UFC Fight Night 147 Betting Preview: Leon Edwards Looks to Disarm Gunnar Nelson

UFC Fight Night 147 Betting Preview: Leon Edwards Looks to Disarm Gunnar Nelson article feature image
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USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: UFC fighters Gunnar Nelson (left) and Leon Edwards (right).

UFC Fight Night 147 betting odds: Leon Edwards vs. Gunnar Nelson

  • Leon Edwards -135
  • Gunnar Nelson +110
  • Fight Time: Approx. 6:00 ET
  • Channel: ESPN+

For the second event in a row, the co-main event features ranked welterweights looking to break into the top tier of the division. This time, No. 10 Leon Edwards (16-3) rides a six-fight winning streak into his bout against No. 13 Gunnar Nelson (17-3-1).

Oddsmakers have this pegged as a relatively close contest, but I believe this clash of styles clearly favors one of these fighters.

How Edwards Can Win

Over the past few years, Leon “Rocky” Edwards has quietly put together one of the best records in the UFC’s welterweight division. The Ultimate Training Centre-based fighter is 8-2 in the UFC and has won his past six in a row.

Fighting out of Birmingham, England, Edwards made his UFC debut in 2014, losing a very controversial split decision to Claudio Silva. Since then, current 170-pound champion Kamaru Usman is the only man to best Edwards.

Edwards entered the UFC predominately as a striker. He appeared to be most comfortable at kickboxing range and was able to edge his opponents out with volume on the feet. This approach worked prior to Edwards’s matchup with Usman.

Following the loss to Usman, Edwards began to develop into a more complete fighter. He’s now comfortable at range, in the clinch, and on the ground. During his current six-fight win streak he has:

  • Out-landed his opponents 242-179 in terms of significant strikes
  • Out-landed his opponents 11-8 in terms of takedowns
  • Recorded 23 passes while giving up just eight

Edward’s striking game is based in fundamentals. He utilizes a crisp jab, straight punches, and quick kicks on the feet. Edwards has little interest in risky techniques and is always working from a defensive shell.

The crux of Edward’s recent success has been his game-planning. “Rocky” has been able to win in all aspects of the fight because he tailors his approach to each individual opponent and leverages his tactical advantages. For example, Edwards utilized Donald Cerrone’s constant clinching against him by landing elbows every time they broke.

Nelson is a very dynamic fighter but is lacking in fundamentals, especially defensively. That gives a fighter like Edwards a lot of openings if he can remain disciplined. Fortunately for Edwards, discipline is one of his biggest strengths.

Nelson is a dangerous grappler but only lands 57% of takedowns successfully while Edwards successfully defends 70% of takedowns. Edwards should be able to nullify Nelson’s grappling advantage by preventing him from taking the fight to the ground.

In the clinch, Edwards is competent enough defensively to prevent the takedown and is more dangerous as a striker than Nelson.

Edwards’s path to victory his clear: he needs to stay committed to a fundamentally sound striking attack, prevent takedowns, and make Nelson pay when Nelson tries to initiate the clinch.

How Nelson Can Win

Enigmatic Gunnar Nelson is one of the most confounding yet exciting fighters in the UFC. The Icelandic brawler is 8-3 in the UFC and has won three of his past four. On the feet, Nelson employs karate-style striking similar to Lyoto Machida. He keeps a wide stance, hands down, and blitzes forward with punches, chin in the air.

This style constantly has Nelson on a razor’s edge between hurting his opponent and getting finished:

  • Nelson lands 1.93 significant strikes per minute
  • Nelson absorbs 3.72 significant strikes per minute

When successful, Nelson can hurt his opponents badly and capitalize with lightning-fast submissions.

When Nelson is unable to land a big shot on the feet, he quickly runs out of options.

Regardless of its effectiveness, “Gunni’s” striking exists purely to facilitate his grappling.

  • Nelson averages 1.79 takedowns and 1.2 submission attempts per 15 minutes
  • 88% (7/8) of Nelson’s UFC wins have been via submission
  • Nelson has taken down 82% (9/11) of his UFC opponents
  • Nelson has passed his opponents 27 times and been passed only five times
  • Demian Maia is the only man to pass on Gunnar Nelson

On the ground, Nelson is smothering. He slices through his opponent’s guard and looks to secure either the mount or back control. From there, he utilizes his striking and grappling to open up submissions.

Against Edwards, I expect Nelson to fight as he always does. His striking approach has vulnerabilities but that hasn’t stopped Nelson before. He is going to blitz Edwards on the feet and hope to either hurt him or get in on a takedown.

On the ground, Nelson should have a demonstrable advantage. Nelson may not be able to finish the defensively sound, ever-improving Edwards, but he should still be able to control Edwards and score points in the meantime.

The X-Factor: Process

The key distinction between these two men is how they approach fights and enforce their will on opponents.

Edwards is focused on a deliberate, cautious process. He does just enough to win the fight while minimizing any defensive openings his opponent may capitalize on. This is a reliable method of fighting and is favored by judges. At his best, Edwards has been able to slowly dismantle opponents and finish them in later rounds. At his worst, Edwards has lost close decisions.

Nelson is the polar opposite of Edwards. “Gunni” is focused on creating big, dynamic moments. He does not have a round-winning style. At his best, Nelson scores quick finishes or comes out on the winning side of a back-and-forth scramble. At his worst, Nelson can get quickly brutalized or completely shut down.

  • Edwards possesses a significant strike differential of +0.39 significant strikes per minute
  • Nelson possesses a significant strike differential of -1.79 significant strikes per minute
  • Edwards’ significant strike differential is +2.18 versus Nelson

With every minute that passes, the numbers indicate Edwards’ approach will pull him further and further ahead.

Current and Past Odds

Edwards enters the fight as the favorite for the fourth time in a row. “Rocky” hasn’t been an underdog since his fight with Vicente Luque in March 2017.

Nelson is the underdog for just the second time in his previous six fights. “Gunni” was an underdog last against Albert Tumenov in May 2016.

Prediction

This is a style-matchup that clearly favors Leon Edwards. Edwards has built a game designed to take advantage of explosive but exploitable fighters like Gunnar Nelson. The last time Gunnar faced an opponent with a style like Edwards’s (Rick Story), he was out-classed over 25 minutes.

When Nelson is unable to create dynamic opportunities, he runs out of options and the holes in his game become easier to capitalize on. Edwards should control this fight from the opening bell and win either via decision or late stoppage.

The Pick: Leon Edwards -135

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