Interview with Roy “Big Country” Nelson

Roy “Big Country” Nelson is one of the first names that come to mind when thinking about some of the most accomplished American heavyweight grapplers.To those that are familiar with the competitive Jiu-Jitsu and Submission Grappling scene, Roy “Big Country” Nelson is one of the first names that come to mind when thinking about some of the most accomplished American heavyweight grapplers. He is an ADCC and Pan American veteran with notable wins over the likes of Jeff Monson, Brandon Vera, Frank Mir, and Diego Sanchez. However, on Friday February 29th Roy will look to build upon his equally impressive MMA accolades by defending his IFL Heavyweight Title against Fabiano Scherner in the IFL’s first event of the 2008 season at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Bevois: Hey Roy, could you start by telling everyone where you’re from?

Roy: I was born and raised right here in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Bevois: So if you’re from the desert, how did you get the nickname “Big Country”?

Roy: I was training takedowns with Tito Ortiz, Ricco Rodriguez, Marvin Eastman, and Eric Pele at J-Sect when I first started and Big E (Eric Pele) was impressed with the way I was taking a lot of people down. He thought I was some college wrestler from Iowa, so he gave me the nickname “Big Country” and it kind of stuck.

Bevois: You started training Jiu-Jitsu with John Lewis. What got you interested?

Roy: Well, I started out by wrestling at Cimarron High School. I was pretty successful at it and placed in our zone and then state. After high school I started training Kung Fu for 6 years. Then in 2001, I saw John Lewis fight on TV. I wanted to fight and since he was local a friend of mine told me to stop by his school. I figured it would be a good way to get some fights and fight management. That’s how I found Jiu-Jitsu.

Bevois: You did knock out Antoine Jaoude to win your belt on December 29th, but you’re still mostly known for your grappling prowess. How long have you trained striking and with whom?

Roy: I’ve been training stand-up since 2005 with Skip Kelp who is the boxing coach at J-Sect. I already knew how to kick from my years of Kung Fu, so Kip helped me with my hands.

Bevois: Has your Kung Fu helped you noticeably in your MMA career?

Roy: Kung Fu has helped me a lot mentally, which is the most important thing in grappling, MMA, and in life.

Bevois: Where do you currently spend most of your time training?

Roy: Most of my training is with Skip Kelp over at J-Sect. I also train a lot with my students at my house out of my garage.

Bevois: What made you decide to make the transition from competitive grappling to MMA?

Roy: Training with Tito Ortiz, Ricco Rodriguez, Marvin Eastman, Eric Pele, Chuck Liddell, B.J. Penn, John Lewis, Tony DeSouza, Gilbert Yvel, and all the other top guys, day in and day out, in the old days of J-Sect. Training and helping them get ready for fights in the fight capital of the world, it was kind of inevitable. I felt like I should get a piece of the pie and make some money doing what I’d already been doing by fighting too.

Bevois: Before you started fighting full-time, you were a full-time elementary school teacher. What made you switch career paths?

Roy: I can teach again after I’m done fighting, as there are only a handful of years that I can fight in my prime. I could always do that after.

Bevois: The IFL has had a reputation for treating its fighters very well. Why do you think this is?

Roy: When they first started out, they tried to make it a fighter first organization to help fighters by siphoning monthly pay as a salary for fighters on top of fight pay. They also used to provide all of us (the fighters) with insurance. Now they’re taking a few steps backwards due to cost cuts. They did away with the monthly pay and insurance, because they felt like they were losing money, when they were actually spending money in the wrong places such as high profile coaches, whom weren’t the ones fighting. So essentially these coaches were getting paid larger salaries than the fighters on top of a cut of the money from all of the fighters they cornered. My coach Ken Shamrock was cool about it though and never asks for a cornering fee from his fighters. He just works as a regular coach and gets the standard management fee.

Bevois: Speaking of Ken Shamrock, he fights Robert Berry next week in the main event at Cage Rage 25 in London, England. What are your thoughts on Ken and that fight?

Roy: Ken is an ambassador of the game. He knows all the ins and outs from the promotional side to the fight side. Picking his brain is good. As for his fight next week, he should win and show the world that he still has a few fights left in him like Randy Couture did. This will be a good win and then the plan is for him to fight Kimbo Slice, since Cage Rage and EliteXC are both under the ProElite umbrella.

Bevois: Ken actually just busted Gumby’s brother with pocket aces, while playing poker up in Reno. He also sharked Tito Ortiz at pool for $10K on TUF 3. Has he ever won any money off you?

Roy: No he hasn’t, but after I won the IFL World Grand Prix finals on December 29th, he did stay up for a poker tournament at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.

Bevois: You defend your IFL heavyweight title for the first time on Friday night against Fabiano Scherner. What do you expect from him?

Roy: I expect him to come out strong. He’s a big guy and will probably swing for the fences. He’s a black belt in jiu-jitsu and also trains with Team Quest so I expect he’ll try to take me down at some point. I’m just gonna look to weather the storm, put him on his back, and finish him with strikes on the ground.

