UFC 81: Tim Sylvia then and now
Just a year ago today, Tim Sylvia was the UFC's reigning heavyweight champion. About a month later, he lost the belt at UFC 68 to an un-retired (and apparently still-happy-with-the-UFC) Randy Couture. Shortly after his loss to Couture, I interviewed Sylvia for baltimoresun.com. It's interesting looking back on that Q&A because Sylvia was clearly bummed about losing the belt and he was also suffering from a back injury that eventually required surgery.
One thing Sylvia felt at the time was that he would be back in title contention, even though readers weren't so sure. And, who could blame the readers? After all, Mirko Cro Cop had joined the ranks and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was on his way to making his UFC debut. With Couture as the champ and the new influx of talent, it was possible Sylvia wouldn't get a chance at the belt for awhile.
Instead, after one victory (over Brandon Vera last fall), Sylvia is back in a title fight, this time against Nogueira Saturday at UFC 81 in Las Vegas. In addition, Sylvia called out Frank Mir in this interview. If Mir defeats Brock Lesnar this Saturday, we could surely see a Sylvia-Mir fight in the near future.
Here's my Q&A from March 16, 2007:
First of all, how is your body feeling 10 days after your UFC 68 fight?
I got injured during the fight and I had a doctor's appointment today. I have a herniated disc in my lower back.
And this happened during the fight?
Well, I was injured before the fight and we weren't sure exactly what happened but we had an idea that that's what it was. I just got diagnosed with it today -- [I've] got a herniated disc pinching my sciatic nerve.
So, I couldn't train. I trained my [butt] off for the fight cardio-wise. But I couldn't do a lot of stuff on the ground because my sciatic nerve wouldn't let me.
How are you feeling mentally?
Um, I was pretty bummed out -- [I] couldn't believe I lost. But I went home for a week to Maine and hung out with a lot of close friends and family and they were really supportive. They don't give a [darn] if I win or lose. As long as I stay the same, and I've stayed the same, you know?
Before you fought Couture, there were reports that made it seem like you coveted the heavyweight belt. For example, there were reports that you carried it wherever you went.
Yeah, none of that stuff is true.
What did it mean to you to have the belt?
It meant a lot. It meant I was recognized as the best guy in the world. It means a lot. I still feel I'm one of the best in the world. I had a bad night.
How does it feel now to have lost the belt?
It sucks. I come home and I have two other belts on my TV that I look at. And it's like, [darn] I'm no longer the champ -- it sucks.
After the match, in your post-fight interview with Joe Rogan, you alluded to your back injury. Do you think it was a mistake to bring that up right after the fight?
Yeah, not that it was a mistake Randy beat me fair and square. Plain and simple. He was the better man that night. He beat me. So, I shouldn't have even brought it up.
Could you give us more details about the injury, for example when it occurred and how it occurred?
It happened about four weeks ago during training for the fight, defending takedowns and stuff like that. Wrestling with big guys you get hurt. I kept training, and [the injury] got worse and worse.
So you're saying it happened about three weeks before the fight itself?
Yes, that's exactly when it happened.
Did you consider pulling out of the match?
Yeah, I did.
How is your back feeling now?
It hurts. It's the worst it's been right now. I just got my MRI yesterday and I got diagnosed with everything so they put me on the pain medication -- some oral steroids, [I] go in for a cortisone shot [March 16] -- and they're hoping if I take one month off from training that it should get better.
UFC President Dana White said in the UFC 68 post-fight news conference that he thought you were "overconfident" going into the fight. Do you feel you were overconfident?
No, not at all.
White also said in the UFC 68 post-fight press conference that you have an "image problem." Do you agree with his assertion?
I have an image problem? What does he mean by that? Explain it to me.
He didn't elaborate on that.
Well, if he can't elaborate, neither can I. I don't know. I always have a self-esteem problem. I was physically and mentally abused as a child, growing up with my mother. So, I think it still sticks with me to this day that I have a problem with that.
As a fighter, what do you do when you hear the booing from the crowd?
I just block it out, man. That's gonna happen. A lot of the fans still aren't quite educated about all the stuff that's going on in a fight.
Did the booing surprise you at all?
A little bit.
Why do you think the UFC 68 crowd was so merciless to you?
I was fighting a legend, a Hall of Famer -- Randy Couture. He's everyone's idol. He's 43 years old, coming out of retirement, fighting me and everybody was rooting for him.
Given the outcome of your UFC 68 fight and some of the criticism you have received for your previous two title defenses, are you planning on changing your game plan or changing your style in upcoming fights?
Not at all. Not at all.
At a time like this, having just lost the title, where do you draw your strength to move forward?
I want to win my next fight. I'm on the road back to the belt. That's what I want to get. Every fight is one step closer to the belt.
What's the next step for Tim Sylvia?
Just to get healthy -- 100% -- and get back in the gym and start training and working on my next fight.
How much time will you take off before you start training again?
They told me I'm going to take at least one month off. I have another appointment [sometime in the next] two weeks after my cortisone shot [March 16]. Once that's done I will figure out what I need to do.
Have you had any conversations about when your next fight will be?
Nope. I haven't talked to the UFC at all.
What is your contract situation with the UFC?
I have three fights left on my contract.
Do you think you deserve an immediate title rematch?
I would like to think so. I think I do. But, I don't know if they are going to give it to me or not. I don't know.
If you can't get an immediate title rematch, which UFC heavyweight would you like to fight next?
I want to fight Frank Mir. He broke my arm a couple of years ago so we have some unfinished business to take care of.
A year ago the Miletich camp had two titles -- Matt Hughes and you -- and three titles if you include close associate Rich Franklin. Now, your camp has none. What is the mood of the Miletich camp right now?
No one cares about that stuff. We're all in this to fight and all fighters lose at some time. Just because no one is wearing the belt in our camp anymore doesn't mean anything. We're all out there to have fun and get up every morning and do what we love to do and that's fight.
Do you guys feel like your day to reign supreme will come again soon?
Oh, it sure will.
And you mentioned the word "fun." Are you still having fun fighting?
Of course I am. I love to fight.