Bellator 231’s Roy Nelson: At 43, Title Still the Goal, But Rampage Fight Is On the Wish List

Sergei Kharitonov vs. Roy Nelson
Credit: Bellator MMA

Heading into his Bellator 231 rematch with Frank Mir, a world title remains the goal for Roy Nelson. But ‘Big Country’ would love a shot at Rampage Jackson as well.

Roy Nelson (23–17) is finally getting something the heavyweight veteran has sought after for years: a chance to avenge a previous loss. It will come this Friday in the main event of Bellator 231, when ‘Big Country,’ one of the most popular heavyweights in the game, rematches Frank Mir.

The Ultimate Fighter 10 winner and former UFC champ first crossed paths (in MMA at least) back in 2011, at UFC 130. Mir took home a unanimous decision, but Big Country entered the fight a tad under the weather — with walking pneumonia.

“Even though I was sick, I was still training, and I think I was making it worse,” he admitted to Cageside Press ahead of the rematch. He’s feeling better this time around, joking that “I feel like I don’t have walking pneumonia” just days out from the event.

“Anytime you can fight a guy that you lost to— I think this is actually the first one that I’ve had, that I lost, going into it. It’s always good to go ‘hey I’m going to get one back,'” he added. And while it’s Mir this time, Nelson suggested he’d be up to avenge any of his old losses. “It could be all the way back to Andrei Arlovski. It doesn’t matter who it is.”

Mir and Nelson just happen to be under the Bellator banner at the moment, however, and remain two of the biggest names in the division. Each has the chance to get back in the win column, but curiously, Mir has been less than excited about the pairing. In advance of the fight, he’s gone on record doubting how exciting it will be. Mainly because, Mir claimed, he’s not about to take risks and have Nelson knock his head off.

In response, Nelson said simply that “I always try to put on exciting fights for the fans. But it usually does take two people to make a fight.” Still, he added, “right now, I’m not even too concerned about it. My thing is, just go out there and punch him more times in the face than he punches me.”

Mir’s also gone on record as saying he feels his age catching up to him. At 43, Nelson pointed out that “I’m three years older than him. It definitely effects you. I think steroids effect you a little bit faster.”

That, of course, is a nod to Mir’s lengthy suspension under USADA, while he was still active with the UFC. At the end of that suspension, after being granted his release from the UFC, Mir signed with Bellator.

“It’s the MMA business, and you get away with what you get away with,” said Nelson. “You see Jon Jones get busted, and be like ‘eh, it’s still okay. It’s an old drug.’ It doesn’t really matter. It’s in our sport, and you just have to live with it.”

As much as Nelson says it’s something to live with, it’s clear it doesn’t necessarily sit well with him. ‘Big Country’ has long been a proponent for cleaning up the sport, utilizing VADA (the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association) alongside the likes of Georges St. Pierre.

He notes, however, that he has not been tested by the Mohegan Tribe Department of Athletic Regulations ahead of Bellator 231. It seems, said Nelson, that the commission, and head Mike Mazzulli, picks and chooses who is tested.

Not that Roy Nelson seems at all surprised. When USADA (the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) arrived in the UFC, he once managed to get Jeff Novitzky, Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance for the UFC, say cocaine was okay.

Roy Nelson - Big Country - Bellator MMA
Roy ‘Big Country’ Nelson, Bellator 216 Credit: Mike McClory/Cageside Press

“It was way back when, it was the first time we ever had the USADA meeting, I got him to say cocaine’s okay,” Nelson recalled. The drug was brought up, repeatedly. The substance, as many learned from Jon Jones’ foibles, is banned in-competition only. “So technically I’m allowed to do cocaine, just not on fight day,” Nelson told Novitzky at the time. “I got him to say okay, and I go ‘well technically cocaine is just illegal. I can’t even get a doctor to prescribe that. So technically I shouldn’t be allowed to do cocaine. Even if you do catch me, out of competition, in competition, or whatever, cocaine is cocaine.”

In short, drug testing the sport, regardless of the promotion, is a work in progress. Asked about another recent scandal, involving Greg Hardy using an inhaler between rounds at UFC Boston, Nelson pointed out that “he’s rewarded. He’s fighting next month [at UFC Moscow, against Alexander Volkov].”

“Problem solved,” he said with a chuckle.

Doping talk aside, Nelson has a big fight Friday. While Mir has had his struggles of late, ‘Big Country’ still sees a dangerous fighter. “I think he’s gotten better, because there’s a lot of years between then and now. But as a fighter, you always get better. That’s your end goal, is to always get better. He’s a legend. I think he has probably the most records for the UFC, as a heavyweight.”

Most finishes at heavyweight, most first round finishes, most submissions, the only toe-hold finish at heavyweight — when it comes to Mir, Nelson’s not far off. But Nelson has grown as well, he said. “I definitely train a little bit different. Not knocking your head off every week. You only knock it off once every couple weeks. You try to make it nicer.”

“Recovery,” he added, “is one of the biggest things.” Suffice to say, the Roy Nelson who trained while coping with walking pneumonia would have a different approach today.

If there’s any downside to Friday’s showdown between Nelson and Mir, it might be the suggestion by Scott Coker that it’s something of a “Loser Leaves Town” match. That, however, is not something Nelson is worrying about.

“For me, it doesn’t matter,” ‘Big Country’ said Wednesday. “There’s a lot of different opportunities out there.”

The Professional Fighters League, with its seasonal, merit-based approach, is one. “There’s PFL, you’ve got ONE FC. There’s places to work because people want to watch you fight.”

Besides, in a sport that relies so heavily on the entertainment factor, do wins and losses matter that much? “I think wins and losses do count, but for the most part, it’s definitely entertainment,” Nelson answered. “Because the fans are the ones that pay the bills. As long as they’re happy, that’s all that matters.”

“Every time I asked Bellator to fight [Rampage Jackson], they’re like ‘he’s too fat.’ I thought I was the fat guy!”

So why not a Heavyweight BMF belt then? Asked who he’d pick for such a fight, Nelson expanded the field a little. “All the old school guys,” he suggested. “Me, Frank, Fedor, to Cro Cop, D.C., Stipe, Struve — just guys that have been there. It would be like the old world grand prix. Literally start with sixteen fighters and work your way down.”

While that isn’t likely to happen, there is one fight that, should all go well with Mir, Nelson would love to see Bellator put together. “The only fight I’ve been trying to promote for the last year and a half, two years is Rampage [Jackson],” he said. The bad blood goes back to The Ultimate Fighter 10, where Rampage was a coach, and “was talking sh*t about me.” Nelson was ready to go back then. Jackson, he said, “didn’t think I was serious.”

Flash forward nearly a decade, and they’re under the same banner again. The fight, however, is yet to be made. “Every time I asked Bellator to fight him, they’re like ‘he’s too fat.’ I thought I was the fat guy!” Nelson exclaimed.

Rampage aside, the goal for Roy Nelson remains the same. “It’s definitely a title run. Hypothetically, get past Frank, I’m sure Cheick Kongo would want to try to get a rematch. I’ll fight Cheick, beat Cheick again, then I’ll fight for the belt.”

First up, however, remains Mir. And the plan for Nelson is to go out, have fun, put on a show, and get his hand raised. “That’s always the goal for every fight. But things happen. It’s a fight. That’s why you have to watch on Friday.”

Bellator 231 takes place Friday, October 25 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT. The main card airs live on Paramount Network.