Former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia wants to fight his way back in to the big time.
But he faces a paradox as he tries to get another look from Zuffa. On one hand, he needs to score wins over top-notch 265 pounders in order to make an impression. But on the other, most of MMA's elite heavyweights are already under Zuffa contract.
It's an equation which has Sylvia baffled as he prepares to meet nemesis Andrei Arlovski for the fourth time at OneFC's event in Manila on Aug. 31.
"It's hard to fight all the guys who are considered tough enough because they have all the guys considered the toughest," Sylvia told MMAFighting.com's Ariel Helwani on a recent edition of The MMA Hour. "And if they don't have them, they're in Strikeforce. Where else can you fight? We're trying to do this, and I think this OneFC will be the platform for myself to showcase my skills again and put some good wins together."
Of course, the fighter known as "The Maine-iac" was close to returning for Zuffa, at least for one night. Strikeforce was searching for an opponent to meet Daniel Cormier in the Strikeforce Grand Prix tournament champion's final bout with the company before moving on to the UFC.
According to Sylvia's side of the story, an agreement was agreed upon in principle, before the plan was changed to Cormier vs. Frank Mir instead.
"I think the UFC might have gotten ahead of themselves, and they couldn't find anyone to fight Cormier, so they had asked us and we agreed to it," said Sylvia. "And I think after we agreed to it, they were able to talk Frank into it and they probably thought Frank was a better fit for it than myself. They'd like to see Daniel win and I think he beats Frank, but he'd lose to me.
Sylvia says that in some ways, he would have been a more difficult fight for Cormier than Mir.
"I don't know if [Mir]'s an easier fight," he said. "I think, he's in the limelight, he's in the UFC, Frank is definitely better on the ground than I am, but I think my takedown defense and my striking ability would make a hard fight for DC definitely. But, he's definitely a rising star right now and he'd be difficult for anybody."
With the proposed Cormier fight falling out, Sylvia signed a three-fight deal with OneFC, and finding himself facing his most familiar foe. In their first bout, at UFC 51, Arlovski submitted Sylvia with an Achilles' lock. Sylvia knocked out Arlovski to claim the UFC heavyweight title in the first round of their UFC 59 fight; then in their UFC 61 rematch, Sylvia won a lackluster decision.
The way Sylvia sees it, fight No. 4 should go the way of their second battle.
"[I'm] going out there looking for a knockout, try to push the pace and get in his face and make him fight me," said Sylvia (31-7). Referring to OneFC's PRIDE-type rules, he added "If he gets dropped, it's not going to be jump on him and pummel him, it's going to be stomp him on the head and kick him in the face."
Of course, it's no secret Arlovski isn't the fighter he was in his heyday, as he's been on the receiving end of a string of brutal knockouts. But Sylvia believes he's going to see an extra-motivated former champion come Aug. 31.
"I don't know if his skills have diminished, and I think his chin has gotten weaker and his drive isn't what it used to be," said Sylvia. "But make no mistake, Arlovski is going to be one of the better ones we've seen in a long time, because there's no love lost between us."