Bevois: Your teammate John Gunderson challenges Ryan Schultz for the IFL lightweight title on Friday night too. How do you see that fight going?

Roy: Guns and Schultz both have good stand-up and wrestling. So it will either be a slugfest or a lay n’ prey decision. Schultz is on a tear right now and has a lot of momentum coming off his big win over Chris Horodecki on December 29th, but Guns is sneaky, so it depends on how healthy he is.

Bevois: Are there any heavyweights out there in the IFL or elsewhere that you would consider a dream match-up?

Roy: Well Fedor is the #1 fighter in the world and beating him would obviously make you the best fighter in the world. The fastest way to the top is a straight line, but I wouldn’t mind fighting any of the top heavyweights.

Bevois: You were supposed to have a rematch against Ben Rothwell in November to avenge what many thought was home-cooking in your first fight last April. In that fight you controlled the pace, but somehow dropped a split-decision where 2 of the judges didn’t even award you one round. The parity in scoring at the Moline event made many people want to see the rematch take place in Vegas. Is this something you’d be open to?

Roy: Well I already know I won that first fight and Ben isn’t fighting in the IFL right now. I’d love to have the rematch in Vegas, but knowing that I already won that fight, I’d rather beat a Top 10 guy as a stepping-stone at this point.

Bevois: Have you ever thought about fighting for the UFC or other promotions?

Roy: I have always wanted to fight for the UFC because they have the most fans and the most market share, but it really depends. Honestly, right now I’d rather fight for M-1 Global or co-promote the IFL with M-1 Global, because they have Fedor.

Bevois: Your fight on Friday will be in Las Vegas. Are you looking forward to the hometown crowd?

Roy: I’m always looking to put on a good show for the Vegas crowd. I have more pressure, but I have a good support system. So win or lose I still have a place to call home.

Bevois: The IFL has made a lot of changes for the upcoming season, most notably the camp vs. camp format. How do you like these changes?

Roy: Nothing is new. The UFC has been emphasizing camp vs. camp for years. You always know if it’s American Top Team vs. Miletich Fighting Systems of whatever. I do think that the former city vs. city format could have had a lot more to it. The way cities get behind their local teams and finance them with new things such as stadiums, who knows what could have happened if we kept that original format.

Bevois: You have a very impressive jiu-jitsu and submission grappling career. You have a win over 2x ADCC champion Jeff Monson at the Bud Cup via guard pass, as well as wins over Frank Mir (15-2), Brandon Vera (kneebar), and Diego Sanchez (19-2) in the same day. Do you have any plans in the near future to continue your jiu-jitsu and submission grappling career?

Roy: I love grappling. I did ADCC in 2003, but politics kept me out in 2005. Then in 2007, I had knee surgery that prevented me from competing. I’d like to keep competing as much as possible. I always will compete, even though I’m doing MMA now too. I’m not one of those guys that thinks he’s too good for grappling shows once he’s found success in MMA. Grappling is also unique in the way that people only care about your wins and tend to forget about the losses. In MMA, promoters might not pick you up if you lose. In grappling you can always leave it all out there and then get back on the horse. If you lose to someone in grappling, you can go right back out there in a few weeks and beat him and everything’s fine.

Bevois: I saw you competing in the Pan American black-belt divisions last year. Are you headed back to the Pan Ams in a few weeks?

Roy: It depends on how things go for this fight. I’m always game for the Pan Ams, but it depends on how beat up I feel after the fight Friday.

Bevois: Who are some of the people you have looked up to in the sport as a source of inspiration?

Roy: Anybody that has been champion. Randy Couture is the guy that has shown that you don’t need to win every fight to be considered a champion. He has one loss for every two wins and still made it to the top without being the best fighter. Like they said in Batman Begins: “Why do you fall down? … To get back up.” Randy has that strong mental and that’s what it takes to be a champion.

Bevois: You helped pack in the new OTM Fight Shop in Las Vegas for your autograph signing. What do you think of OTM’s new 2,000 square foot super store in Vegas?

Roy: I love it. It’s a lot bigger than the last one and it’s in a nice central location just off the Strip. It’s great for the sport to see people support OTM, because they always support the fighters.

Bevois: You started a company, which specializes in rash guards called Dragonskinz several years ago. Do you have any other sponsors you’d like to thank?

Roy: Dragonskinz is one of the first fight clothing companies, as it came out in 1998 right around when TapouT first started. I’d also like to thank 108 clothing and anybody can get a free “Big Country” t-shirt by logging on to .

Bevois: Your fight will be televised live on HDNet on Friday night. Do you see this as a good way to show the world what “Big Country” is all about in the new look IFL?

Roy: Yeah, any exposure we get for the IFL and ourselves is good for the sport and the fans, because they get to see that there are other top fighters out there that don’t fight in the UFC.

Bevois: Is there anything else you’d like to say before your fight on Friday night?

Roy: Thanks for the interview and everyone should tune in to HDNet or go to the fights live at the Orleans on Friday night. Also go to to get your free t-shirt. There’s only 100 and they are only available while supplies last.

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