CINCINNATI – Tim Sylvia had six inches and nearly 40 pounds on Brandon Vera. It was clear to someone watching their first fight that Syliva needed to let his hands go in order to win.
And, naturally, for much of the fight, Sylvia kept his hands idle.
But when he did let them fly, he proved why he's such a difficult man to beat.
There are few heavyweights in the UFC with Randy Couture's set of skills. Couture is a world-class wrestler who was able to neutralize Sylvia's massive size and punching power.
But the majority of heavyweights aren't going to be able to come close to doing to Sylvia what Couture was able to do in March, when he dominated him and won the heavyweight belt from him.
Couture resigned as the UFC champion 10 days ago and Sylvia showed why he may be the man to fill the vacancy.
He won a unanimous decision over Vera. And while the house was filled with boos – "You'd rather they love you, it's OK if they hate you but the worst thing is when they have no opinion of you," UFC president Dana White said – Sylvia proved he's on a different level than most of the men in the heavyweight division.
His sheer mass along presents a heap of trouble for most potential opponents. Cheick Kongo, who defeated Mirko CroCop in September, is most likely next, though the possibility of a bout with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira also exists.
Sylvia, who had back surgery after his loss to Couture, wasn't thrilled with his effort. He was thrilled, though, to be back in the mix.
His corner was all over him about not throwing punches and he finally snapped out of his doldrums.
"When I do let my hands go, there isn't anybody in the heavyweight division who can hang with me," Sylvia said. "It comes with experience and growing. It wasn't going the way I wanted it to go. It's part of fighting, you know? I had a few small things wrong coming into the fight, but I still performed halfway well.
"I really can't answer that for you. I thought I staggered him a few times."
It won't be a popular move with the UFC's fans, who have grown to hate Sylvia, but as White said as Sylvia arrived at the post-fight news conference, he's back.
"Tim Sylvia is one tough guy for anyone in this sport to defeat," White said. "A lot of people can talk and say this and that, but at the end of the night, this guy is one of the best heavyweights in the world."