Affliction has put together an incredible card for "Banned," the biggest mixed martial arts event of the year, which is scheduled to take place July 19 in Anaheim, Calif. Headlining the fight is Fedor Emelianenko, the man who has been considered the top fighter in the world for the past few years. He’s going up against one of the best heavyweights in the world, Tim Sylvia. Sylvia recently left the UFC and become one of the few high profile free agents in the sport. I recently caught up with Sylvia to talk about Fedor, MMA judging, Kimbo Slice, the growth of the sport and more.
MMA Stomping Grounds: How’s the training going for Fedor?
Tim Sylvia: Good, real good. I’m preparing the same way I prepare for anyone else, I train my ass off and may the best man win.
MMA Stomping Grounds: If you win against Fedor, do you think you would deserve the title of No. 1 heavyweight in the world?
Sylvia: Yeah, I’ve answered this question a couple times. I just don’t think, in MMA it’s hard to label someone as No. 1. I think the top five guys are all No. 1. It’s just so tough, we’re all so competitive. It’s so close and in MMA anything can happen at any given moment. I don’t care about being ranked No. 1, I care about beating the best guys out there.
MMA Stomping Grounds: What appealed to you about Affliction?
Sylvia:They are friends of mine, they had six of the top 10 heavyweights in the world, and with me they have seven. That’s the best place for me to be to fight all the best fighters out there, so I have to be there.
MMA Stomping Grounds: It’s been awhile since Fedor has fought a top heavyweight. Do you think that will factor into this fight at all?
Sylvia: I’ve fought top 10 guys the past three years and he hasn’t. His competition hasn’t been very good. He’s fought fat middleweights or he’s fought freakshows who weren’t good fighters. I think it’s going to benefit me a little bit.
MMA Stomping Grounds: There are some rumors floating around now -- I think Michael Bisping mentioned something about it -- that Fedor may be injured. Do you give any credence to stuff like that?
Sylvia: I don’t give a [expletive deleted] about any of that. We’ve all fought injured. It happens, so when it comes fight-time, if he’s injured, it won’t bother him at all.
MMA Stomping Grounds: Can Affliction compete with the UFC?
Sylvia: I don’t think Affliction is even considering competing with the UFC. They are just looking to put on quality shows, pay the fighters well and have a good time doing it because they can.
MMA Stomping Grounds: If you beat Fedor, who would you like to face next?
Sylvia: It doesn’t matter to me. I really don’t want to talk about those questions. Let the fight happen first and then I’ll be happy to talk to you about what’s next.
MMA Stomping Grounds: Down the line, do you see yourself back in the UFC or have you put that behind you?
Sylvia: Yeah, eventually I would like to be back in the UFC. Right now, I have other opportunities and there’s a chance for me to make some money as a free agent so that’s what I’m going to do right now.
MMA Stomping Grounds: Do you have friends in the UFC who are coming to you with complaints now that you’re currently out of the organization?
Sylvia: I was with the UFC for five years. I have a lot of friends in the UFC, eh, you know what, no comment. I eventually want to fight back there some day and I left on good terms.
MMA Stomping Grounds: If you could change anything about the sport, what would it be?
Sylvia: There’s a couple things. I would like to see knees and foot stomps allowed on the ground and I would like to see all the judges go to classes and get certified and have to re-certify every year. Just like fighters have to apply for licenses. I think judges have to take classes and know more about MMA. You can’t just have boxing refs judge doing MMA. It’s not working and fighters are getting screwed because of it.
MMA Stomping Grounds: What is the biggest misconception people have about you?
Sylvia: I think people just think I’m mean and hard to approach because I’m big. I’m not, I’m a good guy. I’m just more of a country boy, a redneck and I just like being with my friends and stuff. I find it hard to believe that people just want to get my autograph and get pictures with me. It’s really hard to fathom, even to this day. I’m just fighting for fun and it just happens that they put me on TV now and they pay me to do it. I just love the sport so much, I’m fortunate I guess.
MMA Stomping Grounds: When did you first really notice the fan appreciation and recognition?
Sylvia: After I beat Ricco Rodriguez. Overwhelming, it was overwhelming. I just could not believe it. I had his family taking pictures with me and getting autographs and stuff. It was my second fight in the UFC.
MMA Stomping Grounds: Have you had any weird encounters with fans before?
