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Monday, Mar 05, 2012

Tim Sylvia’s Journey Back To The UFC: Should We Care?

Photo Credit: Joel Gold

By Tom Taylor

In early 2008, former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia elected to leave the UFC in search of greener pastures. Citing the promotion’s reluctance to pay the kind of money he believed his credentials as a former champion warranted, the man they call ‘The Maine-iac’ made his exit from the sport’s biggest stage.

“They were talking about re-signing me for the same amount of money I was making at the time, and I just really wasn’t interested,” Sylvia admitted to Full Contact Fighter.

It would not take long, however, for Sylvia to find action elsewhere. In March 2008, he signed with the now-defunct promotion Affliction to fight all-time great Fedor Emelianenko, widely regarded as the world’s top heavyweight at the time.  Affliction had approached Sylvia while he was still bound to the UFC, thereby providing additional incentive for his departure.

The fight with Emelianenko was one Sylvia had been eager for, but because Emelianenko lacked a UFC contract, it was a pipe dream. After signing with Affliction, Sylvia got the fight he wanted, for the money he felt he deserved.

“Affliction did come to us and mentioned me fighting Fedor for big money, and so we asked to get out of our contract, and we did,” Sylvia explained.

Having faithfully followed the advice of his manager Monte Cox, Sylvia’s transition was complete.

“[Cox] was the one dealing with all this, and I was just listening to him,” he said.

“I felt great about it. It felt like a great Idea,” he added.

The fight with Emelianenko did not go as planned for Sylvia, who ended up on the receiving end of a rear naked choke just 36 seconds into the opening round.

From there, things only worsened for the Maine-iac. In his next fight, he was flattened by former boxing champion Ray Mercer in a mere nine seconds. Sylvia, by virtue of his decision to leave the UFC, had plummeted far from his former glory, and was overcome by regret.

“Big regrets, huge regrets after all that. What an idiot (I felt like),” he said frankly.

The combination of his split with the UFC and two serious losses had soured any chances he had of a return to The Octagon. He had burned his bridges, plain and simple, and so there was no conversation with UFC president Dana White.

“I knew he had some bad things to say about me,” Sylvia said.

Sylvia’s fighting spirit was not extinguished, however. While it was punctuated by a token loss, he has rebounded by stringing together a 6-1 record in his last 7 starts.  As the wins piled up, Sylvia admitted that earning a trip back to the UFC was the “main objective.”

Still, no conversation has taken place with UFC executives about the thing he yearned for most—a return to the promotion he once called home.

“As long as you keep winning, they’re gonna let you back eventually,” he said.

“You have to take into account what I’ve done before and what I’ve done in the UFC— everyone that I’ve beaten in the UFC,” Sylvia explained, banking on the accolades he’s received to be a catalyst for a homecoming.

Sylvia being carried by his former Miletich Fighting Systems teammates after capturing the UFC heavyweight championship from Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 41 on Feb. 28, 2003. Photo credit: Joel Gold

“Mark Coleman came back because of that, BJ Penn has, Tito Ortiz. It’s been long enough, it’s been four years.”

Yet time has not healed all for the former champion, as he still does not call the UFC home. Sylvia’s frustration with his prolonged exclusion from the UFC, combined with his desperation for a comeback, has led him to concoct a fairly unique campaign.

Using Twitter, he has rallied an army of fans who have banded together in support of his return.  Throngs of supporters have tweeted their desires to see him given another shot.

Sylvia in turn, has redirected these tweets at White. He admits that he was surprised by such a dedicated and passionate response.

“It feels great, you know, real great. I’m glad I’ve done this. This little run I’ve been doing on the Underground and YouTube and through Twitter—my fans have really responded, and it’s made me feel really good,” he said candidly.

“I’ve always heard everyone say that, ‘Oh, he doesn’t have fans,’ or ‘The fans hate him,’ and so on and so forth. It kind of just goes to show that that’s not true. I love them. I appreciate everyone that’s behind me, supporting me, and hopefully I get to reward them by getting back into the big show again.”

Despite the uproar on Twitter, many hundreds of re-tweets strong, Sylvia still hasn’t spoken with the UFC president. Yet he is confident that UFC’s head honcho has taken notice of the fan support.

“He can’t not take notice,” Sylvia said.  “He’s a busy man. I don’t know if he’s just going to ignore the fans and continue putting people in there that don’t deserve a shot as much as I do, or…we’ll see. But by doing what he’s doing he’s definitely ignoring the fans.”

As fan support for Sylvia’s return continues to flood White’s Twitter, the situation will become more difficult to ignore, and Sylvia feels ready should the UFC president come around.

Although he’s recently dabbled at superheavyweight (above 265 pounds) in his most recent fight, Sylvia made the 265 pound heavyweight limit, which has him feeling fit and ready for the UFC.

The UFC’s formerly shallow heavyweight division has lately experienced a tidal wave of young blood, deepening its competition and increasing the dangers for any man who fights there. Nonetheless, Sylvia is optimistic.

Admittedly never as gifted an athlete as he is a diligent worker, he is confident of his standings among today’s heavyweights.

“I’ve really had to bust my ass to become who I am,” he conceded.

“I still think that I’m top ten or top twenty in the world, still today, as long as I’m in shape. That’s the key factor – I have to be at 265. I feel pretty invincible.”

His Twitter-savvy fans have recently expressed interest in matchups between Sylvia and Stefan Struve or Cheick Kongo, should he be readmitted to the UFC, and these are matchups Sylvia approved of wholeheartedly.

“I would definitely love to fight Cheick Kongo. That would be a great, fun fight. Struve would definitely be up there, yeah. Inevitably, if Nogueira is able to come back after the injury, you have him, and Frank Mir. I have unfinished business with Frank Mir,” Sylvia said, discussing the breadth of potential opponents available.

He is eager to fight for some time yet, and when he’s had enough, he wants his swan song to be in UFC’s Octagon. His desires do not extend far beyond that, as he admits that the championship is not something he is concerned with.

“Everyone’s like, ‘Oh he wants a title shot,” said Sylvia.  “Well, no I don’t. I’ve won it more times than any heavyweight in the UFC. Maybe, if it happens, if I put half a dozen wins together and the fans and the media and the UFC are screaming for me to get the title shot, then yeah, I’ll take it. I’m not going to turn it down, but I really don’t care about the title shot right now.”

Sylvia’s goals have him focused and prepared to keep conquering opponents outside the UFC’s hold if he must, but the combination of his own remorse, an array of possible opponents, and above all, the unflinching solidarity of his fans, have made a case for The Maine-iac’s return. The ball now lies in the UFC’s court.

posted by FCF Staff @ 9:38 pm
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