MMA fighters are constantly a target for haters looking to lay out a bad rap. It doesn’t help when people like Jon “War Machine” Koppenhaver, Vitor Belfort, Thiago Silva, Cris “Cyborg” Justino and Paul Kelly get busted for anything from steroids to felony assault to heroin trafficking, but this stuff happens in all walks of life. There are countless examples of bankers, lawyers, dentists and just about any other profession who get convicted of the same types of crimes, if not worse.

So, with all of the crap that goes on in the sport, or any profession for that matter, why do some guys get a bad rap for simple lifestyle choices that don’t directly affect anybody else?

Nelson (standing) (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Nelson (standing) (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Roy “Big Country” Nelson falls into a very unique position as a professional mixed martial artist. Most late-coming, mainstream fans first remember him as a contestant on The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights back in the fall of 2009.

Nelson did not exactly get off on the right foot with fans. In episode two, he had a discussion with his coaches about whether or not he wanted to train with and be a part of Team Rashad Evans. Throughout the season, people constantly questioned his physical fitness and work ethic, but the fighter was largely misunderstood.

Nelson has been fighting professionally since 2004, when he fought in the Rage on the River heavyweight tournament in California. The Las Vegas native fought twice that night and won the tournament with a submission followed by a split decision. Even though the event was 10 years ago, there’s one thing that he will never forget about that night.

“My biggest takeaway from my first fight is: don’t fight in a tournament [and] don’t fight multiple guys in the same day,” Nelson told The MMA Corner.

Nelson’s background includes training and competing in martial arts for a long time. In 2003, he was a Grapplers Quest Superfight champion and he went to Abu Dhabi to compete in the ADCC Submission Fighting Championships. Nelson’s bracket at ADCC included MMA fighters Jeff Monson, Mike Van Arsdale and current UFC heavyweights Fabricio Werdum and Soa Palelei. A steadfast competitor before even entering the cage, Nelson was already battling some of the best fighters in the world.

Nelson’s career progressed from his first tournament, and his eighth fight took place in the International Fight League. Nelson became the first and only heavyweight champion under the IFL banner, before the promotion dissolved in 2008. Later that year, he suffered his only stoppage loss on record, which came against former UFC champ Andrei Arlovski, followed by a decision loss to Monson before getting his shot at The Ultimate Fighter.

It would be easy for a layperson, with no background on the man, to make the assumption that he wasn’t taking his career seriously. But, physical appearance and training attitude do not detract from who Nelson really is, and he showed the world why he deserved to be where he was.

After two knockouts and a decision win throughout the season, Nelson entered the finals and knocked the hell out of Brendan Schaub at 3:45 of the first round to win the season. So, haters can hate, but he’s the one that ran through the pool of contestants with four wins in a row. His career only went up from there.

Nelson has been in the Octagon a whopping 11 times in the last four years. All of his UFC wins were by knockout. And with all of his losses coming by decision, he has proven impossible to stop by a fellow UFC fighter. His last opponent, former Strikeforce heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier, found that out firsthand.

After three rounds, Cormier may have won the fight by decision, but he could do nothing to shut down “Big Country.” Nelson showcased why he is such a great fighter for fans to watch. He just keeps coming, no matter who’s on the other side of the cage, and little can be done to stop him. Even with 28 fights under his belt, Nelson’s performance in the Cormier fight did open his eyes to a flaw in his game plan.

“I need a better sense of urgency, because I usually fight like I don’t have any time limit,” Nelson admitted. “I think I fight better with five rounds, because that’s what I always train for. I also need to work on adapting to the fighters that want to play the game, versus actually trying to finish the fight.”

One of the biggest complaints from fighters like Nelson—fighters that come to win a fight—is the constant game-planning by the more cerebral fighters and coaches that don’t look to win any particular fight. They just plan not to lose any rounds. This practice is not only boring and unfair to fans, it’s nearly as sleazy as performance-enhancing drugs, “greasing” or any of the other junk that fighters attempt to get away with. Business or not, a fight is a fight, and people expect fighters to come looking for a finish. Cheeseburger fan or not, Nelson works his ass off and has a great deal of integrity as a fighter.

