WINNIPEG – Roy Nelson hadn’t even made it back to his corner after Round 2, and already his wife was out of her cageside seat, straining to make herself heard over the noise of the crowd.
The words she chose didn’t make it all the way across the cage to press row, so I can’t tell you exactly what she said to her husband in that tender moment. Judging by body language alone, it didn’t seem like she was trying to tell him what a good job he was doing against Stipe Miocic in Saturday’s UFC 161 co-main event.
Can you blame her? Nelson bet big on himself when he spurned the UFC’s offer of a contract extension and opted instead to fight the last fight of his current deal without a secure plan for his future in place. If he won, he could up his asking price and stick it to UFC President Dana White all at the same time – two of his favorite pastimes of late.
It’s just that, by the time the second round had ended and a depleted Nelson had staggered back to his corner, it seemed increasingly unlikely that his gamble was going to pay off.
If Nelson’s goal was to prove to his employers that he’s an elite heavyweight who deserves to be paid like one, it didn’t pan out so well. For three rounds Miocic danced around him, knocking the sweat off his bearded, battered head with one stinging punch after another. All Nelson (19-7 MMA, 6-3 UFC) could do was fling his overhand right in Miocic’s general direction in between desperate gulps of air. When the final horn sounded, Miocic (9-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC) immediately put his hands in the air. Nelson put his on his knees, leaning over in the posture of a man who was concentrating very hard on not throwing up.
At the post-fight press conference, White announced that Nelson had set a new UFC record for “significant strikes absorbed.” I’m sure there are worse stats you could own as a fighter, but not many.
Still, Nelson might have managed to prove some of what he set out to on Saturday night, in his own bizarre, not wholly intentional way. For instance, when Nelson walked out into Winnipeg’s MTS Centre, fans seemed to suddenly remember why they’d paid good money for this stuff in the first place. Even when he turned into a plodding, wheezing mess a few minutes later, they still seemed to appreciate him for lasting the distance and taking his medicine. That’s part of the deal with Nelson. If he doesn’t knock his man out, you know he’ll at least stick around long enough to give you your full allotment of human suffering (watch Miocic vs. Nelson fight highlights). There’s value in that for the UFC, and Nelson knows it as well as White does.
“I went out and gave 110 percent, and that’s what I do every single time,” Nelson said at the post-fight press conference. “I’m glad that me and Stipe could help save the card, because the card went to crap. Apparently, $3 million, record-breaking [live gate], it actually happened.”
And, White said, that’s part of why Nelson was offered a contract extension to begin with. It’s also why, according to the UFC boss, Nelson was offered a brand new contract back when he first began to complain about making “Ultimate Fighter” money to fight top competition. UFC matchmaker Joe Silva offered him a new deal then, White said, but Nelson wasn’t satisfied.
“He f—ing fought under the ‘Ultimate Fighter’ contract instead of taking the new contract that Joe [offered him], which was significantly more money,” White said.
Why? Probably for the same reason he refused an extension this time, and chose to close out his current deal before negotiating a new one. If you finish your contract on a winning streak, it’s easier to pry open the UFC’s pocketbook. If you don’t, well, you don’t.
“And that’s the business,” White said. “And again, there’s a lot of reasons why I respect Roy Nelson. Roy Nelson rolled the dice tonight. He had a high-stakes poker game tonight, and he lost.”
The question that remains is, what, exactly, did he lose? Just by showing up and getting the fans on their feet, he managed to remind the UFC of his worth. He may have also reminded the rest of us of his own limitations as a fighter. His services are still worth retaining, but it’s hard to argue for a huge bump in pay when you most recently appeared in the role of the popular punching bag.
“It’s not like we’re saying, ‘We’re not signing Roy Nelson, we hate him, and we don’t want him here,’” White said. “We’re trying to come to a deal with Roy Nelson.”
But then, trying to convince Nelson to act in his own best interests isn’t always the easiest sell. Maybe it will get a little easier now that he went all-in and came up empty against Miocic. Or maybe it will only get worse.
For the latest on UFC 161, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.