After playing spoiler to Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson's TUF aspirations, The Ultimate Fighter: "Heavyweights" winner, Roy Nelson, is wasting little time to get right in the mix of things in the suddenly stacked UFC's heavyweight division.
As the co-headliner opposite Stefan Struve (19-3) at tomorrow night's UFC Fight Night 21: "Florian vs. Gomi," "Big Country" (14-4) looks to take on a rising 22-year-old talent who towers over the former IFL champion by eleven inches.
Both are gifted submission fighters with solid striking - Struve a kickboxer, Nelson more straight boxing. Thought the Renzo Gracie black belt will also have around 15 pounds on the "The Skyscraper."
We recently caught up with "Big Country" to ask him about his recent statements that reigning heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar was "ducking" now-interim champion Shane Carwin; if he thinks he was asked to participate in TUF as insurance for UFC president Dana White that "Kimbo" wouldn't win it all; and about the lanky Dutchman who will be standing opposite him Wednesday night on Spike TV.
Let's get after it.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You were born and raised in Las Vegas, right? What was that like?
Roy Nelson: It's definitely different. When I grew up here, there was a definitely a small-town feel with the big city feel, because you always had the strip. So even when there was only a hundred thousand people, there was still a million people on the strip.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Growing up, were you a big fight fan, or did you follow other sports?
Roy Nelson: I was always into martial arts, but fighting-wise, I wasn't really much of a fighter. I was more into baseball, football and basketball. Basketball was probably my biggest sport.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): So how did you graduate from that to eventually working up to earning a black belt?
Roy Nelson: Actually when I found wrestling in high school. And always doing martial arts, and then I found kung-fu. So then my martial arts interest just flourished. I wanted to be a school teacher and (was interested in) helping kids and teaching.
And then I found jiu-jitsu, and from jiu-jitsu it was just sort of a natural talent that I had. And so I started training fighters, and since they weren't paying my bills, I decided to just ... take their money.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): (Laughs) Let's talk about your last fight and the entire TUF experience. What did the TUF win do for you? How has it changed your life as a fighter?
Roy Nelson: I think the biggest thing that's changed my life is that I have a little bit bigger fan base now. That's really all it's really done is gotten my name out there more than what it was before.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): In the win against Schaub, some people were surprised by it, because they expected you to take him down and submit him. You stood toe-to-toe with him and knocked him out. Was that your game plan going in, or were you comfortable no matter where the fight went?
Roy Nelson: I was kinda comfortable wherever the fight went. The biggest thing that we did game plans-wise was I thought I would probably end up more submitting him than knocking him out, but my coaches actually said that I was going to probably knock him out before we even got to the submission part.
The only reason I took him to the ground was I just wanted to see how easy it was if I had to go there. To see how easy it would be there to submit him.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Do you think now other UFC up-and-coming fighters will be gunning for you now more than ever, seeing as how you have the "TUF champion" title associated with your name?
Roy Nelson: I really don't think so, because I think with me getting Stefan Struve, they're just throwing me right in the mix. So if anything it's me gunning for whoever has the belt.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): How did you go getting a spot on the show? Did you approach the UFC like other up-and-comers do, through the tryouts, or did they reach out to your management? Because to me you were a little bit more well known.
Roy Nelson: I think what happened was that we were in talks with the UFC, just about going into the UFC, and the idea just came up. My management and the UFC (thought) it was better for PR to introduce myself to the UFC fans going out that way.
I have the same type of PR that's equivalent to having 10 or 11 fights in the UFC, just by being on the show.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Do you think that the reason they had you on the show was to ensure that Kimbo Slice didn't win? Because Dana White had previously said that there's no way Kimbo would win it, so here he wanted to make sure his prediction was accurate?
Roy Nelson: No, I don't think so. I think they just wanted to have a very diverse type of cast. It's season 10, so they wanted to pull out all the stops, for like big anniversaries, like they did for UFC 100 and stuff like that.
I think the biggest thing was for them to change it up a little bit, that's why they did just straight 16. And as the ratings showed it, it actually worked.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Yeah, I think your fight with Kimbo was the 4th most watched MMA fight in history.
Roy Nelson: Yep, I try to do what I can do.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Laughs) When you were on the show, did you ever think, "Boy, I'm more experienced than these guys. I'm not going to have a problem with these guys at all."
Roy Nelson: I wouldn't have taken the chance to be in the house if I thought I was going to lose. But everybody in that house definitely had at least a puncher's chance or the chance to get a W. So it's just about how you approach things.
There were some very talented guys on the TUF 10 cast. I don't want to take anything away from them. But it's just one of those things, I just thought I was a little bit better in every aspect.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Okay, no more questions about TUF. Let's talk about your upcoming fight. Stefan Struve is a 6'11" kickboxer who's earned 14 of his 19 wins by submission. What's your take on him as a fighter? Where do you think he's dangerous?
