When Roy "Big Country" Nelson knocked out Brendan Schaub to win The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights, Dana White found himself handing a contract to perhaps the most unconventional star in mixed martial arts. Undoubtedly, when the casual fan sees Nelson competing against hulking fighters with glistening, chiseled physiques, they wonder what the hell this guy is doing in the same cage. He looks like he should be serving up cold cuts in the meatpacking district, but instead he’s deftly moving about the Octagon with decent footwork looking for a takedown.
As proven by Phil "The New York Fast-Gas" Baroni, big muscles do not necessarily signify superior athleticism. Now, I’m certainly not suggesting Roy Nelson could go toe-to-toe with Cain Velasquez for five rounds, but he probably wouldn’t be dry heaving at the end of the first round. It’s a remarkable accomplishment what Nelson has been able to achieve at the higher levels of North American MMA, but I hesitate to say "in spite of his weight". As displayed in his fight with Kimbo Slice—the fourth most-watched MMA bout of all time—on TUF, a grappler as good as Nelson can use his gut in unorthodox ways. There’s no doubt Big Country’s robust frame helped pin down the very strong Slice as he used his ADCC-quality skills to secure the almost irreversible crucifix position that ended the fight.
The high-profile wins against Kimbo and Schaub aside, Nelson has shown he can hold his own with the top-tier of heavyweights, as evidenced by the first round against of his fight with Andrei Arlovski. Should the questionable stand-up not have occurred, Nelson very well could have finished Arlovski who many considered a top-3 heavyweight at the time.
But Nelson, who was the IFL’s heavyweight champ, got KO’d and last year found himself knocking on the doors of the Ultimate Fighter house to get in the UFC. Truthfully, a good fighter like Nelson shouldn’t have been relegated to TUF for his signing papers but Dana White seemed to think his flabby body would be detrimental to the sport’s image. When people watch him fight, however, most preconceptions go out the window.
Coupled with his "unique" body, Nelson brings a huge personality to the Octagon. He’s well aware of MMA fans’ perception of him and enjoys playing with the gullibility of certain Internet trolls, such as dropping sweet nothings on his Twitter and playing them up as TUF spoilers. Furthermore, Nelson has displayed the very welcome trait of not taking himself too seriously, as evidenced by his propensity to declare his after-parties at Burger King. His happy-go-lucky veneer is some cause for concern, since he claims to simply train in his basement. Roy Nelson is the John Daly of MMA; all he needs is to walk to the cage with a Nattie Light and a cigarette.
I, for one, think Roy Nelson is a great addition to the UFC heavyweight division. This sport has far too many people, be it fighters, businessmen, or fans that take themselves way too seriously. Roy Nelson is sort an absurd specimen, but he revels in it… Who else would make Bruce Buffer introduce them as a "Kung Fu Fighter"? And when he steps into the Octagon against 6’11" Stefan Struve tomorrow night, it will be the most amusing sight since Ikuhisha Minowa stood across the ring from Hong Man Choi. I can’t wait.