This weekend, Roy Nelson squares off against the former Pride heavyweight champion and interim UFC heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, but let’s be honest, it’s beside the point. In fact, everything Nelson does until the UFC matches him with Mark Hunt is simply a formality.
Nelson has a ceiling, and it’s been pretty evident throughout his UFC career. He puts the stamp on mid-level heavyweights and is always dangerous, but to think he will develop a solution for guys like Junior Dos Santos and Stipe Miocic at this stage of his career is a little ridiculous.
When matched with a fighter who stays out of his range and is quicker to the punch, Nelson clearly struggles. He was outclassed recently by the more athletic and technical Miocic, and though he never gave up on either fight, the beatings that former champion Dos Santos and jiu-jitsu ace Fabricio Werdum handed “Big Country” at UFC 117 and UFC 143 respectively were the definition of a mismatches.
I can’t blame him for the Frank Mir fight though. I blame Mir for going through a power lifting and wrestling phase at age 32.
Nelson has provided two consistent commodities for fans at home: big knockouts and an iron-clad chin. His style isn’t going to change in the foreseeable future, so why not make use of the Ultimate Fighter Season 10 winner’s natural talents while they’re still functioning?
While it’s nice to imagine a world where a 60-year-old Roy Nelson could still get clubbed with a right hook and grin at you like it was nothing, the fact of the matter is that his granite jaw has a shelf life.
He has served as a more-than-efficient gatekeeper, turning away every non top-10 opponent he has faced, but why use up your product? The amount of bombs “Big Country” can still absorb is an unknown factor, and it would be the wise move to take advantage of it while it’s still a selling point.
This is where Hunt enters the picture. In a similar boat as Nelson, Hunt has shown the ability to violently dismantle fighters who are at or below his level, but when facing the upper echelon of the UFC’s heavyweight division, he has come up short against more athletically-gifted opponents.
A former K-1 World Grand Prix champion, Hunt is one of the most powerful strikers in the UFC today and a perfect candidate to test “Big Country’s” famous chin. “The Super Samoan” can take an incredible shot in his own right, having only been stopped twice in his career, once by the aforementioned Dos Santos, and by Melvin Manhoef, who may hit harder than anyone who has ever donned MMA gloves.
Despite Hunt and Nelson’s credentials as accomplished fighters and the fact that they are both respected veterans of the sport, the most fun part of this fight may be watching these two standing next to each other. With Nelson standing at 6-foot, 249 pounds and Hunt at 5-foot-10, 265 pounds, they are two of the shortest and most compact fighters in the heavyweight division today. This is extremely exciting for two reasons.
First, let’s call it what it is; who doesn’t want to watch two big fat guys who throw caution to the wind and brawl like wild men go at it? Second, neither man would have any sort of reach or speed advantage to speak of, so a firefight from close range is highly likely. Business translation: you have an exciting product that is all but guaranteed to produce and is relatable not only to your standard clientele, but to the wider viewing audience. What is the UFC waiting for?
This is not to belittle the importance of Nelson’s fight against Nogueira this Saturday, who is a sho0-in Hall-of-Famer and a true legend of the sport, but it really shouldn’t matter what happens in this fight because the next move should be a no-brainer.
If promoting less technical rock-em sock-em fights like Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar and brawling combatants like Diego Sanchez are the direction the UFC wants to take the sport, then there is no excuse not to make this barn-burner go down.