In a highly anticipated match at UFC 286, Bryan Barbarena went head-to-head with Gunnar Nelson on the PPV card.
Nelson, returned to the cage in 2022, after three years. In his first showing in 2023, he was looking to show that he still had what it takes.
Barbarena faced three legends of the sport in Matt Brown, Robbie Lawler, and Rafael Dos Anjos. He was considered a respected opponent, but was still a step down in terms of name recognition. However, his weakness to grapplers in the past meant that Nelson could still pose a challenge.
The two began by feeling each other out, with Nelson in orthodox and Barbarena in southpaw stances.
Bryan started off targeting Nelson’s leg with kicks, which ended up badly bruising Gunnar’s calf. Despite this, Nelson kept pressing forward, seemingly looking to set up a takedown.
Two minutes in, Nelson clinched. Barbarena initially defended well with frames and hooks, but Nelson was eventually able to work his way to the double-under position. After a full minute in the clinch, Nelson got deep on the single leg, lifted Bryan, and dropped him on his back, settling in top half. Nelson then dropped down elbows from top position for a solid while before finally isolating the arm and scrambling to grab the armbar.
Great armbar from Gunnar Nelson. Always a pleasure watching him compete – hoping he’s back in the Octagon sooner rather than later. pic.twitter.com/kc0CSkKoR3
— Steven Rae (@StevenRaeMMA) March 18, 2023
Although it was a risky move, the last few seconds of the round limited the potential downside. More importantly, Barbarena was forced to tap after just a few seconds.
— UFC (@ufc) March 18, 2023
Nelson explained at the press conference:
“I’m very happy. He’s a tough guy. And I could tell I mean, I was I was having it my way and I was on top of him on the ground. And he was kind of like poking me a little bit. And I looked at him and I smiled and he just started laughing, this funny laugh. And this is the first time I’ve actually started laughing in the middle ”
He later added: ” I mean, the game plan is always to get on top. It’s just the smarter way “