LONDON – Gunnar Nelson had been out of action long enough that he didn’t know what it was like to fight in the UFC’s pandemic era.

Nelson lost back-to-back fights to Leon Edwards and Gilbert Burns in 2019 and had been on the sidelines ever since then. So his Saturday return at UFC Fight Night 204 in London was one of the most highly anticipated fights on the card.

Nelson (18-5-1 MMA, 9-5 UFC) dominated late replacement Takashi Sato (16-5 MMA, 2-3 UFC), who stepped in for Claudio Silva, and won a unanimous decision with a trio of 30-26 scores from the judges at The O2. It was Nelson’s first win since December 2018 – and the first time he had to go the distance for a win in more than eight years.

“I felt good. I felt very good,” Nelson said at his post-fight news conference. “I’ve been saying this week even though I’ve been away for two and a half years, everything feels so familiar. It’s kind of like meeting an old friend after many, many years – it’s just the same. It’s just the same as it was before. … I really enjoyed it, and obviously I really enjoyed walking in from the crowd and getting this win tonight, for sure.”

Nelson doesn’t seem to want to have another big layoff like the one he just experienced. He said he’ll have a quick return to the gym, and that could mean a fairly quick return to another fight booking.

And though on one hand, he said he’s ready to fight anyone the UFC puts in front of him, he also said a bout against Santiago Ponzinibbio is one he’s wanted for a while.

“Right now, I’m itching to get back in the gym, to be honest,” Nelson said. “There’s a few things in there I could feel fresh in my mind and my body is really fresh, so I feel like I could train tonight. There’s no injuries or nothing and I feel really fresh, so I’m looking forward to getting back in the gym and working.

“I don’t care (who I fight next), to be honest. Anyone. I’ve said that many times (I want to fight Ponzinibbio), and I’ll say it again. If I can pick, it would be him.”

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