Both heavyweights have been anomalies. Roy "Big Country" Nelson (16-7) couldn't make it through a single UFC fight without Joe Rogan speculating about how much he'd benefit from dropping a few pounds. And the criticism was legit -- in a sport overflowing with phenomenally conditioned athletes, and in which every miniscule factor can make a major difference, it was hard not to see room for improvement in Nelson's rotund physique.
Perching atop the cage and cuddling with his own spare tire was Nelson's signature celebration after a victory, but he's been denied that luxury in 3 of his last 4. However, after traditionally sneaking in just under the 265-pound limit, Nelson has gradually whittled down his frame, weighing in at 252-pounds versus Mirko Filipovic and then 246-pounds against Fabricio Werdum. Though the unending digs about his appearance got a little exhausting, the clamor was well intended, as Nelson's heart, toughness and talent are entirely indisputable.
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Dave "Pee Wee" Herman (21-3) is an anomaly for his flippant mentality. Fight fans love reckless and exciting fighters who fearlessly take bold risks, and Herman has embodied that list of traits to the fullest throughout his entire career. Watching him do battle is like seeing a human wind-up toy that's been cranked to the maximum and then unleashed to boomerang around the cage in a mesmerizing tornado of flying kicks, heavy punches and nimble takedowns.
While Herman's savage marauding is endearing to the audience and his inherent athleticism carried him through in smaller shows, his Octagon debut against Jon Olav Einemo revealed the hazards. Despite a rousing turnaround in the 2nd, Herman, who wore a wide grin throughout, took several clean blows in the 1st and seemed to be surrendering the fight's momentum. The Dave Herman that showed up against Stefan Struve in his last turn was shockingly composed and almost ... methodical, which indicated that he might be experimenting with a more "grown up" strategy. Unfortunately, that evolution brought him into new and unfamiliar territory and inevitably played a role in the 2nd-round TKO loss, which was just the 3rd of Herman's career and, really, only his 2nd legit loss since his last defeat was a DQ against Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou.
Continued in the full entry.
The way Herman and Nelson compare makes for an intriguing collision. They each have 2 clear strengths but are still proficient in a 3rd: Nelson is a big puncher with elite-level submission grappling and Herman is a volatile striker with explosive wrestling. The interesting aspect is that Nelson has serviceable takedowns to complement his striking and grappling and Herman is no novice in the art of the BJJ, as his omoplata finish at Bellator 31 would reflect.
"Big Country" is a top-of-the-food-chain grappler and an absolute master of passing and position, yet that realm of combat is only available if he can force a ground fight. At 6'4", Herman is a highly dexterous heavyweight with an exceptional strength-to-agility ratio who, even though he never wrestled in high school, was a red-shirt wrestler at Indiana University and qualified for the NCAA D1 championships his sophomore year. Additionally, since Nelson is more of a conniving tactician than a submission wizard, the fight is far from a done deal if they go to the floor. Herman has somewhat of a clever defensive guard, often booting opponents off him from spider guard to escape, and is also a good scrambler.
The following is a bullet-point layout of their perceived strengths in each phase of combat, concluded with my opinion on with whom the overall advantage lies:
Free Movement / Striking Phase
- Punching Power: Nelson
- Diversity and Strike Selection: Herman
- Use of Angles: Nelson
- Footwork: Herman
- Defense: Nelson (mostly because of his chin)
- Speed and agility: Herman
- Height and Length: Herman
- Overall Advantage: Herman
- Takedowns and Takedown Defense: Herman
- Muay Thai: Herman
- Dirty Boxing: Nelson
- Overall Clinch Striking: Herman
- Ability to Circle-Off the Cage: Nelson
- Overall Advantage: Herman (slight)
- Takedowns and Takedown Defense: Herman
- Submissions: Nelson
- Positional Control: Nelson (strong advantage)
- Ground and Pound: Nelson
- Escapes and Avoidance: Herman
- Overall advantage: Nelson
The elements that could influence or offset those listed above are Fight IQ and ruggedness, both of which strongly favor Nelson and, again, size and agility, which strongly favor Herman. Another intangible is whether Herman is readjusting his style to mitigate risks, because he still might be finding himself as a fighter and Nelson is not the type of opponent who lets you get away with mistakes.
The betting lines favor Nelson here, who comes out with a rating somewhere between -200 and -230. As a personal favorite, I'd love to see Herman pull a rabbit out of his hat here, but Nelson's combination of an invincible chin, huge power, unending determination and stellar grappling should win out. I think he's the sensible choice here.
Nelson's stand up has become all too predictable, however, and basically boils down to barreling forward with an overhand haymaker in tow. Herman's offensive striking can be borderline brilliant at times, but his striking defense leaves much to be desired, as he often pulls his head back out of the pocket when trading rather than rely on head movement for traditional countering. As much as I respect Nelson's skills, his success seems to hinge upon whether he can land his monster right or score a takedown; it's not the most dynamic approach. Though his striking defense makes me second guess this, I'm going to take a chance on Herman avoiding the home-run shot and Nelson's takedowns to eke out a dramatic decision.
My Prediction: Dave Herman by decision.