by Dave Meltzer/Yahoo! Sports
(Reprinted from Yahoo! Sports with permission)
Tim Sylvia may be the world’s largest Rodney Dangerfield. The 6-foot-8, two-time former UFC heavyweight champion simply can’t get respect.
On Feb. 2 in Las Vegas, Sylvia will attempt to become only the second man in MMA history to win three major league world championships. Sylvia is attempting to go into the record book behind only Randy Couture, who won his fifth championship when beating Sylvia via decision last year. His opponent in an interim title match, Brazil’s Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, can make a legitimate claim for being the second best heavyweight in the sport’s history.
But for all the hype UFC 81 is getting, you’d likely never know either of those things.
It certainly never came up at Thursday’s UFC press conference for UFC 81.
The main subject everyone wanted to talk about was Brock Lesnar. Sylvia was almost the forgotten man, except for a few times when people asked for his opinion about Lesnar. He was good-natured about this treatment, even to the extent of trying to downplay anything negative he was perceived to have said in the past about Lesnar. But midway through the conference, Sylvia, on the phone from Bettendorf, Iowa, suddenly vanished, and was never heard from again.
UFCÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s promotion for the event has also been all about Lesnar. When it was noted all UFCÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s advertising at Madison Square Garden last week during the Roy Jones Jr. vs. Felix Trinidad match was about Lesnar, and secondarily Frank Mir (Lesnar’s opponent), without any mention of his match, Sylvia, didn’t even show any signs of being mad.
”(My) fight was signed late and they had already put this fight together and had all the photos,” he said. “At least, that’s what they told me. The title fight is always going to be the main event.“
Technically, Sylvia vs. Nogueira is the main event. It’s five rounds and it’s UFC policy that no matter how big of an attraction an undercard match may be, the championship match goes on last. But it’s not a mystery what match the pay-per-view is being built around, nor the match that determines the overall success of the show.
Sylvia is no stranger to this treatment. On July 8, 2006, he retained his title against Andre Arlovski on a show which all the hype on a Ken Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz match coming off a several year grudge that culminated with three months of hype on the Ultimate Fighter reality show.
At the time, he had a hard time understanding, complaining that his title match was second fiddle, and that Shamrock and Ortiz were making far more money then he was as heavyweight champion.
Of late, Sylvia has been often booed and criticized for a style where he uses his size, at 6-8, 265 pounds, to jab and paw for five rounds, keeping his opponent away and winning in often boring fashion. He comes in with a 24-3 record, losing only to Frank Mir, Arlovski and Couture. While he garnered negative reactions across the board for mentioning that he came into the Couture fight with a back injury, the fact was he needed major surgery after the fight and was very limited in his training the month before the fight.
When he beat Jeff Monson on November 18, 2006, in Sacramento, spending five rounds implementing his game plan effectively, he was booed heavily. After the fight, he lashed out at many fans. He always was careful, specifying that the real fans and people who know the sport understand he’s fighting to win. But he felt a lot of fans who come to see brawls and don’t understand the sport are the ones booing him, blaming it on his size and the Goliath complex, but after the fight, Couture echoed much of the same criticism.
While UFC officials have implored him to open up his game, take chances, and more aggressively go for knockouts, in his most recent fight, on Oct. 20 in Cincinnati, he used largely the same tactics to beat Brandon Vera.
And the crowd reaction was the same. But when Couture quit the promotion, Sylvia and Nogueira were felt to be the two most logical contenders to battle for what is being called the interim title.
Sylvia, 32, said his strategy is no secret. He’ll do exactly what he’s done in most of his recent fights. Use his size and jab to keep the opponent out of striking range, keep the fight standing, and try to finish.
“That’s always my strategy, to avoid going to the ground,” he said. “I think Nogueira is the best submission heavyweight in the world.“
Nogueira, 30-4-1, is the betting odds favorite in the fight. Two of his losses were to Fedor Emelianenko, the consensus best heavyweight fighter in MMA history, both by decision. One was to Josh Barnett, via a close decision, which Nogueira avenged in a rematch. The first loss, back in 2000 to a much smaller Dan Henderson was basically a robbery, and he avenged that one as well.
The Brazilian is younger than Sylvia at 31, but he’s been in far more brutal wars then Sylvia. He was a legend in the Japanese PRIDE organization as its first-ever world heavyweight champion. He decisioned Heath Herring on November 3, 2001 in a tournament final. Emelianenko beat him on March 16, 2003 and had his number ever since.
