A victorious Roy Nelson celebrates after his UFC 159 knockout of Cheick Congo
Let's be completely honest here: UFC 161 is somewhat of a hobbled-together shadow of its former self. The main event features Rashad Evans facing off against Dan Henderson. Though interesting and evenly matched, the outcome of that fight carries little to no importance for title contention. The co-main event, on the other hand, affords Roy "Big Country" Nelson (19-7-0) the opportunity to not only conclude his current UFC contract with a bang, but to also increase his value as a soon-to-be free agent.
It's no insider secret that UFC President Dana White considers Big Country to be a handful to deal with. In the end, though, the UFC execs are most concerned with the company's bottom line—and in that regard, Roy Nelson is a prized asset. He's a veritable fan favorite, has the capacity to deliver his fair share of memorable quotes and always swings for the fences.
His opponent, Stipe Miocic (9-1-0) boasts a granite chin and a seven inch reach advantage—both are traits he'll use in an effort to nullify Nelson's traditional attack.
But if Big Country has his way, Miocic's strength might not be relevant at all.
Tomorrow night, they might not matter because Big Country won't let them matter. He's coming off of a three-fight win streak, with all three victories delivered by way of furious, first round knockout. Shorter reach isn't necessarily a concern for this rotund heavy hitter—he managed to separate Stefan Struve from his consciousness in under a minute and he did so in spite of a one foot reach disadvantage. In fact, all but one of his UFC victories came by way of first round knockout. Plenty of those men had good reason to believe in their chins also.
But those are just technical stats illustrating how Nelson might stop Miocic on Saturday night—his motivation for victory is far more convincing when you consider the why.
With a record of 6-3 in his UFC run, Nelson has fought his last nine fights on the same Ultimate Fighter winner contract awarded to him over three and a half years ago.
That contract has come to end—Saturday night's effort will resolve his obligations to the UFC.
Though there have been talks of Nelson potentially capitalizing on his free-agent status and pursuing outside interests, it's hard to believe that he won't negotiate for a more lucrative contract with the UFC.
If he can manage to send Miocic's head into the nosebleed seats, Nelson might have just the leverage he needs to lock down an impressive deal. Perhaps the same argument could be made for him using that leverage on other promotions but let's not dance around the reality of the situation: the UFC has the capacity to offer Nelson the kind of deal he says he really wants, according to Mmafighting.com.
His physique isn't sculpted. His choice of words, more often than not, isn't refined. He's not the the first name that White & Co. consider when they need a company man, either.
Yet in spite of all that, Nelson brings much needed zest and richness to the UFC Heavyweight division. He throws his punches with bad intentions and chooses to celebrate his victories with a joyous belly rub. Contract negotiations and division rank are afterthoughts when compared to Nelson's ability to fill seats in a venue and secure pay-per-view buys.
With another victory at UFC 161, Big Country could rise much further than his current No. 5 Heavyweight ranking. If he extends the knockout streak to four, the UFC will meet him with a freshly minted contract offer and a Top Five opponent.
All he has to do is get out there on Saturday night and formally introduce Miocic to his overhand right.