By all appearances, Roy Nelson is a fighter worth watching at UFC 166

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

HOUSTON – A momentous occasion passed, largely overlooked by the media horde which arrived at the Toyota Center on Thursday to cover the festivities prior to UFC 166.

For years, UFC president Dana White and his sharp-tongued heavyweight, Roy Nelson, have battled over Nelson's appearance, his intellect and his personality.

And true to form, White fired a few pointed barbs in Nelson's direction on Thursday.

"Roy's no [expletive] genius," White said at one point.

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At another, he said Nelson doesn't understand personal hygiene, and then he railed on Nelson for not grasping the terms of his contract.

But just a few minutes apart on Thursday, Nelson and White agreed upon one very significant point: Nelson's stunningly one-sided loss to Stipe Miocic at UFC 161 in June didn't impact the four-year contract extension Nelson signed after the fight.

"We wanted Roy and we were going to sign Roy anyway," White said. "It's not like, 'Oh Roy, you lost; now you're [expletive], buddy.' We don't do that. We don't play like that."

Nelson, who fights No. 2-ranked Daniel Cormier on Saturday's main card, didn't have to accept the bout with Miocic. He took it on short notice and clearly wasn't ready.

He'd entered on a three-fight winning streak, all of which had come by first-round knockout, and was moving inexorably into position for a title shot.

But he was surprisingly dominated by Miocic. Cormier, though, said he wasn't shocked.

"He took the fight on very short notice against a guy who had been in camp and working hard for six, eight weeks and was right on top of things," Cormier said. "That was just bad timing for him."

It seemed like bad timing in several significant ways. Losing as his contract was about to expire, particularly given the enmity White feels toward him, didn't seem like the best way to go, but Nelson doesn't think it hurt him.

By that stage, he said, he knew where he stood.

"I think who I am and what I already bring to the table, I pretty much think my value and my worth has already been established," Nelson said.

Nelson was a restricted free agent, and could have gone to another organization and gotten an offer, but the UFC had the right to match.

It's why Nelson said repeatedly on Thursday, "There is no free agency."

Nelson wasn't able to essentially shop his services to the highest bidder, or simply leave if he had been unhappy with his treatment from the UFC, because the UFC has a similar matching clause to the one that has gotten Bellator so much criticism.

Bellator went to court with one of its stars, Eddie Alvarez, last year in an attempt to enforce its matching rights. Alvarez signed with the UFC, but Bellator contended it matched. When Alvarez insisted it wasn't a complete match, the case went to court. Alvarez and Bellator finally settled that case.

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That case showed that mixed martial arts fighters don't have the same type of unfettered free agency that, say, Major League Baseball players have.

White, though, defended his contract by insisting the UFC is fair in its dealings.

"We have the matching rights and all that other stuff, but we're not scumbags," White said. "We let the guys go out and actually find out what they're worth, and then we match it or let them [leave]."Nelson said he thinks it's going to be about another year before Bellator is a viable alternative, both in terms of level of competition and pay, for UFC fighters who have finished their contracts."

But he signed a four-year deal and won't have to worry about that much any more.

And he seems to have worked on one of the things that most annoyed White: His ample midsection is noticeably smaller. Nelson clearly weighs less than he has recently, and even teased Thursday about a potential move to light heavyweight.

Nelson, though, is always playing the comedian, and he repeatedly talked Thursday about how "this, by far, was the crappiest camp," he's ever had.

His striking coach, Jeff Mayweather, spent several weeks in the hospital after an adverse reaction to an energy drink. Several of Nelson's normal training partners weren't around.

Asked what he lost with Mayweather out, Nelson beamed and said, "It's really going to hurt my wrestling and my jiu-jitsu."

That's Roy being Roy, but there is one thing about Nelson that is unfailingly true: No matter what anyone says about him, when the bell rings, he's always looking to finish.

He's clearly not White's favorite person, but White understands Nelson's immense talents. He could easily have suggested that Nelson take a hike, but rather quickly signed him to a four-year extension.

So, despite the back-and-forth between them, it's clear White and Nelson agree on one thing: Nelson is one of the world's best, and most entertaining heavyweights, no matter the growth of his beard or the size of his waistline. 

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