Maybe Tim Sylvia is a mirror, and we don’t like looking at ourselves.

In 2010, a friend of mine was working for a local news outlet. Nobody cared much about MMA, so we had no problem getting press passes. Somebody wants to cover us, yay! I’d carry around an outdated video camera, pretending to be a photog, in exchange for front-row seats. Monty Cox promoted a barely-attended event at the Target Center that December, and I tried my hand at a faux interview with Tim Sylvia that never had a chance of airing anywhere.

I mention this now, because Matt Peterson of New England Fights interviewed Sylvia on his podcast yesterday. Tim will fight Christian Morecraft on September 6th for the New England Fights Main State MMA Super Heavyweight Title. But while he appreciates the opportunity, he’d really like to be fighting Frank Mir in the UFC.

“Everybody knows what Dana White is, what kind of person he is. Coming from Maine, I don’t know. It’s just stupid. Put me and Frank Mir on the card and it would be a hell of a fight. A lot of Mainers deserve that. They deserve to see me fight in the UFC again in the State of Maine.”  

He even thinks the UFC is intentionally trying to make him miserable.

“At this point, I really don’t give a shit,” he said. “They just added a super heavyweight division, I hear. So, it’s like, it seems like every month, every other month they’re doing something just to entice me or piss me off and say, ‘Ha ha, look what we’re doing now and you’re still not welcome back.’ They’re just doing this shit just to piss me the fuck off. It’s really annoying.”

Why does everyone hate Tim Sylvia so much?

I was endeared to Tim during that pretend interview in 2010, and I wasn’t expecting that to happen. Because I had been participating in this collective loathing our community sometimes has for the guy. But he surprised me. For instance, I asked him about his corner men, and he answered, “These are guys I’ve been friends with before I was heavyweight champ, after I was heavyweight champ, when I lost the belt . . . guys that are around, they don’t give a shit what you are . . . you’ve got to keep true friends around. They don’t care if I’m still fighting, they don’t care if I quit today, we’ll still be friends. True friends.”

He continued, “There’s a lot of people out there who you think are your friends when you’re on top, but when you’re down on the bottom, nobody gives a shit who you are. These guys aren’t like that.”

Does he feel like he’s ever received the respect he deserves?

“I don’t know. Don’t care . . . I’m a country boy, I don’t give a shit if they like me or not.”

That’s good, because for some reason, a lot of people don’t. I feel like an apologist who has been backed into a corner whenever I tell people how much I enjoyed his company. I mean, I really enjoyed it. But the MMA community can express such an intensely opposite reaction.

Then it occurred to me: perhaps Tim Sylvia is our community’s perfect vehicle for profound psychological development.


One of the bedrock principles of depth psychology is that, when we have an exceptionally strong emotional reaction to another human being, it may be because they are triggering something profoundly important in our own psyche. That internal psychological material is sometimes called the “shadow,” the completely unconscious repository of all the things we have repressed throughout our lives because we couldn’t bear to acknowledge them consciously. For instance, a child may not be able to cope with how abusive his mother is. So he represses it, puts it out of his mind. He feels unlovable, but he tucks it away. Years later, he has intensely negative reactions to every woman he tries to love, and he doesn’t know why.  

But even more troubling than these internalized feelings, is the problem of “psychological projection,” when those feelings get projected out onto undeserving individuals. If a person has repressed profound feelings of inferiority, they may erupt now and then in the form of a perceived inferiority in a total stranger. So that guy with the abusive mother, he may see every woman he meets as a hyper vigilant nag who would rather tear him down than nurture him because he is not worthy of their love. And his potential romantic partners may be great women. His perceptions may be complete illusions. So he sabotages his happiness because he cannot see other people for who they really are. They are never more than an image he is projecting onto them.

My theory, in the context of Tim Sylvia, is that he’s not nearly as bad as we need him to be. The intense collective reaction we sometimes have against him may have more to do with our own repressed inferiorities than with a real understanding of the man himself.

In a culture that is obsessed with physical conditioning, for instance, it would make sense that we all might be a little down on ourselves for failing to meet up to our own imposed ideals. We are getting older. We never won a boxing title. We worked hard but didn’t quite make it. And here is Sylvia, lumbering around with the UFC belt. He has no business succeeding at that level, right? He is too lazy to deserve that kind of success. In fact, we refuse to believe he was ever the “Baddest Man on the Planet.” No, that must have been an accident. Look at him.

This weird negative investment we have in Tim is a golden psychological opportunity. A chance to ask ourselves why he bothers us so much. Maybe if we burn some incense and meditate upon the image of Tim Sylvia, we will remember some forgotten disappointment from our childhoods. Maybe we will make peace with that self-loathing and become less judgmental of Tim Sylvia. Thanks, Tim!

In the words of Carl Jung, “If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.”

Of course, this is all theory and it may be untrue in practice. If you hate Tim, maybe he deserves it. Maybe you love him. Good for you. But my own experience was transformative. Because ten minutes with the guy changed my perspective from weirdly and unfoundedly negative to more realistically positive.

So I hope he gets that fight in Maine, and he has a chance to relive a little bit of his former glory. If he doesn’t, I doubt it will bother him too much. But the least we can do is to wish him a kind farewell, and to appreciate him for causing all this psychic upheaval. Even if you don’t enjoy him as a fighter, he is nonetheless a great psychological symbol. He is proof of one important thing. The parts of ourselves we would rather ignore and repress? They are capable of greatness.

Published on August 6, 2014 at 5:38 pm
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