Although featherweight Conor McGregor is shooting for the moon just three fights into his octagon career, UFC President Dana White isn’t keen on letting up-and-comers bite off more than they can chew.
Gunnar Nelson (13-0-1 MMA, 4-0 UFC), who rebounded from a slow start to submit Zak Cummings at UFC Fight Night 46, is just the kind of prospect that prompts fans to book fantasy matchups with higher-ranked opponents.
Nelson isn’t the only welterweight on a win streak, of course. But with four straight UFC wins, including two straight “Performance of the Night” bonuses, it seems the unbeaten Nelson is on the cusp of a fight against a top-10 opponent.
One such challenge reportedly pitched by his coach is Rory MacDonald (17-2 MMA, 8-2 UFC), who’s won his past two and this past month upset Tyron Woodley.
White usually shoots down potential matchups in the wake of an event, but he wasn’t opposed to the idea of Nelson vs. MacDonald.
“I don’t know … lemme talk to the guys and see what they think,” he said at UFC Fight Night 46's post-event press conference at The O2 in Dublin. “What I don’t like is you see these guys who are talented, super-talented but don’t have the big-fight experience yet, taking these big jumps up.
“But we’ll see what happens. Lemme talk to his people, and talk to him, and really see what we want to do here.”
MacDonald vs. Woodley was initially framed as a No. 1 contender bout after Woodley bested former interim champ Carlos Condit at UFC 171 on the same night Johny Hendricks took the vacant welterweight belt in a scrap with Robbie Lawler.
Such talk died down as Lawler took a short-notice bout with Jake Ellenberger and dominated the fight en route to a third-round TKO. The UFC subsequently booked Lawler opposite Matt Brown for next week’s UFC on FOX 12. The winner of that bout is now considered the No. 1 contender.
MacDonald remains unbooked after his win over Woodley, but it’s hard to imagine he or his management would be thrilled with a fight against a lower-ranked fighter as he hovers near title contention. Conversely, it’s the type of fight that would elevate Nelson’s profile even higher, not to mention breaking him into the welterweight division’s top-10.
It would be unthinkable for Nelson not to welcome the opportunity, so the tough conversation for White is with MacDonald’s camp. Once considered the heir to now-former champ George St-Pierre’s throne, “Ares” is just a smidge louder than the laconic Nelson, but insistent no less on fighting for the belt.
For complete coverage of UFC Fight Night 46, check out the UFC Events section of the site.
(Pictured: Gunnar Nelson)