White has gone on the record as saying that the winner of Nelson’s UFC 117 bout against Junior Dos Santos will be next in line for a shot at the UFC Heavyweight Championship, following Cain Velazquez’s title shot against Brock Lesnar later this year.
In other words, just over a year after handing “Big Country” a glass trophy and a six-figure contract, as the winner of Season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC President could conceivably be struggling to fit the title belt around Nelson’s ample midsection.
Of course, before that becomes a concern, Nelson has to get past Dos Santos. That bout will open the main card of UFC 117, a night of fights headlined by Anderson Silva’s UFC Middleweight Title defense against Chael Sonnen, and the long-awaited fight between Thiago Alves and Jon Fitch.
The former IFL Heavyweight Champ took time recently to talk with Bleacher Report and UltimateFighter.com.
B/R: For a fight that’s going to determine the next shot at the heavyweight title after Velazquez, it seems kind of low on the card. Do you care where on the card your fight is?
RN: I really don’t care. Me personally, I’d rather be the first one to fight. Then I can watch the rest of the card. When it makes a difference in pay-per-view dollars, I’d like to be the last one, but I like to be the first one so I can watch the rest of the fights.
B/R: If you win this one, you’ll have the last fight in the very near future.
RN: I’m hoping, after I win, we just make it the very first fight, a prelim, and then I’ll watch the rest of the fights.
B/R: We’ve started to hear people question The Ultimate Fighter in the past few months, and whether it still produces guys who are going to be top contenders in the UFC. Now, Rashad is the No. 1 contender at light heavyweight, after 118, Kenny Florian or Gray Maynard is going to be No. 1 contender at lightweight, and then, you have a chance to become the No. 1 contender to the winner of Brock and Velazquez. Do you feel like this is going to quiet people about the kind of fighters coming out of the show?
RN: Not really. The guys that are really good that come off the show, that don’t need any building, built and made a name for themselves —Kenny Florian, Joe Stevenson —guys that have fought for the belt —Rashad, Forrest Griffin. I think when they revamped it, and they brought myself in, I think that kind of changed the tone of how The Ultimate Fighter was. Back when Amir was on the show, he didn’t have any fights. They’re trying to change it up a bit, because there’s good talent, but you have to build them. When Forrest Griffin first came on, he had to build his career. Hopefully, I’m one of the guys where they don’t need to build a career, I already had a career before I came into the UFC.
B/R: So, do you consider yourself an Ultimate Fighter alum in the same sense as a guy like Rashad, or Gray Maynard, or some of the other guys we’re talking about?
RN: I actually look at myself a little higher up, like a Matt Serra, more like “the Comeback.” I wanted to fight for the belt as soon as I came out of the house.
B/R: It’s got to be interesting being in that position, having already been out there at a high level, and then you’re doing something that guys who are early in their careers try to do to get into the UFC. Did you ever have a moment on the show where you asked yourself why you were putting yourself through it?
RN: No, because me doing The Ultimate Fighter was kind of my leap of faith. I already knew what I was worth, and I was hopeful that, at the end of the day, the UFC would come correct and treat me the way that I should be treated.
B/R: When it comes to an Ultimate Fighter moment, you have the best one —winning the whole thing —but is there something else that happened when you were in the house that you would consider your Ultimate Fighter moment?
RN: You know, the best thing that came out of the house was that I met Scott Junk. He’s one of my best friends now. I met some decent people, and I met some really crappy people, but I’ve been in this sport for a very long time, and Scott was refreshing for me.
B/R: Obviously, you had a reputation within the sport going into the show, but having the opportunity to have the fight with Kimbo Slice, and all the mainstream media promotion that went with it —him being on Jimmy Fallon and all that —is that something you think has helped your career?
RN: No. I’d been seen by millions of viewers on the show. The way I looked at it, I was going to get more shafted than anything, because that’s a fight I would have gotten paid a couple hundred thousand dollars to fight, so for me to do it on The Ultimate Fighter, it’s like I was taking money from my family.
