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07th Dec 2018

Returning Gunnar Nelson intrigued by challenges in rumoured 165lbs division

Nelson returns from a long layoff at UFC 231 this weekend

Darragh Murphy

It’s difficult to tell when Gunnar Nelson is excited.

Nelson’s perpetually impassive face has become the subject of several memes over the years due to the fact that he looks the exact same before a fight as he does when he’s celebrating a victory.

For a teammate of Conor McGregor, who is one of the most expressive fighters on the UFC roster and one who makes a point of rattling opponents, Nelson gives very little away.

‘Gunni’ makes his return from a lengthy layoff this weekend, when he will share the Octagon with Alex Oliveira on the main card of UFC 231.

It’s the longest Nelson has ever spent on the sidelines as a knee injury delayed his comeback from his defeat to Santiago Ponzinibbio but the Icelandic welterweight believes everything is in now in the right place to get back in the win column.

“It’s been a while but it wasn’t exactly as planned. These things happen and we get on with it. My knee got injured so I needed additional recovery time obviously,” Nelson told SportsJOE.

“I feel absolutely great now and it has been a learning experience. I’ve had some time to pick up some new tricks – mostly new wrestling and striking techniques – and drilling how to mix them all together.”

Nelson, who gave little away about his brainstorming sessions with head coach John Kavanagh, is one of few fighters who cuts almost no weight in the UFC.

The 30-year-old is of the belief that it benefits fighters to walk around close to the weight they aim to be come weigh-ins and while Nelson seldom gets worked up, the excitement in his voice about the rumoured addition of a 165lbs division in the UFC was easy to detect.

“If they bring in 165lbs, I’d definitely go down there,” Nelson said.

“There’s been talk of a 165lbs and even 175lbs division but if they introduce both then I’d move down to 165lbs and stay there.

“There are definitely some very interesting fights that I could have at that weight class.

“I think more weight classes would be healthier for the athletes. If we have to add one or two more champions into the mix, who does it hurt? People enjoy watching fights.”

For the first time in his career, Nelson suffered a knockout defeat in his last outing but controversy still hangs over the bout as ‘Gunni’ feels like there is unfinished business with Ponzinibbio due to an eye poke in the build-up to the finish.

Nelson is not looking past Oliveira by any means but he admitted that he doesn’t want to retire without getting revenge against Ponzinibbio, who is currently riding a seven-fight win streak.

“I’m not focusing on Ponzinibbio. I don’t care what he’s doing but I do want a rematch,” Nelson said.

“It’s not like something that I’m dwelling on but it is something I am looking forward to.”