Nogeiura is known largely for his guts. He’s never been finished in a fight. Unlike Sylvia, his reputation in Japan was one of almost always crowd-pleasing fights featuring fast and highly skilled action both standing and on the ground.
The former PRIDE champion has only fought once since signing his UFC contract, beating Herring via decision on July 7 in Sacramento. His record of never being stopped was in danger when Herring blasted him with a kick at the end of the first round, but didn’t follow up and Nogueira survived the round.
Aside from the kick, the fight was almost all Nogueira. When Dana White was unable to sign Emelianenko, the idea was to set up what would have been a highly intriguing battle of Couture vs. Nogueira before Couture and UFC had their falling out.
“Yeah, he’s never been finished,” said Sylvia, who noted that everyone thought Nogueira was No. 2 in the world for years until so many of the Pride superstars came to the U.S. and started losing. “But we’re going 25 minutes. I’ve gone 25 minutes many times. He’s gone 20 minutes (the time limit in PRIDE) and was fading at the end. But the plan is to stop him.“
While anything can happen, stylistically, despite what the odds makers say, Sylvia has an edge. Nogueira has more technical boxing skill, but is giving up a world of reach. Nogueira only has one knockout standing in his career, and that was against a man much smaller, as in unregulated Japanese matches in the early days, weight classes weren’t a major issue.
Vera had more weapons standing than Nogueira, and Sylvia’s length neutralized him.
Vera is also a better wrestler than Nogueira, and wasn’t able to get Sylvia down. On the ground, Nogueira would clearly have the submission edge, but he’s not a great takedown guy. In Sylvia’s career, only Couture, a world class wrestler, was able to overpower Sylvia and get him to the ground. Nogueira will have to find an answer to the problem of Sylvia’s size standing, and his ability to avoid takedowns, or it will turn out to be the usual Sylvia fight. For the crowd, that’s not a good thing.
Sylvia first won the title on February 28, 2003, in Atlantic City, beating Ricco Rodriguez, a heavily-favored grappler who was knocked out in the first round because he couldn’t come close to taking Sylvia down.
He was stripped of the title in October of that year after testing positive for steroids.
He failed in two chances to regain the title, losing a match for the vacant title to Frank Mir ending with a quick armbar. The clips of that finish have been replayed constantly in hyping Mir vs. Lesnar, with the graphic shot of Sylvia’s forearm being broken. After Mir was out after a motorcycle accident, Sylvia lost a match for the interim title via a quick submission to a heel hook by Andrei Arlovski.
He was a heavy underdog for a rematch, and in a short but thrilling battle, after Arlovski knocked him down, Sylvia got up and caught Arlovski with an uppercut charging in, knocking him flat on April 15, 2006, in Anaheim.
His second reign ended with his famed loss to Randy Couture last March.
In a sport that is more dependent, for business success, on having fighters that the average casual fan wants to see, as opposed to seeing the best fighter, it’s a huge step down from Couture as champion to either Sylvia or Nogueira. Couture is a major drawing card that Sylvia is unlikely, due to his style, to ever be. Nogueira is handicapped by being little-known in the U.S. And that’s why the other match is getting all the hype.
“I’ll be paying very close attention (to Mir vs. Lesnar), because the winner is going to get a title shot down the road and I’m planning on being the champion,” said Sylvia, who has been waiting almost four years to avenge his loss to Mir. “Brock’s done a lot in the WWE. I understand the philosophy of him getting the exposure. He can bring new fans to our sport. The fan bases are almost identical. But I think they’re bringing him in to get beat.“
Sylvia and Lesnar did have a war of words a few months back. Lesnar made a remark of Sylvia as being web-footed, because even though effective, his movement on his feet isn’t pretty. Sylvia was alleged to have called Lesnar, who trained for a short period of time in 2006 at the Miletich Gym in Bettendorf, Iowa, a baby, but claims he never said it.
“I never trained with him, but he trained at our gym,” said Sylvia. “I didn’t say he was a baby. When he was here, nobody was allowed to leg kick him hard because he was just starting out and he was there to learn.
“There are some guys who could have hurt him real bad with leg kicks who weren’t allowed to throw them. We all liked him. He was a good athlete with a good work ethic.“ Second-Fiddle Tim Sylvia Aims for History (Story from Yahoo! Sports) -- MMAjunkie.com
I am one of the few who also think Tim Sylvia has the edge. He makes some good points here
edit: I dont know how to make it quoted. If someone can tell me I will fix it. thanks