by Al Yu – MMAWeekly.com
Randy Couture’s recent resignation from the Ultimate Fighting Championship was a shock to many and the legacy he left behind may never be seen again in this lifetime.

Following the surprise announcement last week, the largest mixed martial arts organization in the U.S. was left without a heavyweight titleholder. The landscape of the UFC heavyweight division changed once again.

Enter two fighters who could potentially be the heir to the throne.

Former champion Tim Sylvia returns to action this weekend at UFC 77 in Cincinnati. Standing across from him in the Octagon will be Brandon Vera, who puts his perfect 8-0 record on the line. The fight will be Vera’s first in nearly a year.

“I’m ready for a tough fight,” stated Sylvia recently. “I really think it’s going to be a tough one, and hopefully it doesn’t go three rounds. I don’t like going to decisions, so if he brings it and I bring it, someone will get knocked out.”

After he lost his title belt to Randy Couture at UFC 68, Sylvia had back surgery to remove three bulged discs that were pinching his sciatic nerve. The surgery was a major success.

“Obviously I’m feeling great because if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be taking this fight because Brandon’s a tough guy. The surgery went awesome,” expressed the Miletich fighter. “As soon as I came out of the anesthesia I jumped out of bed. The nurse told me to settle down. The pain was all gone.”

Vera made his Octagon debut with a TKO victory over Fabiano Scherner at Ultimate Fight Night 2. After compiling impressive wins over Justin Eilers, Assuerio Silva, and former UFC champion Frank Mir, Vera seemed destined for a title shot.

Unfortunately a fight with Sylvia, the heavyweight champion at the time, never materialized.

Nearly a year later, Vera finally makes his return and fans will have the opportunity to see what could very well be a title contender elimination match. The question now is if the layoff will have an adverse effect on the undefeated heavyweight.

“I think Brandon is a smart enough fighter where I don’t think it’s going to affect him,” commented Sylvia. “He’s young. He’s in the gym a lot. And his wife trains, so he’s always around the gym … I don’t know that it’s going to affect him that bad. Somebody at an older age maybe, but I think he’s going to be fine with it.”

Dethroned by Couture in his last outing, Sylvia looks to rebound against a very formidable opponent this weekend. A loss could derail his chances at a return to UFC gold and would signify the first back-to-back losses of his career. He has a lot of respect for Vera’s abilities, but doesn’t seem overly worried.

“I don’t know that I have a big concern. I mean, there’s a lot of concerns with him. He’s young. He’s light. He’s fast and his stand up is good. He’s got really good stand up and he’s got a good ground, too.”

Couture’s departure left a huge void in the UFC’s heavyweight division. For Sylvia, this is a prime opportunity to return to title contention, but for now, he appears more focused on the fight at hand.

“I’m excited for this fight. It’s going to be a real exciting fight, two guys that like to stand and bang. Someone’s going to sleep.”