Mixed martial arts is a sport based on individual talents, and few fighters are more tuned in to that notion than Roy Nelson.
The heavy-handed knockout artist has consistently marched to the beat of his own drum throughout his decade-long career in MMA. And while his insistence on doing so has created tension with the powers that be in the UFC on an occasion or two, that hasn't stopped "Big Country" from sticking to his proverbial guns.
Although the Las Vegas native made his official UFC debut in 2009, his time in MMA existed well before he ever stepped inside the Octagon. Working through the transitions as the sport began to grow legs shaped Nelson's perspective on how to view the road ahead, and he's made moves in accordance with that vantage point.
While Nelson's mentality and outlook can appear to go against the grain at times, a fair amount of that appearance is created by the overwhelming tendency of those in the fight world that go with the flow of how things are moving at the highest level of the sport. It's not that the former TUF winner disagrees with the direction things are moving; he simply chooses to be present during the journey, and he has no issue speaking up for himself.
Those opinions have undoubtedly created waves throughout his journey, but Nelson sees those additional elements as part of the process.
"You are the captain of your own ship in this sport," Nelson told Bleacher Report. "If you just want to close your eyes and let the ship go wherever the ship goes, that's cool too—but not the way I do things.
"I prefer to be the guy at the wheel who sees the iceberg coming up ahead.
"You have to be at least a little bit involved in your business. You may have a manager and whatnot—you still need to be the one who leads your ship. He's more of a tour guide who has been there before and can help navigate through things.
"At the same time, you are the leader and have the power to say, 'I don't want to go that way. I want to go the scenic route.'
"I enjoy the process. I enjoy the excitement. It's just like a fight: You don't know what is going to happen. You want to be able to guide the process toward an outcome that you want, but at the same time, it's obstacles that can challenge you to grow. When you fall down, it's about how you get back up and proceed forward. That's what makes a champion in my mind. It's the journey, not the destination, so to speak.
"I'm all about the smarter, faster and more sophisticated way, but at the same time, I want to make sure I end up on my feet versus going in with my eyes closed and not knowing how I got there," he added.
"I want to have my eyes open and experience the ride, because if I ever need to lead someone else down the path, I'll be able to do that. Also, things are definitely a lot more stressful at times when you go your own way, but I can look at myself in the mirror everyday. My kid can look at me and be proud that I'm his dad."
As a fighter's profile becomes elevated in MMA, the need to establish his brand becomes front and center. While fighting in a showcase promotion like the UFC provides great exposure, a fighter has to be able to capitalize on the opportunities that come his way.
The more visible and successful a fighter becomes from the work he does inside the cage, the more lucrative sponsorship deals and other opportunities become on the outside.
At least that should be the case, and Nelson has certainly worked to keep it that way.
Nevertheless, the business world is a similar battle field to the realm of fighting, and Nelson has actively pursued a real-time education on that front as well. His latest endeavor, a collectible figurine created by his own company, is his most recent attempt to stay ahead of the game on the business side of things. Merchandise is a lucrative avenue in MMA, but likeness rights haven't fallen on the side of the fighters for the most part.
By using his own company to launch a collectible, Nelson is taking control of a situation many of his peers have allowed to fall by the wayside.
"I already had a figurine out there through the UFC, but it didn't have my likeness and really didn't look like me," Nelson said. "I wanted to change it up and put something out there that had my signature pose. I wanted something even the casual fans would recognize and my hardcore fans would think was awesome. I put a team in motion to set about putting something together that would be unique and also be a way to give something to my fans at the same time.
"I've seen a lot of other companies out there that just take things like my signature and put it out there. I felt bad for the fans that were laying down their hard-earned money and not actually getting what they think they bought. I wanted to do something authentic for them. Every one of these comes with a hologram, certificate of authenticity and an actual signature. These are the real deal."
As Nelson tends to business outside the cage, he's also preparing for a throwdown inside the Octagon. The one-punch knockout king will square off with heavyweight legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in the main event of Fight Night 39 in April.
The card will be only the second UFC event held in Abu Dhabi, and with two grappling wizards inside the cage, Nelson is expecting the fight to be one fans won't want to miss.
"It was awesome to get the fight with Nogueira," Nelson said. "The way I look at it, 'Big Nog' is a legend of our sport and a fighter you want to test yourself against. He's been in there with the best and has definitely earned his legendary status.
"It's amazing to fight someone like that because you get to see how you stack up against a legend and a former champion of multiple organizations. He's won all the major titles and is the only fighter in the UFC who has won both the UFC and Pride heavyweight titles. He's a guy you look up to and want to fight, but it's like playing against one of your idols. He's always been one of the most dangerous heavyweights in the sport, and he's an old-school fighter where he shows up to fight.
"He's a fighter through and through. If you took the time limit and the point system away, Nogueira is a guy who would definitely show up and still fight you 'til the end.
"You might just see Roy Nelson's BJJ come back out for this fight," he added. "Everybody who beats 'Big Nog' gets a title shot, and I'm all about that. Everybody I know who has fought him is either one step away or the very next step becomes a title shot.
"And that wouldn't be a bad outcome."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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