Ever since joining the UFC following his victorious stint on TUF 10, Roy “Big Country” Nelson has been getting publicly criticized by UFC boss Dana White. But there is no arguing with Nelson's knockout of Dave Herman at UFC 146 in just 51 seconds.
Nelson’s own adopted persona makes him an easy target. With his atrocious mullet, mountain man beard, and trademark big belly, he leaves White no shortage of avenues from which to attack him.
Those attacks, however, have nothing to do with a personal dislike or a lack of respect. White is on record stating how he respects Nelson’s fighting spirit, and how he only wishes “Big Country” would have dedicated himself to MMA.
Still, White constantly making public criticisms about one of his fighter’s physical appearance makes the feud seem personal.
With a 4-3 UFC record, Nelson isn’t exactly knocking on the door to a title shot, but he is a consistent presence in the heavyweight division, and most importantly he’s become a fan favorite by putting on exciting performances oozing with heart and guts.
At the end of the day that’s what matters.
Fans like “Big Country” not only for his heart, but because he’s a walking, talking underdog they can relate to. The average person is more likely to have a body type that resembles Nelson than, say, Alistair Overeem. Someone who looks like Nelson isn’t supposed to be a great fighter. He’s supposed to be a plumber.
Dana White wants marketable fighters, and traditionally that means in-shape, muscled guys who shine in photo shoots. Nelson just isn’t that guy, and he never will be. But that hasn’t stopped him from endearing himself to MMA fans.
He’s just gone about it in a different way. “Big Country” is not the athlete you look up to. He’s the athlete you relate to. He’s the guy you want to have beer and wings with, and in a way that’s a more special connection.
Dana White needs to realize this and let Nelson be who he is. Because whether White likes it or not, Nelson's style just works. It's effective with the fans and, as demonstrated at UFC 146, it's effective in the Octagon.