Roy Nelson is 4-5 in his last nine appearances. | File Photo: Sherdog.com
When a knee injury forced Shane Carwin to withdraw from his main event with Roy Nelson at “The Ultimate Fighter 16” Finale, the man they call “Big Country” was not surprised.
“I figured Shane would pull out of the fight,” Nelson said during a pre-fight media call. “This isn’t the first time he’s done it. I just didn’t know when or where it would happen.”
With Carwin sidelined, Nelson will instead meet Matt Mitrione at the finale on Saturday at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The two heavyweights became familiar with one another as castmates on Season 10 of the reality series. Still, Nelson had to make some adjustments.
“The biggest thing we switched up was that Shane and Matt are two different fighters,” he said. “One’s a southpaw and one’s orthodox. Matt actually asked for this fight, so it’s more personal.”
The oft-injured Carwin has not competed since dropping a lopsided unanimous decision to reigning heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos in June 2011. Nelson spent six weeks coaching opposite the hulking Coloradan on Season 16 of “The Ultimate Fighter” and now much switch gears.
“As a coach, you’re trying to get eight guys to win, and it’s up to them with who wants it more,” he said. “[As a fighter], you only have to depend on yourself.”
Nelson last fought at UFC 146 in May, when he needed less than a minute to wipe out Dave Herman at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. It was the second fastest victory of the 36-year-old former International Fight League champion’s career, bested only by his 39-second knockout on Stefan Struve in March 2010. Long an outspoken critic in regards to the presence of performance-enhancing drugs in MMA, Nelson asked Mitrione -- whom he labeled as a “lighter version of Alistair Overeem” -- to participate in Voluntary Anti-Doping Association testing prior to their bout. He declined.
“Roy asked me -- he tweeted it the day he sent it -- probably a week-and-a-half ago, 10 days ago,” Mitrione said. “I had a bunch of other things going on and felt it was a distraction and didn’t want to deal with it. I’m not opposed to it. I was so invested in this fight that I turned my Twitter off. I was training for a five-round fight and wanted to make sure I didn’t have any distractions.”
Mike Ricci remembers the pain of failing under the bright lights of major mixed martial arts, as his appearance in the Bellator Fighting Championships Season 2 lightweight tournament ended in a knockout loss to Pat Curran in the quarterfinals. It was the first professional setback of the Canadian’s career. A significant favorite entering his lightweight final with Colton Smith at “The Ultimate Fighter 16” Finale, Ricci feels the growing weight of expectation.
“It’s not the first time I’ve had my country on my back,” he said, “but this time, I’ll make the outcome different.”
Ricci also must follow in the considerable footsteps of teammate Rory MacDonald, who routed former two-division champion B.J. Penn at UFC on Fox 5 on Dec. 8. The two men operate out of the same Tristar Gym camp in Montreal, where they train under Firas Zahabi and alongside longtime UFC welterweight king Georges St. Pierre.
“It’s great being closer to Rory,” Ricci said. “Being friends with him, we’re able to sit back and discuss our opinions on training. Having Georges and Firas to guide us, we’re being put on the right path and being taken care of.”
Ricci advanced to the final with wins over Dom Waters, Michael Hill and Neil Magny. Though he admits his time on “The Ultimate Fighter” was invaluable, he was relieved to escape the confines of reality television.
“I didn’t like the experience regardless, win or lose,” Ricci said. “Winning and having the outcome I had made it easier to cope with. I feel like I at least gained something for what I went through. I’ve been vocal about not enjoying my experience there, and I stand by that. I didn’t enjoy it one bit.”
After being sequestered in the same house for more than a month with 16 other males, Ricci had to reacquaint himself with normal life upon returning to Canada.
“Coming out of the house, I had a bit of a social shock,” he said. “I had a large circle of friends, and coming back to the city took some adjusting. I was used to a hostile situation where I was constantly sizing people up and bracing to fight on one day’s notice. People being nice to you and showing affection again took some time getting used to. I had some readjusting to do. After that, things went back to normal.”
This & That
Heavyweight Pat Barry has not won consecutive bouts since 2008 ... According to FightMetric figures, T.J. Waldburger attempts more submissions per 15 minutes (5.77) than anyone in UFC history ... Jamie Varner was one of only three men to defend the World Extreme Cagefighting lightweight championship more than once. Gabe Ruediger and Hermes Franca were the others ... American Top Team’s Dustin Poirier has delivered five of his 12 career victories in less than 90 seconds ... Mike Pyle’s 16 submissions are more than any other fighter on “The Ultimate Fighter 16” Finale roster. Brazilian bantamweight Marcos Vinicius Borges Pancini ranks second with 13 ... Miami-based lightweight Mike Rio was a two-time NAIA national wrestling champion in college ... In what can only be described as a statistical anomaly, “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 15 alum Vinc Pichel has won his last six fights in the second round ... Hugo Viana will enter the cage against Reuben Duran with a perfect 6-0 record, with all six wins coming by decision ... Grindhouse MMA’s Tim Elliott started his career in professional MMA with a draw and two losses.