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Gunnar Nelson doesn't call out opponents, but he just couldn't help himself when it came to Demian Maia

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Gunnar Nelson leans back in his chair, hands behind his head and lets out a yawn. Next to him, his good friend Conor McGregor is all histrionics and bloviation. It was a tale of two media lunches, though both men were in the same space.

McGregor likes to say Nelson, his SBG Ireland teammate, brings him down when he needs to relax and McGregor amps up the laidback Nelson when it's time to get excited.

McGregor once picked a fight with everyone on a press conference dais. Nelson doesn't even like to call out a potential opponent.

That changed, though, over the summer. At least slightly. Nelson might have just been saying what everyone else was thinking when he sort-of challenged Demian Maia. It's as close as we're going to get to Nelson trash talk.

"This is a fight that everybody wants to see," Nelson told MMA Fighting. "If I take myself out of the picture and just look at it from the outside, I definitely want to see that fight. I want to make that fight happen. He's got a few more fights in him, but I think he's on the way out. He's had a long and very good career. I think he's just going to do a couple more fights and then he's out. So I'm very happy that I got him before he retires."

Nelson got his wish. He'll meet Maia at UFC 194 on Saturday in Las Vegas in what is a dream fight for Brazilian jiu-jitsu enthusiasts. McGregor will attempt to unify the UFC featherweight title with Jose Aldo in the main event in a clash that will get all the mainstream buzz. Maia-Nelson is a nod to the hardcore fan, the one who wakes up on a weekend at 5 a.m. to watch a grainy live stream of jiu-jitsu tournaments on a laptop.

Nelson, 27, is a BJJ black belt under Renzo Gracie. He won the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Pan American no-gi title at 88kg and absolute in 2009, putting him on the world map.

Maia? He's only regarded as one of the greatest Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners to ever crossover to mixed martial arts. Maia won IBJJF Pan Ams in 2006 and the ADCC World Submission Wrestling Championships a year later.

"I'm definitely looking forward to testing myself against Demian Maia, as with anyone of them," Nelson said. "That's why I do this. Maia is a jiu-jitsu veteran, many times a world champion. So, getting in these grappling exchanges is very exciting to me. I look forward to it."

Unfortunately, this fight will start standing up, like all of them. Nelson (14-1-1) said there is no hand-shake agreement with Maia to go right to the ground. After all, Nelson starched Brandon Thatch with a right hand at UFC 189 that setup his first-round victory. The history book might say Nelson won with a rear-naked choke submission, but it was his striking that led to the victory.

"There's no gentleman's agreement," Nelson said. "There are the rules and that is that. But knowing me and knowing him, it's definitely [going to the ground]. There's not going to be too much disengaging when it comes to the grappling. You're gonna see some grappling."

Maia (21-6) has won three in a row and six of his last eight. He's 38 years old now and this is likely his last run at a welterweight title shot. For Maia, this fight to get closer to No. 1 contention for the final time in the deep, unforgiving division is every bit as important as it is for Nelson to try and break into the elite.

The matchup, in its importance and style, is extremely fitting. Nelson liked the idea of the fight. But he doesn't put nearly as much stock into all the window dressing as a fan or journalist would.

"I'll fight any of these guys and I believe I'm gonna fight most of them," Nelson said. "I'm gonna be fighting most of these guys. Whatever kind of style you are, I'll just have to overcome it and do my thing. I don't want to pick fights, because his style is this or his style is that. That's not fighting to me. I guess it makes sense when you're looking at show business or money or any of that stuff."

And really, though calling out Maia (in the most respectful manner possible) seems out of character with who and what Nelson is, it really wasn't. Because, for him, this matchup is not about money or fame or even rankings.

It's about martial arts and putting your biggest strength against someone else's biggest strength. In this case, the strengths of Nelson and Maia just happen to be exactly the same.

That's very captivating for them. And lucky for us.

"It's a fight people want to see," Nelson said. "I'm not picking fights. I don't like to pick a fight and I've never done that. I wasn't picking Demian out and screaming out for him. But I would like to get that fight before he retires and I've said that."