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Gunnar Nelson vs Stephen Thompson: The Differences In Their Karate

Fresh off his impressive victory over Alan Jouban at UFC Fight Night 107, everyone who’s anyone is speculating as to what Gunnar Nelson’s next move should be. Many are calling for him to face off against someone in the top ten of the welterweight division. But with so many fighters booked or on the sidelines, options have been fairly slim. But one intriguing suggestion has gotten people talking. It’s gotten me salivating in fact over the possibilities. That proposed match up would see Gunnar Nelson face off against fellow karate master and recent title challenger Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson.

That kind of matchmaking would simply be a thing of beauty. Both men have styles that make for intriguing match ups no matter who they’re facing off against. The bring an element of the unknown and the spectacular. While Nelson looks to finish the fight in any way he can, standing up or on the ground, Thompson’s game is focused on winning by points through accurate strikes or getting a big knock out. But with this match up already being proposed, I thought it would be fun to see how these two fighters differ in terms of their karate skills.

Karate A Doesn’t Equal Karate B

Likely the first thing that everyone thinks of with a match between these two is the fact that both men are karate stylists. Sure, they both have skills outside of karate, especially Nelson, but it’s a common factor that is hard to avoid. That being said, both men have very different styles of karate. All karate isn’t created equal. Each style of karate is different.

You have Shotokan and Goju-Ryu, more traditional styles that work on in and out movement and precision striking. Lyoto Machida’s karate is an offshoot of Shotokan and we all know how he tends to fight. Nelson is in the Goju-Ryu camp that shares that bouncing in and out, straight punching, blitzing style with Shotokan. Nelson will hang out on the outside, feinting and shifting in and out, all the while bouncing on his toes awaiting the perfect time to move in and strike with a big burst of energy.

Then you have Thompson’s kempo karate which mixes in elements freestyle karate and kickboxing. While you’ll notice that Thompson does have that similar in and out, bouncing style of footwork, you also notice that he switches between bouncing footwork and simply walking down his opponent. Stephen Thompson also likes to employ longer strings of combinations than what you would see out of a more traditional karateka. He throws hand combinations sometimes in threes and fours, all of them with variety. He’ll throw jabs, straights, hooks, and uppercuts, all techniques you’re unlikely to see used with more traditional styles of karate.

Drawbacks To Each Style

Both fighters certainly have their strengths, but they’re not without their weaknesses as well. Often times when Nelson blitzes in a takedown follows soon afterward. This can create a pattern for his opponents to play off, especially if they have good wrestling defense.

The Differences

Both Nelson and Thompson can be susceptible to low kicks because of their wider stances, though it seems that Thompson has developed a bit of an ability to avoid those kind of attacks.

Thompson also is susceptible to counters from an adequate boxer if he over commits on his own blitzes, but he usually does a great job at entering and exiting the pocket, usually shifting out to an angle when doing so.


Stephen Thompson and Gunnar Nelson have shown proficiency in blitzing as mentioned before. They both have a ton dexterity in their hips and legs allowing them to perform a wide variety of kicks.

But while Gunnar will throw an occasional side kick from time to time, Thompson offers a wide variety of different techniques. Simply put, Thompson has more tools in his kicking toolkit.

All in all, a battle between these two would be a very intriguing contest on the feet, one in which we can see the variety in different karate styles and approaches. As for what strategies these two would want to employ against each other, let’s leave that for a fight breakdown shall we.

Whose striking style do you prefer?

Jonathan Salmon is a writer, martial arts instructor, and geek culture enthusiast. Check out his Twitter and Facebook to keep up with his antics.

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