Tonight, two former UFC champions are in action at War on the Mainland, a PPV card emanating from the Bren Events Center in Irvine, California. The two are a study in contrasts. One, Jens Pulver, is a beloved elder statesman. The other, former heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia, has become one of the most despised figures in the game. I sat down with big Tim to see how he was doing and ask some important questions about his life and career.
Jonathan Snowden: What was it like at the Miletich gym when you guys were all champions and competing at the very highest levels?
Tim Sylvia: It was awesome. Surprisingly, that's what it's like in Indiana right now. Everybody's hungry. A lot of tough guys who all want their shot. Back in the day at MFS we were all hungry and pushing each other. Guys who weren't champions wanted to become champions. Before anyone had any money and we were just trying to make ends meet.
Jonathan Snowden: For a lot of the guys it was like an all-star camp. So many top fighters in certain weight classes. And you almost had that for a little bit when it looked for a time like Brock Lesnar was going to make Miletich his home. Did you get to work with Brock at all when he was there at the beginning of his career?
Tim Sylvia: I was coming off surgery so I never got a chance to train with him. But Brock and I became pretty good friends. We'd go out to Big Shot and shoot out there and go out to dinner and stuff. Brock and I are a lot alike when it comes to our personal lives.
Jonathan Snowden: Your career was like Brock's once you got to the UFC - it exploded so quickly. Your second fight in the UFC was for a title shot. Were you ready for all that came with being a UFC star back then?
Tim Sylvia: I wasn't ready for it, but it happened. When I won it the second time it was more meaningful, meant more to me. It was like 'I just got in the UFC and already I'm getting a title shot?' I was thinking I'd work my way up, fight a few guys first before I got a title shot. But I was hand picked. Ricco (Rodriguez) picked me because he thought he could beat me and retain his title. And the UFC thought he was going to be the next big thing. But we took the fight knowing that we had a good shot at beating this guy. And low and behold-it happened.
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Jonathan Snowden: So, you would have liked to have developed a little more as a fighter before you were thrown in there? Because you never really get a chance to develop skills if every opponent is an upper echelon guy.
Tim Sylvia: Definitely, I would have loved to see that happen. But it wasn't a bad thing. After that fight I've never worked a single day at a job ever again. You know? It set me up for the rest of my life and made training full time a lot easier.
Jonathan Snowden: It's always been love an hate with you and the fans. I remember around when you won the title, you would hang out a lot with the fans at shows, wearing that title belt. At some point things turned. Do you have a good idea about when the fan response started getting so negative?
Tim Sylvia: I think the turning point was really the Arlovski series. When I beat him and then beat him again it seemed like things turned. I'm not sure why it happened or where it came from, but it started with the Arlovski fights and I didn't understand it.
Jonathan Snowden: Does it matter to you how fans think about Tim Sylvia?
Tim Sylvia: Not really. I'm at the point where I'm cool with myself. I've got my family and friends and so on and so forth. I've always had the mentality, if you don't like me then fuck you. I don't like you either. It is what it is.
Jonathan Snowden: Fans are always curious about your decision to leave the UFC after the Nogueira fight. You and your agent Monte Cox thought that there were more opportunities outside of Zuffa than in it. Looking back, would you still make that call? Or would you be with Zuffa?
Tim Sylvia: I wouldn't change a thing. Everyone talks about Monte and that decision, thinking I would be better off in Zuffa. But what if I did beat Fedor? Everyone would have been saying 'Oh my God. Monte Cox is the greatest man alive. He's the smartest man in MMA.' But it didn't happen that night. I lost. But if we had won we probably would have gone down as the best fighter and management team ever. But it didn't happen. I'm happy, you know? There's definitely some advantages, fighting on a lot of shows and always being a free agent. I don't have to be a 'Yes sir, no sir' type of guy. I'm happy. I'm not saying I would never consider going back to the UFC again. We would definitely work a deal and it might be a nice place to finish up my career. But right now, I'm fine where I am.
Jonathan Snowden: And financially-no regrets?
Tim Sylvia: Absolutely. I think I did just fine.
Jonathan Snowden: In my mind there are a lot of great fights on this show. What should fans expect from Tim Sylvia when they put their money down to see you and Paul and the other great fighters?
Tim Sylvia: I think they're going to see a lot of fights that weren't able to happen on other shows. They've done a great job and got a lot of great UFC vets. I think Paul and I is going to be possibly one of the fights of the year. I'm hoping to stand and bang and I don't see a takedown happening in this fight.
War on the Mainland begins airs tonight at 10 PM ET on PPV.