by Jeff Cain
Tim Sylvia’s Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) career has come full circle. After his first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight title defense against Gan McGee at UFC 44: ‘Undisputed,’ Sylvia relinquished his belt after testing positive for a banned substance. In his returning match against former UFC Heavyweight Champion Frank Mir at UFC 48: ‘Payback,’ Sylvia suffered a broken arm that left him on the sideline of MMA competition for six months.
He regrouped, recovered, and came back to the UFC only to lose to Andrei Arlovski for the UFC Interim Heavyweight Championship at UFC 51: ‘Super Saturday.’ The loss marked rock bottom for Sylvia. “Me losing the belt and coming back and fighting Mir and getting my arm shattered, and then I thought I was ready and came back and fought Arlovski and got beat as quickly as I did, I was like man do I have what it takes? Does everybody have my number now? Can I still fight? What am I going to do? After the Arlovski fight I definitely hit rock bottom.” Tim Sylvia told MMAWeekly.
Doubt crept into Sylvia’s mind and he didn’t know if he’d ever be a champion again. Tim said, “I doubted it at that point. A lot of doubt goes through your mind when you get two losses in a row like that.”
Discussing his mind set going into the rematch with Arlovski, Tim explained, “This time the whole game plan was to stay tight, straight punches, and throw a lot of heavy rights, and to get mean. I mean I have a problem. I don’t get mean when I fight. When I do get mean, I hurt people. I was mean for Ricco [Rodriguez]. I was mean for Gan McGee and Tra Telligman, but other than that I just haven’t been mean. Matt [Hughes] was like man you’re 6’8 and 255lbs. It’s time to get mean and get your belt back. Get pissed off. Get angry. Pat [Miletich] slapped me a few times on the outside. The whole time Matt was telling me, just get mean man. Get mean. No one can touch you. That’s what I did man. I was standing there looking across at Arlovski, I mean I was just punking him out in my head, calling him names, saying I’m going to kill you. I can’t wait to hit you and to hurt you. When the bell rang, I go out there, and that’s what I tried to do.”
Reminiscent of their first bout, Arlovski landed an overhand right that sent Sylvia to the canvas, but this time Tim was better prepared. Asked if he panicked, Sylvia said, “No. We did a lot of get up drills, up and down drills and stuff like that in my training in case this happened or he tried to take me down to the ground. Instinct took over man. I got hit. I hit the ground. I was like son of a bitch. This is not happening. I just popped back up and went after him.”
The right hand that dropped Tim was devastating. “There was a flash” Sylvia said, but as soon as he hit the floor Tim regained his composure. Questioned how he was able to recover from the knock down and end the fight, Sylvia answered, “Repetitions. We practiced that combination I don’t know how many times during my training camp. My sparring partners and I do it all the time. That was like my bread and butter punch, and it just finally paid off.”
Within a span of seconds Sylvia was on his back with Arlvoski standing over him, then back to his feet and Andrei face down on the mat. Rarely has the momentum of a fight changed so quickly. Taking us through what happened, Sylvia commented, “He always throws his overhand right and he drops his left hand, and he really leans into it so much so that I could have thrown a knee and I would have caught him right on the chin as well. We were practicing a lot of uppercuts when he does that and it hit him perfect.”
Tim continued, “I thought he just dropped me. I just dropped him. When I hit him, I tried to grab him and he just felt like dead weight. I noticed that he landed on his forehead, so I spun and got to his back . . . As soon as I started hitting him I felt his body go limp. I was like man this guy does not want to fight anymore.”
As if Tim’s comeback story from rock bottom back to the top wasn’t amazing enough, he entered the octagon Saturday night to regain the title with a broken arm he suffered in training weeks before. Sylvia said, “That really wasn’t for the whole world to know, but yea I broke my arm about four weeks ago during training . . . It wasn’t a clean break. It was just a crack, a fracture, whatever . . . It swelled up and was really tender to the touch, but I just went into the fight with a small fracture. It was no big deal.”
With a right hand and some follow up punches for good measure Tim Sylvia became a two-time UFC heavyweight champion. The only other fighter that can claim that is future UFC hall of famer Randy ‘The Natural’ Couture. Asked what it means to him, Sylvia said, “Anything is possible if you put your mind to it. I know it is cliche, but I’ve been through a lot and I’ve gone through a lot. I’ve had a lot of obstacles. I beat those obstacles not by being a great athlete. I had to beat a lot of the obstacles through a lot of hard work, out working the other person. I think that’s what I did this fight. I just really out worked Arlovski and worked my ass off to get to where I am today.”
Tim closed out the interview saying, “I owe a lot of it to the people I’m surrounded by. You know? I’m surrounded by good people, a great training camp, great friends and family.”