Nelson (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Nelson (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

This weekend, Nelson is set to face another world-class opponent in the form of Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira. The Brazilian is one of the most legendary fighters in the game. He is a fourth degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and has never been accused of game-planning, PEDs or any of those other ugly acts. Nogueira is a pure competitor, and Nelson loves the match-up.

“Big Nog is a fighter that definitely comes to finish the fight,” said Nelson. “It doesn’t matter what round it is, he’s going to try to finish the fight. I respect fighters that always try to finish the fight, instead of trying to play the new fight game.”

Obviously, with his own background as a BJJ black belt and standing as a longtime MMA competitor, Nelson knows exactly what to expect from Nogueira, who enters the cage with 21 submissions and only three knockouts. “Big Country” hasn’t done much grappling in the cage, earning five submissions early in his career, but has instead opted to unleash his powerful hands, which have yielded 12 knockouts, six of which happened under the UFC banner. He is not afraid to let the world know what he has to offer Big Nog.

“My biggest strength is that I hit harder, just because I have more actual knockouts than he does,” Nelson stated. “I give myself the edge on that. Overall, I think it’s just the power of the wills.”

Between his quick rise in the largest MMA promotion and the fact that he lives in Las Vegas, Nelson has had the opportunity to train with countless high-level sparring partners, including Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, Derrick Smith, Ricky Shivers, Blagoi Ivanov and Vinny Magalhaes. On top of his own skill set and the work ethic that he brings to the cage, Nelson benefits from his coaches and training partners, all of whom push him to get better as a well-rounded mixed martial artist. However, come Saturday night, Nelson is expecting an all-out war with Nogueira.

“As soon as the bell rings, I think it’s going to be an exciting fight from the get-go,” explained Nelson. “I think he’s going to come right at me and I’ll come right at him, and I think whoever ends up limp on the ground loses.”

Well, if history truly repeats itself, Nelson will not be the one limp on the ground. In fact, even in his one TKO loss to Arlovski, he never went to sleep. On the contrary, he took shots to the chin with knees, hooks and straight rights over and over again until he fell down, but he was never out. His iron chin has taken three rounds of punishment from guys like Junior dos Santos, Frank Mir and Fabricio Werdum, and none of them could stop him. Nogueira, on the other hand, has suffered his first four stoppages in his last four losses, showing signs of an aging chassis.

At 37 years old, Nelson might find it tough to ignore the inevitable future. After the Nogueira fight at UFC Fight Night 39, Nelson is going to continue to enter the cage with the best fighters in the world to prove his place in the UFC. He doesn’t need drugs. He doesn’t need some weirdo diet. He just needs to stay true to himself, so he can try to earn a title shot before he decides to hang it up.

“My goal for 2014 is to get three wins. Nothing too special, just keep winning to eventually fight for the belt,” Nelson intimates. “That’s my ultimate goal, but with Cain [Velasquez] only fighting once a year, it makes it tough.

“The biggest accomplishment would be to fight for the UFC belt. I think, at our weight, it’s always like you’re one fight away. You could be on a three-fight losing streak, win one, fight one more fight, and the next one is you’re fighting for the belt.”

UFC Fight Night 39 takes place this Saturday night, live from du Arena in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Nelson is a fan favorite, a stand-up fighter and a man of integrity who fights every fight like there is no end. He will enter the cage against one of the legends of the sport with no fear and no game plan other than to finish the battle.

“I think everybody knows the way I come to fight. They come to watch the way I fight. Every time you watch me fight, you’re going to go, ‘Damn, I wish every time I saw a UFC fight, everybody would fight like him.’”

]Nelson would like to thank his family, friends, coaches, training partners and all of his fans. He would also like to thank his sponsors: Lunarpages, Fear the Fighter, Alienware, and Dynamic Fastener. Follow Roy on Twitter: @RoyNelsonMMA