This Day in MMA History: April 15

By Ben Duffy Apr 15, 2020

Tim Sylvia’s career was in a precarious spot in early 2005. On one hand, he was a former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titleholder who had never lost his crown in the Octagon. On the other hand, after starting his career 16-0 and picking up UFC gold along the way, he had lost two of his last three fights in quick, painful and decisive fashion to Frank Mir and Andrei Arlovski.

Against Mir at UFC 47—where Sylvia fought for the belt the UFC had stripped from him for a failed drug test—he suffered one of the most infamous injuries in MMA history. Mir snapped both bones in Sylvia’s right forearm with an armbar in 50 seconds. After surgical repair of the broken arm and a one-off fight against Wes Sims at SuperBrawl 38 in Hawaii, he returned to face Arlovski for the interim title at UFC 51, as Mir was unable to defend the belt in the wake of his catastrophic motorcycle accident. Against the Belarusian, Sylvia had fared no better, as he was dropped by a flush right and snared in a heel hook, this time in only 47 seconds.

After those two humiliating defeats, “The Maine-iac” regrouped with three straight wins, including a horrifying head kick knockout of Tra Telligman at UFC 54. The streak earned him a rematch with Arlovski, who had defended the interim belt with a 10-second knockout of Paul Buentello before being promoted to undisputed champ in light of Mir’s continuing inability to fight. So it was that Sylvia entered the Octagon at UFC 59 on April 15, 2006, a 20-2 former champion and at the same time a 3-to-1 underdog who was seen by many fans as something of a spent force.

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Once the fight started, it looked for all the world like a near-repeat of their first meeting, as Arlovski leveled Sylvia with a right hand halfway through the first round. Arlovski pounced and looked for the finish, but Sylvia recovered, regained his feet and caught the onrushing Belarusian flush on the chin with a short right hand of his own. The champ dropped to all fours as if zapped with a Taser, as Sylvia gave chase and finished him with a string of punches to the side of the head. Referee Herb Dean dove in to wave off the beating at 2:43 of Round 1, and Sylvia was the UFC’s second two-time heavyweight champion.

They completed a trilogy at UFC 61 a few months later. In contrast to the fireworks of their first two meetings—and probably because of those fireworks—the rubber match was a conservative and relatively slow-paced affair, with Sylvia doing enough to earn a clear unanimous decision. Sylvia then defended the belt once more before the promotion’s first two-time heavyweight champion, Randy Couture, used him as a springboard to become the first three-time titleholder.

From there, Sylvia saw a victory over Brandon Vera offset by losses to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Fedor Emelianenko, marking the end of his run as a top-level contender. He retired in 2013 on the heels of three straight defeats. Arlovski, however, has had numerous career resurgences over the years and, at 41, remains a viable UFC heavyweight to this day. The two greats met for a fourth and final time in 2012 under the One Championship banner. It ended up a fiasco, as a mildly entertaining scrap ended in a no contest thanks to the promotion’s bizarre—and subsequently abandoned—“open attack” rules regarding strikes to grounded fighters.

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