by Mitch Gobetz – MMAWeekly.com
At UFC 81, Tim Sylvia will have the opportunity to do something only one other fighter has done in Ultimate Fighting Championship history, and that’s to become a world champion for the third time. The interesting thing about that is the only other man to achieve such a feat was the man that Sylvia lost his title to, Randy Couture.

When he lost his belt to Couture in March of last year, Sylvia was the favorite going into that fight. However, Couture kept him off balance with effective strikes and strategic takedowns. When it was all said and done, Sylvia left the Octagon that night without the belt.

Even though he lost that fight, he didn’t sit around and mope about it. He took on a top contender in the heavyweight division, Brandon Vera. Many people thought that Vera’s speed and striking were a recipe for disaster for Sylvia.

Sylvia, however, used his biggest asset, his size, and took Vera out of his game plan. At the time, he probably didn’t realize how important that win over Vera was, because no one was privy to the bombshell that Couture dropped on the UFC in October when he announced his resignation as a fighter and employee.

Couture was subsequently offered a contract to take on Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, but refused. Sylvia had to be the next in line for a shot, so the UFC offered him the fight with Nogueira for the interim heavyweight championship.

While the title is currently going to be interim, more than likely Couture will not return to the organization and the winner of the Sylvia-Nogueira fight will end up becoming the recognized champion.

Even though Sylvia has only tasted defeat three times in his mixed martial arts career, the fans still don’t give him the respect he deserves. After all, Sylvia has defeated Andrei Arlovski twice, Ricco Rodriguez, Jeff Monson and Brandon Vera. None of those opponents are exactly pushovers.

While some criticize his fighting style for not being aggressive enough, he is, nonetheless, effective and above all, a winner. As much as fans give him a hard time, he still feels like the knowledgeable fans respect him.

“I think with the true fans and the people that are knowledgeable about the sport I do (get the proper respect). You got your average bozos that don’t know anything about the sport, who see Brock (Lesnar) coming in or see these superstars like Kimbo Slice who really haven’t done anything and they think they are studs,” said Sylvia in a recent conference call.

A fight with Nogueira will definitely be a true test for “The Maine-iac.” Nogueira, who is currently the No. 2 ranked heavyweight by MMAWeekly, has fought the best in the world and has beaten most of them. His submission ability is better than anyone that Sylvia has faced in the past. Nogueira has also been in his share of wars and came out the victor in most, so he’s not concerned about taking some punishment.

However, if Sylvia is triumphant over Nogueira, no one can deny him of being in a class of elite heavyweights and being one of the best in the world. After all, Sylvia also relishes in the role of being an underdog.

“I always perform best when I’m in the underdog role. When I’m favored, I usually end up losing. So it’s a good spot for me to be in. I like it. I have this thing where I like proving people wrong my whole life. This is just another opportunity I get to do that and basically I get to stick it to the man.”

Sylvia knows the dangers of going into a fight with Nogueira. He isn’t taking him lightly in this fight.

“I truly believe he is the best heavyweight jiu-jitsu fighter in the world today. He brings to the table being a former Pride heavyweight champion. He’s a stud.”

One thing no one can deny about Sylvia is his heart and desire to fight the very best fighters in the world. Win or lose, he has stepped up to the plate to take on any opponent that the UFC will throw in front of him. In fact, he wants to fight the man who is widely regarded as the best heavyweight in the world.

“Maybe, someday if everything goes right and we beat Nogueira, we can get Fedor (Emelianenko) to sign a fight. We’ll get to shut the world up after that.”