The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 10 winner Roy Nelson takes on fellow TUF competitor Matt Mitrione in TUF 16 Finale main event this Saturday night (Dec. 15, 2012) at "The Joint" inside the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.
"Big Country" earned his fame in the International Fight League (IFL), winning the belt and then defending it two more times. After two controversial losses to Andrei Arlovski and Jeff Monson on the regional mixed martial arts (MMA) circuit, he got the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) nod to participate on TUF. Based on his experience and skill, Nelson was the pre-show favorite, dominating everyone he faced and then knocking out Brendan Schaub to win at the finale.
Since then, he has been hot and cold inside the Octagon, knocking out all but the top tier of heavyweights.
Does "Big Country" have the skills to beat another bigger, faster opponent?
Let's find out:
Although an original Brazilian jiu-jitsu-based fighter, Nelson has become feared for his knockout power. He is well aware of his own power, too, falling in love with it actually, which is possibly to his detriment.
Nelson almost always finds his range with the jab. It is not a very damaging strike, with its purpose to line his opponent up with his big right hand. Outside of that powerful straight right hand, Nelson's striking is pretty weak, even his right hook doesn't pack that much power.
Nelson's biggest weapon is, of course, his overhand right. He loves to whip it at his opponent as often as he can, which often delivers violent results. The most impressive aspect of his overhand is not how powerful it is, but how accurately he lands it. Even in the midst of savage beat downs, like the ones he recieved from Fabricio Werdum and Junior dos Santos, Nelson always manages to land his right hand.
Despite his many knockout wins, Nelson's striking is nothing special. He basically spams his right hand over and over until he hits his opponent, and if they can avoid it, they win the striking battle. In his knockout wins over Mirko Filipovic, Brendan Schaub and even Dave Herman, he was getting out struck before he landed his overhand.
Due to his faith in his chin and lack of head movement, Nelson is extremely susceptible to getting his face bashed in. Current Heavyweight Champion, dos Santos, beat the hell out of him with boxing and then jiu-jitsu champion Fabricio Werdum carved a hole into his forehead with knees from the clinch.
Nelson, despite rarely showing it, is a very capable wrestler. Many "Big Country" fans wish he would utilize his grappling more often, as it is likely his best skill.
While not dominant in any one area of wrestling, Nelson is capable of defending and attacking with takedowns from any position. From the clinch, he prefers to push forward and then switch to an outside trip. If he attempts to shoot, he mostly uses a single leg. After securing the leg, he will either run the pipe, or simply throw them to the mat. Single leg takedowns are very effective in the heavyweight division, as heavyweights generally don't have the balance of lighter-weight fighters.
Nelson's defensive grappling has only accounted for one of his losses. Submission ace Frank Mir was able to take down Nelson for the majority of their fight, going six for eight on takedown attempts. Mir isn't the greatest wrestler, so this is a bit abnormal for Nelson and could possibly be explained when Nelson claimed to have walking pneumonia during the fight.
Nelson earned his black belt from Renzo Gracie in 2009. Nelson has showed very good positional control, excellent guard passing and smothering top pressure.
Roy Nelson is perhaps the last person a fighter wants on top of them. Using his gut to suffocate his opponent, he quickly passes guard, often moving to side control. From side control, he will pin an arm and lock-in the mounted crucifix. From this position, he can land free punches to the face with little risk to position.
Nelson's bottom game is pretty solid, too. He's very skilled defensively, avoiding most ground-and-pound, and was able to survive Fabricio Werdum -- a multiple time ADCC gold medalist -- taking his back. Nelson is constantly trying to stand up from guard, which is much easier to do than sweep a 200+ pound fighter.
To read a break down of Nelson's Brazilian jiu-jitsu match vs. Frank Mir click here.
Many "Big Country" fans are quite disappointed in how he has moved away from his ground game. It is pretty clearly the most developed aspect of his game. Some point to a moment in his fight with Arlovski, where he was attempting a kimura on "The Pitbull" and the referee inexplicably stood them up, as the moment when Nelson became disillusioned with the submission game.
Either way, returning to his jiu-jitsu would be a wise move for Nelson, as Mitrione isn't nearly as experienced as he is ... not even close.
Nelson can never be counted out of any fight. He's tough enough to walk through his opponents best punches, and then try to crush them with his own. Even dos Santos -- arguably MMA's hardest puncher -- couldn't finish Nelson, who was still gamely trying land his overhand by the end of the third round. There is a huge mental let down when a fighter lands his best strike, and his opponent doesn't even blink.
It makes a fighter begin to question himself, and that gives Nelson a huge advantage.
Toughness is one of the most important traits a fighter can possess. Nelson may not be an athletic specimen, but he's willing to wade through fire long enough to crush one. Iron will is not something that can be taught, and Nelson is lucky enough to have a chin to match his.
Best chance for success
The absolute easiest way for Nelson to win this is to take down Mitrione, rinse and repeat. "Meathead's" takedown defense is nothing Nelson hasn't seen before and his jiu-jitsu is laughable in comparison. If Nelson actually follows a grappling based game plan, he'd likely finish Mitrione in less than one round.
Unfortunately, Nelson is stubborn and will likely doggedly pursue another crushing knockout. If he chooses to go this route, he will still most likely win, but his chances drop a little. He needs to cut off the cage and not let Mitrione bounce around him. A straight right hand is an excellent punch to throw against a southpaw, so Nelson's default gameplan actually makes sense here.
Will "Big Country" dominate another TUF cast mate, or will Mitrione earn the biggest win of his career?
To check out the complete fighter breakdown for Nelson's upcoming opponent, Mitrione, click here.