Early last week, UFC fans looked at Saturday's matchup between heavyweight Tim "The Maine-iac" Sylvia and the highly touted but undersized Brandon Vera with an interest level that was moderate.
Sylvia, the 6-foot-8, 265-pound bruiser, has twice held the organization's heavyweight title, and is renowned in the sport as having one of the most amazing pain tolerance levels in existence.
But a fighter, fair or not, is judged by his last outing and for Sylvia, that last scrap was a loss to Randy Couture.
The bout took place March 3, at UFC 68 in Columbus, Ohio, and the younger, taller, heavier man was on the defensive from the moment the fight began. He ate a right hand to start the fight that sent him to La-La Land. But that pain tolerance kicked in, and he didn't crumble and hit the mat for a nap. Sylvia (25-3) kept on tussling or so he was told.
The fighter, who grew up in Maine (hence the nickname), was concussed, and can't remember the first, second, third or fourth rounds. He awoke in the fifth, just in time to hear Couture's name announced as the new UFC heavyweight champ.
Now, as you might have heard, Couture, the John Wayne of the sport, an ageless wonder who at 44 puts men 20 years his junior to shame with his strength and conditioning, has ridden his horse off into the sunset. Or so he says.
Couture's gripe is that the UFC didn't land him a marquee foe, namely Fedor Emelianenko, the Russian who is regarded as the best heavyweight, and perhaps the best MMA fighter period, in the world. Secondarily (and maybe even more importantly, as nobody knows the man's motivation but the man himself), Couture has chafed at his purses. He maintains that UFC bosses haven't been forthcoming about who makes what, and is demanding a bump in salary.
Suddenly, the Sylvia-Vera beef takes on a whole new level of importance.
The power-punching giant, who lives in the MMA mecca of Iowa and is trained by fight guru Pat Miletich, sounds ready for another crack at the title, be it against Couture or whomever.
"Mentally and physically, I didn't overlook Randy," he explains to ESPN.com. "But he's a good friend of mine. We touched gloves to start, and I thought to myself, 'This is a sparring match.' After the first punch he landed, I don't remember the first four rounds."
Sylvia, a standup specialist who likes to bludgeon with heavy hands and owns a solid takedown defense arsenal, would love another crack at his buddy.
"I'd treat him him like he treated me," he says. "Like Georges St. Pierre against Matt Hughes, [those legends] get treated with too much respect."
Sylvia vows he's in fine form physically, and that, for him, isn't a given. He's had back problems since 2003, before he beat then-heavyweight champ Ricco Rodriguez. The fighter had back surgery just four months ago and is fully healed. He sees a chiropractor to maintain his alignment, he says, but is at 100 percent.
Sylvia doesn't bristle at the fact that he's being matched with somebody with so few fights, or that some message boarders have dismissed him as a past-tenser and Vera as the present of the division.
"I'm kind of looking at this as a comeback, even though I just fought in March," he says.
Mentally, he says he's on level and is looking at the 6-foot-2, 225 pound Vera as a stern test, even though the undefeated Virginia-born Muay Thai-wrestling-Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu combo package has only eight professional fights on his ledger.
Vera, whose nickname is "The Truth," doesn't impress Sylvia like Couture does.
"He hasn't done much in this sport," Sylvia says. "I'm 'The Truth.'"
"I'm the answer for him. I've watched tapes of him. I think he's a good fighter, but small and inexperienced. Has UFC management thrown him to the wolves? I think so."
Michael Woods, the news editor for TheSweetScience.com, has written for ESPN The Magazine, GQ and The New York Observer.