Nelson not picky about next opponent

April, 29, 2013
4/29/13
5:52
PM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
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It never matters to Roy Nelson who UFC officials offer as an opponent. He always accepts.

Nelson will fight any heavyweight, anywhere, anytime. He is a throwback: the type who loves mixing it up. He also enjoys putting on exciting fights, which was evident Saturday night in Newark, N.J.

At UFC 159, Nelson delivered a performance fight fans will remember for a long time -- knocking out Cheick Kongo in the first round with a beautifully placed overhand right.

Kongo immediately went down and was unconscious. Nelson delivered one more punch for good measure, but he didn’t throw it with much force. He didn’t want Kongo getting back to his feet, but was compassionate enough to consider the serious damage that might have been done with a very powerful punch.

That’s Nelson, always thinking of others, be it the fighters or fans -- especially fans. Whenever he steps in the cage, Nelson wants his fans to be entertained, which is exactly what he did at Prudential Center.

And the sellout crowd of 15,227 showed Nelson its appreciation by giving him the evening’s loudest ovation. Nelson responded to the cheers by jumping atop the Octagon at several different locations to directly address fans in every section of the arena.

It was a great night for Nelson, but the fun wasn’t quite over with his victory.
[+] EnlargeMark Hunt
Susumu Nagao for ESPNA bout between Mark Hunt, left, and Roy Nelson couldn't help but produce fireworks.

In addition to his pleasing fight, Nelson also wants a shot at the UFC heavyweight title. And he figured the best way to put his name in the title conversation was with an impressive performance against Kongo.

Nelson came through big time, which got the attention UFC president Dana White and matchmaker Joe Silva.

“Me and Joe never talk about next fights on nights of the fights, but we talked tonight,” White said Saturday night. “And we like Roy Nelson versus [Daniel] Cormier, or Roy Nelson, if Mark Hunt wins [at UFC 160], Roy and Mark.

“If [Roy] wants to get close to the title, those are the guys he has to fight. I know he wants a title shot, and I honestly think he deserves to get a fight with one of the top guys to get him closer to that or get him a title shot.”

The words were music to Nelson’s ears. He had a huge smile on his face each time White made reference to his immediate fighting future. Now he’s at least one bout from realizing his goal of fighting for the UFC heavyweight title.

But here’s the kicker: If Nelson is serious about landing his title shot sooner rather than later -- and sooner is always better, because title shots are very hard to come by -- he must do whatever is necessary to make certain that Cormier is his next opponent. A victory over Cormier, especially if it is impressive, will place him among the top three contenders in the heavyweight rankings. No doubt about it.

Both ESPN.com and UFC.com currently rank Cormier as the No. 2 heavyweight contender, right behind former titleholder Junior dos Santos, who faces Hunt at UFC 160 on May 25 in Las Vegas.

... if he gets past [Junior dos Santos], that would be great. If he doesn't, I'd still fight Mark Hunt because the fans want to see that one.

-- Roy Nelson

An upset of dos Santos won’t catapult Hunt into the top contender spot. Hunt will not surpass Cormier in the rankings, nor is he likely to jump ahead of Alistair Overeem or Fabricio Werdum.

As of Monday, Nelson was ahead of Hunt in the UFC.com heavyweight rankings -- Nos. 6 and 9, respectively. Hunt could move ahead of Nelson with an upset of dos Santos, making a showdown between them more intriguing.

The winner of that fight, however, will have a hard sell convincing UFC officials he deserves an immediate title shot. But a win over Cormier and Nelson is right there knocking at the champion’s door.

“I want to fight the best in the world. And fighting Daniel, you know, he’s an Olympian, I’d like to welcome him to UFC,” Nelson said after his win Saturday night. “As for Mark Hunt, if he gets past [dos Santos] that would be great. If he doesn’t, I’d still fight Mark Hunt because the fans want to see that one.

“I’m all about making everybody happy.”

It’s very noble of Nelson to consider the fans, but it would be a mistake on his part to bypass a shot at Cormier. The risk is greater, but so is the reward. And knowledgeable fight fans would be more interested in witnessing this high-profile bout than a slugfest between him and Hunt.

Besides, Cormier has already endorsed the idea of facing Nelson.

“Hey Dana you’re right, Roy Nelson and I would be a damn good fight,” Cormier said on Twitter after hearing White’s fight proposal. “How about it [Roy]?”

White and Silva are likely to put the ball in Nelson’s court in the next few weeks. And it is in Nelson’s best interest not to drop it.

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