Roy Nelson: You know what, he's actually one of the true only mixed martial arts guys. You know you got Lesnar, and he's a great wrestler. Struve is just one of those guys who is versed in everything.
He trained in Holland, where he (developed) great standup, and I think a majority of his wins are by submission. It's weird to have a guy who's 6'11" to have such a great submission repertoire.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Yeah, he's also a young guy still. I forget how old he is, but -
Roy Nelson: He just turned 22.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Okay.
Roy Nelson: Not only a young guy, but you can't take anything away from that because Jon Jones is 22 too.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): That's true. I take it you were impressed with Jon Jones' last fight?
Roy Nelson: You know what, the first time I ever met Jon Jones was in the IFL, and I remember rolling him and showing him some stuff. He actually brought that to my attention when he fought at the Finale with me.
He's a spectacular kid. He's putting his stuff together.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Yeah. Okay, Struve, do you think his height and reach will be a factor to overcome, whether it's on the feet or if he's on his back, he still has those long legs?
Roy Nelson: His length is definitely one of the advantages he does have. If I was 6'1" and was just straight boxing, I think ... it's kinda like the Klitschko Brothers, with them being so tall, they just play that long game.
But when it comes to the ground, he has a large guard. He has legs that can snare you from any position when trying to pass the guard or something like that. So it's definitely an obstacle you can't look past and gotta get through.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Struve is 3-1 in the UFC with his only loss to Junior dos Santos. Where do you think a win against him puts you?
Roy Nelson: I think for either one of us it's puts us right in the mix. I think Stefan Struve is already in the mix. If we're already co-headlining an event, that shows where we're at, enough to be in the mix.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): How long before you see yourself fighting for a world title?
Roy Nelson: A world title? I don't know, that's kinda up to the UFC. I've been saying that me and Stefan Struve are fighting for the European title this week. Just because you got Frank Mir fighting Shane Carwin for the TV Championship belt.
So let's just keep making up belts. I don't mind just making each one up.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well let's talk about that, the TV title, as you put it. Well, I'll just ask you the question I was going to ask you. You're certainly not afraid to speak your mind. You were recently quoted as saying that Brock Lesnar "ducked Carwin." Does that mean you do not buy Lesnar's health problems? Or do you think that maybe they were just over-blown?
Roy Nelson: You know what, I really don't know, that would be something that you would have to talk to Lesnar about.
But when I said that Lesnar was ducking Carwin, it was a great headline. Everybody was talking about it.
The only person who would actually know that would be Lesnar, so you would have to ask him about it if he was ducking him. It's a good interview question.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): (Laughs) But you're not sold on this whole Interim Title between Mir and Carwin?
Roy Nelson: You know what, for me, it really doesn't matter. I think it's just one way to keep a belt in this situation. It's just one of those made-up belts.
But it's okay with me, because Dana wants to rule the world with MMA. Like I said, me and Struve will be fighting for the world title.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You're 6', correct? Six foot even?
Roy Nelson: Yeah, right around there.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You're probably one of the shorter guys in the heavyweight division. Not that you're short, you're taller than I am. But at the same time, I know that you walk around weight-wise closer to 265, I thought.
Roy Nelson: Uh-huh.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Have you ever thought about trying to get down to light heavyweight? Not that you need to right now; since you're winning as a heavyweight, why drop? But would that ever be an option, do you think?
Roy Nelson: Probably not. The last time I saw 205 in my life was probably my junior year in high school. So that was probably what, like 16 years ago? So most likely, probably not.
The thing is that most people forget, they get kinda jaded about the way I look, but they forget to look at my legs. I carry most of my weight in my legs.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Dana White has been a little critical of you in the past. Do you take any of it to heart?
Roy Nelson: No. I'm sure there's a whole bunch of people who are very critical of Dana White. So it come with the territory. It is what it is, and we're all about ... I sell tickets the way I do it, and he sells tickets the way he does.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Yeah, and as long as you're selling, you're career is probably safe.
Roy Nelson: As long as I have a fan base, they're the ones who truly pay all our bills. They pay Dana White's bills, they pay my bills.
If there's no fans, there's no UFC. And if there's no fighters either, there's no fans, you know. That's kinda how it goes. It goes fighters, fans, and then there's UFC.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well, Roy, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us. I wanted to give you a chance to plug any sponsors, or if you have any parting words for your fans.
Roy Nelson: All my fans, make sure you go to RoyNelson.com, because that's where all the really good information is always at. I want to thank all my training partners, my trainers and of course sponsors would be like TapouT and SuperAction.com.