Roy Nelson is in an interesting career spot right now. He’s done with the UFC if he chooses to do so; he’s done with his contract following “The Ultimate Fighter” that’s been much maligned for underpaying him. He went out on a loss, being mauled by Stipe Miocic, after a number of big knockout wins in a row. It’s not as good as being on a winning streak of all knockouts, of course, but leaving the UFC on a 4-1 streak and a Top 10 ranked heavyweight isn’t a bad thing though. His leverage isn’t nearly what it could be, of course, as his final fight wound up with him absorbing the most strikes in a heavyweight fight in UFC history without a finish.
The question remains, though: should he stay or should he go?
Nelson is in a unique spot where he still has some length to his career still remaining. He’s also in the heavyweight division, where your decline can be masked over the years because of the lack of a truly deep roster at the top. It’s difficult maintaining yourself as a Top 5 fighter in any division, of course, but being somewhere between six and 10 is maintainable in the heavyweight division far longer than anywhere else. We didn’t think Fedor had declined as fast as he had because he didn’t fight that often and the division has always been notoriously thin.
What does Nelson do from here? He’s got a couple options.
Remain in the UFC – Nelson can always come back and be the gatekeeper to the elite for a long period of time. At this point in his career he’s essentially a beer-gutted Frank Mir; he’s good enough to beat a lot of guys but he can’t make it to a title shot. He’s lost in horrible fashion to Mir and Fabricio Werdum as well as Junior Dos Santos; nothing he showed in any of those fights showed he was a talented, tough guy who just doesn’t have the final gear to be elite.
If you want to be elite you show something against Werdum or JDS other than hoping they hit you in the face long enough, and hard enough, that they eventually drop dead of a heart attack and you win by default.
But if he remains in the UFC he’ll always be on a main card because he has fight-changing power at heavyweight. Give him three-five wins again (unlikely as it could be) and he could be a replacement fight for the UFC title if need be.
Go To Bellator/TNA – The Bellator heavyweight division is comprised of guys who Cole Konrad would wreck if he came back, mainly, and there’s no indication that “Big Country” wouldn’t do the same either. I don’t think he will, mainly because they can’t promote him like Ben Askren or Michael Chandler in the “This is a guy who could hang with the best in the world” type. We’ve seen Nelson against the best and he played “my face is harder than your fist” and won a moral victory at the end. He’d essentially be a bigger, fatter, American version of Fedor after his Strikeforce run ended. Yeah he could probably clown Ron Sparks or Richard Hale but it wouldn’t be the conversation spark that makes you think Bellator’s division is similar to the UFC’s.
Not by a long shot.
Be Like Sean McCorkle and Fight Anywhere That Pays - This is my best guess as to what Nelson will do, mainly because someone like One FC will probably pay him 50k to show/50k to win and the UFC won’t, but I can see Nelson being the big American Ronin of MMA. There may not be any decent fights out there for him but he could get some momentum on the regional circuit, as well as some good paydays, before extracting a long term contract from the big boys of MMA. Nelson could even find a niche in a place like KSW in Poland, where McCorkle has recently found success and fun.