The heavyweights provide the violent pause for divisional concern this February 6, 2016 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Single sentence summary:
Phil: Heavyweights meet in a heavyweight fight where the winner will be determined by skill, grit and talent, or alternatively by the caprices of the Many-Angled Ones who live beyond the borders of our reality.
David: A violent biscuit and gravy pause for heavyweight concern.
Roy “Big Country” Nelson 20-12
Jared “The Big Show” Rosholt 14-2
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
Phil: Big Country has been a staple for the UFC ever since he won that hilarious and terrible Kimbo season of the Ultimate Fighter. Since then he’s dealt out knockouts and taken some brutal beatings. These are, for me, engendering more than a bit of concern. Per Fightmetric, he’s received 763 significant strikes over the course of his UFC career. Heavyweight significant strikes. Despite being the kind of fighter that the UFC normally loves, I don’t think that they actually do: he’s got a bit more arrogance to him than they’re comfortable with, and he gambled and lost on a contract renegotiation before his fight with Miocic. Hence, he just fought in a main event on a 26-26 contract, with a sweet 10K in Reebok money on the top, and coincidentally took the record number of sig strikes ever recorded in a HW bout. I’m all for consent and letting people do what they want with their lives and all, but I can’t say I enjoy watching Nelson selling brain damage down the road for pennies on the dollar.
David: Nelson has not only successfully branded himself but he’s done so with violent aplomb. His career at this point is only a modest surprise. After all, we’re used to the unexpected at Heavyweight. The real question is how long he can play the role of 205+ Donald Cerrone. Although as you pointed out, he’s quickly turning into the Brisket and Egg version of Diego Sanchez.
Phil: Jared Rosholt is part of the saddest generation of heavyweight prospects to grace the UFC since… well, the one before it. Walt Harris (“looked vaguely athletic”), Nikita Krylov (who’s developed into a surprisingly good LHW), Erokhin/Lewis (“can punch hard”), etc. Measured against these dreadful standards, Rosholt has been a raging success, only dropping a bizarre KO to Oleksiy Oliynik. His main problem is that he is awful to watch by almost any metric. He fights the way that internet morons think Johny Hendricks fights.
David: You’re unusually ornery today Phil. I haven’t seen you like this since we had the misfortune of previewing Ken Shamrock vs. Kimbo Slice. Rosholt is a polarizing figure as most top control wrestlers with raw striking tend to be. His career has been steady despite really only one embarrassing loss on his record. Outside of that he stands out because everyone else has yet to stand up.
What are the stakes?
Phil: No! I’m not gonna. You can’t make me, David. I’m not going to write about the stakes of a Roy Nelson and Jared Rosholt fight. As Kenny Florian once said, the line must be drawn HERE. Although it does appear that the advance of the Borg has stopped in the prelims.
David: I mean, there are nominally serious stakes to any heavyweight fight because the distinction between contendership and serendipity gets blurred between the pot bellies, the injuries, and the despair. When heavyweight learns to stop cutting and pasting strategies from better fighters, maybe they’ll excite us again.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Big Country is going to come forward, probe level changes or the left uppercut, then throw the overhand right. His game has actually regrown a bit of late- he’s looking for takedowns again, and his technical craft on the feet appears to have grown. He can actually throw the hook or jab rather than just measuring, and is showing more of a propensity to be able to fight in and out of clinch transitions. He’s probably still got a good top game, particularly from side control and his favoured Salaverry position, but we’re unlikely to see it. Technical improvements have come alongside a noticeable drop in pure speed.
David: The problem with Nelson is that he’s trying to be more exciting as his body’s ability to provoke excitement have waned. His right hand is still fairly money. Yea it’s predictable, but sometimes predictability is effective. When you get opponents thinking so much about what they need to prepare for, it’s easier to anticipate their adjustments, and then readjust accordingly. That part of Nelson is functionally dead, but I don’t consider him a technical walkover for any fighter. His quality of competition is stupid good as well, so I’ve gotta give him leeway considering his best strategies against certain fighters was probably best throwing caution to the wind.
Phil: Rosholt is as meat and potatoes as you can get. Left hand to gauge distance (again) then level change and chain wrestle. Once on top he generally gets into the top ride position and, well, rides out the round. His most concerning problems in this fight are around his left hand, which he gets a bit careless with- dropping it after throwing punches, or reaching for the single collar tie too much- holding onto one when he shouldn’t have was what got him finished by Oliynik. He’s not as easy to hit as you might guess, but his defense in interstitial spaces comes and goes.
David: He’s not quite the stereotype of good wrestlers with static mixed martial arts abilities he’s seen as. He was basically winning the Oliynik fight as well before getting brutally knocked out. I know that sounds ridiculous, but whatever. Rosholt is actually a solid striker in my opinion. Yea you could consider the bar his abilities are set against, but with decent power, and good technique, he’s not lost on the feet. The problem with his boxing is that he doesn’t know how to conceal his limitations. He does this by either overstaying his welcome on the feet, or getting sloppy in the clinch (as you mentioned).
Insight from past fights?
Phil: There’s two ways of looking at Rosholt’s ghastly fight with Struve- either as a painfully one-dimensional fighter who had literally no other way of winning simply trying his best, or as a developing fighter taking the safest route to victory. He showed developments in striking and offensive clinch work against Oliynik but got finished- that doesn’t mean the developments aren’t there, it just means he may have been shelving them.
David: To be honest, I was more unimpressed with Struve. Rosholt did a better job of concealing his flaws against Struve, but Struve made it easy for him. So it’s hard for me to take much away from that fight other than the sheer unwillingness to watch that bout again.
Phil: Nelson’s takedown defense is a bit of a mystery. Not many people have been able to take him down, but not many people have seriously tried. In the pure wrestling, he was arguably getting the better of Barnett, but the Warmaster is not a great MMA wrestler. The same is true of Mir, and Cormier just decided to stand and clinch for the whole fight. Essentially for as long as we’ve seen him fight, we’ve never really seen Nelson against a determined takedown artist.
David: It’s kind of hard to run the pipe, or double blast into position given Nelson’s height. I can see why some fighters just don’t even try. Who’s gonna power over that pile of stomach on top of you anyway? I do think Rosholt should be able to be successful, but as the fight wears on.
Phil: Rosholt’s defensive flaws are troubling, but I expect him to show a few fight-to-fight improvements, and unless Nelson lands clean, he has historically been pretty terrible at winning decisions in the UFC. Jared Rosholt by unanimous decision.
David: Gotta avoid the contrarian Skip Bayless moment. Nelson’s predictability isn’t the problem. The problem is that he’s quickly running out of time in general. Nobody’s gonna be happy. Jared Rosholt by Decision.
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