UFC 166 Preview – Roy Nelson vs. Daniel Cormier


It’s odd to think of a heavyweight fight where both guys might be exiting the division shortly thereafter but the co-main event of UFC 166 is precisely that. Daniel Cormier has announced he’s going to try to make 205 for his next fight, trying to step into the title picture against Jon Jones by cutting in line.

Roy Nelson has apparently dropped 30 or more pounds coming into this weekend’s fight and has spoken of 205 as a possible destination as well. For Nelson a win here could potentially sneak him into the title picture at heavyweight, particularly if he can get a finish. He’s not getting any younger and is apparently starting to take his career a bit more seriously.

As of right now, though, this is a heavyweight fight with potential title implications depending on how the main event breaks.

Fight breakdown – The fight will take place where Daniel Cormier wants it; that’s part of being the best pedigreed wrestler in the division. Cormier has accolades upon accolades after a decade plus as an elite international freestyle wrestler and it shows in how he fights. Wherever he wants the fight is where it goes; his wrestling edge is profound in this division. The only wrestler at heavyweight who can wrestle with him is Cain Velasquez, who happens to be his training partner, and it plays into how Cormier will handle the fight.

Both options his wrestling will allow are fraught with danger, though.

On the one hand he can probably take Roy Nelson down at will and grind a win out of him. Cormier’s top position is excellent and he rolls with enough guys at AKA on a regular enough basis to think that his submission game is competent at worst. The problem is that Nelson has a fairly remarkable BJJ game that he almost never uses. Nelson’s a black belt under Renzo Gracie and has a respectable resume in the international BJJ game. Nelson hasn’t really used it as of late but his ground game has a great reputation to it. Cormier has worked with guys as good as Nelson on the ground, so he should be prepared if he wants to take him down, but there’s an element of danger if he does.

If Cormier wants to stand and trade … well … that’s where the fun begins. Nelson’s big right is a one shot KO waiting to happen on anyone. Cormier’s shown a good chin so far but he hasn’t had a big shot land on him like the one Nelson can land. If he wants to turn this into a kickboxing affair look for him to stay on the outside and do the same thing Stipe Miocic did; hit and move, peck and punt. He can’t let Nelson set up for a big shot at all costs. Nelson has ridiculous power in both hands and can turn the lights off on anyone in MMA.

The key to the fight will be Nelson’s conditioning. Apparently he’s coming into shape for this fight; Nelson previously was in just good enough shape for one round because he was just looking for a first round KO. Anyone with a gas tank would push him into the second, where he’d gas and get lit up. There’s a reason why all but one of Nelson’s losses have been by decision; he’s never been in anything resembling the cardiovascular conditioning of an elite heavyweight. Its part of the charm, the big fat guy with the huge gut and world changing power, but it’s also been his downfall. Nelson can’t get sponsors of note and can’t get past elite fighters who can outwork him.

Once the first round was over Nelson had nothing but the ability to take a punch to rely on. You don’t get to the top of any division without being able to win outside the first unless that one thing you do is so much more exceptional than the rest of your division. Ronda Rousey is the lone exception to this, of course, but at heavyweight you’d better be ready to go 15 hard minutes every time you step in the cage (at a minimum) . If Roy can get to the point where he looks as good in the second and third as he does in the first then he can potentially be the elite heavyweight his power and BJJ give him the ability to be.

Cormier will be in peak shape, that we know for sure, and look for him to find high percentage offense as much as possible while exposing himself as little as possible. He’s going to stick and move, using his jab and movement, and pin Nelson against the fence at times. If he gets the takedown it’ll be end of round, Josh Koscheck style. He won’t let Roy set up anything, including a big shot, and the fight will probably resemble the Mir/Cormier fight more than anything else.

Look for Nelson to be more aggressive and close the distance; he has to set up that big power shot and might wind taking some big ones from Cormier to do so. His ability to manage space effectively is going to be the key; if he can make Cormier stay within punching distance long enough to uncork something big he could change the fight’s complexion immediately.

Why it matters – A win here and Daniel Cormier is in an interesting position. He could demand a title shot against the winner of Cain/JDS, particularly if it’s JDS, with a win at heavyweight. He wants to go to 205, though, mainly because he doesn’t want to fight his training partner (Cain) if he’s the champion. A win here gets him into the mix for a title shot at 205 quickly, especially with a finish.

Nelson, with a win, can reasonably ask for the winner as well. Cormier’s the #3 heavyweight in the world and a win here gets him into that mix. If he knocks him out, all the better his case is.

Prediction – Cormier