Standing 6-feet-tall and weighing 265 pounds with a belly that would make the Buddha blush, Roy “Big Country” Nelson looks more like a plumber than a prize fighter. Sure, he was the International Fight League’s first and last heavyweight champion and has squared off against the likes of Andre Arlovski and Ben Rothwell. But to the casual MMA fan, Nelson remained anonymous until his rotund belly pushed its way into 6 million homes as he stopped internet sensation Kimbo Slice in the second round of their TUF Season 10 showdown.
“What you see is what you get (with me),” Nelson says over the phone after training in preparation for his upcoming bout with Stefan Struve. “I don’t need to puff my chest out just to say ‘look how buff I am’ to make myself feel pretty.”
UFC President Dana White wasn’t too impressed with Nelson after the Slice fight, but that didn’t stop him from advancing to the show’s finale, where “Big Country” uncorked a right hand that sent Brendan Schaub crashing to the canvas and earned Nelson a six-figure contract with the UFC. Now “Big Country” is in the thick of a crowded heavyweight division where physical specimens like Frank Mir, Shane Carwin, and Cain Velasquez are plotting to end Brock Lesnar’s reign of terror.
“I think I actually get more attention than a Brock Lesnar or a Shane Carwin because I definitely do look different and I actually perform very well with what I do,” the former IFL champion continues. “I look like the average day man. So if I can look like the average person and actually fight my butt off, there’s (going to be) more people rooting for me than the guy who only 1% of America looks like.”
Nelson has a tall order (literally) when he steps into the Octagon with the 6’11” Struve on March 31. It will be the 33-year-old’s chance to prove that he’s got what it takes to compete for the title. But getting past the Dutchman won’t be a walk in the park.
“[Training has been)] pretty much the same ol’, same ol’,” Nelson explains regarding his preparation for the co-featured event on UFC Fight Night 21. “The only thing that’s different is that we’re having the guys jump up on each other’s shoulders so I can get that height look, ya know? Plus we have them kick when they are on their shoulders. That’s like high knees.”
Nelson pauses before letting out a laugh.
“No, I’m joking. But doesn’t it sound good though?”
Nelson’s big personality is what makes him special to the UFC. During TUF, Nelson was busy cracking jokes and showcasing an arrogant side that may have rubbed viewers the wrong way.
“I think a lot of people don’t have a sense of humor. That might come off as arrogant. I couldn’t really be that arrogant on the show since I did win it,” he says flatly.
Fully aware that some TUF winners worn UFC gold around their waists (Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin, Matt Serra) while others are still seeking top contender status (Mac Danzig, Kendall Grove, Nathan Diaz), Nelson understands how important it is to perform in his first fight after the show. But don’t tell Nelson that he’s the one stepping up.
To him, Struve may be the one getting up bump up in competition.
“He’s definitely a legitimate heavyweight, but for me it’s just another fight against one of the upper echelons of the UFC,” the Las Vegas native says. “But I definitely think I’m one of the upper echelon fighters as well. I don’t think it’s me stepping up, I just think it’s a high caliber fight.”
Not looking past Struve, Nelson makes it clear what he has his eyes set on – the heavyweight title. At the age of 33, Nelson knows he’s not a spring chicken and doesn’t want to waste time going after the gold.
“I’m not like Randy Couture but I know I’m getting up there in age so I want to fight 3 or 4 times a year,” he says before rifling off who he would want next. “I’d like to fight Brock Lesnar or whoever has the belt. If I have to fight for the TV championship belt, that’s fine, but I prefer to fight for the actual real belt.”
Again, many wouldn’t give the fat man a shot in hell to get past Lesnar or Carwin. But Nelson has gotten used to making a fool out of those who doubt him. And if Nelson gets by Struve, we may see the self-appointed TV champion’s patented belly rub celebration infect fans like a certain WWE Hall of Famer.
“[The belly rub] is just like me being Ric Flair with the ‘Woooooo!’”
Nelson may be more Dusty Rhodes than Ric Flair, but “Big Country” is already making plans to become the UFC’s next big star. Until somebody actually proves him wrong, who’s going to stop him?