Roy Nelson looking forward to test against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

Roy Nelson looking forward to test against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Roy Nelson looking forward to test against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

Roy Nelson has been there and done that.

Over the course of a decade-long mixed martial arts career, the heavyweight knockout artist has fought everywhere from his hometown of Las Vegas to Guam to Costa Rica to Russia. He's competed 28 times under nine different promotional banners, making the industry-leading UFC his home since 2009.

So it takes a lot to get the 37-year-old known as "Big Country" excited about much these days.

But his next fight is something different. On Friday, Nelson (19-9) will meet the only man ever to hold heavyweight titles in both the UFC and PRIDE, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, in the main event of a UFC Fight Night card in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

"When I got into this business, I wanted to fight the best," Nelson said. "When I was breaking in, Nogueira was right up there with the best of the best, and he's still one of the biggest names. In some ways you have to treat this like just another fight. But yeah, the guys like Antonio and Mirko Cro Cop and Fedor [Emelianenko] were the guys I respected and admired, so it's an honor to be able to get a fight like this."

That's as close to high praise as you're going to get from Nelson, one of the sport's most notorious contrarians, one who's always been determined to blaze his own path. In June, Nelson took a gamble and accepted a short-notice fight with Stipe Miocic, which was the last fight on his UFC contract.

Had he won, Nelson would have entered free agency on a four-fight win streak. Instead, the popular brawler lost a one-sided decision. After re-signing with the UFC, he then lost another decision, to Daniel Cormier at UFC 166.

"No regrets," Nelson said. "You win some, you lose some, but you have to keep going forward."

For his part, Nogueira (34-8-1, 1 no-contest), also 37, is clearly taking Friday's bout seriously. Nogueira has been in a win-one, lose-one pattern for his past eight fights, dating back to 2008. His most recent fight was a loss last June to Fabricio Werdum.

Nogueira arrived in the Middle East two weeks ago, finishing his training camp in Dubai, where a Nogueira Brothers franchised gym is located.

And while a casual fan might look at Nelson's rotund physique and dismiss him, Nogueira knows better.

"He's so strong, such a solid grappler and has such a big overhand," Nogueira said. "He's such a dangerous fighter. You would have to be a fool to dismiss him."

Both guys will be looking to go for the finish on Friday. Nogueira boasts 21 submissions and three knockouts among his victories; Nelson's 19 career wins include 12 knockouts and five subs. All six of his UFC wins are via knockout.

"That's another thing I like about Nogueira," said Nelson. "He likes to go out there and finish fights. So do I. This should be a fun fight for the fans because chances are someone is going to drop. I just don't plan on it being me."

Nelson's a notorious fighter to finish, as all five of his UFC losses have gone the distance. In the process, he's absorbed 511 significant strikes, the most ever taken in a UFC fight career without suffering a knockout.

Nogueira, though, points out that Nelson has never had to go beyond the 15-minute mark, and this is a five-round main event.

"I plan on wearing him down and using superior conditioning," Nogueira said. "He's never had to go five rounds. In PRIDE, we'd fight 20 minutes [with a 10-minute first round and five-minute seconds and thirds]. Of course, I have to avoid his big punches, but I feel once we get to the fourth round, I will be the man to finish him."

It's no secret both fighters are on the back end of their careers. It's also not the easiest time to be a high-priced veteran: Just this week, 35-year-old Jake Shields was cut from the UFC roster after just a single loss.

Nelson understands the implications, coming off back-to-back losses.

"It doesn't change anything, though," Nelson said. "Roy Nelson is going to come out and do his thing. I can't let anything like that affect my thought process going into the fight."

For his part, Nogueira, secure in his status as a legend of the sport, now takes fights which interest him, regardless of where they land him in the pecking order. In this case, he wanted to fight in Abu Dhabi, home of the Abu Dhabi Combat Club, which boosted the sport of submission grappling long before grappling became cool.

"This part of the world has given so much to the sport of Brazilian jiu-jitsu," Nogueira said. "It is an honor to fight here and give something back. That is a motivation. I still want to fight tough guys; Roy is a tough opponent. … I am motivated to experience fighting in these places."

As for Nelson, he's had his own thoughts about giving back. He applied for the open position of executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission, something he swears wasn't a publicity stunt.

"It's all about politics," Nelson said. "That's why I won't get the job. I think we need a fighter in there, someone who's actually been through it all and knows what's going on, instead of some political appointee with no integrity."

Follow Dave Doyle on Twitter @DaveDoyleMMA.

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