When Roy Nelson takes on Antonio Silva at UFC Fight Night 95 in Brazil this weekend, it will have been a long time coming. It’s a fight that was supposed to have happened years ago. At UFC 146, Big Country was expected to face Bigfoot Silva in a battle of the bigs at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Then circumstance struck the May 2012 card, as it is wont to do (Alistair Overeem failed his doping test), and Silva was promoted up to a bout with Cain Velasquez. He would lose that brutally one-sided fight, while Nelson would make short work of his replacement, Dave Herman, knocking him out in just 51 seconds.
For Nelson, it was the start of an impressive three fight win streak that put him closer to title contention than he’d ever been before. For Silva, it was a setback to be overcome — and it was, as just two fights and two wins later, he would rematch Velasquez, this time for the UFC championship.
Since then, however, it has been a rocky road for both popular UFC big men.
In fact, Bigfoot has just one win since his 2013 rematch loss to Velasquez, a TKO of Soa Palalei at UFC 190 last year. A Fight of the Year draw against Mark Hunt was also overturned to a No Contest in 2013 due to a doping test failure. Big Country, meanwhile, has fared slightly better. After his three fight win streak was ended by Stipe Miocic (now the reigning king of heavyweight), he would pick up two more wins, knocking out Big Nog and winning a decision against Jared Rosholt earlier this year. However, Nelson remains 1-4 in his last five, with any hope of a title shot in the UFC quickly fading.
Both men — but Nelson especially — remain a draw in the UFC however, which is why they’ve been paired up here. One career will be rejuvenated Saturday, at least temporarily. Hometown advantage may rest with Silva (despite being just 1-2 in his native Brazil), but gut feeling says Nelson has more left in the tank. Either way, each remains enough of a name to give the other a boost with a win. The heavyweight division is an interesting creature that way; fighters are always one punch away from a win, and a loss doesn’t always mean the risk of getting cut the way it might in a lower weight class.
What can we take from that? Fans like to watch big men fight.
That, however, isn’t exactly a state secret. What’s more interesting in this case is what will happen in the outcome of the fight. It has all the markings of a loser leaves town match. Should Bigfoot find himself knocked out at the heavy hands of Big Country, many will call for his retirement. Others will call for him to hook up with old boss Scott Coker in Bellator. Despite the forgiving nature of the UFC when it comes to heavyweights, it will likely be the end of the road. And either way, the UFC loses an asset, though certainly not its biggest one. Big Country is another matter. The rotund heavyweight can still headline cards when the need arises and has a hefty (no pun intended) following. A loss puts him 1-2 in his last three, but he’s not getting knocked out, puts on entertaining fights, and is a fan favorite.
What if he loses? Does the UFC want to cut one of its most popular heavyweights? Or are they willing to keep him around despite a poor record of late.
A win for Big Country, meanwhile, suddenly puts him in a decent spot, 2-1 for the year. He has the most to gain with a win here, and the least to lose quite frankly (Bellator would pay top dollar for his services if the UFC ever opted to cut him). That, above all else, may just keep him in the fold a little while longer. Besides, he has already vanquished two of Bellator’s top heavyweights in Matt Mitrione and Cheick Kongo. While Bellator has a good chance at landing Shane Carwin (an excellent fight for Nelson, and something of a grudge match after the two coached opposite each other on The Ultimate Fighter), there’s little for him to prove there.
In the UFC? There are plenty of fun fights left.
Regardless, at the end of UFC Fight Night 95, one of these vets could be left out in the cold, gone for good from any hope of relevance, if not the UFC itself.