One hopes Roy Nelson's second trip to Abu Dhabi is better than the first.
The last time Nelson visited the city that hosts tomorrow's UFC Fight Night card, he spent most of his time inside conference rooms, news studios and hotels. He was on a UFC-mandated public relations tour. He didn't get to see the Burj Dubai or the ridiculous mall with the indoor skiing slopes. He did not see Ferrari World, where a stadium has been built for the UFC's use on Friday, and where a stadium will vanish into thin air after they leave Saturday.
Nelson saw carpet and walls and cameras, and then he went back to America.
Twenty-five hours later, back in the United States, Nelson discovered the airline lost his luggage. It is easy to believe Nelson when he says he prefers fighting back home in Las Vegas.
"I just like fighting in Vegas. It's the fight capitol of the world. There is less travel," Nelson says. "You don't have to worry about the environment. It's completely different, fighting indoors and then fighting somewhere where the humidity is a lot higher than it is in Vegas. We have dry heat."
Nelson's bout with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira headlines the UFC's latest Fight Pass card. Nelson does not have Fight Pass. Not yet, anyway. "There haven't been any fights I wanted to watch," he says. But he's quick to point out that the hubbub surrounding the internet-only cards is actually contained to North America. To the rest of the world, Nelson said, the cards are the same as fighting on Fox network television. They are a great way to build your exposure to international fans.
Nelson's international stature is already fairly high. "My fanbase is already up there with Big Nog," Nelson says. "Roy Nelson is already a household name. Everybody knows my name." But the chance for Nelson to notch a win over Nogueira, who feels like an ageless veteran despite being the same age as Nelson, was too much for Nelson to pass up.
"Nogueira is the only one to ever win a PRIDE belt and a UFC belt. He's a legend. He's a guy you want to fight. He's one of those guys that come to fight. He's going to try to finish the fight in the first round," Nelson says. "I respect fighters that try to do that, rather than just try to play the new game of 'I can outpoint you.' He's old school. We're both going to be in this cage, and only one of us is going to leave."
Nelson is aware of Nogueira's jiu-jitsu prowess. "But I'm not worried about him submitting me," he says. "And I definitely hit harder than he does. But he's going to try to finish me, by submission or knockout. Well, the knockout would likely come more from my side."
Big Country is ever in search of the knockout. Long before he became a famous athlete, Nelson was a darling of the jiu-jitsu circuit. But as many submission artists do, Nelson discovered a love of punching other men in the face. And he was good at it, so he kept punching. An interesting side effect: Nelson became one of the more popular fighters on the UFC roster.
He says that winning is still the most important thing, but that entertaining the fans is also an important thing.
Who wins this fight?
"If I'm on a 4-fight losing streak and I'm fighting someone in the lower tier of the division, I have to get the win," he says. "But if I'm fighting the elite? I'm fighting to entertain."
The Nelson vs. Nogueira winner won't move into title contention. Not with one win, anyway. In the grand scheme of things, this is a fight not for merit or for consideration, but for fun. It's a bout between two men who are known for kicking things into high gear when on the threshold of being finished. Nogueira, the man who must be part zombie. Nelson, who never stops swinging those powerful fists.
"If I have to go for broke, I'm going for broke," he says. "That's the difference between me and other fighters."
And sometimes, that's a good enough reason to make a fight.
All quotes obtained first-hand by Bleacher Report