On July 31, 2013, former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz announced that he had signed with Bellator MMA. He was scheduled to face fellow former light heavyweight titleholder Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at Bellator 106, the promotion’s first pay-per-view event. A neck injury forced Ortiz out of the fight and the pay-per-view was nixed, the event instead being moved to Spike TV on basic cable. It was unclear at the time if the UFC Hall of Famer would ever compete again.
“It’s an unsettling conversation to have a specialist in the field of neck injuries to tell you that with the right kind of drop on the head, or the right kind of impact on the spine, paralysis could be a result. That’s never a good conversation: A) for a world class athlete, but B) it’s never a good conversation for the person in my position charged with putting that person inside of a cage to fight against top tier competition,” said Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney during a Jan. 20 conference call.
The following day Ortiz tweeted that he was cleared to train.
“Got the green light from my DR. Time to train. This year is all business,” wrote the 39-year-old fighter.
With the doctor’s clearance, Ortiz began to train again. A light heavyweight, non-title fight with Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko was lined up for Bellator 120 on May 17, and the organization went “above and beyond” to ensure that Ortiz was healthy enough to compete.
“I think Bjorn Rebney went above and beyond. He got whomever the doctor was that Tito got approved by. And then Bjorn got an independent specialist to come in and take a look and make sure that that diagnosis was correct and that Tito was physically fit to fight,” Spike TV president Kevin Kay recently told MMAWeekly.com.
“He is 100-percent fit to fight is my understanding. I think nobody wanted him in there, him, us, Bellator, unless we were absolutely certain that he’s in good shape, and he is. The rest is up to Tito. He’s got to train. He’s got to get in there,” added Kay.
Ortiz last fought on July 7, 2012, losing by unanimous decision to Forrest Griffin at UFC 148.