As much as it appears UFC 161 fighter Roy Nelson isn't on Dana White's Christmas card list, he certainly should be with his willingness to step up and help the promotion at every turn.
Despite a notably rocky relationship over the past few years, Nelson has always been the go-to fighter when the UFC need someone to help save a card. When UFC 160's co-main event was in jeopardy because Mark Hunt couldn't secure a travel visa to get into the United States, Nelson was the fighter that matchmaker Joe Silva had on speed dial in case of an emergency.
Now with UFC 161 taking more knives to the chest than a character on Game of Thrones, Nelson got the call once again to help shore up an ailing card that already lost a main event and, just a day ago, lost a co-main event fighter as well.
Nelson was offered the fight and accepted without even knowing who he'd be facing. While the arrow finally landed on Ohio fighter Stipe Miocic, the call was made to several other prominent UFC heavyweights, who all politely declined to take the same position that Nelson accepted without question.
"I think I'm one of those guys that just straight fight and fight anybody. I'm always down for the UFC. If they call me up and say 'Roy do you want to fight?', I'm always like 'Sure, let's do it.' I don't cry—let's fight. I'm always down to do that," Nelson told Bleacher Report recently. "A lot of other fighters in our business are actually more businessmen, which is smart. I am now the smartest man, and I think that's the reason why Dana said it [(too), because I'm the UFC's smart man. I just take any fight. While other guys in the business would be like 'Are you kidding? I'm not going to take a fight in two weeks. Are you freaking kidding me?'
"There's definitely guys that called me out and turned down fights. I guess all the big wigs, who you can think of. I think D.C. (Daniel Cormier) was one of them, I think Travis Browne turned it down so he could fight (Alistair) Overeem."
There is something to be said for playing it smart and not taking a fight on two weeks notice if a fighter is not truly ready for the battle ahead. When the fight is over, rarely does anyone remember six months or a year later the story that led up to a particular loss—they only that the loss happened.
Nelson also understands why some fighters are hesitant to take any fight, much less one against him, with only a few days to prepare.
"I understand it from a business stand point. Who would take a fight on two weeks notice? That would not be smart from a business stand point," Nelson stated. "We make our money off of wins, and in our business, we make money off of entertainment and selling tickets and pay-per-views and stuff. I guess those guys get paid off of wins, so I guess it doesn't make sense to put yourself in the hole to try and get a win off of two weeks of actual training."
Nelson isn't ignorant about the business side of mixed martial arts, but he also knows that every chance he gets to fight is a chance to get more experience and provide for his family. If his body and mind are ready for the fight, then Nelson sees no reason not to step into the fray and challenge whoever the UFC throws in front of him.
"My goal to be a fighter is to have that pretty gold strap around my waist and also take care of my family," Nelson said. "That's (all) anybody that gets into the fight business wants to do—the fighting part and also the business part. That's pretty much what I want. I had a good talk with Lorenzo (Fertitta) and he wants to see me get paid the most money I can ever make in my life—he wants to see that happen. I appreciate that, Lorenzo."
The "pretty gold strap," as Nelson calls it, always seems to be a little further out of reach for him than other fighters, but according to UFC president Dana White, it's not because he doesn't personally get along with the former Ultimate Fighter winner.
It's because he's not facing the best heavyweights in the world.
"Roy loves to say I'll never give him a title shot," White said in the interview with Yahoo! Sports. "But dude, beat someone and then I'll give you the shot. Roy is knocking off these guys ranked six through 10, but when he gets to fighting the top five guys, he can't do the same thing. You're not going to get a title shot for beating No. 6 and No. 8. You have to beat the top guys."
Still, Nelson is the guy the UFC called to step in and fill a very needed slot on the UFC 161 card, and despite their best attempts to get a higher ranked opponent to face him, none were willing on such short notice.
Nelson doesn't like the politics that seem to go hand-in-hand with a fighter earning a title shot in the UFC, but it's all part of the game. Strategically, chess pieces are moved around the board, but there's no denying that the UFC hierarchy has a full load of kings and queens and sometimes Nelson is left feeling like a lowly pawn.
"Anything can happen in MMA. You can fight for the championship, you cannot fight for the championship, they're in the fight business and sometimes it's about making marquee fights," Nelson commented. "I think Dana even mentioned when Overeem lost to (Bigfoot Silva), he lost a lot of money because he lost. They have their hopes and dreams on who they want to fight and the matchups. I think Dana even mentioned Cain (Velasquez) fighting in Houston, and I think that's because of the Hispanic (community) down in the Texas area. So I think they want Cain to win because it makes sense.
"If you have Roy Nelson as the champion, they don't want the UFC to hit mainstream. Cause that would actually happen if Roy did (win), because there are a lot of Roy Nelson's out there."
Nelson certainly has endeared himself as the "every man" in the UFC. He's not walking around with the chiseled physique that some of the other fighters wear like a badge of honor. What Nelson does so well, however, is go out and put on fights the fans want to watch, and very few times—win, lose or draw—do opponents go out of their way to ask to face Nelson again.
"I just want to go out there, and I know every time I go out there I just want to get better and better and better. If I lose, I learn from that and get better. If I win, I take that and get better," Nelson said. "I know I can give a fight to anybody, and nobody will ever want to fight me again."
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained first hand unless otherwise noted.
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