He is an enigmatic performer, with considerable talent vexed by inconsistent performances. But if there are a few constants with Roy Nelson, they are: he can take a hell of a punch and he hits hard.
His overhand right is one of the most dangerous weapons in the game, as he delivers it like a major league closer hurling a fastball.
Nelson's been up and down since steamrolling the competition to win The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 10. In his first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) loss, a bruising decision beating at the hands of Junior dos Santos, he showed his cast-iron chin in taking a frightful pounding while never giving up. That was absolutely excusable.
What wasn't was his flat showings against Frank Mir, where the two conditioning-challenged heavies lumbered around, at times resembling battling elephant seals, and his listless showing when Fabricio Werdum gave a kickboxing clinic as Nelson stood around and got picked apart (yes, that Fabricio Werdum).
But at UFC 146: "Dos Santos vs. Mir" last night (Sat., May 26, 2012) in Las Vegas, Nevada, Nelson took out Dave Herman in a mere 51 seconds with the kind of one-shot destructive power that elicited identical results against Brendan Schaub and Stefan Struve.
A relatively svelte 254-pounds, Nelson is one of the rare fighters in the game who actively cultivates a blue-collar persona and backs it up, replete with an epic mullet, lumberjack's beard and a body that could be described as anything but beautiful. Yet he is extremely athletic -- he once told me he could dunk a basketball -- and with his resilience and excellent grappling (both wrestling and jiu-jitsu, the latter of which is rare for big men) he seems like he could be a legit heavyweight contender if he could put it all together.
I'll never forget the quintessential Nelson performance, which was marred by referee Jorge Ortiz' ineptitude, against Andrei Arlovski. In that October 2008 EliteXC bout, Nelson was masterful at getting Arlovski to the ground, perfectly positioned to do damage from side control, only to be completely screwed by a ref standup. It was like taking a football team's offense in the red zone, calling a nonsensical double-penalty, and putting them back at midfield.
Arlovski, renewed from the break, proceeded to hit Nelson with a zillion shots to get one of the more brutal knockouts you'll see. Nelson was close to breaking through to the big time that night, and the jobbing he absorbed is one of the many bad breaks a fighter will receive.
It's part of the game.
Nelson has some interesting terrain ahead of him. There are plenty of heavyweights he'd match up well against, and some big names, too. Personally, I'd like to see him take on the winner of the Ben Rothwell vs. Travis Browne bout taking place at UFC on Fox 4 on Aug. 4 in Los Angeles. If Nelson is in shape and has the gas to throw his big shots for three rounds, he's a handful for anyone.
Jason Probst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jasonprobst.