Biting his tongue has never been much of an option for UFC heavyweight Roy Nelson.
The outspoken former TUF winner and IFL heavyweight champion has seen his fair share of conflicts with the UFC brass, and following his first-round knockout victory over Dave Herman at UFC 146, it appears as if Nelson is seeing things from a different perspective.
The grizzly bearded veteran has met continuous criticism from the organization for his unwillingness at times to “play the game.” Throughout his time under the UFC banner, Nelson has fallen in and out of president Dana White’s favor. With his back seemingly against the wall going into the bout with Herman, Nelson let a thunderous overhand right do the talking for him.
The victory put “Big Country” back into the win column. But rather than talk of his resurgence and a possible run at the heavyweight title, Nelson seems unsettled about what the future may hold.
“I’m not exactly sure what the next step will be,” Nelson told Heavy MMA. “Personally I would love to fight the winner of Antonio Nogueira and Cheick Kongo. Fighting “Big Nog” would be an honor because of everything he has done in the sport and plus, everyone who fights him gets a title shot. If Brock Lesnar is serious about coming back to the UFC, I think that would be an excellent fight and I would love to welcome him back into the division.
“Another option would be a rematch with Frank Mir. He is a two-time former champion and he typically fights people two or three times, so I think that is a fight that also makes sense. All the greats rematch. The one thing I know for certain is that I have three fights left in the UFC and after that we’ll have to see what happens.”
While Nelson’s place among the divisional hierarchy is yet to be determined, his support from MMA fans is unquestionable. His "everyman" qualities matched with an iron chin and gladiator spirit have continued to make him one of the sport’s most beloved fighters. In his most recent outing against Herman at UFC 146, Nelson received one of the night’s loudest ovations and he feels fan support makes all the difference.
“The win over Herman felt great,” Nelson said. “The crowd really showed their support and at the end of the day, the fans are what really matter. If the fans are happy and entertained, I’ve done my job. They pay our bills and nothing would be possible without them. It was a big win on a huge card and I was able to go in there and get the job done.
“I always try to do everything I can to connect with the fans. Whether it’s a signing, interacting on Twitter and Facebook … I like to have a visible role in this sport and it’s something I take very seriously. I know we are in a very important stage in the sport’s growth and I connect with a different demographic than a lot of guys are capable of reaching. Not everybody looks like they were chiseled out of marble and there are those people who believe with the right work ethic and determination anything is possible. I’ll gladly represent them. … ‘The American Dream.’”
The past year has been a roller coaster as Nelson has navigated the rough waters of the heavyweight division. Where the weight class was once one of the organization’s shallowest talent pools, the roster is now stacked with the world’s best and he has stood across the Octagon from most of them. Prior to his UFC 137 bout with Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic last October, Nelson set about adding muscle and slimming down his trademark rotund physique. While the transformation stirred MMA headlines, the process created personal stresses and he decided it was time to go a different route.
“For this last fight I just stopped worrying about everything,” Nelson said. “Over the past year or so, I really did my best to answer the criticisms about my weight and training to the point where it was taking away from my enjoyment of the sport. Going into this fight I had a different mindset and it really made a difference.
“This last training camp was extremely difficult with the constant changing of opponents, not knowing who I was going to be fighting, and what style to prepare for. … That if I didn’t have the mindset I had, it would have driven me crazy. But rather than get caught up in everything, I kept my focus on improving in the areas I set out to improve in and the result was a quick night in the cage.”
Nelson may not have his finger on the pulse of the future, but he is certainly aware of the here and now. He has been one of the most outspoken fighters to address the current PED storm which has plagued the sport over recent months. The topic became front and center when former Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem was suspended for illegal limits and Nelson believes action needs to be taken before the sport’s credibility is put in jeopardy.
“I firmly believe there should be an organization like VADA or WADA involved with our sport,” Nelson said. “If I’m fighting someone and I’m open to the testing, then shouldn’t my opponent be as well? It’s all about leveling the playing field. If I’m putting my career on the line when I step into the cage, then my opponent shouldn’t have anything to hide.
"I believe the UFC backs this idea because they have been vocal about wanting to clean up the sport and make sure this thing has a future. A lot of people have worked very hard to elevate this sport, myself included, and no one wants to see hard work go to waste.”