Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight veterans Gunnar Nelson and Bryan Barberena will square off this weekend (Sat., March 18, 2023) at UFC 286 inside The O2 in London, England.
It’s been just about one year since Nelson returned to the win column at UFC London, his first appearance inside the Octagon since 2019. Safe to say, fighting so infrequently has certainly hurt his momentum. Looking back over his entire career, the Icelandic talent has only ever really lost to elite opposition, but he no longer holds any particularly relevant wins, either. Barberena, meanwhile, has been far more active in recent years, establishing a comfortable position for himself as Welterweight’s go-to action fighter. He tends to be throwing down opposite unproven prospects or older veterans, but his willingness to step up on short-notice will earn him a different kind of match up here.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Alex Oliveira (UFC 231), Alan Jouban (UFC Fight Night 107), Zak Cummings (UFC Fight Night 46), Albert Tumenov (UFC Fight Night 87), Takashi Sato (UFC London)
Key Losses: Leon Edwards (UFC Fight Night 147), Gilbert Burns (UFC Fight Night 160), Santiago Ponzinibbio (UFC Fight Night 113), Demian Maia (UFC 194), Rick Story (UFC Fight Night 53)
Keys to Victory: Nelson has a really fun style. He’s got a long history in Karate alongside an ADCC-level jiu-jitsu game, attributes which have made him a really effective finisher. He’s a deceptively good wrestler, skilled at timing his shots but also chaining trips into his attempts as well.
I can hardly imagine a better style match up for Barberena. At distance, he’s far quicker and more mobile on his feet. He has the style to pick at Barberena with quick shots then crack him when “Bam Bam” tries to move forward. He can pick and choose when to engage, which is an invaluable skill in managing his gas tank.
After a few sharp lands, Barberena is likely to get more aggressive. That’s when Nelson should be able to time that lovely MMA-style running double leg takedown, potentially with the rear leg trip added in for good measure. It’s one of his best weapons, and Barberena’s style of kickboxing likely plays right into it.
Once on the canvas, Nelson will be in control, looking to hand Barberena his third submission loss.
Key Wins: Robbie Lawler (UFC 276), Matt Brown (UFC on ESPN 33), Warlley Alves (UFC 198), Sage Northcutt (UFC on FOX 18)
Key Losses: Colby Covington (UFC on FOX 22), Leon Edwards (UFC Fight Night 115), Rafael dos Anjos (UFC Orlando), Vicente Luque (UFC Fight Night 154)
Keys to Victory: There’s nothing too complicated about Barberena’s game. He’s an aggressive Southpaw, capable of landing heavy shots at distance, in the pocket, and in the clinch. He’s not a bad wrestler or grappler by any means, but elite opposition has repeatedly outworked him in those realms.
It should come as no surprise that Barberena has to make this one ugly. If he has one advantage here, it’s likely in his ability to come on strong down the stretch. Nelson has a history of slowing down as fights wear on, whereas “Bam Bam” isn’t rolling smoothly until blood is flowing down his cheekbones.
Wearing Nelson down is key. Barberena has a nice calf kick, and that’s a weapon proven to work against Nelson. Really though, he has the unenviable task of closing range without giving up the takedown. Somehow, Barberena has to get his hands on Nelson and keep it a dirty boxing/Muay Thai clinch. He doesn’t want to wrestle with “Gunni,” but hanging on him, hitting his body, and making it a miserable night produce his best odds of a late finish and upset win.
For a replacement match up, it ain’t half bad!
Nelson is 34 years old. Time has not run out, but we certainly cannot say it’s on his side, either. Judging by recent pictures, Nelson has been taking his strength and conditioning more seriously than ever, and that has always been a missing factor in his game. Perhaps if he’s shored up that hole and made himself five round ready, Nelson’s next run at the top will produce better results.
His win streak cannot end here if he does have one last sprint left in him.
As for Barberena, hopefully his willingness to accept Nelson on short-notice has earned him some love from UFC, because this is a tough match up. Rafael dos Anjos pretty much steamrolled him last time out, and Barberena doesn’t want to make that a habit. His job isn’t at risk, but consecutive losses does not ever exactly help one’s job security. On the flip side, if he pulls this off, it’s very likely the best win of his entire career!
At UFC 286, Gunnar Nelson and Bryan Barberena will face off in a Welterweight showdown. Which man earns the victory?
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 286 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard on ESPN2/ESPN+ at 3 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC 286: “Edwards vs. Usman 3” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.
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