In July of last year, Gunnar Nelson suffered the first stoppage defeat of his ten-year career at the heavy-hands of Argentina’s Santiago Ponzinibbio in Glasgow, Scotland.
It took Ponzinibbio just 82 seconds to finish the Icelandic submission specialist and extend his winning streak to five straight in the main event of UFC Fight Night 113. A big right hand was the shot that initially hurt Nelson and sent him stumbling into the fence. A left hook seconds later flattened ‘Gunni’ and Ponzinibbio followed up with a couple of grounded strikes that drew an intervention from the referee.
It was by far the biggest win of Ponzinibbio’s career up until that point, but it wasn’t without controversy.
After the fight, Nelson claimed that Ponzinibbio had poked him in the eye on several occasions, impairing his vision and affecting his performance. Some videos and pictures that emerged online in the hours that followed seemed to back up these claims. They also suggested that one of the more serious pokes came during the conclusive salvo.
WOW Ponzinibbio fingers are knuckle deep into Nelson's eye sockets pic.twitter.com/6I8IPKff7z
— Johnny Villegas ? (@El_Latin_Bull) July 17, 2017
Due to the use of fingerless gloves in MMA, accidental eye-pokes are not at all uncommon in the sport. In fact, they are a persistent problem. Nelson, however, doesn’t feel that Ponzinibbio’s actions fit into the ‘accidental’ category.
“This is cheating. It’s as much cheating as it gets to me,” Nelson told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “Looking back at it, these videos basically tell you that this was deliberate. You don’t eye-poke somebody four times in the space of 90 [seconds], you know?
“Yeah, I think it was deliberate.”
“After the fight, I just didn’t believe that he did it deliberately,” added Nelson. “But then seeing all the pictures, looking at the videos, looking at the fight in slow-mo and all that kind of stuff, then I was like, ‘Wow, this looks very deliberate to me.
“He poked me right in the beginning when I came in with an uppercut. You couldn’t really say that was deliberate but he was pointing his fingers out – you’re not allowed to do that. But then when I’m against the cage, right before he knocks me down, he just comes forward with his thumb or something and just [puts it] into my eye and just kind of hooks it or something, and that just looks nasty.”
Nelson and his team filed an official appeal with the UFC after the fight in the hope that they could get the result overturned and declared a no contest, but the appeal was denied by the promotion in September.
‘Gunni’ hasn’t fought since the Ponzinibbio setback, intelligently choosing to give himself plenty of time to recover from the physical effects of the vicious KO. He is, however, ready to jump back into the fray at this point, and is targeting UFC London on March 17th for a comeback.
Asked by Helwani who he would like to face, Nelson mentioned the surging Darren Till, with whom he has a little social media history. However, he also said that a rematch with Ponzinibbio, who notched his sixth straight win with a unanimous decision over Mike Perry in December, would be “ideal”.
“I’d definitely like to fight him again, that’s a fact,” said Nelson. “I’d definitely like to get a second go at him and I’ll be watching my eyes, definitely. I do believe I’ll beat him if we go a second time.”
“If [a rematch is] possible, I’m in – 100%.”