Tim Sylvia’s Road to Redemption

Tim Sylvia’s Road to Redemption

By Fred Richani


MMA fighter Tim Sylvia’s nickname is “The Maine-iac,” in reference to his hard-hitting style and home state. In recent years, “the forgotten champion” seems like a more appropriate label.

Despite starting his career 16-0 and becoming a two-time UFC heavyweight champion, Sylvia’s post-UFC career became more known for his recent setbacks than past success.

His downward spiral started in 2007 at UFC 68, when his second reign as heavyweight champion ended via a dominant unanimous decision win for UFC Hall of Famer Randy “The Natural” Couture. The 43-year-old Couture was the underdog heading into the bout, with his age and year-long retirement taken into account.

Sylvia bounced back with a unanimous decision win over Brandon Vera at UFC 77 and earned an interim heavyweight title bout, while reigning heavyweight champion Couture and the UFC were in a contract dispute.

Unfortunately for Sylvia, he lost the interim title fight to PRIDE legend Antonio Rodrigo Minotauro Nogueira by third round submission at UFC 81. That was also the same night Brock Lesnar debuted inside the octagon, ushering a new era of heavyweight fighters, while simultaneously becoming the UFC’s biggest draw.

Little did fans know, that night would be the last time they would see Sylvia fighting under the Zuffa banner. Sylvia requested and received his UFC release with one fight left on his deal, so he could compete non-exclusively for other organizations, specifically against his dream opponent, Fedor Emelianenko.

Later that year on July 19, Sylvia finally fought Emelianenko, this time under the Affliction MMA banner, in the main event of their inaugural show “Affliction: Banned.”

The former UFC champion’s dream fight couldn’t have turned out any worse though, as he lost to “The Last Emperor” by rear-naked choke, just 36 seconds into the first round.

After suffering consecutive losses for the first time in his career, Sylvia took a nearly one-year hiatus from fighting, only to come into his next bout out of shape and ill-prepared.

On June 13, 2009, he inexplicably took on boxing legend Ray Mercer in an MMA bout for Adrenaline MMA. Randy Couture versus James Toney it was not, as Sylvia chose to stand with Mercer and paid the ultimate price—an embarrassing first round knockout loss.

Suddenly, Sylvia was no longer known for wars with Andrei Arlovski or his big victories over Jeff Monson, Ricco Rodriguez, and Brandon Vera. He was known as the guy that lost to that old boxer that never fought in MMA.

To his credit, Sylvia admitted his mistake in taking the Mercer fight in the first place. At the same time, he was honest with himself. He reevaluated his career, life choices, and realized at 33 with a 24-6 record, he was far from done.

Since that loss to Mercer, Sylvia has gone 4-0, finishing each opponent with his heavy hands, including veteran Paul Buentello and Jason Riley.

Sylvia is back in action on Jan. 28 for Titan Fighting Championship’s HDNet debut, when he takes on “The Ultimate Fighter” alum Abe Wagner.

Before his big fight, the former UFC champion spoke to HD.net regarding his TFC debut, career highs and lows, as well as what the future holds for “The Maine-iac.”

You’re fighting TUF alum Abe Wagner at Titan Fighting Championship 16 on HDNet later this month. Why did you replace Todd Duffee on such short notice and what can we expect from this fight?

Well, I just came off of my fourth straight win [over Vince Lucero]. About a week after the fight, I was already at the gym plugging away when I got the call from TFC. I was already very active the last few months, so I had no problem taking the fight against a tough guy like Abe. You can expect me to go in there, get another win, and start off the new year right.

You’re currently on a four fight win streak, but suffered a three fight losing streak before that. Did your past success as a two-time UFC heavyweight champion help you get through that rough patch in your career?

Yeah, I mean life comes at you in so many different ways. Unfortunately, I had lost two tough fights to big names like Minotauro Nogueira and Fedor Emelianenko, and then followed it up against Ray Mercer in a loss that was supposed to be a boxing match, then changed to an MMA fight last minute. I didn’t prepare myself as well as a should have and learned the hard way. I got myself focused after that, found new training partners, and am trying to make another run at the top again.

You apparently have a big fight coming up next month against Pedro Rizzo. Is it hard to stay focused on one fight when you have another to worry about a few weeks later?

Honestly, that fight with Pedro Rizzo hasn’t been made official and I don’t think it’s going to end up happening. But regardless, you always have to focus on one fight at a time and I definitely won’t be overlooking Abe Wagner.

Josh Barnett has failed three steroid tests and is in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. Your rival Andrei Arlovski, who you’ve beaten twice, is in the tournament as well. Do you feel like one of those spots should be yours?

If all goes well with my fight this month, I think you’ll probably see me competing for Strikeforce later this year. We’re in talks with them now. Don’t be surprised if you see me in a Strikeforce cage in 2011.

What about your ex-employer UFC? Does it bother you that a less-accomplished fighter like Mark Hunt is still getting booked, even with a losing record instead of you?

It doesn’t bother me. The UFC needs guys for their heavyweights to beat. Mark Hunt is a tough guy with a name that would be a good win for any young fighter’s record. It’s the same thing with what they do with Mirko Cro Cop, when they put young guys against him. They’re stepping stones for young fighters.

Who have you been working with lately that’s really helped you step up your game and get on that four fight win streak?

Definitely the guys in Indiana, Team Wolfpack. I’ve had the pleasure of working with UFC fighters Matt Mitrione and Sean McCorkle as well. They’re all great guys that have kept me on my game.

You, along with UFC legends Matt Hughes and Jens Pulver were products of Pat Miletich’s Miletich Fighting Systems. In recent years, Pulver and others have said Miletich’s actual influence was overrated. Could you set the record straight on your time with MFS?

We’re all fighters. It wasn’t just one person. It was all of us working to get better. We were all at one place trying to get better at once. And no one left Pat Miletich’s camp. Pat pretty much left everybody. It seems like every year Pat has something new going on. For a couple years, he’s been doing commentating for Strikeforce. It seems like a pretty good home for him. But before Strikeforce, he was working with the IFL. Before that, it was something else. It was always Pat trying to find another way to make a living.

What are your thoughts on your former MFS teammates Matt Hughes and Jens Pulver, who both might be hanging up the gloves sooner rather than later?

We’re all fighters, man. It’s so hard to give the sport up. Look at Chuck Liddell, who finally retired. It was heart breaking, but when it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go. Everybody’s time comes eventually. None of us [Matt, Jens, and myself] are ready to give up MMA yet. I expect Jens’ return to go well and likewise, the same for Matt whenever that happens.

Any prediction on how your fight with Abe Wagner will go?

I’m going to go in there and try to knock his ass out.

Titan Fighting Championship 16 airs live, Jan. 28 at 10 p.m. ET on HDNet.

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