Tim Sylvia: With or Without UFC, Path to Redemption Always There

Steven RondinaFeatured ColumnistJune 6, 2014

Tim Sylvia celebrates after defeating Andrei Arlovski for the Heavyweight Title at the Ultimate Fighting Championship 61 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, July 8, 2006. (AP Photo/Jane Kalinowsky)

Two-time UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia has always had an unfair amount of hatred thrown his way. 

He was the poster boy for the general crappiness of the UFC's heavyweight division from 2002 through 2008. He was stripped of the UFC title in 2003 for taking steroids. He was generally less than exciting in his post-Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar fights, which are the ones most modern UFC fans are familiar with (Griffin-Bonnar set a new standard for the quality of UFC fights). He left the UFC to fight that Fedor Emelianenko character.

To top everything off, he then lost an MMA bout to a boxer! A boxer! Somebody that competes in a dead sport!

Of course, each of those knocks on him are at least somewhat defensible. 

Tim Sylvia got paid $800,000 for this fight, and the UFC blacklisted him for taking that opportunity.
Tim Sylvia got paid $800,000 for this fight, and the UFC blacklisted him for taking that opportunity.Anonymous/Associated Press

It's not his fault the heavyweight division sucked. Other fighters have been popped for steroids and had fans look the other way. He was a legitimate knockout artist for most of his UFC career.

Fedor Emelianenko was actually pretty good at this MMA thing, and it's not like being a perennial contender was a high-paying job at the time (at least not in comparison to the whopping $800,000 Affliction paid him to fight "The Last Emperor"). He didn't choose to get beaten by Ray Mercer.

For some, watching him topple from the peak of MMA success and fall into the cavernous void that is the Midwestern MMA scene was delightful. His resiliently climbing back toward the top, however, made him a sympathetic character for some. Fans, after all, love a good comeback story.

Zuffa shot itself in the foot by taking a contract off the table for Sylvia vs. Cormier.
Zuffa shot itself in the foot by taking a contract off the table for Sylvia vs. Cormier.Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

For UFC President Dana White, though, doing anything other than fading into a cubicle after leaving the UFC only increases his anger.

For those that don't remember the story, Showtime went behind Zuffa's back and signed Sylvia to face Daniel Cormier in Strikeforce. It was a fight that was compelling enough, and one that would have built up Cormier's resume moreso than pretty much any other potential opponent. White is nothing if not spiteful, though, so when he caught wind that a network he doesn't like (note: video is NSFW) started striking deals with a fighter he doesn't like?

Well, you can't expect him to handle that situation like a reasonable adult. 

White nixed the fight, and he eventually went on to match Cormier with a random light heavyweight from the European scene in a fight widely panned as a squash match. The lack of name value, coupled with the fact that Cormier didn't effortlessly tear his opponent apart, made the fight a wash for their budding prospect at best.

Make no mistakewhile Sylvia hit the rocks hard in 2008, he put together an impressive 7-1 run on the regional scene. He is a guy with the physical tools to succeed in what has traditionally been MMA's shallowest division. You'll be hard-pressed to find any other true heavyweights in America with that kind of streak outside major promotions, and there was no reason he shouldn't have been fighting in Strikeforce.

That wacky tale concluded two years ago. In the 24 months since, we have seen Bellator grow from doing shows in high school gymnasiums for MTV2 to being something that vaguely resembles a rival to the UFC. We've also seen the World Series of Fighting come into existence and carve out a place in MMA. 

Still, Sylvia finds himself toiling in obscurity. While he was wrongly denied the chance to join Strikeforce because of Zuffa boardroom foot-stomping, he has only himself to blame for not getting a slice of the action out there today.

After the debacle with Cormier, he went back to being a journeyman but without the enthusiasm he had before. In his three most recent bouts, he has gone 0-3. He weighed in well over 265 pounds for each of those fights.

Quite frankly, there isn't a place for that kind of fighter in any major promotion. That doesn't mean Sylvia shouldn't get back on the proverbial horse.

Will he ever get back in the UFC at this point? Probably not.

But there is always room under MMA's bigger spotlights for the focused, in-shape Tim Sylvia we saw in 2011. The Sylvia that was offered a shot at Daniel Cormier would be better than the vast majority of heavyweights in Bellator and would almost certainly be the top dog in the World Series of Fighting. The Sylvia of today, though, weighs over 300 pounds and loses to no-namers on One FC preliminary cards.

Luckily for Sylvia, Bellator and WSOF aren't exactly exclusive when it comes to their heavyweight divisions. A few good wins in a row at 265 pounds (not 265 pounds-ish) and it would be tough to come up with a case against him fighting there.

The chance for a comeback is there with Sylvia. He just needs to get back in the gym, get in shape and get back to winning fights.