by Jeff Cain – MMAWeekly.com
The Tim Sylvia vs. Andrei Arlovski Trilogy will play out tonight at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the UFC Heavyweight Title will once again be on the line.

If you only looked at the fighters’ records, this match-up would appear to be lopsided. It’s a fighter with a 9-4 record in MMA (Arlovski) going up against a fighter with a 21-2 MMA record (Sylvia). However, Arlovski is the odds-on favorite going into tonight’s title bout, just as he was going into his first two fights against Sylvia.

Sylvia became UFC Heavyweight Champion for the first time by defeating Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 41 in February of 2003. He would only defend his title once, winning by knockout over Gan McGee at UFC 44 in September of the same year. Following his title defense, Sylvia voluntarily relinquished his title after testing positive for anabolic steroids.

This is actually the fourth time that the UFC has put together a match between Arlovski and Sylvia. The two were first scheduled to fight on the UFC 47 card in April of 2004 in what was to be Sylvia’s first fight back from his drug suspension, but Sylvia was forced out of the bout just one day prior to the event due to the fact that traces of steroids were found in his pre-fight testing. No new suspension was handed down because the levels of steroids were small enough that he couldn’t have taken any steroids recently, but he also couldn’t fight until all of the steroids were completely out of his system.

Sylvia finally returned to the UFC Octagon on June 19th, 2004 to take on Frank Mir at UFC 48 for the vacant UFC Heavyweight Title. Sylvia lost when an armbar snapped his forearm, which required corrective surgery that would put him out of action for several months.

Mir became the UFC Heavyweight Champion, but wouldn’t get the opportunity to defend his title due to injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident.

In the meantime, Arlovski fought somewhat infrequently, but put together impressive wins over Ian Freeman, Vladimir Matyushenko, and Wesley “Cabbage” Correira, who was Sylvia’s replacement on the UFC 47 card.

With Frank Mir sidelined for an extended period of time due to his motorcycle accident, the UFC decided to crown an interim champ. Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski were the obvious candidates to fight for the title, and they finally squared off at UFC 51 in February 2005.

Just moments into the bout, Arlovski dropped Sylvia to the canvas with a well-placed right hand and quickly finished the former champ with an ankle lock submission. Arlovski successfully defended his title twice, with victories over Justin Eilers and Paul Buentello.

When Mir’s inactivity stretched to over one year, the UFC named Arlovski the Heavyweight Champion, discarding the “interim” moniker.

In the meantime, Tim Sylvia put together three consecutive wins and fought his way back in line for another title shot. Sylvia got his rematch with Arlovski on April 15th of this year at UFC 59. In that fight, Sylvia defeated Arlovski to join Randy “The Natural” Couture as the only two men to have ever won the UFC Heavyweight Title on two separate occasions.

In one of the quickest momentum changes in MMA history, Arlovski landed a big right hand that was reminiscent of their first fight, but Sylvia was able to get back to his feet and put Arlovski down with a punch of his own, and then Sylvia finished the fight with strikes.

Some accused Arlovski of having a weak chin, while others claimed that Sylvia’s win was a fluke. A third fight between Sylvia and Arlovski was quickly put together after Sylvia requested it because he wanted to silence his critics. Arlovski didn’t hesitate to sign the contract.

If the first two fights between Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski tell us anything, it’s that this fight won’t get out of the first round. Both of these fighters are heavy hitters, and both have proven that they have the ability to defeat the other.

Expect both fighters to come out at the opening bell throwing heavy leather. The fight could easily come down to which fighter lands the first solid shot. Arlovski was able to cause Sylvia to crash to the canvas in both of their previous meetings, while Sylvia has shown that it only takes one punch from him to change the complexion of a fight.

Sylvia has the size, reach, and height advantage, but Arlovski has the edge in speed, agility, and possibly overall skill set.

Styles make fights, or so they say. Sylvia certainly wants to keep this fight standing, but he is also trained by Pat Miletich, so he’s well-versed in the ground game. However, about one-third of Arlovski’s victories have come by way of submission, while Sylvia hasn’t won by submission in nearly five years. Although Arlovski possesses superior submission technique, this fight will only be going to the ground after one of the two fighters gets knocked down by a strike.

The rubber match between Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski will be the main event of the evening, and Sylvia vs. Arlovski a proven recipe for excitement, intrigue, and unpredictability. No matter what transpires, one of these fighters will walk away as the two-time UFC Heavyweight Champion.