There's always been more to love with "Big Country" Roy Nelson.
The former IFL heavyweight champion earned an invite to the UFC by winning season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), working his way through some of the top current heavyweight prospects in the process. And he's done it with a smile as big as his belly.
But underneath that soft outward exterior is a man who's still incredibly dangerous. Look no further than the fact he's won by knockout in his last six MMA victories.
The bulky brawler was actually sniffing a title shot before coming up short against Junior dos Santos last August, the first man to ever take the current number one contender to a decision, but it was his last outing against Frank Mir that really drew the ire of fans and UFC President Dana White.
Suffering from a case of walking pneumonia, the corpulent combatant was battered for three rounds by the Mir and his weight was the key talking point in the post-fight press conference and the quick-reaction event fallout pieces afterwards.
Nelson will try to get things back on track at UFC 137 this month (October 29, 2011) against Pride legend Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, a man who's been equally down on his luck as of late. "Big Country" spoke with MMAmania.com about criticism, his upcoming fight and going back to his roots.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Since you're a guy with a pretty good sense of humor, I figured I'd start this one off with a joke. It was inspired by a Sean McCorkle tweet: What's the difference between Seth Petruzelli and Roy Nelson?
Roy Nelson: Ummmmm, a winning record? (laughs)
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): No, no. One got lucky against Kimbo, and the other is named Seth Petruzelli.
Roy Nelson: Awwwww ok. That was funny (laughs)
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Sorry, I couldn't help myself. Real questions now. I know you were in charge of the UFC twitter for UFC 135. When the main card fights, the heavyweight fights weren't very good and the gas tanks weren't great. Did you kind of see that as people almost taking you for granted when they got on you after your last fight with Mir?
Roy Nelson: No, not really. Everybody's always got to criticize something. I already knew the reason why I was that way in that fight (the walking pneumonia). I gave all I got. As long as you give 100 percent, I don't care who it is. Like, I know Ben Rothwell ran out of gas but at least he got up and kept going forward. As long as you give 100 percent, that's all that matters. It's just when a guy lays there and doesn't try, that's when you should get mad as a fan.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I just feel like people piled on you for the Mir fight. You had the walking pneumonia and you never had an issue with cardio before. All of a sudden it seemed like everyone and their mother started criticizing you. I just thought that was unfair.
Roy Nelson: Ehhh, life's not fair. You've just got to make lemonade out of lemons all the time.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Were you surprised by the reaction? It always seemed like your belly had become endearing to fans and then there were attacks coming out of the woodworks from everywhere.
Roy Nelson: You know what, not really. I just think everybody, fans, they want what they want and they've got to blame it on something because they can't blame it on my fighting technique so I guess they have to blame that I was out of shape or they can pick up stuff and pull it out of thin air. You know, US Weekly or People magazine, they'll always have a celebrity to pick on, "Oh, they're fat. They're not getting that gig and that's why they're wife or husband left them because they put on a couple extra pounds."
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): From watching your fights, it seems like your belly actually is a factor in your jiu-jitsu. I saw someone comment that Mir wasn't able to get his hooks in as easily because you use that when you turtle, almost like a defense mechanism. Can you talk about how you've actually implemented your size into your jiu-jitsu? There's people telling you that a drop to light heavyweight would be an easy cure-all, but that would actually change up your game a bit too.
Roy Nelson: I think Mir tried to put his hooks in, it's not that, it has to do with knowing that if he wants to put a hook in, he'd have to move to half guard and I can roll because he fell right into mount and I'd push right into half guard and then half guard up to my feet and the same thing every time I got to half guard, that was my way to get up to my knees to get out. That's just my style. It doesn't matter what type of jiu-jitsu guy you have. If you have a world-class jiu-jitsu guy like Frank, he should be able to definitely stick on you but Mir can counter a lot of what a jiu-jitsu guy does, then my jiu-jitsu more comes into play for helping me get back to my feet.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I've got to talk about your upcoming fight with Mirko Cro Cop. I feel it's a perfect match-up for you. When you were 6-0 in your career and on the local circuit, Mirko Filipovic was winning the Pride Open Weight Grand Prix in 2006. Does that ever get into your head a bit, the accomplishments this guy has or do you look more at what he's done in the UFC thus far?
Roy Nelson: The one thing, you always look at the man as a whole. I don't ever just look at his most recent stuff. That's how fans look at it the, "What did you do for me lately" method. As a fighter or as an athlete, you look at the whole gamut of things, not just what he did yesterday. I care about what he's accomplished, what he's done because you never know. There could be that spark, that glimmer that brings back what he's known for, what he's done the past 25 some years.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know that this is the last fight on Mirko Cro Cop's contract. Is it in the back of your head that he might have nothing to lose, that he might try something different, try something crazy?
