After three hard-fought rounds in heavyweight action, it was the legendary Mirko Cro-Cop extending his win streak at Bellator 216, earning a decision over Roy Nelson.
There were two ways of looking at Roy Nelson vs. Mirko Cro-Cop at Bellator 216 on Saturday night. A rematch of their UFC showdown in 2011 (Nelson stopped the Croatian legend in the third round), it was either two old dogs past their prime — or two legends capable of putting on a show for the fans if either were to connect clean.
A lot was riding on that last clause. Could either man connect clean? Big Country, as Nelson is more commonly known, has slowed in his forties. His power was still there. Yet while never a quick fighter by any stretch, the rotund heavyweight was prone to lose any hope of a knockout after the first frame of late. And though capable of grappling to the bell, was that what any fan wanted to see? As for Cro-Cop, his impressive late-career win streak had come against lesser, or at least smaller (i.e. King Mo) competition.
The popular Nelson had lost two straight, the last a rare knockout at the hands of Sergei Kharitonov. Cro-Cop had won nine in a row, dating back to 2014. In fact, he had lost just once since facing Big Country for the first time.
The bout started with Big Country pressing the action, and the pair circling. Roy backed Cro-Cop up, then launched the right hand, which Mirko evaded. Another right hand came a minute later; Roy shot in low, but Cro-Cop fought off the takedown. Then the Croatian took control, attacking and pressing Big Country into the fence. Nelson reversed. Cro-Cop pushed Nelson back, reversed position, and looked to create space, but it was Nelson landing an elbow.
Then Cro-Cop fired off an uppercut. Nelson launched a knee then another, holding a Thai clinch. Nelson was having surprising success in the clinch. After breaking, Cro-Cop pushed Nelson into the cage and launched an elbow, then a big uppercut that had Nelson cover up for a moment. A kick to the body followed, connecting with a crack and leaving a red mark plain as day. That forced Nelson to work for a takedown, but he’d simply eat another elbow, answering it with a knee before the round ended.
Nelson swung hard to open the second, but was unable to hit the mark. He pressed forward, but Cro-Cop reversed and fired a knee, with Roy backed into the cage. An elbow followed. Another knee. Then a hard uppercut, that seemed to wake Nelson, as he pushed Cro-Cop off. Nelson landed a leg kick. Cro-Cop then answered with two of his own. Anything you can do, I can do better. Cro-Cop went upstairs with a kick only partially blocked. A jab connected for Cro-Cop; Nelson would then search for a takedown to no avail. Despite the years that had passed, it was the older man looking fresher, but Nelson was still dangerous. He connected. Cro-Cop retreated. Fired knees from a clinch. Nelson landed a body kick, but while pressing his opponent into the fence, Cro-Cop attempted a half-hearted guillotine. Nelson went to the body late in the round, with Cro-Cop landing another big body kick of his own. The round ended with Nelson lunging in swinging.
In the third, Nelson connected a couple of times early, but neither punch landed clean. Cro-Cop’s leg kicks were becoming a factor. Nelson lunged for a single leg only for Cro-Cop to pull free. Nelson swung wide on an uppercut that would have turned out the legend’s lights, then drove Cro-Cop into the fence. Then, late in the round, a big slam takedown from Big Country. That very well could have earned him the round, as Cro-Cop latched on with a closed guard and tried to tie things up. Nelson looked to create space for some elbows, and finished the round on top.
That, however, was too little, too late for Big Country. Mirko Cro-Cop took home the decision, evening their career series at 1-1.
Mirko Cro-Cop def. Roy Nelson by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)