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Roy Nelson in fun-loving mood after retiring Mirko Cro Cop at UFC 137

New-look “Big Country” is the result of a re-focused training camp

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Sam Morris

Roy Nelson lunges towards Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic during their bout at UFC 137 Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Nelson won by TKO in the third round, likely making it Cro Cop’s last fight.

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UFC 137 Fights

Donald Cerrone lands a left on Dennis Siver during their bout at UFC 137 Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Cerrone won via sumbission in the first round. Launch slideshow »

Roy Nelson made almost everything into a joke after his UFC 137 victory against Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic on Saturday night.

He credited his more svelte frame to secret ninja training, claimed he shaved his beard immediately after the fight so the media would have something to talk about and cracked that he had a perfect kick percentage in the UFC.

One of the only moments Nelson, a Las Vegas native, spoke with a trace of seriousness was when asked about Cro Cop’s retirement. After Nelson scored a TKO victory at 1:30 of the third round over him, the 38-year old Cro Cop officially walked away from mixed martial arts.

“If he didn’t want to retire, he could still fight,” Nelson said. “He’s one of those guys who still hits hard. He’s still very competitive.”

Nelson didn’t have any mixed feelings about sending the former PRIDE tournament champion into retirement, even though “Big Country” has always looked up to Cro Cop.

Most in MMA share Nelson’s admiration for Cro Cop, who over a 10-year professional career was one of the most successful heavyweights in the history of the sport. But the former Croatian parliament member faded over the past year.

Nelson handed Cro Cop his third consecutive knockout defeat. With his UFC contract also culminating Saturday night, Cro Cop decided now was the best time to stop fighting.

He was disappointed and took off from the Mandalay Bay Events Center before speaking to the media, but left a comment with the UFC.

“It is hard to leave this company and this sport,” Cro Cop said. “Even though I didn’t do as well in the UFC as the rest of my career, I feel like I did everything that I could to have an overall successful career.”

Cro Cop expressed embarrassment for his last two losses, to Brendan Schaub at UFC 128 and Frank Mir at UFC 119, in the week leading up to UFC 137. He promised he ramped up the intensity of his training for Nelson in order to find redemption.

But Nelson also took his preparation for the fight more seriously. Nelson, mired in a similar two-fight losing streak, dropped an estimated 25 pounds in five months.

He began working alongside Mir, who beat him in the UFC 130 co-main event, and also spent time at Xtreme Couture. Nelson used to keep entirely to himself and always trained without a coach.

“It’s just one of those things,” Nelson said. “I’m just trying to be a more complete mixed martial artist, keep adding more tools to the repertoire and develop.”

Nelson showcased a well-rounded performance against Cro Cop. In the first round, Nelson’s wrestling shined as he shot in for a successful takedown.

He had to rely more on his boxing in the second round after Cro Cop clipped him with a left hand early.

“It put me on the defensive real quick,” Nelson said. “He kept coming until I got my head straight. I came back.”

Nelson recovered and won the remaining four minutes of the round. He carried the momentum into the third round where he dropped Cro Cop with a right hook.

Nelson went down after Cro Cop, intending to slap on a submission, but took his back and finished the fight with strikes before he had the opportunity.

Many viewed the contest as a must-win for Nelson because the UFC usually releases fighters with three straight losses. Asked if he felt relief for saving his job, Nelson lobbed another punch line.

“If the press writes bad articles,” Nelson said, “they should be worried about getting fired too.”

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

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