Monday, July 2, 2007

Pick on Someone Your Own Size

I understand that the subsequent statement is in stark contrast to what many MMA fans feel, but here goes:

I don't like how Tim Sylvia is vilified, and I am looking forward to his UFC octagon return.

Sylvia announced on his web site a few days ago that he has rehabilitated his back after surgery in May and is training for a return to the Octagon in October, when the UFC will most likely be hosting the card in Cincinnati.

Now, I know what you're thinking: Who cares? I do.

I really believe that Tim Sylvia, if healthy and determined, could be as formidable a foe as any in the division. Unfortunately, most UFC and MMA fans only know the Tim Sylvia from 2006 to the present, but lets take a quick look back to yesteryear.

Do you remember Sylvia's early UFC fights? Sylvia beat Cabbage so bad, Cabbage's corner threw in the towel. Then Ricco Rodriguez, riding a twelve-fight win strwak, was knocked out in the first round. Then Gan McGee was knocked out in the first round. Then Tra Telligman was knocked out cold by a left head kick in the first round. All were dangerous heavyweights, and all were punished with highlight-reel assaults. Tim Sylvia was a (somewhat) lean, mean, ass-beating machine.

Now let's look at the current state of the division. Today, the upper echelon of the heavyweight class boasts a storybook champion in Randy Couture, top-three fighters in Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, former champ Andrei Arlovski, and top contender Gabriel Gonzaga. Despite Sylvia's recent loss, it'd be foolish to think that he doesn't belong in this company.

Think about it: Tim's a monster of a heavyweight (6'8", 265 lbs.) who's demonstrated awesome power with his hands and feet. He's dismantled highly-touted MMA and grappling champions, and he lost his title to Randy Couture, the quintessential man. One of the biggest knocks on Sylvia has been that he fights "not to lose." In fairness, he did embrace a "safer" fighting style once he had the belt, but now that he's been supplanted atop the UFC heavyweight division, I'm not ready to dismiss the notion that the old Tim Sylvia -- the exciting, aggressive Tim Sylvia --won't be coming back. Why should I? What's he got to lose?!?!

I've visited the message boards and asked some of my fight fan buddies why they loathe Tim Sylvia so much, and having heard/read several responses, I'm not at all convinced that he's the anti-Christ prick he's made out to be. Let's take a look at why he doesn't get the respect that someone with 11 octagon wins - 7 by way of devastating KO - should get.

He doesn't fight to win; he fights not to lose: After regaining the heavyweight belt (and, in turn, avenging an earlier loss) from Andrei Arlovski, he did fight a bit more conservatively in his title defenses against Arlovski in their third and final match, and then against Jeff Monson. Even before those two fights, he was underwhelming against Aussuerio Silva. I agree that these three matches were indeed lackluster, but I don't exactly recall Silva, Arlovski, or Monson ever really taking the fight to Sylvia, do you?

He always wore that stupid championship belt outside the ring: Granted, he did look a bit awkward at times wearing the belt, but so do Rampage Jackson, Sean Sherk, Dan Henderson, and (gasp!) Fedor Emelianenko, who are regularly photographed wearing their belts. But I guess it's OK when they do it.

He's a doofy loser: This is a brilliant argument. He may not have the imposing physique of an Arlovski -- or even a Jeff Monson -- but why does that even matter? It's fine to root for the underdog, the little guy, but do we need to hate on the big guy?

He crapped his pants against Aussuerio Silva: This actually is 100% true and is quite embarrassing, BUT he managed to win the fight, even with a bucket of pudding in his shorts. That should count for something, no?

He took steroids / He's a cheater: Sylvia did test positive after his 2003 match with Gan McGee, I believe, and was then stripped of the heavyweight title, fined $7,500, and suspended from fighting in Nevada (and everywhere else) for four months. And his $60,000 purse for beating McGee was surrendered. He was busted and served his punishment. If you want to talk steroids, let's also talk about the beloved Josh Barnett, Kevin Randleman, Royce Gracie, Nate Marquardt, and Stephan Bonnar, all of whom also tested positive.

He's arrogant/rude to fans: Do you realize how much crap this guys has had to eat from live audiences and message board assassins? Through hard work and focus, he realized his dream of becoming heavyweight champion. Not too many people can say that. He received little praise for his efforts and was often the victim of personal attacks. Simply put, I think he's just a big, easy target for lots of folks.

I think it's important for you to know that Tim Sylvia is by no means one of my favorite fighters. He's not even one of my favorite heavyweights. In fact, I'm a staunch Andrei Arlovski supporter. I do, however, respect Sylvia's accomplishments, and I resent fans who take cheap shots at him. Had he beaten Randy at UFC 68 and retained his belt, people would be talking about how he's only fit to take on over-the-hill retirees and how it's just a matter of time before Cro-Cop or Big Nog takes his belt. I have a hard time bashing anyone who steps into the combat sports arena.

Like all mixed martial artists, Tim Sylvia wants to be the best and is willing to put in the work and take his lumps to be the best. Why is it that so many fans don't even want to give him a chance? It just seems that no matter what he does, the guy can't seem to win in the eyes of the fans -- at least those who aren't from Maine.

I've never seen a champion lose and be written off so quickly the way Tim has. He lost a decision to Couture, but Chuck Liddell, who was knocked out silly by Rampage Jackson, is still a major celebrity. Even Arlovski's name pops up during heavyweight title talks, despite two losses to Sylvia, a controversial win over Marcio Cruz, and a dreadfully dull fight against Fabricio Werdum! Sylvia, after just one loss, has become a non-entity to many. Something's not right with this.

Sylvia has three fights left on his UFC contract. I don't know what plans UFC brass has for their former champ, but if Tim Sylvia the contender starts knocking people out like he used to, it'll be hard not to give him respect. Even just a little.

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