Roy Nelson is happy to be home. For the first time since his first-round knockout of Matt Mitrione in December of 2012, “Big Country” will be fighting in his hometown of Las Vegas when he faces Jared Rosholt in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night at the MGM Grand.
That’s the good news. The bad? No more visits to Sizzler in Tokyo.
“No Sizzler, no El Torito in Japan,” he laments. “But it’s good to be back.”
Does it feel like over three years though?
“It seems like a long time,” Nelson, who owns a 7-2 home record, said. “I’ve been an international superstar the last couple of years. (Laughs) When it comes to travel, I like to travel outside the United States, but I’m not gonna lie – when it comes to fighting, I like the United States.”
During his seven-fight run on the road, Nelson has visited Japan twice, Abu Dhabi and Winnipeg, in addition to U.S. stops in New Jersey and Texas. His record isn’t a great one as of late, just 2-5, but when you consider that his slate includes fights against Josh Barnett, Alistair Overeem, Mark Hunt, Minotauro Nogueira and Stipe Miocic, it’s no surprise that the 39-year-old is back in a big fight and still ranked 11th in the heavyweight division. And the way Nelson sees it, a win over Rosholt and one more after that, and he’ll be knocking on Fabricio Werdum’s door for a rematch – this time for the UFC title.
“I’m looking to be like Stipe – just rattle off two wins and then get a title shot,” Nelson said of the Ohio native who was going to step in and face Werdum for the crown this Saturday when Cain Velasquez got injured, but instead saw that fight get canceled when the champion withdrew due to injury as well.
“I’ve got people going, ‘Hey, why don’t you do Roy vs. Stipe in a rematch for the interim title?’” said Nelson, who was decisioned by Miocic in June of 2013. That’s a fight Big Country probably would have jumped at, right?
“Nah, not an interim title,” he said. “I want the whole thing.”
I think he’d still take it.
“I think so.”
That’s why fight fans love Nelson, and why he still loves the sport. He admits that he doesn’t understand the way some of his peers choose to conduct their careers in the Octagon, but when asked who he would pay to watch, he has a nice list to choose from.
“Robbie Lawler, Nick Diaz, Nate Diaz,” Nelson said. “The old school guys. Even a guy like Josh Barnett, who still comes out and fights. Mark Hunt all day. Just the guys who aren’t playing the tag game and just want to fight. Ben Rothwell’s another one of the guys I’ll watch because he actually tries to fight. He might be a little timid on some things, but he’s actually trying to knock you out and finish the fight.”
Is that group a dying breed, or will we see a rise of the old school battlers once more?
“I think it will definitely change when they realize that they can’t get an actual following and if there’s only a select few that get fans to actually engage with them and follow them,” he said. “When I used to do the grappling circuit, that used to be our warm-up for fights, and now the millennials got a hold of it and made it softer. It’s like the participation award-type stuff. It’s a game, that’s why there’s a winner and a loser.”
More on Fight Night Las Vegas: Reasons to watch Fight Night Vegas | Full fight card | Watch UFC Countdown: Hendricks vs. Thompson | Scoggins ready to show off full arsenal | Hendricks still motivated | Fight Night Vegas Fantasy Preview | The 10: February’s biggest fights | See the fights live in Las Vegas
And why Nelson is determined to get on the right side of that equation this weekend. Sure, the 12th-ranked Rosholt isn’t as big a name as Nelson’s previous opponents, but to the Las Vegan, Rosholt’s three-fight winning streak goes a long way in making him attractive to fight.
“I get excited about Jared because he’s coming off a three-fight win streak and the way I look at that is that it’s the perfect PR stepping stone from a fan’s standpoint,” he said. “That guy just beat three guys in a row in the UFC, and if you beat that guy, wow, you just beat a guy with three wins in the UFC. It’s about how you can look at it from a fan’s standpoint, not from a strategic, MMA standpoint. I don’t think there’s that many heavyweights that have the winning streak that Jared has right now. If anything, Jared should be fighting for the belt.”
He laughs, knowing that every conversation he has leading up to a fight will ultimately end in a discussion about the heavyweight title belt. So is 2016 the year for Nelson?
“I had a little stumbling block the last time, but the (Barnett) fight was pretty close,” he said. “It could have went either way, from my standpoint. But there are a lot of positives I took from that fight and they made me a better fighter, and I think 2016 is just gonna make me an even better fighter.”