UFC heavyweight Roy Nelson has become a bastion for the overweight bearded man since winning the tenth season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show.
Known for his propensity to pick up a box of donuts over a vial of TRT, “Big Country” has long been a fan-favorite.
Occasionally Nelson is mislabeled a journeyman or a backyard brawler, but this Renzo Gracie black belt’s resume is littered with all-star talent. Nelson holds wins over heavyweight upstarts Brendan Schaub and Stefan Struve, along with a victory over MMA legend Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic during his UFC tenure. Conversely, Nelson’s three losses came at the hands of three division powerhouses in Frank Mir, Fabricio Werdum, and Junior dos Santos.
For all the smiles and his Kung Fu Panda-esque approach to fighter marketing, Nelson is one of the toughest men to ever step foot inside the vaunted Octagon – something that is evident when you take into account his past opponent list, and the fact that he’s yet to be finished inside the UFC.
On Saturday at UFC 159 in Newark, N.J., Nelson finds himself staring face-to-face with one man who will surely test that unfinished streak: French kickboxing standout and UFC heavyweight veteran Cheick Kongo.
Having made his UFC debut all the way back at UFC 61 in 2006, Kongo is one of the longest tenured and most accomplished heavyweight fighters in company history.
“A lot of people underestimate Cheick, but he’s fought some of the best people in the world,” Nelson told MMAweekly.com
“What a lot of people don’t seem to get about Cheick; listen, I think Cheick Kongo could be a hall of famer. He’s got more wins at heavyweight than Randy Couture.”
Hall of fame debate aside, Kongo brings a lengthy list of foes fallen in his wake, and an imposing set of skills that can give any veteran fighter fits.
Despite his Gracie blackbelt, Nelson has made a career giving fans the fights they want to see, he constantly engaging in Fight of the Night worthy slugfests that leave little to the imagination. After all, what’s the point of looking like an untamed African lion if you don’t fight like one?
“I’ve tried the other styles – it’s like stepping over dimes when you’re trying to pick pennies. It just doesn’t make sense to do that,” Nelson stated a matter-of-factly.
“I’m in the sport for fans to love me for who I am and to leave a legacy. I’m trying to be true to me, and to be true to my fans. Because my fans will always back me. I’d say a lot of different fighters, they kind of play to different fans to where they’re kind of mixed emotions. So when they get caught with their hand in the cookie jar, or something a little different, then they’re like, ‘Well, that was a little different. That’s not really me.’
“People are always trying to reinvent themselves, when all they really need to do is be themselves.”
When questioned about his risky fight style in relation to the seemingly obvious “cut culture” that UFC fighters are living in today, Nelson replies, “There’s not really a cut culture.”
What about Jon Fitch?
“He has a job.”
Nelson elaborates, “It’s all about personality. It’s all about ‘do you know who I am?’ The difference is, if you walk down the street and no one knows who you are – like Jon Fitch, that was the reason the UFC didn’t really like him. He wasn’t like the numbers drawer, where he walks down the street (and people know who he is). A Tito Ortiz, he can fight for another organization and do really well.
“The thing is, with me, I know where I stand with the level of popularity, and my fight style. You could put me on a Floyd Mayweather card and people would be like, ‘Oh, it’s a cross between boxing and wrestling, but we’ll watch it because Roy’s on it!’”
Currently riding a two-fight winning streak, with both victories coming by way of vicious first-round knockout, Nelson is riding a career-high wave of positivity. And with title shots handed out seemingly on a whim at times, Nelson is hopeful that UFC gold could be in his near future.
“I could probably still lose and get a title shot,” said the Las Vegas native.
“I mean, Nick (Diaz) lost and got a title shot. It’s about what fights do you want to see. The only reason Big Foot (Antonio Silva) is fighting is because we were like, ‘This guy over here, this big Demolition Man, Alistair Overeem’s gonna be our next guy, blah, blah, blah.’ He’s (supposed to) get the next title shot and he gets knocked out.
“It’s kind of like a tournament format, ‘Well, he beat him, so that kind of gives us credibility.’”
The irony is thick, and not lost on this writer, as Nelson prepares to share a card with a title fight between the arguable greatest fighter of his generation, and a journeyman who is coming off a loss.
But Nelson’s not wrong; this is sports and entertainment. You just have to find your honor, legacy and tradition in pockets.
And title shot or not, no matter what’s next for Nelson after Kongo, one thing is abundantly clear: he wants a winner.
“I’ve fought the best guys in the world. I’d love to fight Cain (Velasquez), unless Big Foot wins, then I’ll fight Big Foot. If Mark Hunt beats Junior (dos Santos), then I’ll fight Mark Hunt. I’m game for a lot of different people. It’s just, it’s the UFC, so you never know.”
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