Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership

Become A Member
Dublin: 5°C Tuesday 2 March 2021

Fighting in Dublin opened my eyes, says UFC star Gunnar Nelson

“People in the past have thought I was an Irishman, and some people probably still do. “

Iceland's Gunnar Nelson celebrates winning at UFC Fight Night Dublin.
Iceland's Gunnar Nelson celebrates winning at UFC Fight Night Dublin.
Image: INPHO/Rodrigo Romos

NOT SINCE THE days of John Aldridge or Andy Townsend has there been a more beloved adopted Irish sporting son than Gunnar Nelson. At the O2 Arena this past July, as he made his way out to face Zak Cummings, the Icelandic welterweight received a rapturous applause to rival that of his friend and Straight Blast Gym teammate, Conor McGregor.

Having been training with head coach John Kavanagh since he was a teenager, the 26-year-old has been coming to Ireland off and on for the last decade, and considers Dublin a second home. He is back now to prepare for his headlining bout with Rick Story at UFC Stockholm on 4 October.

A quietly spoken individual, he is barely audible against the din of coaches yelling instructions and the ensuing cracking of pads. However, in the surrounds of the state of art SBG facility on the Long Mile Road, he’s clearly entered the head space of a man readying for war.

“People in the past have thought I was an Irishman, and some people probably still do. Coming over here gets me in the mind of just training. This place is a home outside my home, and for me, there are not too many distractions here. I associate here with only training and I spend all day in the gym; I’m much more focused on this one thing.”

Known for being laidback to the point of slumber, Nelson was absolutely blown away by the reception he received in Dublin, and the effect it had on him.

“It was something else; I’ve never experienced that intensity and power from the crowd and it took things to a whole new level. It opened my eyes a little bit to what it is to have an insane crowd that’s so into it, and how much of a part that plays.

“I have fought for 20,000 people in the past, but it was the next level here in Dublin. It was the loudest, most powerful crowd I’ve experienced by a mile.

“To be honest, it just kind of gave me a lot of energy. When I’m in the fight I don’t really notice it, maybe I’m just not conscious of it, but it is giving you a lot of energy. You realise these people really like what we’re doing, and it wouldn’t be the same without them; everybody is playing their part.”

Things in SBG have gone into overdrive as their four UFC representatives prepare for three events on two continents in the space of a week. On 27 September, Conor McGregor faces Dustin Poirier at UFC 178 in Las Vegas, before Nelson and Cathal Pendred fight in Sweden, with Paddy Holohan taking on Louis Gaudinot in Canada later that night.

Be part
of the team

Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership.

Become a Member

Nelson claims such a collective focus has made preparations ideal, and that the chemistry between he and his teammates couldn’t be better.

“Everybody is in the zone and everybody is used to training with each other. I was talking to Conor (McGregor) the other day, and it’s perfect, we’re friends and we know what it means to train properly. We are not trying to take each other’s head off, but we’re keeping it realistic and everything that it needs to be.

“We have a prefect thing going on where the guys come over to Iceland to train, and then I come here. When you go abroad and train with different partners, it just gives you extra perspective and takes you to the next level.”

The event in Stockholm will be the first he has headlined, and in Story, he’s been given a tough veteran, who owns a victory over current champion Johny Hendricks. Both prospects are agreeable to him.

“It’s a big honour for me and a huge opportunity to be headlining a show. But coming closer to the fight you won’t be paying too much attention to that. It’s the same as always, you’re going to go in there and do what you do, and do it well.

“He’s a very tough guy [Story] and he’s been around a long time and fought, and beat, some of the best — he’ll be a tough test. I’m very happy I’m fighting a guy like him.”

He believes a title shot could be just two fights away, but is in no particular rush and plans to get to the top on his own terms.

“I think it might be this fight, the next fight and then the title shot. If you keep winning convincingly, people are going to want to see you. I’m an undefeated fighter, I finish fights and I think, for some reason it’s going to that way. I want to enjoy this and do it my way, and at my pace.”

Take a look at the 16,000-seat arena built on the Titanic slipways for Frampton v Martinez>

Which RTE football pundit are you?>

About the author:

Tom Rooney

Read next: