Friday, March 2, 2007

Questions to be answered for Sylvia, Couture

By Brad McCray

"Nobody roots for Goliath" -- former NBA superstar and playboy Wilt Chamberlain

Tim Sylvia is the Ultimate Fighting Championship's least popular champion.

Fans root against the 6-foot-8, 260-pound mixed-martial arts fighter because of his stature, because of his demeanor and because of his style. On Saturday, Sylvia will fight 43-year-old Randy Couture, perhaps the most popular MMA fighter in the world, in UFC 68.

Most fans will want Sylvia to lose.

Lost in the pre-fight hype is the fact that even giants have feelings, and Sylvia is tiring of playing the role of Goliath.

"The fans always root against me," Sylvia said. "But I'm used to it now."

To many fans, Couture is the embodiment of all Sylvia is not: a fighter with average physical gifts who wins by determination against all odds -- the eternal American underdog story. Nicknamed both "The Natural" and "Captain America," Couture seemingly gives his all every time.

Meanwhile, Sylvia, who will turn 31 on March 5, has been criticized for fighting to win instead of entertaining. Three of his past four fights went to decision, including forgettable title defenses against Andrei Arlovski and Jeff Monson. It is a criticism Sylvia finds unfair.

"Every fight I want a knockout," Sylvia said. "I want to end every fight. People haven't seen that (lately) because guys haven't been wanting to exchange with me. If they fight defensively, there is nothing I can do about that."

Couture is open and friendly with fans, inexhaustibly replying to photo and autograph requests. Sylvia once made obscene gestures at fans. What appeared to be intended for everyone in the arena, he later explained, actually was intended for two fans harassing his father.

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