UFC Fight Night 52 this past Saturday ended in a fashion not one of us really expected: with Roy “Big Country” Nelson being handed his first knockout loss in the UFC. In fact, it’s the first pure KO of his career, though he did suffer a TKO years back against ex-heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski.

Sure, some people—perhaps many—picked his opponent to win. Some even picked him by knockout. Deep down, however, not many truly expected it to happen. After all, Big Country’s chin was legendary.

That the man to finally fell the beast that is Nelson was Mark Hunt, a formidable monster himself, Mark Hunt. As Nelson posted to his Twitter after that bout, that’s what happens in the heavyweight division. Anyone can get caught, and according to Nelson, that’s exactly what happened. Hunt managed to do what Junior Dos Santos, Frank Mir, Fabricio Werdum, Stipe Miocic, and Daniel Cormier could not—catch Nelson at just the right time, and connect on just the right spot. That’s pretty much the only way to put Nelson down. Despite the knockout, there won’t be any talk of Nelson having lost his chin just yet; Hunt’s one of the hardest hitting guys in the division—along with Dos Santos and Nelson himself—and the knockout blow was a picture perfect one.

At 38 years old and just 1-3 in his last four fights, where does Nelson go? He has always pursued the title and came close in 2012 and 2013. He went on a three fight win streak, knocking out Dave Herman, Matt Mitrione, and Cheick Kongo during that time, but has since struggled to find consistency. Overall, he’s 7-6 in the UFC, 20-10 in his career. He has fought most of the best but always seems to come up short in the big fights. That has traditionally left most seeing him as a gatekeeper, but Nelson himself has always aspired to be something greater.

He just keeps coming up short.

At 40 years-of-age, Hunt is looking for a quick path to the title, and given Big Country is two years his junior, it’s not unthinkable that Nelson might manage to make one last run. However, Hunt has eleven fewer professional MMA fights than Nelson, and his time in the octagon is far less than Nelson’s. As Indiana Jones reminded us, “it’s not the age: it’s the mileage.” How many more wars can Nelson realistically go through and how many more big fight losses can he take?

The reality is, and we say this as big fans of Big Country, gatekeeper might just be the best role for him. With the goal of making a title run being rather murky right now, Nelson might actually help his career if he settles into the position of being the “best of the rest” for a stretch. At times, he’s had that role anyway – it’s basically where he was for the Herman fight. Taking on a couple of up-and-comers, most of whom would eat Nelson’s right hand in the first round and give him the walk-off knockout he loves, would potentially bring his stock back up again. It might be a better bet than trying to jump right back into the fray, and it would still keep Nelson fresh in the eyes of the fans, because no matter who he fights, people will watch.

That’s not to say there aren’t other options. The popular choice at the moment seems to be to have Nelson take on Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, in a battle of the “big boys” that was first scheduled a couple years back only to have the fight lost due to the card it was on being reshuffled. Silva, however, will be taking some time off to have a cyst removed from his pituitary gland, which will keep him out of the gym for a couple of months. Depending on what sort of suspension Nelson gets after the knockout, that could work out perfectly. Nelson likely won’t be out long; he was down only a matter of seconds Saturday.

Another name—more in line with the gatekeeper idea—that has been tossed around is Derrick Lewis. Lewis was on a short but violent role to start his UFC career, something The MMA Corner took a look at previously. But since that time, his hype train derailed at the hands of Matt Mitrione. Mittrione, who has lost to Nelson, has been paired up with Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC on FOX 13. While Gonzaga vs. Nelson would be a great fight to book at some point,Lewis is still available, at least once he recovers from his own knockout loss.

Whomever Roy Nelson gets paired up with, fans will tune in. He’ll headline or co-headline cards and continue to draw eyeballs as one of the few real characters in the sport. Dana White will continue to throw fits over the guy because he just won’t conform, fans will love him because he’s one of their own—the everyman—, and he’ll always be remembered as an entertaining fighter.

Could he still go on a run at the title? Sure, but it’s not too likely. Even if that goal is no longer feasible, “Big Country” will remain a staple in the division for a while longer.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.