Roy Nelson: Future Champ or Gatekeeper?


I still remember the first time I saw Roy Nelson like it was yesterday.  I’ll be honest in that I didn’t know much about the guy prior to his stint on The Ultimate Fighter, and when I saw him stand in the same group as Kimbo Slice, I figured that the UFC was just trying to turn the show into “The Ultimate Circus”. The first time I saw him step into the octagon I realized I was wrong – when Roy Nelson defeated Kimbo Slice in the second round of their duel, in what is still one of the highest rated UFC TV events in history, I knew the guy was for real. Nelson’s record has been mixed since entering the UFC, but I still can’t help but wonder if the guy has what it takes to be the champ one day.

Since entering the UFC, Nelson has been 5-3, which at a glance probably isn’t the most impressive record. That said, you really have to sit back for a second and take a look at who the guy has fought: Brendan Schaub, Stefan Struve, Junior Dos Santos, Frank Mir, Mirko Crocop, to name a few. Everyone he has fought have been top level talent in the UFC’s heavyweight division. Not a bad little resume, right?

What stands above the competition he has faced has been his performance in the octagon. Nelson has lost three times in the ring – to Frank Mir, JDS and Fabricio Werdum – not one of which is someone that a fighter should be ashamed for having lost to.  Add to that the fact that none of those names were able to finish off the big man. Even more impressive than his losses in the octagon have been his wins – all five have knock-outs (and vicious one’s at that). While all of Roy’s finishes have been KO’s, what many don’t realize is that his base is rooted in jiu-jitsu, a tool he rarely uses in his game plan. Outside of the UFC, the guy has been a top-level Abu Dhabi competitor and a Grappler’s Quest Champion and IFL champion.

So, we’ve established that Roy Nelson has a lot of the tools needed to be champion, but can he actually close the deal? Truthfully, I’m still deliberating. I like Roy Nelson, but he has a lot going against him.

The first roadblock is Roy’s gas tank.  See, Nelson is a diesel truck with a the gas tank of a Mini Cooper.  Nelson is a big boy, and while he has leaned down over the years it’s still a lot of weight to carry around. Watching him fight against Junior Dos Santos back 2010 at UFC 117 was getting painful.  While he stuck it out for all three rounds, he was losing steam by the middle of the second round. Four of “Big Country’s” five wins inside the octagon have come in the first round. It’s a simple observation for any fighter to develop a game plan around – avoid Nelson in the first round, and finish him off in the later minutes of the fight.

Secondly, the level of talent in the UFC’s heavyweight division is at the best level it’s probably ever been at. Two of the top fighters in the division, Frank Mir and JDS, handled Nelson relatively easily. I would guess that he would fair no better against Cain Velaszquez.  I’m really not so sure Nelson has everything it takes to beat the top of the division.

And the last obstacle, which is a fairly big mountain as well, is the fact that Dana White hates him. Dana White has never given a clear reason as to why he hates him, but has alluded to the fact that he doesn’t think that Nelson takes training and therefore the sport, seriously enough (given his rather rotund size). One thing that is clear to any fan of the UFC is that if you’re in Dana’s good books, you’ll get whatever you want, more or less.  However, if you’re on his bad list then you’re never going to make it past a certain point.

Having considered these obstacles, I’m confident in saying that one day Nelson may have made enough of a case for a title shot, but I don’t truly think that he will ever put the belt around his rather large waist. This doesn’t mean I won’t still enjoy watching him, but the only title he will really ever hold is “head gate-keeper”.


Follow me on Twitter – @LastWordMark

Follow LWOS on Twitter – @LastWordOnSport



  1. terrible, how can someone be an MMA “fan” and not know of Nelson prior to the UFC? He was IFL champ, fought in Bodog with his amazing overall entrance, and fought Arlovski in EliteXC. As a MMA fan you should have known who he was, seems like just another UFC only fan here. Poor form

    • So seeing as how you know so much, Casey, where is your intelligently-written rebuttal? If you have something to say, something substantial, regarding MMA as a whole, please e-mail me so I can publish. Or do you agree with the assessment and just dislike that someone is honest enough to admit not knowing an athlete? It doesn’t take away from legitimacy of the argument… I don’t care what he won before UFC, that is the benchmark. Until you run the gammit in the UFC you haven’t achieved anything. Care to refute that?

  2. Casey… I will take my blows from the MMA community where it is due. Sure, I knew the name and had seen a few of his fights, but I didn’t really know the know the guy on the same level that I do today.

    I’d be more interested to hear about your thoughts on Nelson’s future in MMA. Do you think he has what it takes to hold the belt one day? Always open to opinions.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.