Roy Nelson is the pot-bellied, mullet-sporting mascot of the UFC heavyweight division, and he's quite content to let it stay that way.
Thursday afternoon during the media conference call for UFC 130, Nelson offered a blend of comedic and frank answers to the small number of questions directed his way; his opponent, Frank Mir, and headliner Quinton "Rampage" Jackson received the bulk of the attention. The lack of queries Nelson was required to address actually speaks to the impression many people have of the former IFL champion in a way as well.
A little more than a week before arguably the biggest fight of his career, no one pushed Nelson for more insights on his surgically repaired knee when the first question on the subject was answered in trademark Nelson fashion.
"I'm hoping it will do everything that I want it to do. I think it should be fine just like any other fight," responded Nelson, after explaining that preparation for his upcoming fight with Mir has been akin to a highly underrated Bill Murray movie.
"I think after I had my knee surgery, a week later I was supposed to fight Shane, so the only thing different about this camp is that its been a ten-month camp, as opposed to being a normal six-weeks. It has been like it's been Groundhog Day for the last six months just training and training and training. Hopefully, it's just like fighting just like any other time."
There are elements to this meeting, and to Nelson himself as a fighter, that should merit greater examination.
For one thing, the winner of Season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter boasts thunderous first round knockouts over two of the top young heavyweights in the sport, Stefan Struve and Brendan Schaub, both of which came more recently than Mir's last impressive performance.
For another, the portly pugilist is an accomplished jiu jitsu stylist as well, and even boasts a win over Mir on the grappling mats. While the subject was brought up, Nelson cast away all value from the victory as only he can.
"I would have to agree (with what Mir said): it was eight or nine years ago, we're doing MMA now, and I'm a bigger and a fatter guy now."
At least Mir gave Nelson credit for the victory and praise for his acumen on the ground. Nelson kept to the self-deprecating refrain that has made him a fan favorite, and a potential sleeper in the heavyweight division.
When the jokes are done being told and you stop focusing on Nelson's personal tributes to Buddha and Billy Ray Cyrus, a look at his resume reveals a talented fighter capable of making a run at the heavyweight title.
Nelson is a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt under Renzo Gracie, an honor that drew the lone extended and completely joke-free response of the day from the 34-year-old Las Vegas native. When asked about studying under the charismatic New York-based grandson of Carlos Gracie, Nelson had nothing put praise for his teacher and the entire Gracie clan.
"Anybody that does any kind of grappling, Renzo and his family has definitely influenced us in some shape or form, so for me to say that I have my black belt from a Gracie, especially from Renzo… He's a living legend in our sport; from fighting the best guys in Pride, to the UFC, to wherever, he's beaten some great guys. I would say he's one of the best at jiu jitsu in MMA and he's just a true warrior, so I don't mind being aligned with Renzo."
In addition to his skills on the ground and his aforementioned knockout power, Nelson showed in his most recent fight that he is more resilient than the ideas Leonardo DiCaprio can place in your mind.
Though he lost a unanimous decision to Junior dos Santos at UFC 117, absorbing a serious amount of punishment from the division's number one contender and most polished puncher, Nelson actually improved as the fight wore on, despite blowing out his knee early in the bout.
Having never been submitted and survived a 15 minute beating from dos Santos, you'd think Nelson would be brimming with confidence heading into next weekend's meeting with Mir. You'd think that, except Nelson won't let you.
"You've always got to be scared of Frank. Frank's a very well, he's a very good mixed martial artist. He knocked out Cro Cop. Frank's even said it; he's bigger and stronger than dos Santos, so I'm assuming he hits harder."
While the first two statements are very much sincere and valid, the later two feel a little tongue-in-cheek. If Mir and anyone else want to believe he's bigger and stronger and hits harder than dos Santos, Nelson isn't going to be the one to argue otherwise.
But he might just walk out to the Octagon with "Weird" Al Yankovic's "Fat" echoing throughout the arena and prove differently next Saturday night.