Seven days ago, Tim Sylvia told his friend and longtime training partner Sherman Pendergarst that he was coming back to the big show after four years away from it.
The next day, Pendergarst succumbed to cancer after a long fight, and Sylvia received another punch to the stomach when he heard he wasn't signed. But he held out hope that it was part of a PR
When Sylvia (30-7) learned it wasn't, and later found out that Frank Mir would be fighting Daniel Cormier in Strikeforce instead of him, he was "shocked." But as he today told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
), he plans to fight on.
"I love to fight," Sylvia said. "I still want to do it. I still can do it, and I think I'm still one of the top 20 in the world."
Sylvia still isn't sure what happened between this week and last. As far as he knew, he was a lock to fight Cormier in the Strikeforce cage. His manager, Monte Cox, had struck a deal to do a six-week training camp with American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla., as part of his preparation.
"I knew that we were in contract negotiations," Sylvia said of a previously reported deal to fight Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix champ at an event planned for Sept. 29 at Power Balance Pavilion in Sacramento, Calif. "They asked if I would fight Daniel Cormier. Monte asked if I wanted that fight, and I said absolutely. He says, 'I'm going to try and work a deal to where you fight him and then after the fight, win, lose or draw, you get to fight in the UFC.' I said, 'That's great. That's what we wanted.'"
That's not what happened, however. Strong backlash mingled with support for Sylvia when the report surfaced, and a few hours later, UFC president Dana White reiterated a statement he made prior to this past weekend's UFC 149 when he said the ex-UFC champ was not part of the Strikeforce roster.
"Long story," White wrote on the popular mixed martial arts website The Underground. "But yes, Tim is not with Zuffa."
Sylvia, however, took the denial to mean his signing wasn't a piece of news that was ready for public consumption.
"(Cox) was in contract negotiations, we agreed to it, and it was all going to happen," he said. "I just the thought (was) that he was saying that because they wanted to release it; he didn't want the press to get the leak beforehand."
When it was reported today that Mir was slotted to face Cormier and became the first UFC fighter to cross over to Strikeforce, with both fighters expected to go to the UFC after the fight, Sylvia knew the deal was dead.
"So we just assumed that they had talked to both sides, ours and Frank Mir," Sylvia said. "And when Frank probably agreed to it they just understood that would be a better fight or look better for [Cormier], or even the UFC. I don't know. I'm just really disappointed in this whole thing, to be honest with you."
Cox kept lines of communication open with the UFC and Strikeforce parent company Zuffa, and the fighter pushed for a short-notice opportunity when Ben Rothwell was injured and withdrew from a fight with Travis Browne at UFC on FOX 4.
But for now, all Sylvia knows is that he has to push on.
"Obviously, they thought about me, and they asked if I'd fight for them," Sylvia said. "So we hope they keep me in their mind. I'm headed to the gym right now. After my last fight, I only took two weeks off. So I've been back in the gym. My weight is down; I've been around 290, so if I was to get a notice within two weeks, I could cut the weight right."
After an extended stint in the super heavyweight class, Sylvia has fought his past two fights at heavyweight and built a three-fight win streak, including a 12-second knockout in his most recent appearance. He thinks that caught the eye of Zuffa. Now, he just needs more highlight reels to convince them that he can survive in the octagon.
In the meantime, he's started making funeral arrangements for his friend. He said "it sucked" that the two events were so closely intertwined. But he also points out that he's 36 years old, and this isn't the first time he's dealt with loss.
"It was one of the hardest ones I've had to deal with," Sylvia said. "Just because I went and saw him the night before he passed, and that I went to the hospital as he was laying at rest in his hospital bed just to say my goodbyes. I keep thinking back and seeing Sherm and knowing that he's no longer with us.
"It was definitely a dramatic moment, like, 'Whoa, I'm back.' A few hours pass, and it's like, 'Oh, I'm not fighting now.' This sucks. But I think in the long run, all of this stuff makes you stronger."