Tim “The Maine-iac” Sylvia has fought in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Honolulu and many other major-league venues around the country while earning a livelihood in mixed martial arts.
But the Eastbrook native and two-time Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion has yet to fight in his home state — something that will change June 16 when he faces Randy “The Wolf” Smith in the headline bout of “Fight Night III” at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.
“It will be the first time I’ve fought in Maine so I’m pretty stoked about that,” said Sylvia before his recent promotional appearance at the “Fight Night 2” card held at the Biddeford Arena.
“I have fans who have seen me fight on TV but they haven’t been able to get to the big shows in Vegas and some of the other places I’ve fought, but now they’re going to get the opportunity to see me fight in person on June 16.”
The 36-year-old Sylvia has remained active in the sport since leaving the UFC in 2008, continuing to fight out of the Miletich Fighting Systems stable in Bettendorf, Iowa, where he moved in 2000.
The 1992 Ellsworth High School graduate, 30-7 overall with 19 knockouts and four wins by submission, has won six of his last seven bouts and last fought on Nov. 5 in Moline, Ill., where he won a three-round unanimous decision over Andreas Kraniotakes.
“I had three fights last year,” said Sylvia. “I’m trying to fight three or four times a year.”
While most of Sylvia’s recent fights have been in the Midwest, the opportunity to return home was too good to pass up, both for his own career and to support a sport still in its infancy in Maine, where mixed martial arts was legalized in 2009.
“I’m the first champion from Maine, and [former World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight champ] Mike Brown [of Portland] won one as well so he and I have a little history when it comes to Maine and mixed martial arts,” said Sylvia. “I’m stoked, I’m happy to see it here.
“There’s a lot of people here who want to pursue the sport and don’t have the ability to move to Iowa like I did. This gives them a chance to pursue the sport and fight locally, which is great for the sport.”
Sylvia took up mixed martial arts on a whim some 15 years ago.
“I fell into it to be honest with you,” said Sylvia. “I was working in construction and [Bangor-based MMA fighter] Marcus Davis and I were bouncing at the Bounty Taverne and we saw an announcement about fights in Rhode Island if you dared show up, so I showed up and paid 50 bucks and knocked someone out in 17 seconds. I thought to myself, ‘I’m hooked.’
“I had no idea what I was doing. I’d seen it on TV and I was scared as hell but I went in there and it worked out.”
Sylvia made his professional debut in 2001 and quickly learned his newly chosen field wasn’t as simple as knocking someone’s block off in 17 seconds.
“I don’t know if I had a thought of what it was going to be and how it was going to work out, but that first time just happened so quick, 17 seconds and it was over,” he said. “I think the first time I went the distance or at least went a full round I was exhausted and I thought, ‘Wow, this is an endurance sport.’ That really opened my eyes. I knew I just had to start training harder and improve my fitness level.”
Sylvia won his first 13 fights before signing with the top-tier UFC in 2002, then won his first world title a year later by defeating Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 41 in Atlantic City, N.J.
Sylvia made a successful title defense that year but voluntarily vacated his title in the aftermath of that first-round victory over Gan McGee at UFC 44 when he tested positive for a banned substance.
Sylvia served a six-month suspension before resuming his career, then came all the way back to regain the UFC heavyweight championship with a first-round technical knockout of Andrei Arlovski at UFC 59 in April 2006, just as the sport’s popularity was beginning to explode nationwide.
“Once it got on national TV with Spike TV and ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ it made the sport blow up,” Sylvia said. “People realized how good the athletes are who are doing this and how exciting the sport is. It’s kind of killed boxing over the last few years, and it’s still growing.”
The 6-foot-8-inch, 265-pound Sylvia made two successful title defenses before dropping a unanimous decision to MMA legend Randy Couture at UFC 68 in Anaheim, Calif., on March 3, 2007.
Sylvia asked for and was granted his release from the UFC a year later to sign with a rival organization, but that deal eventually fell through and after a nine-second knockout loss to boxer Ray Mercer in 2009 and a brief flirtation with professional wrestling he since has redirected his attention back to mixed martial arts and has fought three matches in each of the last two years.
Sylvia said recently that he regretted his decision to leave the UFC “100 percent,” and that while he approaches the waning years of his mixed martial arts career he’d like to get one more shot in the sport’s biggest promotion.
“I think my goal is to eventually get back into UFC,” Sylvia said this week in an interview available on www.newenglandfights.com. “That’s where all the top fighters are, that’s where the exposure is and that’s honestly where I want to finish up my career, back in the UFC.”
In the meantime, Sylvia will get the chance to achieve another career goal when he returns home for his first sanctioned fight in Maine since his high school wrestling days.
Maine is one of the newer markets for the sport, but sold-out crowds of more than 3,000 for a February card in Lewiston and more than 1,500 for the recent Biddeford card have “Fight Night III” promoters confident that Sylvia’s Maine debut will prompt an even larger turnout for the June date.
“Over 3,200 people attended Fight Night I at the Colisee earlier this year,” said New England Fights co-owner and promoter Nick DiSalvo in a press release. “Now, with Sylvia fighting for the first time in his home state, we’re already seeing a marked increase in ticket sales over the first show.”
Smith, who trains out of Cortland, N.Y., has competed extensively on the Northeast MMA circuit and with a record of 14-10-1 is the No. 5-ranked heavyweight in the region, according to northeastmma.net.
“It’s an honor to fight Tim Sylvia, and it will be a huge win,” said Smith. “He was a guy I used to watch before I started training. He has been at the highest level in the biggest show, and he is a guy I always dreamed of fighting. I match up well with him. Our styles are a lot alike. This is my Super Bowl. We will put on a fight that people will talk about for years.”