Sylvia: Oh, God yes. I’ve had fans offer me their wives before and just stupid stuff like that. Fans wanting me to sign their wife's boobs, guys getting tattoos of my signature on their arms. One guy told me was a huge fan of mine, I said ‘thank you’ and he said, ‘can we hang out sometime?’ I said, ‘what do you mean?’ He said, ‘grab a bit to eat, hang out, like friends.’ I’m like, that’s weird, I don’t even know you, man.
MMA Stomping Grounds: What’s one thing about you that most people might not know but that you think they should?
Sylvia: I’m a huge outdoorsman. A big, big hunter. If I’m not training and fighting I’m in the woods. I’ve got some farmland and I love being in the outdoors. I go to Canada to hunt black bear every year and I go all over the U.S. to hunt all species of turkeys. I’m a huge, huge bow hunter.
MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you enjoy most about the sport?
Sylvia: Just the level of competition. I used to play semi-pro football. If you lost the football game it was like, 'I lost but I could still kick your ass,' but [MMA] is the pinnacle. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, you know who the best guy is. It’s kind of a male thing, we want to prove our masculinity and see who the toughest guy is, and we really find out in this sport.
MMA Stomping Grounds: Do you ever have guys who try to prove their toughness by starting things with you?
Sylvia: I get guys running their mouths, hoping I’ll smack them and they can sue me and get paid. But, the majority of public knows I’m 6-8 and 250 pounds, and they know if they mess with me they will get their butt beat, but I do get guys trying to make a little bit of money.
MMA Stomping Grounds: What excites you the most about the sport’s growth?
Sylvia: Um, just being mainstream. And big sponsors are going to start coming in and then bigger sponsors and maybe the sport will be in the Olympics. It would be a huge accomplishment and I’d like to think I was a big part of it.
MMA Stomping Grounds: With the Olympics, is that something you hope can happen during your career?
Sylvia: That would be a lifelong dream but it’s not gonna happen while I’m still fighting. I would kill to be in the Olympics. That would be amazing. I think it’s still 10 to 20 years from the Olympics but I think it will be eventually and I will sit back, hopefully in the Hall of Fame then, and I can say I dug the trenches for this sport.
MMA Stomping Grounds: What’s the biggest misconception most casual sports fans have about MMA?
Sylvia: The biggest thing is they think it’s barbaric or they think it's fake. We need more mainstream coverage, bigger shows, bigger events. The UFC eventually getting on prime time, showcasing the superstars they have and not using Internet idiots to produce the sport and publicize it.
MMA Stomping Grounds: Speaking of Internet idiots, what do you think about Kimbo Slice?
Sylvia: I commend him for becoming somebody and making a living for himself. I’m not mad at Kimbo for making a living -- he’s a self-made man. They put his fights on You Tube and then they said, I wanna pay you $300,000 to fight on prime time TV. You can’t get mad at him for that. You gotta get mad at the people putting fights on TV. There are better guys to showcase, guys who have busted ass, who have fought for 200 bucks and had to get stitches and have paved the way for other fighters. A guy like Kimbo can walk in and be on prime time to fight a bum -- it’s not fair to the true mixed martial artists.
MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you think about Brock Lesnar?
Sylvia: I think once again, he’s a guy who it’s not fair to come in and be the co-main event. To have one fight and get half a million, it’s not fair to guys like me and guys like [Antonio Rogerio] Nogueira. I know why they try to do this -- to get more fans -- but there are guys out there who have been loyal to the sport and when stuff like this happens it’s like a slap in the face.
MMA Stomping Grounds: What did you think about the decision in the Forrest Griffin-Quinton Jackson fight? Did you think Griffin won?
Sylvia: No, I didn’t. I love Forrest, he’s a great guy and they are both good friends of mine, but that’s why I was talking about judges. I really believe Forrest won round two and I believe he won five, and Quinton dominated the first round -- maybe a 10-8 round -- and won rounds three and four 10-9, but judges just weren’t educated enough in MMA.
MMA Stomping Grounds: Looking back on your career, do you have any regrets, would you change anything?
Sylvia: Um, no. I’m pretty happy with the way my career has gone and the way I’ve been portrayed and I’m looking forward to the future and my legacy and this next big fight.
MMA Stomping Grounds: When you talk about legacy, do you have a plan in mind for the rest of your career or are you just going to keep fighting until you’re not on top of your game anymore?
Sylvia: Yeah, I’m thinking three, four, five more years. As long as I stay healthy and I’m at the top. If I lose three, four or five fights in a row, I’m going to be done.
Photo: Tim Sylvia (left) and Fedor Emelianenko will square off in Affliction's "Banned" show on July 19. (Handout photo)
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