Tuesday, April 11, 2006

TIM SYLVIA HAS HEARD ALL THE TALK !


Tim Sylvia has heard the talk – it would be hard not to. It gets even louder with each successive victory by UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski, Sylvia’s opponent this Saturday night at UFC 59 – Reality Check. The talk? Arlovski is unbeatable. And nothing gets ‘The Maine-iac’ more riled up. “That really burns me,” bristles Sylvia. “He’s not unbeatable. Anyone is beatable in this sport. He’s gonna fight a true number one contender – probably the number two guy in the UFC right now, and that’s me. So it’s gonna be a fight, no doubt about it.” It’s been a long 14 months for Sylvia as he dealt with the mental wounds from his last loss, which came against the same man he’ll be sharing the Octagon with this weekend. In that February 2005 fight, both men came out fast as they sought to secure the interim heavyweight title. Arlovski struck gold first, dropping Sylvia with a flush right hand. After a brief scramble on the mat, ‘The Pitbull’ clamped on an Achilles lock, and at 47 seconds of the first round, Sylvia, a former heavyweight champ who started his career with 16 consecutive wins, had his second loss in three fights, the first coming to Frank Mir eight months prior. “He was trying to ground and pound, definitely,” said Sylvia, describing the closing sequence of the fight. “I defended that and he didn’t hit me once when I was on the ground, and him being a sambo specialist, he’s like ‘hey, there’s a leg dangling in front of me; why don’t I just try to grab it and rip it off?’ (Laughs) And he did, and it worked.” “I don’t want to take anything away from Arlovski,” he continues. “I don’t know if he expected to submit me – he was going for a knockout and that’s what I was going for. I just came back a little too soon; I wasn’t ready for the caliber of fighter Arlovski is that soon after my broken arm. He’s the top dog right now and I wasn’t quite ready for him. I underestimated him a lot and I thought he was a lot easier fight than he was.” When Sylvia lost to Mir in June of 2004, his stubbornness and refusal to tap caused his forearm to get snapped. He rehabbed and jumped right into the bout with Arlovski with no tune-ups, and you saw the result. This is the type of reckless behavior that can sometimes be an asset in business and in life, but in the prize ring, it can also spell disaster. Then again, we haven’t held the heavyweight championship of the world. Sylvia has, for eight months in 2003, and he knows not only what it takes to get the crown, he knows what it feels like to have it slip away. He wants it back – badly. “I just know that it takes a lot of hard work to become champion,” he said. “Being a champion before, I know what it takes, I think I’m doing everything right right now to become a champ again, and if I do become a champ again, I’m not leaving the title. I left it before; I’m not leaving it again. It’s staying around my waist until I retire.” This single minded focus can be a curse though, especially if Sylvia runs in recklessly trying to finish his foe. How does he avoid being overanxious once the bell rings? “If I tell you that, it would give away my gameplan,” he said. “I just don’t go out there and get too excited in the first round. I stay patient in this fight and we’ll come out on top.” Easier said than done, but Sylvia insists that all his t’s are crossed and I’s dotted training-wise, and that he will surprise more than a few people in this rematch. “We’re definitely approaching the fight differently than we did last time,” he said. “It will be a different Tim Sylvia and it will be a different fight.” Small doses of the new Tim Sylvia have been surfacing in his two post-Arlovski UFC wins (he also has a TKO win over Mike Block in an IFC bout), with his high leg kick knockout of Tra Telligman and his varied offensive attack in a decision win over Assuerio Silva being prime examples. “I’m trying to be more of a well-rounded fighter,” he admits. “You have to be. You can’t just sit at home and work on the things that have worked for you in the past. Everybody is changing, the sport’s getting tougher, and you’ve got kids sitting at home on their couches at six years old watching UFC and saying ‘daddy, I like that, I want to start doing that.’ Dad’s a huge fan, he puts his kid in wrestling, the kid starts taking boxing and jiu-jitsu, and the next thing you know, you’ve got these kids that have ten years experience under their belt at 18-19 years old, they get into the sport and become animals. That’s the next generation. I hate to say us old-timers (Laughs) – but us veterans need to adapt or get the hell out of the sport.” And against Arlovski, Sylvia has to come with the type of attack that not only keeps the champion honest, but also keeps him guessing. If he does this and survives Arlovski’s early onslaught, things could get interesting at the Arrowhead Pond. If not, ‘The Pitbull’ will notch another successful title defense and Sylvia will have a hard time getting another shot at the crown as long as the native of Belarus holds it. In other words, this is a must win situation for Sylvia. “To be honest with you, if something freakish happens and I do lose, I don’t see myself going anywhere – I’m sure I’ll still be a top contender in the UFC – but I really don’t know what it’s gonna take to beat Arlovski if I lose this fight because we know we have a great gameplan for him, we’re executing the gameplan in practice, I’m very confident going into this fight that I’m gonna win, and I think if I lose the fight, it’s because I didn’t follow the gameplan or I downright just got caught, which can happen in this sport,” he said. You can break it down on paper anyway you want to, and the answer will come back the same – Arlovski should win his rematch with Sylvia. But every time I hear that, I think of Sylvia’s second pro fight, when he took a hellacious pounding from a fighter named Gabe Beauperthy and still rebounded to win. I ask Sylvia about this fight, and his response is a direct one. “You can’t teach heart,” he said. “Heart is something that you’re born with and blessed with. You can’t teach it, and some guys take an ass whipping and just want to lay down. I don’t lay down for no one.” When you’ve got a fighter like that in the Octagon, all bets are off, because when it’s round four and five and the heat gets turned up, talent goes out the window and it’s the intangibles that will determine a winner. Tim Sylvia’s ready for that type of war simply so he can see if Arlovski’s willing to go to the same lengths to keep his belt as Sylvia will go to win it back. And isn’t that what we all want to see in a heavyweight title match? “I’m looking for a fight,” said Sylvia. “I’m not looking for a sparring match; I’m not looking for a jiu-jitsu match – I’m looking for a fight. I’m gonna rough him up, I’m gonna throw him around, I’m gonna beat him up and I’m gonna see how much heart he’s got.”
story by By Thomas Gerbasi on UFC.com
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