Whenever a fighter is coming off two losses that were both one-sided decisions, there is always a cause for concern. Then you have to reiterate about the fighter’s future if he is 35 years old or older. Neither of those issues applies to Roy Nelson in a narrow heavyweight division.
There are divisions in the UFC that you can win six fights in a row and people aren’t even mentioning you in the title picture. Matt Brown is a prime example of that in the welterweight division. Then you have some divisions that lack top-level in their prime fighters, who are capable of fighting for a title. It only takes one or two wins to put your name back in the title discussion. Dan Henderson proved that oddly enough, although many pundits have rolled their eyes by that decision.
At the end of the day, we all know how zany the UFC can be with their decision making for certain contender fights. It has been proven that in the heavyweight division, you only need about three wins before being seriously talked about as a contender. That is why it’s hard to write off anyone in that division. Mark Hunt went from being submitted in a minute to Sean McCorkle to facing Junior Dos Santos in the co-main event of a major pay-per-view in a matter of two-and-half years. All it took was four wins, along with some devastating knockouts.
Despite being 37 years old and never truly evolving as a fighter, Roy Nelson is far from being done as a contender. He’s not someone who should be classified as a fighter who is needed just to put “butts in seats”. People tend to forget how active Nelson is in taking fights. Not only is he extremely durable during a fight, but also he bounces back from fights rather quickly.
You can’t say the same about Antonio Minotauro Nogueira, who is more of a nostalgia act at this point. He’ll always be respected as one of the greatest heavyweights of all time. It’s great to see him still competing at a high level, but it’s clear that his best days are behind him. The injuries he has suffered over the past few years have clearly taken its toll. Despite both of them being 37 years old, they both have had drastic careers. It’s somewhat fascinating that Nogueira started his career in 1999, while Nelson didn’t start until 2004.
With his unbreakable jaw and sheer willingness to constantly push forward, you can’t rule out another push towards a title shot for Nelson. The losses to Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier were devastating, but it hasn’t totally diminished his stock. There haven’t been any links towards retirement for Nelson compared to the likes of Nogueira and Frank Mir.
While time isn’t on his side, 2014 could be the year that Nelson proves he’s worthy of a title shot. He couldn’t have asked for a better matchup against Nogueira. He won’t be facing a superior athlete that has outstanding agility and hand speed. Nogueira doesn’t shy away from a stand-up affair that consists of mostly boxing. In the past, Nelson would complain in his losses about how his opponent didn’t come to “fight”. That won’t be the case here. If anything, I’d expect Nelson to close the distance and try to wear down Nogueira.
Nelson doesn’t hesitate in putting his head down to charge forward to either land his signature over hand right or to push his opponent against the cage to wear him down. In his victory over Mirko Cro Cop, we saw Nelson lean towards his grappling and use his size to his advantage. Since Nogueira isn’t very agile, we could see him lean towards his grappling if he starts to get tagged. While he’s capable of taking punishment, Nelson does get rattled after taking countless strikes to the head. He never recovered from the first round beatings he received from Junior Dos Santos and Fabricio Werdum. Just because you have an iron jaw doesn’t mean you’re susceptible to being indestructible.
This is still a great opportunity for Nelson to go on another winning streak. I’m not sure if the extra rounds could necessarily hinder him. Nogueira’s pace has dropped down considerably, as the fight went on in his loss to Werdum. While Nelson’s cardio has been deplorable at times, a longer training camp and actually taking time off should be beneficial. People tend to forget that his loss to Miocic was on short notice and he fought Cormier only four months later. He’s actually taken the time to rest and reevaluate his career, compared to rushing back in.
You could label this fight as a possible turning point in Nelson’s career. Some people are writing him off after losing to a top ten opponent in convincing fashion once again. It has been well documented that Nelson has yet to beat a top ten heavyweight in his UFC career. With the division looking thinner than it ever has, he is capable of breaking that barrier. Nogueira isn’t a top ten heavyweight anymore, but a victory over him can catapult him towards a fight against someone like Alistair Overeem or Mark Hunt (two very unique match-ups from a stylistic and physical appearance standpoint).
Even though he’s had letdown performances on numerous occasions, you still can’t rule Nelson out from having one more push towards a title run. We all know how the UFC tends to favor fan favorites towards getting a title shot. 2014 will be a critical year for him in trying to earn what he’s been wanting for years. In numerous interviews, he would state how he deserves a title shot. There isn’t a better time than now to start a winning streak in a division that is so shallow of true contenders.