The news that longtime UFC heavyweight Roy Nelson had signed a deal with Bellator was surprising because, well, nobody knew “Big Country” was a free agent. The 40-year-old Nelson kept his situation under wraps because, in his own words, “anything can happen in MMA.”
That’s what Nelson explained on Monday during an appearance on The MMA Hour. He said his decision to sign with Bellator boiled down to doing the right thing by him and his family.
“Yeah, I think it’s just one of those things — what’s best for my family, not what’s best for everybody else,” he said.
Since 2015, Nelson — who fought 19 times in the UFC since 2009 — has traded wins and losses, with his last fight occurring at UFC on FOX 24 in April. Nelson dropped a unanimous decision to Alexander Volkov, and — though he didn’t look particularly great in defeat in that fight — he said it wasn’t because he was preoccupied with his contract situation.
“No, there was a lot of stuff that happened during that fight and then fight camp and stuff, so for me it was just I wanted a fight and Volkov didn’t want to fight. It’s just kind of one of those things,” he said.
“I don’t know how it worked out at home, but in the arena there, everybody knows who actually won the fight. Because it’s a fight. If we’re going from the sport aspect it was, you know, tag. Because if I don’t mind getting hit from your punches, it’s like getting hit by you sister, so who cares.”
Overall, Nelson has gone 3-7 over his last 10 fights, and is 9-10 in the UFC. Yet Nelson remained a popular heavyweight with his sturdy chin, his knockout power, and his unique personality. It was on display again during the show on Monday, when Nelson joked people might see a “skinny guy” in Bellator, now that he was no longer “stress eating.”
When asked when he might debut, Nelson said he wasn’t opposed to fighting on June 24 at the Madison Square Garden event. He said that currently he didn’t know the full Bellator schedule, and that no specific opponent has been discussed for him for his promotional debut.
The one thing that Nelson did know was that he was happy to be with Bellator, because of the president’s sterling reputation.
“The one thing about working with Scott Coker, I’ve never heard a bad thing about Scott Coker,” he said. “And that means a lot, especially in our sport.”
Nelson said he didn’t talk to Coker before making his decision, but he talked to plenty of people who’ve been around him.
“It’s just one of those things,” he said. “Like, you know King Mo…to like Nick [Diaz] to Gilbert [Melendez]. Everybody that I know that’s worked with Scott never had a bad thing to say about him, and I’ve been doing this for such a long time, and I’m like, this is my chance to work with Scott, let’s do it.”
The one mantra that Nelson reiterated that he was improving his quality of life with the move. For starters, he mentioned he was happy to be back on Spike TV, where he once guest starred on the single most successful season of The Ultimate Fighter (season 10).
Nelson also said a significant detail in urging him towards Bellator was sponsorship opportunity, after spending the last couple of years operating under the UFC’s exclusive deal with Reebok.
“That’s the one thing I’m very excited about,” he said. “That’s definitely a plus, than being in the UFC versus being an employee and getting a ‘wear this uniform.’”
Even though some fighters have complained that the sponsorship game has dried up a little bit in recent times, Nelson said that’s not necessarily the case for him. He said the sponsors will still come strong.
“For me, yes, I don’t know about anybody else,” he said. “I think it all depends on who you are and how marketable [you are], because sponsorship is about marketability. We’ll just use UFC, if you’re on the Reebok deal and you’re making $15,000 and nobody knew who you were and you’re just like, I’ve been fighting here for the last five years, blah blah blah, and you’re making $15,000 and you’re like, ‘yes!’
“And then there were people that were names and you hit $15 grand and you’re like, um, you just took my salary away. I made more from sponsorship than I did from fighting. I did that for the longest time.”
The UFC’s Reebok deal operates on a tier system, determined by experience (total fights in the Octagon) and significance of the fight (if it’s a title fight or not). Asked what was the most sponsorship money he pulled in from a single fight, Nelson said, “a lot, enough to buy a house” — though he clarified that he was speaking about a cumulative sponsorship deal.
Still, Nelson said he didn’t know he was fighting his last fight in the UFC when he stepped in against Volkov. It was only after reflection and conversations with his loved ones that he came to the conclusion that it was time to move on.
“It was more I think of just understanding what’s better for my family,” he said. “I went back and talked to my wife and then we kind of went from there and decided what we needed to do for quality of life, things that will improve our life from stress from the stuff that I’ve been through.”