It was a dark day for former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz when he walked into the UFC offices after his loss to Matt Hamill in October 2010.
Once known as the most dominant 205-pound fighter on the planet, Ortiz was in the midst of a three-fight losing streak, and was without a victory since 2006. While the numbers don’t lie, Ortiz kept every fight close and wasn’t finished in those three recent losses, but still hadn’t found the right formula to win.
Despite his record, however, Ortiz knew that he had fought his heart out and he felt that a company he supported for years could never let him walk away without at least one more chance.
He thought wrong.
“It really came down to them coming to me and saying ‘we think it’s time for you to retire,’ and I was pretty much speechless for the first couple minutes. I was like, are you serious right now?” Ortiz told MMAWeekly Radio.
The shock hit Ortiz like a jolt of lightning. At the time, the UFC saying they thought he should retire didn’t push him to get back in the gym and prove them wrong. It actually had the exact opposite effect.
“To tell you the truth, 100 percent, it kind of deflated me a little bit. I wasn’t motivated. It took me a little bit. Three months ago I wasn’t motivated,” Ortiz admitted. “After they told me that, it was just hard for me to get in the gym. Then all of a sudden my fans who follow me on Twitter and on my website Punishment.com and motivate me and push me, and the trainers I have now, Jason Parilla and Mike Giovanni, have motivated me to become a better fight now, to get that hunger back, to get that motivation back to go and fight my heart out.”
Ortiz spoke candidly with the UFC and president Dana White about the fights he has been involved in and what he still had to offer the sport he has been a part of for so many years.
“You guys have me competing against the best guys in the world, look at my last four fights. Yes, I haven’t had a win since 2006, but let’s go back in history,” Ortiz said. “I fought Rashad Evans to a draw and I thought I ended up winning the fight, if it wasn’t for me, they said I held onto the fence for a second time when my fingers just scraped across the fence, they took a point away or I would have won that fight. He goes on to win the light heavyweight world title.
“I fight (Lyoto) Machida. Once again, a fight I probably could have gone either way if I would have kept the triangle and he would have been choked out or unconscious, it was a mistake I made. He goes on to win the light heavyweight world title.
“I fight Forrest Griffin after having back surgery. Most athletes don’t come back after having surgery that major, and it was supposed to be against Mark Coleman. It was supposed to be a warm-up fight, and it was against Forrest Griffin who is the former world champion. I thought I beat him in a two to one round decision, but they gave it to him in a split decision. I thought I won the fight. Dana said he thought I won the fight.
“Then all of a sudden I have to have neck surgery, and I get neck surgery on top of my back surgery, and they want me to fight Matt Hamill. He’s a tough, tough wrestler, a tough guy who’s having a 5-0 record at the time of his last five fights.
“I’m fighting the top guys in the world and I pretty much had to tell them, why are you asking me to retire? I’m not getting knocked out unconscious. I’m not getting submitted. I’m not getting dominated, but I’m fighting the top guys that you want me to fight against, but now you guys are trying to retire me? I mean was this a negotiating tactic? I don’t know. I don’t know the facts, so I’ll take a big pay cut, and I’ll compete against anybody you guys want me to.”
Once the contract negotiation passed and Ortiz convinced the UFC to give him one more shot, and 22 stitches kept him out of a scheduled fight against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in March, the promotion then offered to put him in the Octagon with former “Ultimate Fighter” winner Ryan Bader.
It didn’t really matter to Ortiz who he faced, he just wanted to fight one of the best in the world to prove himself and Bader fit the bill.
Ortiz is looking at this fight as make or break for his career, and he doesn’t intend on Ryan Bader being the fighter that retires the “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” from MMA.
“Of course, for my fight career, for everything I put into it, I’m going to put everything on the line. Hopefully, Bader thinks that I’m going to be a pushover cause he’s in a big, lot of trouble,” Ortiz stated.
Ortiz is candid when he speaks about his future, because he is looking at his fight career now as UFC or bust. Once upon a time when Ortiz was in contract negotiations with the UFC, he flirted with other promotions like Strikeforce and Pride, but ultimately he stuck around to the organization where he started.
If things don’t go his way at UFC 132, the Octagon will be where Tito Ortiz lays his career down because there is nowhere else he’d ever consider fighting.
“I can’t make decisions for my future, only Dana can, only the UFC can. There’s nowhere else for me to go. There’s no more Strikeforce. There’s no more Pride. There’s no more WEC. Everything’s been bought by the UFC, and they’re doing a great job of promoting one of the best brands in the world and that’s the Ultimate Fighting Championship,” Ortiz stated.
“I’ve been fighting for the UFC since day one, since my career began back in 1997, and I don’t plan on going anywhere else. If Dana thinks it’s time for me to bounce, and go somewhere else or hang up my gloves, I don’t feel like it, but if they feel like it, I have no choice. There isn’t much of a choice I can do, besides fight my ass off on Saturday night and get my hand raised to let everyone know that I’m not going anywhere.”
Ortiz will look to prove that very point when he faces Ryan Bader at UFC 132 this Saturday night in Las Vegas.