NEW YORK – Know that classic MMA fighter adage of “Whoever the UFC puts in front of me”?
Yeah, well not Roy Nelson. Not Roy Nelson at all.
“That’s not me,” the UFC heavyweight on Thursday told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) at a UFC 159 media day at Madison Square Garden in New York. “I never say that. I say, ‘Whoever has the gold!’ If they go, ‘Hey, you can have the next title shot,’ I’ll wait for two years, three years, four years, whatever. I’ll take that. I’ll be the Rashad Evans of the heavyweight division.”
Evans, of course, made a few waves for sitting and waiting for a title shot that was put off by injuries to both him and light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
To even be in that type of a conversation, though, Nelson (18-7 MMA, 5-3 UFC) first has to get past Cheick Kongo (18-7-2 MMA, 11-5-1 UFC) on the main card of Saturday’s UFC 159, which takes place at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
A win would give Nelson three straight in the heavyweight division after back-to-back first-round knockouts of Matt Mitrione this past December and Dave Herman at UFC 146 nearly a year ago.
Those quick stoppages flew in the face of what had sort of become Nelson’s calling card – well, aside from his figure and self-deprecating humor about said figure and his diet. For four straight fights, Nelson went into the third round, going just 1-3. Junior dos Santos, Frank Mir and Fabricio Werdum couldn’t finish him, but did beat him. And he went three rounds with Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic before stopping him.
But though he joked that those longer fights were part of a sponsorship deal of “trying to give them more TV time,” Nelson knows getting a highlight-reel finish and going home is going to work for him on many different levels. At 36, it’ll take less toll on his body. It’ll make the fans happy, which makes the UFC happy. And who knows? Maybe it leads to that call to be next in line for the title.
“At the end of the day, fans like to see me fight regardless,” he said. “But if I can get a knockout faster and be in and out, I usually can get back to the victory dinner. The more I bust my hump, the less work I actually have to do in the ring. I’ve taken that philosophy. I’ve always been a procrastinator, so I would always train as late as possible. But now I train a little more and it makes things a lot easier.”
Against Kongo, Nelson faces an opponent who on paper appears to be surging, going 4-1-1 the past three years after back-to-back losses to Cain Velasquez and Frank Mir. He stopped Paul Buentello, then had a draw with Travis Browne when he lost a point for holding onto Browne’s shorts in the fight. A “Knockout of the Night” win over Pat Barry, though, came after Barry seemed to have him finished, only to have Kongo stage a miraculous recovery and hit the Hail Mary for the win. Wins over Matt Mitrione and Shawn Jordan sandwiched a knockout loss to Mark Hunt, but the Mitrione and Jordan wins weren’t considered great fights by any stretch of the imagination.
Some also featured odd moments, like the aforementioned shorts grabbing. And Nelson said he’ll have to be on the lookout for those.
“Cheick has a few strategies,” he said. “I’ve got to make sure he doesn’t try to grab my shorts. That’s a big one. Knees to the balls – that’s a big one. No grabbing the fence. And then hopefully he won’t run. So those are all the things I’m looking at. I’m there to fight, and try to knock his block off.”
And if Kongo doesn’t want to engage and run, as Nelson said? Or if he tries to clinch with him for three rounds against the fence, as was the hallmark of his win over Jordan in July?
Nelson has a way around that.
“If Cheick wants to fight, then I’m ready to go,” he said. “But if he’s going to run, I didn’t bring my running shoes. I’ll chase him down if I have to. But at the end of the day, I just want to fight.”
And if things line up just right for him with a win, he believes fighting the winner of next month’s title fight between champ Velasquez and Antonio Silva might just be in the cards.
“It really comes down to the fans. It is about that timing,” Nelson said. “After UFC 160, it’s only a month difference (from now). So the timing after this, if I win, I definitely could get the next title shot.”
For more on UFC 159, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.