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'Same old' Nelson rounds out game

Upon reflection: Maybe Roy Nelson didn't take matters as seriously as he should have. Courtesy of Justin Bowen

LAS VEGAS -- To hear Roy Nelson tell it, nothing has changed.

The former IFL heavyweight champion is coming off back-to-back losses for just the second time in his seven-year career, but that doesn't mean he's starting from scratch. Nelson said he is training the same, looks the same, feels the same.

"I'm still the same guy," Nelson told ESPN.com. "The only way I've ever improved is taking what people say -- criticisms -- and using them to improve. Everybody from Renzo Gracie to Sergio Penha to Joe Rogan to Forrest Griffin. If it's good, I'll take it."

Yes, but even if Nelson (15-6) refuses to admit it, things are slightly different for him heading into Saturday's fight against Mirko Filipovic at UFC 137.

Although James Johnson is Nelson's longtime coach, Nelson built a reputation as basically a self-taught fighter. He takes what he likes from different sources and builds it into his game, but he doesn't forfeit the reins too much.

His team is the Country Club, a handful of fighters that have accumulated over the years. But in reality, Nelson is probably more of a coach within the Country Club than he is a fighter.

During this latest training camp, however, Nelson has accepted the role of student. He's built a relationship with fellow Las Vegas native Frank Mir, who beat Nelson via unanimous decision in May. Along with Mir, Nelson has adopted boxing coach Jimmy Gifford, wrestling coach Ricky Lundell and a few more sparring partners.

While Nelson will say nothing has changed, some of the new people surrounding him will say that plenty has.

"He's more serious now about his career," Gifford said. "He's coming off two losses. It's like, 'Hey, whatever you were doing before didn't work.'

"He's been successful, but it was kind of the approach of, 'Imagine what you'd do if you took this seriously?'"

There are a few changes you might notice about Nelson come this weekend. The idea wasn't to reinvent him. As Nelson himself said, "I'm a diamond in the rough." He just needed a little polishing.

Of course, considering the subject, Nelson's weight was discussed. Not so much the number on the scale, but the distribution of where it was on his body.

Nelson downplayed any talk regarding his weight for this fight, saying, "Being a celebrity, everybody wants to talk about my weight." He added that his diet consists primarily of "protein sticks" -- which is what he calls the Buffalo Chicken Roller one can purchase at 7-Eleven.

That said, Nelson did admit he wouldn't weigh the heavyweight limit of 265 pounds at this week's weigh-in. According to members of his camp, the number could be as low as 240 to 245 pounds.

"I think [UFC president] Dana [White] really criticized him about his weight and his cardio issues and that stuck a thorn in his side," Gifford said. "His mobility was a problem carrying all that weight. His balance was off. I asked him to go through that physical transformation to help me out, because I'm asking him to move and create angles."

That leads to the second adjustment: Stop getting hit so much.

No one is questioning Nelson's heart. He was the first to ever last three rounds against Junior Dos Santos, and by the time the fight was over, the Brazilian slugger looked downright demoralized at the fact that Nelson was still standing.

That durability might have led Nelson to the mentality that getting hit wasn't the worst thing in the world. Since Gifford is aiming to improve Nelson's boxing technique, that's a mentality the coach said he'd like to stay away from.

"I told him, 'You're really tough and durable, but now show people you can make a guy miss,'" Gifford said. "That's impressive. His defense was, 'I'll take two to give one.' That's not fighting. That's a barroom brawl."

Even with the new faces, it is true it's not like everything has changed for Nelson. The Country Club members haven't disappeared. They're still working out with him in the corner of Mir's gym on sparring Thursday, and they're there for his early morning lift at a private gym on Friday.

Nelson isn't lying when he says, "I'm still the same guy," but he's out there listening, and when he hears something he likes, he's adding it to his game. Don't expect a completely different Roy Nelson this weekend. But don't expect the same one, either.

Brett Okamoto covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at bokamotoESPN.