Roy Nelson's big gamble backfires

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- If it turns out Saturday does mark the end of what’s been an awkward relationship between Roy Nelson and the UFC, it’s actually pretty fitting.

If there is one thing about Roy “Big Country” Nelson we’ve come to learn in the last 43 months, it’s that he is always unapologetically himself. He’s not going to change. Not for you, not for me and certainly not for anybody in the UFC.

Nelson took a risk this weekend in Winnipeg. Rather than sign an extension with the promotion earlier this year, he finished his original contract -- the one he signed in 2009 after winning the 10th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series.

It was a bold move, but a perfectly defensible one. Even, for some, an inspiring one. Nelson has long been unhappy with the finances of that TUF contract -- and one can understand why.

His early fight purses were reported at $15,000. That’s what Nelson’s payout was when he stood with Junior dos Santos for 15 minutes at UFC 117. It was the same when he fought Frank Mir in UFC 130 co-main event. When he headlined the TUF 16 Finale in December, he made $24,000 to show and $24,000 to win.

Of course, Nelson has made more money during his UFC career than what’s represented in these reported payouts. But the point is -- he was consistently one of the lowest-paid UFC fighters among those appearing on pay-per-view main cards.

Apparently, an effort to change that was made prior to this final fight in Winnipeg, but UFC president Dana White says Nelson turned it down.

“He called [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva and said, ‘Listen, I’m fighting tough guys here and I’m winning, you know?’” White said. “And Joe said, ‘You’re absolutely right. We’ll get rid of the TUF contract and give you new contract.’ We offered him a deal for more money and Roy said, ‘That’s not enough.’”

That is White’s side of the story, at least. And certainly, there might have been small print involved in that scenario we’re not hearing about. But at least according to White, a better-paying deal was offered, which Nelson refused.

It appears Nelson believed the best way to maximize his profit was run his UFC win streak to four, capped by a knockout of Stipe Miocic at UFC 161. He would be a free agent with leverage. He would have negotiating power with the UFC.

The problem is he lost -- in record-breaking fashion. He ran after Miocic with overhand rights. He was gassed before the end of the first round. He became such an easy target, Miocic hit him 137 times according to Fightmetric -- the most strikes any UFC fighter has absorbed in a bout without being knocked out.

It’s not that Nelson lost the fight. Everybody loses. The frustrating aspect comes when you consider how he lost. It was so “Roy.” The defiance he has regarding his weight and appearance has endeared him to fans, but the facts are the facts.

Nelson holds a 5-0 UFC record in fights that end in the first round. He’s 1-4 when they go beyond that.

His ability to take a punch, his heart, his belief in his right hand -- Roy Nelson puts on amazing fights. But there’s no reason why any heavyweight should ever absorb 137 strikes in one fight.

The question is not, “How is that possible?” The question is, “Why did he get hit so much?”

Nelson is an easy guy to cheer for. He lives by his own principles. He has a young son at home, who he wants to provide financially for. He leaves everything in the cage every time he fights -- that alone is enough to make total strangers love the guy.

He rolled the dice in a “high stakes poker game,” in White’s words, and there was no problem with that. If Nelson was going to do it, though -- at some point, he needed to make sure he could be there, physically, fighting Miocic after just one round. And he didn’t do that.