Roy Nelson Tells Us About Leaving The UFC, Joining Bellator, And A Possible Heavyweight Grand Prix

Roy Nelson has moved on from the UFC. After nearly eight years in the Octagon in a run started by Nelson winning the most-watched season of The Ultimate Fighter in history, he’s headed back to Spike, seemingly to finish his career. At 41-years-old, Nelson has just about every record in the book for the UFC heavyweight division, he just never got the belt. Now, with a new setting around him (and a promoter that embraces his personality and style), Nelson is looking for gold.

With Nelson, Gegard Mousasi and so many others jumping ship, Bellator is making a major push against a UFC that doesn’t seem to know what’s going on beside the next big superfight, while Bellator quietly puts together stacked card after stacked card. We discussed the change of promotions to Roy Nelson, who seemed uncharacteristically jovial.

So you have the UFC heavyweight record for cage time, you’ve absorbed more strikes than anyone, not only without getting knocked out but in all of UFC heavyweight history, is it bittersweet to leave a company that you have so much history in?

No, for me I think it was just a change of scenery. The biggest thing with the UFC with the new owners coming in and then Bellator with Scott Coker and Viacom and just be able to go back full circle cause Viacom and Spike — they’re the ones that kind of created our sport in the US, actually brought it to the public. So I’m just full-circling. Can’t wait.

You said when you signed in May you were ready to fight in June. Where does that excitement to work come from?

You know what, please and thank you just go a long way and it changes the whole environment.

You’ve already knocked out Cheick Congo and Matt Mitrione and they’ve made waves in the Bellator heavyweight division, so how many wins do you think it’ll take you to get a shot at the vacant title?

First I gotta get past Javy and then after that I think it all depends on what type of… how big the tournament will be.

So there’s going to be a heavyweight tournament?

I’m sure there probably will be. If not, then I can have my fight after that so it could be my second fight.

I hope you just let a cat out of the bag there cause I loved the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament and…

Oh, everyone loves the grand prix tournaments.

Yeah and Bellator’s stacked with heavyweights if you add Rampage…

It’s exciting.

Are you looking for any type of rematches? Frank Mir just signed with Bellator.

Yeah, I’d fight Frank but I don’t think Frank can fight cause I think he’s still on suspension from his last juicing incident like a year ago or whatever.

What are your thoughts on that with Jon Jones and all these dudes getting popped? How does that make you feel as someone who has been clean and speaking out against it for years?

It’s the thing I’ve been saying for probably for the last 15 years. So there’s nothing new it’s just sometimes when you make different bosses mad things just come out a little sooner.

Does it make you feel better at least to say, “Hey I’ve gone up against the best and they’re juicing, I’m not…”

No, I think with any sport there’s always the juicer and then I think there’s always the coverups that allow people to still do what they do. And then there are some people that just don’t really care. It really just comes down to the fans. If they wannna see it, then they’ll keep giving money to see that guy keep juicing and then sometimes they won’t.

As a fighter coming in here, and not just in a way of you getting a new job, but how does the promotion itself feel different compared to other promotions you’ve been in?

I think the biggest difference is that they’re openly admitting that they’re a fighter driven sport where without the fighters they’re not a company. So without us, they know they don’t have a company. I think that’s the biggest thing first is they put fighters first before the organization because that’s who fans care about is actually the fighters.

And speaking of fans, are you a fan of MMA?

The way I’ve gotten into the sport was actually being a fan and that’s the reason why my fight style is so fan-friendly. I always try to go out there, like an actor, and put on a performance that I want to see.

Bellator is embracing the Japanese, pro wrestling-style entrance ramp. Are you looking forward to making that walk?

I can’t wait to see what they come up with. And if it’s something I don’t like then it’s something I might be able to change later down the road to go, “You know what, we need a little more fire over here and a little more spark over there.”

Why would Bellator embrace Roy Nelson, a knockout artist and a marketable heavyweight with a massive social media following and a goofy personality, but not the UFC?

I think people are afraid of stuff that they just don’t know. Old UFC would but new UFC I don’t think they know what they actually have. I think that’s probably the biggest thing.

Kind of like the WWF back in the day when Vince McMahon only wanted bodybuilders.

Yeah and then finally learned, “Oh! There’s a whole nother- Oh!” It’s all about branding and branching out into segments.

It seems like you’re very savvy when it comes to the fight game as far as the business of it. After you hang up the gloves, would you ever be into promoting or working to develop fighters or working with promotions in that way?

Yeah no, I think that’s one of the other opportunities here at Bellator is they’re actually open-minded to actually keeping fighters that actually helped create the sport and bring the sport to a whole other level to keep them around just because they know there’s marketability there and it’s also to keep fans engaged.

What are the chances of you fighting Fedor?

I don’t know. At first, I’ve got to get past Javy and then after that it’s a question you have to ask Scott Coker.

Are you gonna push for it though?

My push is always for the belt so if he’s in the way to the belt then yes. If not, I’m all about whoever they try to put in front of me.

You possibly have the most impressive resume of loses in MMA history. The people you’ve lost to are just a who’s who of greats. Does that help you swallow the bitter pill of getting those loses?

Yeah, I think the biggest thing about me is I’m willing to fight anybody. I’m not trying to duck people. That’s the other thing, is a lot of fighters duck other fighters. That’s why they fight the same person 12 times. For me, ask any fighter that I’ve either lost to or I’ve beaten and ask them if they want to fight me again. The answer is no. And the reason why is because they know that I’ve already figured them out. And for me, I’ve never had a rematch. And that’s one thing I’ve always tried to do in the UFC and I couldn’t get it because everybody’s like, “No, he won’t fight you again, he’ll duck yeah, no, no, no.” And then I’m like, “Fine, whatever.” And then I go find me some new business.

So your fighting style over the past few fights has gone a little more grapple heavy. Is that specifically a shift in your entire career outlook or is it just specific in those fights?

You know what, it’s more just trying to gauge how the landscape is and go out and doing different things.

Do you think that Bellator is going to be a little bit more like pride in that the fighters go out to perform and they’re not concerned with grinding out a win in order to survive on the roster?

I’d like to think so. I mean, the thing about Scott is, he tries to put on exciting fights and as long as you go out and try to put on exciting fights I think the fans will dictate how things are. When you’re kind of stuck in the thing of like, “Oh I gotta get this W and I’m worried about this or that,” and you get the grind. The grind only happens if you’re afraid of a couple different things or you’re just going out to get the W or it really all depends. The whole landscape just changes.

You’re really motivated to have gold around your waist, aren’t you?

It’s one of the things that I got into the sport about and it’s one thing I really, really wanted and then when I went over here the stigma I have for the belt over here is that it’s a belt you’re gonna be able to earn. That’s the thing I’m always looking for … It’s like the same reason why I won the ultimate fighter is cause I already knew what the grand prize was. All I had to do was win. And I did that.When I was in IFL I just went out and won because I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. When you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, you just bang your head up against the cage.

How difficult is that motivation wise, when you don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel?

When you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel it’s like you going to work for 20 years and going, “Are you gonna get that watch?” At the end of the day, are you going to get that raise? And when you don’t you just kind of get numb and you kind of just go out and put in a half ass work ethic in.