Some fighters aspire to be the Anderson Silva of their division, or the Georges St-Pierre, or the Jon Jones. UFC heavyweight Roy Nelson appeared at the UFC 159 media day at Madison Square Garden in New York, and cited a less likely figure.
"If they go, 'Hey, you can have the next title shot,' I'll wait for two years, three years, four years, whatever," said Nelson. "I'll take that. I'll be the Rashad Evans of the heavyweight division."
Standing in Nelson's way is Cheick Kongo; the pair fight on the main card of UFC 159 Saturday night. A win over Kongo would put Nelson on a 3-0 streak, following wins over Matt Mitrione and Dave Herman. A first round KO would put Nelson on a 3-0 streak, with three first round KOs.
That would be a reversal from his previous fights, where in his previous four fights. Junior dos Santos, Frank Mir, and Fabricio Werdum all beat Nelson via decision over three rounds; his sole win in the four-fight stretch was vs. Mirko Cro Cop, and that went into the third, too.
The reversal parallels an about face in Nelson's career. For his first three years in MMA, Nelson relied on his wrestling and black belt in BJJ. For three years, he never hit a heavy bag, or training in boxing. He thought striking was unnecessary.
Then, in his 8th fight, he knocked out Vin Lucero in the IFL.
“Such a fluke,” said Nelson. “I was just throwing punches and happened to knock somebody out. I just realized then that it was easier to knock somebody out than to take them down.”
The change was profound.
Of Nelson's six wins before Lucero, five were by submission, one by decision. Of his 13 wins since Lucero, 12 were by KO.
So Saturday night, Nelson's looking for a knockout.
"At the end of the day, fans like to see me fight regardless," said Nelson. "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."
Like Nelson, Kongo too has seen a change a career turn around. After losing to Cain Velasquez and Frank Mir, Kongo is 4-1-1 his last six.
"Cheick has a few strategies," said Nelson. "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."
"If Cheick wants to fight, then I'm ready to go. 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."
Nelson knows Cain Velasquez defends his UFC heavyweight title vs. Bigfoot Silva fight next month, and he wants the winner.
"It really comes down to the fans," said Nelson. "It is about that timing. After UFC 160, it's only a month difference. So the timing after this, if I win, I definitely could get the next title shot."
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