Roy Nelson: You know what? Anything is possible. The one thing you've got to remember, it doesn't matter if you've got one fight on your contract or 12 fights on your contract. You never know how long you'll actually be in the UFC. It doesn't, that's never a factor. I think as an athlete, a lot of people just go out there and they just want to win. As long as he wants to win, that's the thing that scares you about any athlete, the challenges of the other guy that wants to be better than they are and you just know you didn't bring your A-Game and he always brings his A-Game.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you feel confident standing with him? I know he's got that aura of being an amazing kickboxer, but all your last wins have been knockouts.
Roy Nelson: I feel standing, like I think I've stood up with some of the best heavyweights in the world. I stood up with Junior [dos Santos] so like, I think I might regress for this fight and go back to my roots, go back to my first five or six wins were all submissions. Maybe I'll regress in the chain of being an MMA fighter.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I wouldn't say that would be regressing, you'd just be using the full facets of your game right?
Roy Nelson: No, that would be regressing.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Well that's what you did on The Ultimate Fighter, you took guys down and you worked your top game.
Roy Nelson: That was playing it safe. I was just doing GSP.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Hey, it worked right?
Roy Nelson: There's nothing wrong with it. If you've just got to keep winning, that's one way. If you want, I could definitely be just a winner but I'm also lazy so I could be Brock a lot easier.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you feel like there's a lot of pressure to get a win in this last fight? I know you've faced two of the top heavyweights in the world, but you do have the two losses in a row.
Roy Nelson: Nah. You should feel the pressure losing one so it doesn't matter. You could be cut from the UFC for one loss or you could have four or five losses and still be in the UFC. It doesn't matter who you are, what you've done for the company. Whatever it is, there's no rhyme or reason. As long as I'm 100 percent, I really don't care. As long as I can hold my head high, that's what matters.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That was the perfect segue for me. One of those guys that you mentioned is Dan Hardy. I know he came out to Vegas and recently started training with you. I saw something about him going to Toronto to train with GSP a bit. Is he still based out of Toronto or was that temporary?
Roy Nelson: Yeah, he still lives in Vegas but he helped out GSP. He's definitely done some travelling. I think he's just trying to make himself a better fighter.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I'm interested in how that whole thing got set up. I know you cornered him for a fight and then he moved out to Vegas. How did you guys meet up and team up?
Roy Nelson: We met up probably about a year ago. My wife actually manages him so it made sense to kind of help each other out. He needed work on wrestling so I helped with that. When he's here in town, I try to help him as much as I possibly can, if he's not back in England or travelling. He's like Austin Powers, an international man of mystery.
Roy Nelson: As far as I know, going off of all the other good athletes coming over to the UFC so it's definitely a possibility. For the heavyweights, there's some top, top guys that are over there that would be good, we could do a real Grand Prix with real rankings versus how the media and press do rankings with no rhyme or reason. A real 16 man tournament except without having the one stacked side and the other side making you go, "Huh?"
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): And then the one guy backs out and joins the UFC mid-tournament.
Roy Nelson: Or another guy falls out. It's just not the same. Styles make match-ups. It would be awesome to see a 16-man tournament where the fans pick who they want to see fight like a Cinderella story.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Brendan Schaub recently came out and said he'd like to get a rematch with you if you were to get a win against Mirko Cro Cop, is that something that's even on your mind at all or are you just focused on Mirko?
Roy Nelson: You know what, I'm focusing on Mirko but if Brendan wants to fight, that's great too. We could fight on the FOX card. I could probably fight in two weeks if everything goes well.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've been very good at predicting things in the past, with Brock not facing dos Santos at UFC 131. True or False? Is Brock Lesnar actually going to fight the main event of UFC 141?
Roy Nelson: You know what, I'm gonna have to go with an, "I don't know," but I can predict that if he does fall out, then Frank Mir will take on Overeem and then I'll fight Nogueira.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Last question, it's pretty cliche but how do you see the fight ending against Cro Cop?
Roy Nelson: The only thing I can see is my hand getting raised. I can't predict whether it's gonna be a knockout, submission or decision. It's one of those things that really, I'm just going to go out there and give 100 percent and hopefully at the end of the day my hand is raised.
So what do you think Maniacs?
Will Nelson get back on the horse with a victory against Filipovic? Is Roy correct about that "what have you done for me lately" attitude of MMA fans?