Indeed, Nelson needs to put on an impressive performance tonight, as his last two fights have garnered criticism from UFC President Dana White, as well as the UFC fans.
Nelson is one of few MMA fighters who sports a gut and, though it can be fun to joke about, many believe that his protruding belly represents a lack of commitment to the sport and is likely the route of his cardio issues.
Whether or not Nelson has shed any pounds since his last fight remains to be seen. He wore a suit to the weigh-ins yesterday, making it impossible to tell what kind of shape he's in.
New physique or no, Nelson's back is against the wall in this one and he needs to pull out the W.
If he is able to defeat Cro Cop, what will it mean for Nelson's career?
He won't get fired from the UFC—that's about it.
White has not officially said that Nelson would be cut if he loses tonight, but it would be his third straight loss in the UFC, and that's usually enough for them to give a fighter the boot.
As far as advancement in the heavyweight division, a win tonight will do almost nothing for Nelson.
As legendary a fighter as Cro Cop is, he is way past his prime and on his way out of the sport, so—unless Nelson manages to finish the fight in unbelievable fashion—a victory over him won't turn any heads.
Nelson needs to go in there tonight, beat Cro Cop decisively, and show that he still has potential in the heavyweight division.
If he can do that, he'll probably get a mid-level opponent in his next bout—possibly the loser of Cheick Kongo vs. Matt Mitrione—but a win tonight will put him nowhere near title contention.