Nelson's low-key demeanor masks a strong ambition and drive. | Photo: D. Mandel/Sherdog.com
There is good reason not to overanalyze that grappling match. Both men have since developed into accomplished standup fighters. The last three bouts for Nelson and Mir have been contested mostly on the feet, and they have distinct approaches there.
“I think Frank has great standup,” Nelson says. “He’s the first one to put [Antonio Rodrigo] Nogueira away. He knocked out [Mirko] ‘Cro Cop’ [Filipovic], the striking king of MMA. He really has come so far from day one in UFC. I think my biggest advantage is I hit harder, but he’s definitely the more, I don’t want to say technical, but cleaner-looking style. I’m more like a tank. He’s like a sniper rifle.”
As such, Nelson’s success in the fight is likely to be tied to his ability to push the pace, keep the fight dirty and not allow Mir into his comfort zone -- a formula that worked well for Shane Carwin at UFC 111. Nelson says he expects his opponent to stand, and Mir has spoken of the standup extensively in interviews about the fight.
In a gritty battle of wills, another key factor could be cardiovascular conditioning. Nelson’s physical appearance has always raised questions about his conditioning, but it is Mir who has more often struggled with conditioning problems over the course of his MMA career. Salgado feels cardio could be a key asset for “Big Country.”
“Roy’s cardio was good going into the Dos Santos fight, and it’s even better now,” he says. “Getting through the Dos Santos fight was pure cardio because that’s how you get rocked, not lose your wits and go the complete 15 minutes. Frank can go 15 minutes, but Roy can go 15 minutes in a very physical fight in the trenches.”
While Nelson and Mir will jockey to keep the fight on their own terms, neither man seems likely to offer up a great deal in the way of surprises. Experienced veterans of the sport, they have showcased their strengths and weaknesses on many occasions. Moreover, they exchanged tips and strategies as part of training together over the years.
This is an issue Nelson has frequently had to deal with throughout his career. As something of a training gun-for-hire, he has shared his knowledge and fight philosophy with many of his biggest potential rivals. Nelson claims he has no concerns about having given away potentially valuable insight into his game.
“I like to say that I do more of an American approach,” Nelson explains. “I’m going to show you everything, and it’s going to make you better. I’m going to give you every advantage possible and at the same time force myself to evolve to be the better man for the fight.”
UFC 130 was originally scheduled to be headlined by a lightweight title fight between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard, but injuries to both men removed the rematch from the card. As a result, the UFC had to choose a new main event. Many fans felt Nelson-Mir was the fight with the most interest and that it should have been placed atop the card. However, the UFC instead decided to elevate the Quinton “Rampage” Jackson-Matt Hamill bout to headline status. Nelson for his part would not have minded UFC 130 “Mir vs. Nelson” on the marquee.
“That would be the logical choice, but we were already underneath them so I think they just moved every fight up the ladder,” he says. “I think fanwise [Mir-Nelson] is more exciting for fans and fans would prefer that one, but that’s not my decision. I just fight.”
Regardless of his spot on the lineup, Nelson will have the opportunity to steal the show and regain the momentum he had heading into his encounter with Dos Santos. The UFC heavyweight division appears wide open -- once Shane Carwin and Dos Santos determine a number one contender at UFC 131 on June 11 -- and an impressive win by Mir or Nelson could vault them into a top contender’s fight later this year.
As a former International Fight League champion and “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 10 winner, the affable Nelson has carved a niche for himself in the MMA landscape. However, his low-key demeanor masks a strong ambition and drive. He says he still has much to do before he will be content with his status in the sport.
“I don’t have the UFC belt,” Nelson says, “so I haven’t accomplished anything yet.”