeem vs. Arlovski Albert Tumenov W Submission (Neck Crank) 2 Welterweight
2015 UFC 194 - Aldo vs. McGregor Demian Maia L Decision (Unanimous) 3 Welterweight
2015  UFC 189 - Mendes vs. McGregor Brandon Thatch W Submission (RNC) 1 Welterweight
2014 UFC Fight Night 53 - Nelson vs. Story Rick Story L Decision (Split) 5 Welterweight
2014  UFC Fight Night 46 - McGregor vs. Brandao Zak Cummings W Submission (RNC) 2 Welterweight
2014 UFC Fight Night 37 - Gustafsson vs. Manuwa Omari Akhmedov W Submission (Guillotine Choke) 1 Welterweight
2013  UFC on Fuel TV 7 - Barao vs. McDonald Jorge Santiago W Decision (Unanimous) 3 Welterweight
2012 UFC on Fuel TV 5 - Struve vs. Miocic DaMarques Johnson W Submission (RNC) 1 Catchweight
2012  CC 12 Nelson vs. Butenko Alexander Butenko W Submission (Armbar) 1 Welterweight
2010 BAMMA 4 - Watson vs. Reid Eugene Fadiora W Submission (RNC) 1 Welterweight
2010  CC 6 - Nelson vs. Mitchell Danny Mitchell W Submission (RNC) 1 Welterweight
2010 BAMMA 2 - Roundhouses at the Roundhouse Sam Elsdon W Submission (RNC) 1 Welterweight
2008  Adrenaline 3 - Evolution Iran Mascarenhas W KO (Punches) 2 Welterweight
2007 AM 14 - Ready For War Barry Mairs W TKO (Punches) 1 Welterweight
2007  COT 1 - Battle on the Bay Niek Tromp W TKO (Submission to Punches) 1 Welterweight
2007 UFR 10 - Ultimate Fighting Revolution 10 Adam Slawinski W TKO (Punches) 1 Welterweight
2007  Cage Rage - Contenders: Dynamite Driss El Bakara W Submission (Armbar) 1 Welterweight
2007 Adrenaline 1 - Feel the Rush John Olesen D Draw (Split) 3 Welterweight

10. Gunnar Nelson’s Top Fights (Video Links)

Gunnar Nelson vs Clark Gracie

Gunnar Nelson vs Michael Russell

Photo credit: @gunninelson

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