Let me say for the record that when I call Bellator a "rival" of the UFC, I'm doing so out of the kindness of my own heart. The two promotions are no more rivals than the NFL and the Canadian Football League are rivals.
One of them pulls in big pay-per-view buyrates and massive television ratings on Fox; the other barely outdrew Fuel TV in its last show, despite Spike TV being available in 60 million more homes than Fuel. Both of them are involved in the same general sport, but that's where the similarities begin and end.
Here's what I said back then, before Nelson went into UFC 161 and put on one of the most underwhelming performances of his career against the suddenly revelatory Stipe Miocic:
Some have pointed to White's comments, and the fact that Nelson is going into the final fight of his contract at UFC 161, as a reason the UFC president might cut "Big Country" loose even if he wins.
And I'm here to tell you right now: Despite the things that White says about Nelson in public, and despite his distaste for Nelson's body type, there's simply no chance that Nelson will be cut or released or not signed to a new contract after his fight with StipeMiocic, even if he loses.
Nelson is now a free agent, though he doesn't have quite the negotiating power he thought he'd have after Miocic pounded him from pillar to post. He's not free to sign with any organizations outside the UFC just yet because he's under a standard negotiating period that gives Zuffa the exclusive right to negotiate with Nelson.
Bellator's Bjorn Rebney knows a thing or two about negotiation periods and matching offers. He's currently engaged in a nasty court battle with Eddie Alvarez over just such a thing.
But is Rebney interested in the "Big Country" business? It sure seems that way, according to what Rebney told The MMA Corner:
Most people that are MMA fans are Roy Nelson fans. ‘Big Country’ is a great personality. He’s also a hugely talented heavyweight. So, you know, we’ll see. I think he’s contractually got time left on his negotiation period with the UFC, so I can’t really dive into the Roy Nelson pool at this point. He’s a talented fighter, one of the top five or six heavyweights in the UFC, great personality, people love watching him, the ratings go through the roof when he’s on cable TV. He’s a talented fighter. I like watching him and I’ve paid to see him fight before, so yeah, sure.
This is one of those times when it would be silly for Rebney to play coy. I know it's a typical negotiation tactic to drive down the price of the asset you're trying to sign, but Rebney should do everything in his power to build Nelson up in every single interview. He should talk about his crushing knockout wins and not the losses against Miocic or Junior dos Santos.
Because here's the truth, and I know Rebney believes this: Roy Nelson is a big star on the UFC roster, which means he'd be the biggest star on the Bellator roster.
Nelson and Rampage Jackson are far and away the biggest available names for Bellator, and it's not even close. Kudos to Bellator for building up some exciting talent over the years, but none of them have the Q Scores of Nelson or Jackson.
That's why it's a no-brainer for Rebney to sign Nelson, if he's given the opportunity. He told media in the past that he wouldn't sign UFC castoffs, which sounded like a good idea at the time. But then he signed UFC castoff Rampage Jackson, so that's out the window.
He's free to pick up whomever he wants from the top of the UFC scrap heap, and nobody's going to say boo about it.
Nelson might be just what Bellator needs. Because God only knows that after the horrendous ratings pulled by Bellator 96—and the debut of Viacom's new The Ultimate Fighter meets The Voice reality show, Fight Master—Viacom won't be happy with Bellator trotting out the same nameless, faceless athletes week in and week out.
Bellator needs stars, and Nelson is one. And while I still think Nelson will stay with the UFC for the long term, Rebney needs to make a full-court press to sign him while he still can.