Starting at a new job at the age of 41 is just a part of life in most professions.
But for a fighter like Roy Nelson, his new beginning in Bellator on Saturday night comes well after most fighters careers would have long since ended.
Nelson (22-14) debuts after his May signing, when he faces Javy Ayala (10-5) at the SAP Center in San Jose as part of a dual MMA and kickboxing event. The MMA fights will air live on Spike TV, while the kickboxing fights will air on Spike on Oct. 6.
“It’s been exciting,” said Nelson about fight week being around a completely different cast of characters. “It’s when you wake up for a new job, even though it’s the same old job, but it’s a new job and you want to put your best foot forward.”
“The biggest difference is being excited to go to work, I can’t wait for Saturday.”
Nelson said the difference between this week with Bellator and eight years with the UFC is something that would seem like very little, but for him is really big.
“There’s a big difference in my enthusiasm,” he said. “`Please’ and `thank you’ go a long way. Anytime someone says `please’ and `thank you,’ it means so much more than `just do this.’
He went so far as to say that his move to Bellator from UFC, a move he said he didn’t wrestle with at all, had nothing to do with money and everything to do with the people within the company showing appreciation.
“What brought me to Bellator was Scott Coker, Viacom and one of my good friends, Mike Kogan,” he said. “I’ve known Mike for I’d say 10 years. And then there’s the new regime at the UFC. There’s a lot of things.
“Actually, it was a super easy decision,” he said. “It was a no brainer. It had nothing to do with the offer. It had everything to do with `please’ and `thank you.’ That is appreciation. One of the things in marriage is you have to understand what appreciation is about, and that’ll keep me for longevity. That’s why my fans love me, because I appreciate them. Because with no fans, there would be no sport, no fighting for me, no UFC, no Bellator, no Rizin, there’d be nothing without the fans.”
Ayala, who just turned 29 last month, isn’t a well-known heavyweight, but shocked Bellator fans on Nov. 4, when he knocked out former Pride star Sergei Kharitonov in 16 seconds in a fight most figured would be a showcase for Kharitonov. A follow-up win over Nelson would put his name on the map in a wide-open Bellator heavyweight division, which doesn’t have a champion.
Nelson joked since Kharitonov has wins over both Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum, that using MMA math, Ayala could be ranked near the top.
“I can always fight the best in the world,” said Nelson. “I’m ready to fight the best guys. If he’s a new up-and-comer like Javy, the heavyweight division is all 30 years plus. He’s under 30. He’s the new breed. He knocked out Sergei Kharitonov, who knocked out Overeem, who beat Werdum, and Werdum was the baddest man and Sergei knocked him out (actually the win over Werdum was via decision). He should be No. 2 on the USA Today non-steroid rankings, because there’s a few steroid users out there.
“I always anticipate a good war, but I’d like to get in there and get out,” he said, talking about his goal of finishing quick enough that he’d be ready to fight the next day. “I already did he hard work. I’d like to feel I got rewarded.”
Nelson was a cult favorite in UFC, best known for his long hair, bushy beard and a physique that one would expect more from someone in a beer-drinking weekend softball league than a fighter who has been in the public eye for a decade. Before that, was well known in Las Vegas for his jiu jitsu skills.
Ironically, he’s used little of that background as a fighter, with his last submission win coming in 2006.
For the last decade, Nelson fights usually have one of two endings. Either he wins via knockout, or he loses via decision.
Since debuting in UFC in 2009, there have only been two exceptions to this rule, a knockout loss to Mark Hunt in 2014 and a decision win over Jared Rosholt in 2016.
But of late, the tide has turned, with six of those decision losses and only two of those knockout wins, along with the two outliers, in his last 10 fights.
Nelson’s feeling, which is different from many in the sport, that his career avoidance of using steroids during an era where most feel use with plentiful is the reason he’s still around.
“I think the difference now is just training smarter, and then for myself, you watch all the others use their special stuff and see what it does to your body, the old people, if you stay natural, you can stay around a little longer.”
He said he hopes Bellator fills its vacant heavyweight title with a tournament, which he fells would be the most fair way to do it.
“Anytime I come to any organization, I have my sights on the belt.”
He said that the UFC title used to mean a lot, but felt things had changed and it became very political in how title shots were given out.
“That’s the reason I love the Grand Prix, I did the IFL Grand Prix, Pride did the Grand Prix, the old UFC, UFC 1, that was a tournament,” he said. “The Super Bowl is a tournament. The World Series is based on a tournament. the NBA finals is based on a tournament. The one thing a tournament does is it takes the politics out of the game,. That’s the one thing Scott Coker does very well. He’ll probably do a Grand Pix tournament, and then all you have to do is win on those important days.”
He also said he favors a tournament because you can’t pick who you are fighting.
He said that he knows San Jose is Coker’s backyard, so he knew Coker would put together a good card. With fights like Benson Henderson vs. Patrick “Pitbull” Freire and Lorenz Larkin vs. Paul Daley, along with Nelson’s debut this is Bellator’s deepest show since the June 24 event in Madison Square Garden.
But he’s also hoping Bellator can make its debut soon in his own home city, Las Vegas.
“I like fighting in the fight capital of the world, Las Vegas,” he said. “I think Bellator needs to go there. With the Fertittas gone, I think they had a lot of pull there, now there’s no more cock blocking.”