Roy Nelson may not fit the cookie cutter stereotype of what most people picture when they think of an MMA fighter, but the unassuming, 34-year-old Las Vegas native makes no apologies for being a wolf in sheep’s clothing whose skill set is often underestimated due to such preconceived notions.
Sure he may not have a six-pack, nor is he covered in tattoos but one thing is for sure: Big Country can fight.
“Anybody that actually follows the sport who actually knows my style and knows what I can do doesn’t underestimate me. I may not be a Greek god, or what people think a fighter looks like, but I’m definitely a fighter.”
What the 15-4 former IFL heavyweight champion does in the cage is beat opponents up and he is hoping to continue in the tradition when he meets perhaps the toughest opponent of his six-year mixed martial arts career, Junior Dos Santos, in the center of the Octagon on August 7 at UFC 117 in Oakland, California.
“Dos Santos is the pinnacle of guys in the UFC. He’s the number one contender for sure in the heavyweight division. Nobody wants to fight him in the UFC, hence why I’m here fighting him,” Nelson points out. “I pretty much got an email from Joe Silva asking if I wanted to…actually, not even asking me if I wanted to, but telling me that I was fighting Dos Santos next, and here I am.”
Never one to shy away from a step up in competition, no matter the circumstance (he fought former UFC heavyweight champ Andrei Arlovski on one week’s notice under the EliteXC banner), Nelson says although he didn’t request Dos Santos as an opponent, he is relishing the opportunity to try to beat him to earn a promised title shot in the near future. That brass ring is the whole reason why he says he took a leap of faith and started from the bottom, so to speak, in order to work his way up the ranks of the UFC’s heavyweight class through the side door that his stint on The Ultimate Fighter opened up for him.
“The only bug I ever planted in the UFC’s ear as far as wanting to
fight someone was that I wanted to fight whoever had the belt, and at
the time, that was Brock.
I actually wanted a title shot in my first UFC fight,” he says. “I tried to get on the comeback season of The Ultimate Fighter, but since I had never fought in the UFC, I wasn’t eligible. I didn’t care; I wanted to get whatever fast track to a title shot I could. I’m an older guy so I just want to get there as quickly as possible.”
Nelson’s TUF experiment was a success as far as letting fans and reporters who were unfamiliar with his accomplishments that he was a legit threat at heavyweight, but the increase in notoriety came at a cost he knew going into the show.
“I was making pretty good money before I decided to try out for the show, but I knew if I just got into the UFC, things would happen for me. I know guys who were making $10,000 and the next thing you know, they’re millionaires, so the money wasn’t the issue,” Nelson explains. “My goal has always been to win the belt and I knew then the money would follow. Fighting has never been about the money for me; it’s always been about proving myself against the best fighters in the world.”
Dos Santos definitely falls under that category and Nelson thinks his skill set matches up favorably with the dangerous Brazilian, who may be the only thing standing between himself and the title shot he covets.
Although he dances around the question of whether or not he is his toughest opponent to date, by stating he is his biggest test inside the Octagon, Nelson says that he will likely provide the 26-year-old knockout artist with his most competitive bout simply because of how well-rounded he has become.
“My toughest opponent is always me. Any fights that I’ve lost were all because of me. I know I was the better fighter in every one of them. The only person who actually beat me was myself. Some of them I’m sure I won and some of them were a result of questionable refereeing and judging, so our records are actually a lot closer if you look at it that way. I don’t sit and stew about my losses, I just work to make sure I don’t make the same mistakes twice,” Nelson says. “I think any opponent I have is tough. Junior has knocked out some tough guys. I think he has already fought for his title shot. When he beat Werdum, he should have fought for the title in his next fight. It’s one of those things. Styles make fights and we match up really well.”
Speaking of styles and fights, Nelson says that the recent matchup between UFC heavyweight kingpin Brock Lesnar and former interim champ Shane Carwin didn’t convince him that either man is as good as their proponents tout them to be; it just proved that both have weaknesses.
“Brock is the champion. He proved that he is better than Carwin for two rounds, not just one. Carwin showed that he’s better than a lot of guys in the UFC heavyweight division,” Nelson points out. “No matter who the fighter is, someone’s going to have their number. I think Carwin has Lesnar’s number, he just has to know it and pull the trigger and execute a good game plan. Everybody has holes and everybody has areas to improve. Some fighters don’t improve and some fighters do.”
When the sun finally sets on his MMA career and when he ceases to improve any longer, Nelson, who already has a few business ventures to his name, says that he may revert back to a role he held before he became a full-time fighter.
“I used to help run before and after school programs and I used to substitute teach. I wanted to teach and I didn’t care how I did it, whether it was teaching jiu-jitsu or elementary school, I didn’t care. I got my degree and I taught and I fought, but one eventually had to go,” he recalls. “I always knew that I could go back to teaching when my fighting career was over. I thought about going back to teaching, but at the point I’m at now, money-wise it probably wouldn’t make sense for me. I just like having the ability to try to mold and form somebody. I’ll probably always teach MMA or jiu-jitsu in some capacity. I have my guys I train to be studs. I love the challenge that teaching and coaching provides.”