Ask Roy Nelson
how he's been preparing for his fight against Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic
at UFC 137
, and you'll find that "Big Country's" sense of humor is still very much intact after two straight losses.
"I've just been working out in the cemetery a lot," he told MMA Fighting recently. "I've got to get ready for the left kick. I want to see what it's like."
It's a typical Roy Nelson answer, which is to say slightly absurd and said with a straight face, as if to daring you to say, 'No, seriously.' But these aren't joking times for Nelson. After coming up short against Junior dos Santos
and then Frank Mir
, Nelson is facing a potentially dire situation.
Don't tell him that, of course.
"All fights are dire," Nelson said. "I've seen guys get cut after one. I've seen guys lose three or four and still have a job. In this business, there's no rhyme or reason. It's MMA. It's like when you go into the Octagon: anything can happen."
If Nelson didn't already know that, he got a quick education in his fight against Mir. He knew he was getting sick before the bout, he said. He'd been shaking hands at a recent UFC
Fan Expo and "I must have touched some dirty people and didn't wash my hands enough."
Even when he realized he was coming down with something, he refused to take antibiotics because he worried about the effect they might have on his cardio, Nelson said. Then again, not taking them didn't do much to help him either.
"In that fight, I just hit a wall. And I hit a wall fast. I hit the wall, like, the first minute. I think it kind of showed on my face in the fight. But I pushed through it, gave a hundred percent of what I had, and just came out on the losing end."
The Tuesday after the fight, Nelson would stagger into the emergency room and find out that he had walking pneumonia. Even with a course of antibiotics, he'd spend the next month or so trying to kick the illness. He'd also end up questioning whether taking a fight against a former UFC heavyweight champion in this state was really the best career move.
"The one thing that I definitely learned from this one is, I'm always a fighter first and a businessman second, and that one taught me to be a businessman before a fighter. When you're injured or sick, the thing is, you've still got to provide for your family. I hadn't fought for ten months before that, and I'm just trying to put food on the table and take care of my bills. It was one of those things, plus it was an awesome opportunity. You beat Frank and you're right back in the mix."
Since Nelson couldn't beat 'em, however, he decided to join 'em. He's been working out with his old foe Mir in preparation for the bout with Filipovic. He and Mir don't talk about their fight, Nelson said, because "it's in the past."
Nelson's future lies in the cage with Cro Cop. If he doesn't come out on the winning end of that one, it will bring his losing streak to three, which is often the magic number that brings the ax down on a fighter's UFC contract. Since Cro Cop has also lost two straight -- and since he's in the last fight of his current deal -- the loser in this fight could very well end up out of a job.
"It's so cliche, you know. You have to beat a legend to be a legend. But I think just to fight Cro Cop, period, is something that, as a fighter, you just want to do," Nelson said. "You want to be able to say, hey, I competed with some of the best of the world."
You want to be able to say it eventually, when you're looking back at a long successful career. But if Nelson doesn't find a way to beat Filipovic, he's in danger of reaching that point sooner than he wants to.
Maybe "anything can happen" in the Octagon, but one thing that can't happen is coming out on the losing end and remaining employed indefinitely. You can bet that a businessman-fighter like Nelson knows that as well as anyone. Now he just has to fight accordingly.