Roy Nelson is one of the most recognizable figures in the UFC, and also one of the most loquacious. But what the coach on season 16 of The Ultimate Fighter, which premieres tonight (9pm) on FX, may not always reveal, is that his first love wasn’t fighting, but teaching.
So will that be the main takeaway from seeing Nelson every week on television?
“I actually couldn’t tell you because I’m not a producer,” he deadpans. “If you want to make me a producer I’ll tell you that I would look excellent as a coach.”
That’s Roy being Roy. Sometimes you don’t know whether he’s joking or serious or saying controversial things just for the sake of being controversial. But when he does get down to talking about his stint as a coach on TUF 16, he admits that this was a lot tougher road to take than the one he did when he won the series’ tenth season back in 2009.
“This is probably a little more emotionally draining because you’re trying to be invested in eight guys, so it’s like having eight kids that you gotta worry about,” he said.
And right there is the truth about his commitment to his team and the art of coaching. A former substitute teacher, Nelson began training fighters before he turned pro in 2004. And even today, there’s something about being a positive influence in someone’s life that puts a smile on his face.
“I think it goes back to when I used to teach,” he said. “One thing I love about coaching and teaching is being able to show somebody something and then they actually use what you just showed them. All the way from teaching a kid 2+2 and they go four, and then in jiu-jitsu it would be some type of submission and they actually land it in a fight, or in striking or kickboxing you show them the overhand, and boom, he lands it and knocks somebody out. Some people live to receive gifts and some people like to give gifts just to see the expressions, and I think it's more of me giving that gift and seeing the expression on their faces when they actually do it. That gives me a sense of fulfillment.”
Back in 2009 though, the odds of seeing Nelson associated with The Ultimate Fighter again in any form weren’t too good. As he said before his win in the final over Brendan Schaub, “I’ve never been in jail, but I could imagine jail actually being a little bit easier.”
Yet when the UFC approached him about coaching this season, he accepted.
“The way I looked at it was, it’s the UFC, they have a plan. You gotta just go with the flow.”
And he has, even though he’s sparked feuds not just with his opposing coach (and December opponent) Shane Carwin, but with UFC president Dana White. Again, that’s Roy being Roy, and the 36-year-old doesn’t appear to be losing much sleep over how he will be perceived over the course of the season. As for losing sleep during taping, that’s a different story, and he admits that being at home in Vegas for the show wasn’t as easy as you might have expected.
“It’s actually probably a little bit more hectic because you still have your regular life,” he said. “It’s not like you’re on a vacation and all you have to worry about is just doing your job. You’re doing your job and then your everyday life and making sure bills are paid and doing all the other things that you had planned when the UFC came in. You gotta kinda put your regular life on hold.”
That’s just what he did, and aided by assistant coaches James Johnson, Jeff Mayweather, and Anthony Brown, along with some special guests, Nelson made it through unscathed. Now the focus will turn toward Carwin and their heavyweight showdown. Was TUF 16 round one in terms of the psychological battle?
“I couldn’t even tell you,” he said. “I don’t really worry about what he (Carwin) is thinking or doing. I just gotta go out there and do what I gotta do and be a better fighter. The thing is, he’s already become the UFC champion, so him already having something that I want is just one thing I gotta do to move forward in my career.”
Maybe this is a little reverse psychology from the always crafty “Big Country.” And whether it is or not, it certainly sounds like it’s going to be an interesting fall on FX.
“They’re gonna see Roy Nelson at his best,” he said, “either getting under Dana’s skin, or getting ready for some good coaching.”
Meet the TUF 16 Coaches - Roy Nelson
"They’re gonna see Roy Nelson at his best, either getting under Dana’s skin, or getting ready for some good coaching." - Roy Nelson