Photo by Esther Lin via SBNation.com
Roy Nelson is a tough guy, there's no denying that.
Although he's met defeat several times over the course of his career, he's only been stopped once. The other six times he forced his opponents to fight him bell to bell including last night (Feb. 4, 2012) against the returning Fabricio Werdum.
It was the Brazilian's first fight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) since being scorched by current heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos in what was "Cigano's" Octagon debut. Last night's return couldn't have gone better for the Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) world champion.
He thoroughly dominated Nelson for 15 minutes, using his ever improving stand-up to stifle the American while also busting his face open.
It was an important fight for Werdum as most casual UFC fans only recognized him from Dos Santos highlight reels. He needed a performance good enough to begin erasing some of the memories associated with his knockout loss to the champion while also helping to create new ones. He did that and more last night. Over the course of 15 minutes, Werdum thrust his name onto the list of possible future title contenders while also dropping Nelson even further down the heavyweight ladder.
After their fight at UFC 143: Diaz vs. Condit, the Brazilian could be one win away from a title shot while Nelson might be one loss away from a pink slip.
Including last night's beating, "Big Country" has lost three of his last four; losses to Dos Santos and Frank Mir were equally as brutal for the former International Fight League (IFL) champion. None of the three men could put Nelson away but some would argue it would have been better for the American's longevity if they had. Nelson's toughness could wind up being a detriment as constant poundings very well could be adding untold wear and tear on his body.
Helping Nelson out, though, is the fact he's a The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) winner. If you go by ratings, he can be said to be the most viewed TUF champion in the history of the show. Millions of fans saw him expose Kimbo Slice and then go on to remove Brendan Schaub from his consciousness in the Finale.
But TUF doesn't have the same luster it did a few years ago. In recent months, former winners like Kendall Grove and Joe Stevenson have wound up on the chopping block proving that even those with reality TV muscle backing them up aren't immune to Zuffa's firing axe. Unlike those two, however, Nelson fights in the most anemic weight division in the sport. As a heavyweight, he can withstand a cold streak like the one he's one now. Dropping down to 205 pounds -- as many are saying he should -- strips him of that security and makes him that much easier to cut.
On the flip side of last night's co-main event, Werdum impressively reintroduced himself to the UFC faithful. Werdum also benefits from the shallow talent pool at heavyweight as his next fight could very well be one to determine the next title challenger.
A gaggle of interesting potential match-ups can be lined up for the Brazilian including rematching whoever loses the next heavyweight championship bout. No doubt "Vai Cavalo" would love to exact a measure of revenge on Dos Santos and while his first fight with Alistair Overeem was a bit of a snoozer, their second could prove to be much more interesting considering how well Werdum's stand-up is improving. A rumored match-up between former champ Cain Velasquez and Strikeforce contender Antonio Silva now seems to be dead but the American Kickboxing Academy member could tangle with Werdum, each hoping to get through the other en route to shot at UFC gold.
My money, however, is on Frank Mir. Having won three straight since his knockout loss to Shane Carwin, Mir has established himself as a perennial contender in the heavyweight division. Coming off an arm-breaking submission victory over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, the former champion seems primed to challenge for the title once more. Who better than Werdum, who Mir touts as the division's best grappler?
While the main event between Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz might have ruined plans for the UFC in terms of big money matchmaking, the co-main event helped soothe some of the pain by creating its own. Nelson has already been established as a good but not great fighter. In the two years he's spent in the Octagon, he's consistently fallen to tougher competition.
Werdum, on the other hand, seems to be entering his prime. His grappling chops can't be denied and his striking game is looking crisper with each fight. All the different puzzle pieces a fighter needs to succeed in the sport are coming together for the Brazilian.
And as he enters the land of UFC giants, it couldn't have come at a better time.