Nearly three years away didn’t slow down Gunnar Nelson as he put on a grappling heavy performance to dominate Takashi Sato at UFC London.
Injuries kept Nelson sidelined since 2019 but he returned to form on Saturday while taking Sato down in every single round and nearly finishing the fight on several occasions. While Sato managed to survive, Nelson clearly did more than enough to get the decision with all three judges scoring the fight 30-26 in his favor.
“I wanted to do things a little bit differently,” Nelson explained. “Be a little more patient with the things that I do. I was obviously trying to finish Takashi when I had his back.
“I thought he would maybe try to get away more and that would give the chin a little bit. If he’s happy there, it’s going to be hard to get his neck.”
A suffocating submission specialist, Nelson showed no fear on his feet while trading strikes with Sato but he was also looking for an opening to take the fight down to the canvas. Nelson eventually found his way inside as he dragged Sato into his world while taking the back but he got stuck in a stalemate until the end of the round.
Sato attempted to slow Nelson down by pressing the pace on him but the veteran welterweight was happy to show off his counterstriking including a slick straight right hand that landed several times. That eventually gave way to Nelson once again setting up his takedown with Sato stuck underneath him playing defense.
Nelson was methodical with his grappling as he once again advanced his position, moved into the body triangle from the back while also peppering away at Sato with punches.
The suffocating attacks were preventing Sato from really doing much of anything on the feet because he had to constantly fear for the takedown. Nelson continued that same assault deep into the third round while attempting to set up a submission to get the finish.
With less than a minute remaining, Nelson was still trying to find an opening for the choke but Sato was doing just enough to make it to the final horn.
The unanimous decision victory puts Nelson back on track after suffering back-to-back losses to Gilbert Burns and Leon Edwards in his previous two performances as he looks to jump back into the deep end of the welterweight division.