Think performance-enhancing drugs are a problem in MMA? Not to Roy Nelson. The UFC heavyweight has fought guys who were on steroids. He knows he has. You don’t get to be a heavyweight at this level without having gone up against at least one or two opponents who came in with a little artificial help, he told MMA Fighting.
"If I can compete with them, and they’re using, it just means I’m a better athlete," Nelson said. "That’s all it means to me."
Nelson, who takes on Fabricio Werdum at UFC 143 on Saturday night, said he was sure he’d fought juiced opponents "a couple of times" in his career, whether it showed up on the post-fight drug screening or not.
Walkout Shirts: Nick Diaz | Carlos Condit | Roy Nelson
"You just know," he said. "You know by straight-out asking them. You can do it that way. Or you can go through their coaches or training partners. It’s a very small world."
And yes, Nelson insists that he has asked opponents to their faces if they were on some kind of performance-enhancing drug, and he claims he’s even gotten some to admit it before or after the fight.
"There’s some verbal combat involved," he explained. "You have to trick them into coming clean, but it does happen."
You might think this is one of the benefits of walking around with Nelson’s distinctive physique. People see a mountain of muscle like Alistair Overeem, and many will never believe he’s all-natural now matter how many drug tests he takes.
But Nelson, who bears a much stronger resemblance to the ‘before’ rather than the ‘after’ picture in a supplement ad, has no such problem. People can look at him and feel reasonably confident that he’s clean. Though this, too, comes with some baggage, according to "Big Country."
"I’ve probably been tested for steroids probably more than any other fighter that’s ever fought," he said. "...It’s like a football program. There’s always going to be some guys where it’s like, yeah, you’re the one we’ve got to test, because then the program looks clean."
The way Nelson sees it, he is that guy for the heavyweight division. What he’s not, however, is the champion -- though that’s something he thinks he could change very soon if he performs well against Werdum.
Though his Brazilian counterpart is coming off a lackluster decision loss to Overeem -- a fight in which both men "fought timid," according to Nelson -- he thinks it’s not at all unreasonable to expect that the winner of this fight will get the next title shot after Overeem and champion Junior dos Santos sort out their business.
That might mean he’ll have to wait a while for his chance, since, as Nelson puts it, "those guys don’t like to fight that much," but he’s willing to be patient. First he has to get past Werdum, but if he does he thinks the UFC will be more than willing to put him into a title fight "because I think I have a bigger fanbase than Overeem by far; I think I’m probably one of the top guys in the UFC that actually has a very huge fanbase."
And the fact that he’s already lost once to dos Santos? The fact that he then went on to lose to Frank Mir in his very next bout? Better now than later, according to Nelson.
"Any time you lose, it looks bad. But at the same time, every loss you take a fighter should make you improve and become a better fighter. The way I look at it is, I’d rather take my losses now before I have the belt, because then I’d have the belt to lose, if that makes sense."
It makes sense to Nelson, anyway, and maybe that's all that matters.