Commentary

Time for Nelson to think smaller

Originally Published: October 6, 2014
By Brett Okamoto | ESPN.com

It was probably inevitable that whenever Gunnar Nelson suffered his first loss, a conversation about his weight would soon follow.

The "0" is gone from Nelson's pro record, thanks to a decisive drubbing at the hands of Rick Story. Pay no attention to the technicality it was a "split" decision -- Nelson clearly lost and got beat up in the process.

To say the result was due mostly to the fact Nelson (13-1-1) cuts very little weight to make 170 pounds would be an injustice to Story. For the record, Story (18-8) delivered a heck of a performance (which we'll get to in the fighter grades).

Weight cutting, for better or worse (probably worse), is a big part of modern mixed martial arts. Nearly every fighter does it and the best ones treat it as a complex science. It has become the fight before the fight.

Nelson, 26, has done his best to avoid it. Maybe he'll continue to do so. But his fight against Story is a reminder of a few things: The competition will get harder as he progresses and as it does, every tiny advantage is precious.

[+] EnlargeGunnar Nelson
AP Photo /Anders WiklundRick Story, facing, seemed far bigger and stronger than Gunnar Nelson.

The most effective part of Nelson's game is his grappling. Taking down (and keeping down) larger opponents is a challenge. And at welterweight, he exposes himself to welterweight power -- from guys who walk around 20 pounds heavier than he does.

Story isn't considered huge for the division, but the difference in mass between him and Nelson was noticeable. How small would Nelson look compared to Johny Hendricks, who weighs more than 200 pounds between fights? Compared to Robbie Lawler and Hector Lombard, who have fought at middleweight? Rory MacDonald, who could fight at middleweight?

Theoretically, there are advantages to Nelson not cutting weight. He doesn't incur that mental and physical toll during fight week and presumably could enjoy a speed advantage to make up for the size he gives up. Those are real, but I don't think anyone would say they outweigh the disadvantages mentioned above.

It's unfortunate that Nelson might be forced into dropping a weight class. Arguably, the sport would be far better off if more fighters were like Nelson and fought at a natural weight. Weight cutting is dangerous and a process fighters loathe. Fight promotions would certainly be fine if weight cutting went away, eliminating certain problems during fight week and the potential of bouts falling through at the last minute.

In reality, though, weight cutting isn't going anywhere. It's evolving more than it's becoming endangered.

One loss isn't reason enough to give up on Nelson at 170 pounds, but something tells me that as far as weight cutting goes, sooner or later, Nelson might be faced with the expression: If you can't beat them, join them.

And with that, here are the fighter grades from Bellator 127 and UFC Fight Nights in Stockholm and Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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