Wednesday, June 12, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Across a wide spectrum of sports, athletes endure increased scrutiny when they enter the final period of a contract.
“Contract years” can bring out the best in competitors motivated by the promise of a new deal or, sometimes, see them crumble under an unfamiliar form of pressure.
Local UFC heavyweight Roy Nelson enters fighting’s equivalent of a contract year Saturday in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Nelson’s UFC 161 co-main event meeting with Stipe Miocic is the final bout on a contract he won by becoming “The Ultimate Fighter 10" champion four years ago.
His potential resigning with the world’s largest mixed martial arts promotion is already a contentious subject, but Nelson promises it will have no tangible impact on his performance. He claims to not know the current status of negotiations.
“I have no idea,” Nelson said, smirking. “I have people for that.”
Nelson sarcastically added that it wouldn’t be an issue because the notoriously tight-lipped UFC doesn’t talk contracts or financials. Only, in this case, they have.
UFC President Dana White used the contract circumstances as a way to explain the pairing of Nelson and Miocic, which looked odd when announced five weeks ago.
The fighters were headed in different directions. Nelson had just defeated Cheick Kongo and ascended to No. 5 in the heavyweight rankings two months ago while Miocic was coming off the first loss of his career and hadn’t fought in nine months.
Slated to fight newcomer Soa Palelei on the preliminary card, Miocic found himself promoted into the Nelson bout on late notice. It was a necessary move, according to White, because of the terms of Nelson’s contract.
“He’s on the last fight of his deal and we owe him a fight,” White said. “He’s not giving us any extensions.”
White reported that the UFC offered Nelson an extension that he turned down, prompting the boss to blast the fighter by referring to him as “the smartest guy on Earth” and “a (expletive) genius.”
Nelson responded in a manner suitable to his quirky personality: He printed hundreds of T-shirts with the slogan and began selling them on his website. The “smartest guy on Earth” T-shirts are nearly sold out, according to Nelson.
“I just thought it was freaking humorous,” Nelson said. “It’s the best compliment Dana has ever said to me. We’ve got these fighter conduct rules about what we’re allowed to say, and I think the president and (CEO) Lorenzo (Fertitta) represent the organization so they’re held to a higher standard, and it was the best compliment anyone could ever say.”
Nelson’s goal is one that anyone can identify with: to get compensated based on his perceived worth. Considering he took credit for the sellout of UFC 161, that figure is much larger than his current base pay of $24,000 to show and $24,000 to win.
That doesn’t include sponsorship money or any discretionary and performance bonuses issued by the UFC, but Nelson is still out for far more. He attempted to compare his plight to a more everyday profession.
“You’re working for a business and you’re getting paid $30 an hour, but you’re working for them and you’re an electrician and they’re charging $150 an hour,” Nelson said. “It doesn’t quite make sense.”
Nelson’s quips fail to mask his agitation with the situation. But he says none of it will be on his mind when he gets to Winnipeg.
Nelson will tune it all out, including White’s comments.
“He’ll say one thing and then another, and it’s always kind of contradictory,” Nelson said, “so I don’t really put anything into it.”