B/R: But at the same time, there’s people who would have never heard about the fight before The Ultimate Fighter.
RN: It was Spike’s No. 1 show in history, so it’s good to be a part of that, to say, “Hey, I was that guy that helped bring them to the next level," but for myself, on a personal level and from a business standpoint, it wasn’t that great. That was why I didn’t want to fight Kimbo while I was in the house. He was one of the better fighters.
B/R: The other thing that people got out of that was to hear Dana talk about you, and see you interact with Dana on The Aftermath. It pops up every now and again in conversation, so how overblown is the whole “Dana doesn’t like Roy” thing?
RN: That would have to be one of those questions you would have to ask Dana. As for myself, I just do the fights. I fight whoever they put in front of me. If you come correct with me, I’ll always come correct with you. I don’t need to patronize anybody and tell them, “Good job,” pat them on the back. I think one of Dana’s best things that he does, is that he’s great at promoting fights. He can take a situation and flip it around. Like Kimbo: Kimbo’s supposed to be a great fighter, and then he’s on the show, and then he’s the best thing since sliced bread [Ed.’s note: No pun intended], but then he gets cut again after he’s already brought a lot of money to the UFC. I think he could actually beat a lot of fighters that are in the UFC right now.
B/R: Saying that, were you surprised that he got cut as quick as he did?
RN: Not really, because I think that was more of a statement to the fighters. He’s not a great, great fighter for as much money as he costs. I was more shocked that people like Keith Jardine get cut, somebody that puts on great fights. That’s what they always say, it’s all about the fights, it’s all about how you put on the fight, and then you put on the Fight of the Night, and you get cut. You kind of scratch your head and go, “Huh?”
B/R: At the same time, it was four losses in a row. Going into the fight, people said, “If Keith loses, he’s going to be in a tough spot.” Obviously, having fight of the night makes you think there’s a chance for him to stay, but I guess that’s one you can kind of see both sides of. Not too many guys can take a four-fight losing streak and hang around.
RN: It’s kind of like the Detroit Lions sticking around and going 0-for-16, and then still have a new season. It works the same way. These are high-level professional athletes, and sometimes you have Herb Dean coming in and saying “Minus one,” and you’re like, “Huh? Where did that minus one come from?” But other things help change the outcome of the fight, other things that are done. Wanderlei Silva would be a good example. He’s not —what would Dana say, a “world beater?” —but he’s still in the UFC. He doesn’t have four [losses], but he has three, and then you win one, and then you go three again, and then you win one? Is it “How many losses can you have?” Or, can you have three [losses] for one [win]. Or two for one?
B/R: You can see both sides of that, but getting back to you and Dana, have you ever tried to take that perception that he doesn’t like you and use it as motivation in your training? “Beat this guy, shove it in Dana’s face.”
RN: I really don’t care when it comes to how he feels. Really, at the end of the day, the only person that counts is the fan. The fan is Dana’s boss. The fan is my boss. They’re the ones that pay the bills. Anyone in the entertainment industry, as long as you have a fan, you’re ok.
B/R: Do you think that fans connect with you more from your being on the show? Because they see you for three months and watch you interact in the house, and get some sense of who you are. People don’t get that with every guy who gets in the Octagon, you know?
RN: No, I think the reason why fans connect with me is the fact that I’m a breath of fresh air. Everybody else they’re either heeing and hawing, or they lie, or they don’t tell the truth and really say how it is. I’m just a guy who goes out there, puts in the hard work, and lets them know that dreams do come true, as long as you put the hard work in. Kind of pull the Don King thing, and go, “Only in America!”
B/R: Speaking of "Only in America," any sponsors you want to thank?
RN: I always want to thank the people that started the whole MMA sponsorship, and that would be TapouT. Of course, SuperAction.com, 108 Martial Arts, of course my wife, all my training partners, the Country Club, and of course, all the fans.