Thursday, February 22, 2007

Maine-iac too big for The Natural?

By Neil Davidson

While the UFC beefs up its heavyweight division with the likes of Randy Couture, Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic and Heath "Texas Crazy Horse" Herring, Tim Sylvia waits and watches.

The reigning heavyweight champion says he welcomes the competition. Come and get me, says the 6-foot-8, 255-lb. man-mountain.

"I think my next couple of fights are going to be my legacy," Sylvia told The Canadian Press in an interview from his prized UFC special edition Hummer.

First up is the 43-year-old Couture, a Hall of Famer coming out of retirement after a year out of the mixed martial arts game. Couture has owned both the heavyweight and light-heavyweight titles in the past and is considered an icon in the sport.

So does Sylvia want to test himself against the best?

"Well, one of the best," Sylvia corrects the questioner. "I wouldn't say the best. I consider myself the best."

Sylvia and Couture face off March 3 at UFC 68: The Uprising in Columbus, Ohio. It's widely expected that Filipovic will take on the winner, once he disposes of Gabriel Gonzaga. Couture could have his hands full against Sylvia, who is 13 years younger -- and much bigger.

"If I have to look at it objectively, I don't see how Randy Couture is going to win," says UFC commentator Joe Rogan. "I see a young, hungry, gigantic man who has vicious knockout power and he's fighting a guy who's in his 40s, who has always had a problem with big men. And this is the biggest man he's ever fought. And the most dangerous. He's a scary guy."

And this coming from an unabashed Couture admirer.

But middleweight Dean Lister, who has been helping Couture prepare, sees it differently.

"I think Randy Couture's game plan and his experience are going to pull through," Lister said. "Even though Tim Sylvia's bigger, Randy Couture, I feel, is going to grab him and it's going to be very hard for Sylvia to stay away from him."

If the 6-foot-2, 220-lb. Couture can keep Sylvia close, he can negate his reach and considerable striking ability and use his own wrestling skills to control the champion and do damage.

The bookies agree with Rogan. had Sylvia at minus-290, meaning you would have to bet $290 to make $100 profit on the champion. Underdog Couture was listed at plus-220 meaning a $100 bet would earn you $220 profit.

Couture lost his heavyweight title to Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 39 in September 2002. Sylvia defeated Rodriguez five months later at UFC 41 to claim the belt.

The two fighters' looks are certainly different.

Couture is a muscle mag cover boy, carved out of granite with a barrel chest and jutting jaw.

Sylvia looks like a villainous turn-of-the-century prize fighter, albeit one with an awkward gait. The big man has all the grace of a baby giraffe. He lost his belt the first time out after testing positive for steroids, a choice he later said was not about cheating, but vanity in trying to improve his body type.

Couture is a fan favourite, with a boyish smile.

The champ's personality does not shine through in public. Instead he comes across as a grumpy giant with a chip on his shoulder.

Even their nicknames are poles apart.

Couture (14-8) has been dubbed both The Natural and Captain America. Sylvia, a native of Maine who now fights out of Bettendorf, Iowa, is nicknamed The Maine-iac.

Sylvia appreciates that Couture took the bout.

"He's manned up, there were two guys that declined the fight," said Sylvia, pointing to Gonzaga and Brandon Vera.

Sylvia has won his last six fights, avenging (twice) a loss to Andre Arlovski and most recently battering Jeff Monson at UFC 65 in a one-sided bout that drew boos from the Sacramento crowd.

"Those guys like to get drunk and watch two guys beat the crap out of each other," Sylvia said of the crowd. "So they don't understand a game plan. I had a lot riding on this fight."

While Couture is a stud wrestler, Sylvia is so long that he can be hard to handle. And the champion says he has been working out with "some big strong Illinois and Iowa wrestlers."

"I'm very confident that I'll defend the takedown at all costs and knock him out," he said.


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