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When being calm isn’t cool – Gunnar Nelson vs Rick Story

When being calm isn’t cool – Gunnar Nelson vs Rick Story

In Sweden, if you die in battle, you go to Valhalla. But what if you lose fights on the Internet? The Swedes went 2-5 in the UFC’s 3rd visit to Stockholm for UFC Fight Night/Pass 53 and if it wasn’t for their fighting king, Alexander Gustafsson, who is still riding the momentum from his loss to Jon Jones, their collective future would feel very much not blonde, beautiful, and idyllic. Even though these fighters obviously don’t train at the same camp or even all on their native soil, their performances and the success of the overall event are still helpful instruments for taking the pulse of MMA health and potential in certain markets. 

So, Gunnar Nelson lost and I guess that’s disappointing for the sort of half-assed publicity campaign he received from the UFC in the days leading up to this event. This is a super wishy-washy thing to say but I can’t muster more enthusiasm when even Nelson is “happy with the decision” LOSS and his signature move is the expression of nothing. That move can be terrifying, though. It’s one thing to stand across the cage from a person who LOVES to fight and can’t wait to “get it on,” as they say. That’s nearly every fighter on the UFC’s roster and it is 90% agonistic and so normal throughout the animal kingdom that it’s hardly effective. It’s quite another thing to deal with the ever-so-slightly-psychopathic nature of fighters who seem so comfortable with the possibility of making you bleed that their pulse is actually dropping as the bell rings. This quality limits stress-based decision-making and enhances focus so that the fighter can see and, most importantly, exploit opportunities. Fedor is the best example of it and so much so that Michael Schiavello, in a recent interview with Fedor on “The Voice Versus,” actually tried to present him with a psychological study that indirectly concluded that he (Fedor) is a legitimate psychopath. To his face. That’s brave. 

So, when is being calm a bad thing? There is a fine line between calmness and apathy and usually that’s just a perception problem but the real danger with being calm, cool, and collected is that, under stress, if a fighter cannot capitalize on the opportunities created by being patient and level-headed then their performance will certainly be dispassionate. Gunnar Nelson was definitely “fighting” Rick Story for the first 3 rounds but when Nelson encountered some fists and fatigue in the championship rounds, he had no berserker rage to summon and was defeated by an opponent whose bull-headedness, unlike Nelson’s stoicism, forced him to keep throwing punches. Maybe Nelson was too wobbled by that shot to the chin, or he just needs to work on his cardio, but I recently saw a similar failure by Gegard Mousasi.

So, calmness by itself is not a strength (or a weakness) and it shouldn’t be marketed as such. Combinations of skills and strengths and how they match up with your opponents are important. By the way, having “heart” is not “getting punched a lot without involuntarily not having the physiological reaction of going unconscious.” “Heart” is doing things when you don’t want to do them or when you are fatigued and I saw a lot more from Rick Story today than I did from Gunnar Nelson. Commentators keep saying the darndest things!

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