Let’s not kid ourselves, MMA fans. Whatever you think of Tim Sylvia, whatever opinion you may have formed based on reading about him in Matt Hughes‘ autobiography or seeing him on “Blind Date”, the fact remains that he’s a legitimate top heavyweight. He’s big, he’s strong, his overall game has improved dramatically over the last few years, and while he may not always look great doing it, he knows how to win.
So let’s not pretend that this fight on Saturday is a cakewalk for Fedor Emelianenko. Sylvia is a dangerous opponent for anyone, regardless of where they stand in the heavyweight rankings. But we also can’t pretend that Affliction would look at a Sylvia victory the same way they would a Fedor one.
Let’s start with the obvious reason. The biggest fight on the horizon for Affliction right now is Fedor-Couture. There are roadblocks aplenty at the moment, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen or that it wouldn’t be a difference-maker in their long term viability. But if Sylvia comes out on top, that match instantly loses a lot of its appeal. Gone is Fedor’s aura of invincibility, his mystique, his innate talent for making any fight seem like history in the making.
But that’s not even the biggest problem. If Fedor loses, that means Sylvia wins. That means you’re stuck with him. Then what?
You see, for all his ability in the ring, he’s not the guy you want to be depending on as your main event draw. He doesn’t have the star power, and even though his stock would go up if he defeats Fedor, most fans will more than likely see it as a sign that Fedor was overrated and maybe underprepared. They’re far less likely to hail Sylvia as the world’s best heavyweight because of it, and meanwhile Dana White laughs into his champagne.
It also creates some future matchmaking trouble. You could put Sylvia against Josh Barnett, assuming Barnett and father time are able to team up and overcome Pedro Rizzo. But then you’ve got a guy who isn’t much of a draw against a guy who isn’t much of a draw in the United States (yet).
Of course, there’s always the Andrei Arlovski-Ben Rothwell fight. But Rothwell and Sylvia are teammates, so they probably won’t fight if Rothwell wins (unless it’s for a lot of money). If Arlovski wins, that leaves you with Arlovski-Sylvia IV. Who wants to see that? Their last meeting wasn’t exactly “The Thrilla in Manilla”. If Affliction tries to ride that to big pay-per-view numbers, the UFC can relax and use old Xyience commercials as counter-programming on Spike TV.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m saying Tim Sylvia isn’t a legitimate fighter or that he doesn’t deserve the fans’ respect. If he beats Fedor, he’ll definitely have proved something, even if that something is that Fedor is not the unstoppable cyborg from the future he was made out to be.
But this is a numbers game for Affliction. They can sell Fedor. The language barrier and man-on-the-street physique somehow only add to his mystique. He has that special something that people will pay just to get close to. Tim Sylvia doesn’t have it. He has a lot of other qualities, but not that, and he isn’t going to get it overnight.
A Sylvia victory on Saturday night might not be a catastrophe for Affliction, but it won’t seal their success, either. Their future plans look a lot better with a clear-cut Fedor victory. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the fight game, though, it’s that anything can happen. And that anything is just as likely to be bad as it is good.