His glory days in Pride may be a distant reflection at this point, but heavyweight legend Mirko Cro Cop is actually on the longest winning streak of his 17-year career.
And Roy Nelson plans to take that away from him on Saturday.
The way Nelson sees it, his 1-2 record inside the Bellator cage won’t matter if he can take out Cro Cop at Bellator 216. Cro Cop has won nine straight bouts dating back to Aug. 2014, including knockout victories over Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal and Gabriel Gonzaga, and the back-to-back wins over Satoshi Ishii that started this unbeaten run.
Cro Cop also won the Rizin Open-Weight Grand Prix back in 2016, a title that Nelson looks to claim as his own with a victory and one that he feels should put him right in the mix for Bellator gold.
“I like taking momentum from other fighters,” Nelson recently told MMA Fighting. “I think Cro Cop is on a three- or four-year win streak. He’s the Rizin [Open-Weight] Grand Prix champion, so the way I look at it is if I beat him, then I’m the Rizin [Open-Weight] Grand Prix champion and then on my way to fight for the Bellator championship.”
This will mark Cro Cop’s first fight for Bellator, a delayed debut after an injury knocked him out of a scheduled meeting with Nelson last May. Nelson’s run with Bellator hasn’t been smooth so far, with his lone win being a unanimous decision nod over Javy Ayala. He was knocked out by Sergei Kharitonov in his most recent outing and prior that he lost a majority decision to Matt Mitrione in the opening round of the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand Prix.
The Mitrione loss particularly stung for Nelson, as he saw eventual tournament winner Ryan Bader as the most intriguing opponent and he likes how his skills stack up against the current heavyweight champion.
“That was the guy to beat on my side of the bracket, is the way I looked at it,” Nelson said. “For me, I know I’d be a bad matchup for Ryan just because this ain’t wrestling. On the other side, you’re just cheering for Fedor (Emelianenko) because it’s Fedor.”
Another thing that bothered Nelson about the Mitrione fight is that he believes the verdict was wrong. That Bellator 194 clash was actually a rematch of their fight from The Ultimate Fighter 16 Finale in December 2012 that Nelson won by first-round TKO. Their second fight saw Nelson control the action on the ground in the third round and he thinks there either should have been a stoppage or the judges should have scored the fight for him.
Nelson wanted a trilogy bout with Mitrione right away, going as far as to try and take Bader’s place in the semifinals while still allowing for Bader to advance in the tournament even if Nelson won.
“I actually asked Ryan to let me fight Matt Mitrione for him and then when I beat Matt, I would let him go back in the Grand Prix and let him fight for the championship,” Nelson said. “I just wanted to fight Matt.”
Instead, Bader went on to win a lopsided decision over Mitrione and advance to the finals, where he knocked out Emelianenko to claim both the tournament championship and the vacant Bellator heavyweight title.
Nelson considers himself to be on good terms with Bader and even though he thinks he can beat him, that’s not the main reason he’s working his way towards that fight. It’s the shiny strap around Bader’s waist with which Nelson is most concerned.
“Ryan right now has the championship belt so he’d be my focus,” Nelson said. “Whoever has the belt. So if Cheick Kongo wins [against Vitaly Minakov in Saturday’s co-main event] and he beats Ryan hypothetically and then Cheick Kongo’s the champ, I want to fight Cheick Kongo. If the other guy fights for the belt — whoever has the belt by the time I get to the belt.”