Roy Nelson’s big right hand and humorous opinions have earned him something of a cult following during his 15-year career as a mixed martial artist.
Nelson will return to the cage at Bellator 207, where he faces Pride Fighting Championships veteran Sergei Kharitonov on Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. “Big Country” was one of eight men selected to compete in the Bellator MMA heavyweight grand prix and found himself matched with Matt Mitrione at Bellator 194. Nelson had defeated Mitrione by technical knockout at “The Ultimate Fighter 16” Finale six years prior, but through two rounds of their rematch, the difference in hand speed proved to be a serious problem for the former International Fight League champion. Nelson managed to ground Mitrione in the third round and pummeled him with punches, but referee Dan Miragliotta elected not to intervene. It was not a decision with which the Las Vegas native agreed.
“You’ve got to intelligently defend yourself,” Nelson told Sherdog. “I even went for an armbar because I was pounding him in his face and the ref wasn’t calling it, so, I thought, ‘[Expletive] it, I will try and do something different, and then that time he popped back up; and then I took him back down.”
Mitrione survived to earn a majority decision and advance in the tournament. Nelson was left to ponder what he could have done differently to secure the victory. After talking to athletic commission officials following the fight, he came away with one clear suggestion.
“What I learned from that was next time just throw elbows,” Nelson said. “Apparently, elbows are more vicious than punches, even though that is not really true from a fighter’s standpoint; but I guess from their standpoint it is.”
Revered for his sense of humor, the 38-fight veteran could not help but put a lighthearted spin on his disappointing exit from the grand prix.
“I called Ryan [Bader] up and I said, ‘What’s it going to take for you to pull out so I could fight Matt [Mitrione]?’” Nelson said, tongue in cheek. “But he said there was a little too much on the line. I said, ‘After I beat Matt, you can have your spot back. It’s not even about the belt, just the Matt thing.’”
Now that he has been eliminated, Nelson has turned his attention elsewhere. He has made plans for a busy schedule over the next year.
“I’ve got so many fights coming up,” Nelson said. “I’ve got Sergei. I’ve got [Quinton] ‘Rampage’ [Jackson] who wanted a fight, which is weird because I was supposed to fight him in May and he didn’t want to fight me. Now he wants to fight. I’ve still got [Mirko] ‘Cro Cop’ [Filipovic], who just came off having surgery [and then into] having a camp, so I need to get his doctor on speed dial. Then I still have Matt [in a third fight]. I’ve got three fights after Sergei, then whoever has the belt, so that’s five. I have a full schedule next year.”
Before he can get any further into his hypothetical schedule, Nelson must clear his first hurdle: Kharitonov. The 38-year-old Russian has gone 4-0 with one no-contest across his past five appearances. “Big Country” has plans for him.
“If everything goes well, maybe I go out [there], hit him in his face a couple of times, he gets knocked out, then the fans roar,” Nelson said. “I’m happy, they’re happy, and then I go watch the fights [at Bellator 208] on Saturday.”
Nelson, 42, has enjoyed his stay in Bellator thus far, especially the freedom of not being hounded by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. Some of the techniques the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s drug testing partner utilized rubbed him the wrong way.
“The part that’s annoying about USADA was the fact they showed up at six o’clock in the morning,” Nelson said. “If you want to catch me, then just catch me. It’s not that hard. I’m not going to be cheating at six o’clock in the morning. Let’s be frank. [USADA] doesn’t have any [expletive] power, because the power comes from the commissions or from the organizations. That’s the actual power.”
In Nelson’s estimation, the UFC has enough influence to affect USADA’s final decision if it desires a certain outcome in a given situation. That does not mean he doubts all the positive results the agency flags. Blaming tainted food has become a common practice for fighters who fail tests. Nelson does not buy it. No one, he claims in jest, is more at risk for eating tainted food than himself.
“I eat a lot,” Nelson said, “so I should have a lot of tainted food.”