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Roy Nelson closing in on top of UFC heavyweight division with another knockout victory

Matt Mitrione lasted 2:31 with Nelson in “The Ultimate Fighter” 16 finale main event

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Roy Nelson salutes the crowd after knocking out Mike Mitrione during their bout at “The Ultimate Fighter 16” Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel.

'The Ultimate Fighter 16' Finale

Roy Nelson salutes the crowd after knocking out Mike Mitrione during their bout at Launch slideshow »

Roy Nelson jumped up and straddled the railing of the octagon, like he has for all his UFC victories, after knocking out Matt Mitrione in the first round Saturday night.

That was one of the only typical moves Nelson employed at “The Ultimate Fighter 16" finale. Although the local heavyweight notched the 11th knockout victory of his career, he said this one differed from the others.

All of his previous victims fell to one power punch. Nelson threw two crisp punches consecutively, one landed on the chin while the other went behind the ear, to doom Mitrione.

“It’s the first time I’ve thrown combos,” Nelson said.

Don’t tell Nelson that 36 years old is too late for a reinvention. “Big Country” claimed he had never worked extensively on his striking until three years ago.

He’s just now reaching the point, off of two straight first-round knockouts in seven months, where he feels completely comfortable letting his hands fly in rhythm.

“I used to submit everyone,” Nelson said of early in his career. “But when I got my first knockout, I was like ‘this is so much easier than that wrestling and jiu-jitsu stuff.’”

With his boxing at its best, Nelson envisions another run at the top of the UFC heavyweight division. After winning the 10th season of “TUF”, Nelson was one victory away from a title fight 2 1/2 years ago.

He gave current champion Junior dos Santos the toughest fight of his UFC career, but ultimately lost a unanimous decision. Nelson can’t help but think the fight may have played out differently if he possessed the striking knowledge he has now.

He hopes he’s not too far away from finding out after finishing Mitrione in less than three minutes.

“A win always goes one way,” Nelson said. “You beat anyone in the UFC and it puts you closer to your dream of becoming a champion.”

Nelson mentioned dos Santos and Cain Velasquez, who meet for the heavyweight championship belt at UFC 155 in two weeks at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, by name after the victory.

But he’s unlikely to get a bout with either immediately. Alistair Overeem, assuming he can get by Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in February, appears next in line for whoever wins dos Santos vs. Velasquez II.

Seeing Nelson fight the loser is also a long shot. The UFC tries not to match one fighter coming off of a loss against another following a win.

For whoever's next, Mitrione has a few words of advice.

“I didn’t do what I was supposed to do,” Mitrione said. “I got too cocky and stood in front of him.”

Mitrione, in fairness, had less than a month to prepare after Nelson’s original opponent Shane Carwin hurt his knee. If Carwin could return on a reasonable timetable, he remains a perfect opponent for Nelson.

But, after two failed scheduled bouts against Carwin, Nelson would prefer to steer clear of the former interim champion.

“I moved past him four weeks ago when I had Matt,” Nelson said. “I wasn’t even thinking about Shane. I was done with him.”

Nelson’s desire to get to the top is stronger than ever. The improvements in his game are an indicator.

“I’ve just been practicing combinations instead of just one punch,” Nelson said. “I’m just trying to better myself, and become an all-around mixed martial artist.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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