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Jiu-jitsu News Archive: November, 2003

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Good for the Sport

About a year ago, former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett tested positive for steroids. At the time, my reaction was outrage. How could Barnett have done such a thing? Didn't he know that the UFC was in a precarious stage of its evolution toward mainstream acceptance? What kind of representative of mixed martial arts was he anyway? I'm sure a lot of people felt the same way. Debate raged amongst fans for awhile over what should be done with Barnett. For their part, both Zuffa and the Nevada State Athletic Commission were fast to act. Barnett was stripped of the heavyweight championship and had his fighting license revoked for six months. Other organizations were wary to pick up Barnett at the price he was asking because of the potential damage to their credibility. This eventually catapulted him to pro-wrestling. Barnett and trainer Matt Hume mounted a shoddy defense for a few months trying to find some loophole in the steroid policy so that Barnett could be exonerated, but it was to no avail. The United States lost Josh Barnett and hasn't really seen him compete since. He's competed for a few Japanese events, but nothing that makes the pay-per-views here in America. Consequently, Barnett, a relatively exciting and well-liked fighter, may never become a star in his home country.

Absurdly enough, this whole drama replayed itself recently when current UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia tested positive for steroids after a recent title defense against Gan McGee. While it seems incredible that Sylvia would risk using steroids, knowing the fate that Barnett suffered, he did it anyway. Like Barnett, Sylvia was stripped of the heavyweight title, fined $7,500 and suspended from fighting in Nevada (and by extension anywhere else) for four months--admittedly, a slap on the wrist. Interestingly, the UFC is making no moves to crown an interim champion right away since the heavyweight division is somewhat lacking in legitimate contenders and talent. So it seems, once again, that another athlete has done something "bad for the sport."

It's silly to lay the fate of our fledgling sport at some fighter from Maine's feet. Sylvia and Barnett are humans and are no more responsible for MMA than Michaelangelo was responsible for the Renaissance. Those who judge this sport by one or two individuals are ignorant anyway. If their voices are the only ones being heard, then MMA's public relations are horrid. With all that in mind, however, I think Tim Sylvia taking steroids was the best thing that could have happened to the UFC.

When Sylvia defeated Ricco Rodriguez for the heavyweight title, a friend of mine told me that he thought Sylvia would hold the belt for a long time because he's tall, strong and a pretty hard hitter. His prediction was that no one would be able to dethrone him based purely on his size and moderate skill. I winced at the thought. I hate the Miletich camp. I have nothing against them personally, but I hate their style of fighting. There's not a single exciting fighter among them. Matt Hughes is the closest thing resembling a real fighter in that whole camp and even he makes me yawn 80% of the time.

Pat Miletich established this style of boring-jitsu back in UFC 16 when he was taking a nap on top of Townsend Saunders and later perfected it in UFC Brazil while holding onto Mikey Burnett's shorts. His teammates would later practice this style to much success, Jens Pulver being the best example when he became the UFC's lightweight champion. The majority of the Miletich camp are Midwestern scrappers who make Lennox Lewis look like the most exciting heavyweight champion in the history of boxing by comparison. Miletich himself is part of a small group of people (including Dan Severn, Mark Coleman and Pedro Rizzo) who led to the decline of interest and pay-per-view buy rates for the UFC. And now, Tim Sylvia…

Tim Sylvia probably would be champion for a long time. He would fight an uninspiring rematch with Ricco Rodriguez where he'd employ his long reach to keep Rodriguez away until he got taken down. There they'd stay for a few rounds until somewhere in the third when Sylvia would either finally connect with something big or gas out completely. He would go on to fight Frank Mir in a contest sure to end with Mir unconscious and then he'd sit in limbo until another contender presented himself. Six months would go by and then Zuffa would put him up against Kazuyuki Fujita, who would probably take him down and fight a match reminiscent of Mark Coleman vs. Pedro Rizzo from UFC 18.

The long and the short of it is that Tim Sylvia will eventually bore us to tears. He'll knock out a few guys that Zuffa puts in front of him and then he'll fight action-free lay and pray matches against whoever is skilled enough to bring the fight down. Sylvia is a big tall guy who punches straight (rather than looping) and consequently has knocked out all but three of his fifteen opponents. Yet he lacks both the exciting knockouts and the quality opposition record of a Mike Tyson or even Josh Barnett. He belongs in K-1, not MMA. The UFC's heavyweight division is ridiculously lacking in talent and excitement and Sylvia (or any MFS fighter) is a perfect symbol of this fact. There's a difference between being king of the trash heap and king of the mountain. Sylvia easily falls into the former category. By disgracing himself with easily detectable steroid use (purportedly for cosmetic reasons) Sylvia has given MMA a great gift. He has excused himself from the table before the sport in general and the heavyweight division in particular is ushered into another MFS-led dark age that would make even the Lennox Lewis-helmed boxing world shudder.

Diami J. Virgilio
November, 2003

Off the Mat is a column written by independent columnist, Diami Virgilio. The views expressed may not reflect the views of this sites owners, operators, and employees.

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