by Jeff Cain – MMAWeeklyradio.com
In many ways Tito Ortiz’ career has come full circle. He was an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) champion and a star before UFC 40: “Vendetta,” but it was his win that night in November of 2002 over Ken Shamrock that propelled Ortiz into Mixed Martial Arts superstardom.
He would lose his title – after successfully defending it five consecutive times – in his next fight to “The Natural” Randy Couture at UFC 44: “Undisputed.” Ortiz then suffered his first ever knockout loss to Chuck “Iceman” Liddell at UFC 47: “It’s On,” dropping back-to-back fights. Since those two loses Tito has gone undefeated.
Ortiz would finish out his UFC contract with wins over Patrick Cote and Vitor Belfort before stepping away from fighting for fourteen months, fielding offers and entertaining the idea of signing with another promotion. Tito received offers from several different organizations and was in negotiations to sign with World Fighting Alliance (WFA).
Asked how close he was to signing with WFA, Ortiz told MMAWeekly, “I’ll put it like this, I had a contract from them and we were in negotiations. It was just about numbers. That’s all it was, numbers flying through and the payments and possibly a part of owning the company. It was just percentages and everything, going on pay-per-view, little detailed things that my manager takes care of. ”
Many wrote Ortiz off. UFC president Dana White stated that as long as he was president Ortiz would never be back in the UFC. Not only is Ortiz back; he’s back contending for the UFC Light Heavyweight Belt.
The UFC approached Tito, while in negotiations with WFA, about returning to the Octagon and being a coach on The Ultimate Fighter 3. Ortiz commented, “Dana [White] came up to me and said, what do we need to do to work this out? I just had a little smile on my face. It’s just like, now, he’s coming up to me asking me. It meant a lot to me. And it meant a whole bunch to me to see Dana be the bigger man, coming up to me and asking me if I would come back. They gave me what I wanted, and it wasn’t that much more than what I was asking for. It’s just one of those things where I think Dana is just a hard-nosed guy. He sticks to his guns. And if it weren’t for him sticking to his guns the way he does the UFC wouldn’t be where it is. They’d be taken advantage of by other companies. I wasn’t letting that happen to me. I had to stick to my guns. I had to make sure I was getting what I was worth. That ended up happening.”
Tito made the right career choice and found himself back in the UFC with a three-fight contract and a coaching position on TUF. But before the first episode aired that season Ortiz headlined UFC 59: “Reality Check” against TUF season one winner Forrest Griffin.
Ortiz looked phenomenal in the first round, grounding and pounding Forrest Griffin in devastating Ortiz fashion. The fight ended up going the distance with Ortiz garnishing a split decision win.
Tito was back, and he was winning. But the second and third rounds didn’t look anything like the first. Clearly something wasn’t quite right. It looked as if the cardio-conditioning machine, Tito Ortiz, was gassed. The truth is, he was. But injuries prevented the former champ from training properly.
Discussing his injuries going into the Griffin fight, Ortiz said, “I had a bulging disc. It was probably out about four millimeters in my back between L-4 and L-5. It kind of hindered me from wrestling. I was training about twice a week. I had a partial tear to my ACL, and I had a strained LCL in my left knee. It hindered my training. I was training two days a week. I’d train Monday, and I’d be laying in bed until Thursday night. Friday we’d train and I’d be laid up until Monday again. It was happening the last four weeks of training. There were times when I’d be laying in bed going should I take this fight? Should I take this fight? I just couldn’t let my fans down. You have 17,500 fans selling out in two days at The Pond; I just didn’t want to let them down at all. I was going to do what ever it took to step in the Octagon. Forrest was a tough competitor. It was just one of those things where my heart prevailed more than anything.”
He continued, “After the first round, I couldn’t believe he survived through it. The second round I just took a deep breath and was like, wow, I’m exhausted right now. It’s only been five minutes. I really couldn’t believe it. It seemed like from that point on my body was pretty much in cruise control, and I was just surviving.”
Tito was cast as opposing coach to his old adversary, Ken Shamrock, on the reality show TUF 3. Ortiz watched the show week in and week out interested in how he would be portrayed by the Spike TV editing department.
Tito told MMAWeekly, “I wanted to see what people perceived me as. I wanted to see how the producers and directors on The Ultimate Fighter had me perceived to the fans. It was true to a tee. I watched it every single week.”
The rivalry and dislike between the two was obvious, and the Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock feud made for good television. The ratings went up as the verbal altercations escalated. Ortiz admitted that he “hated Ken completely” during that time, and all the way up to the last fight the hatred was “as real as it gets.” Nothing was scripted.
At the conclusion of the third season of TUF, Tito and Ken had their rematch at UFC 61: “Bitter Rivals.” Tito dominated Shamrock, ending the fight in just 1:18 by TKO referee stoppage due to strikes. Some thought the fight was stopped early, including Ken Shamrock.
A third and final match was made to put to rest once and for all the Ortiz and Shamrock feud. MMA’s equivalent of the Hatfield and McCoy’s played itself out live on Spike TV in a fight that would be the most watched MMA fight in UFC history. Ortiz convincingly took out Shamrock in just over two minutes by TKO referee stoppage due to strikes.
Following the third bout with Shamrock, Ortiz did his famous gravedigger routine and flipped Ken off. Tito would apologize moments later and bury the hatchet with Ken. When questioned about his antics, Ortiz replied, “That was completely the heat of the moment. I build on a lot of emotions when I fight. That is just the way I fight; I build on emotions. I’m going to speak my mind no matter what, and how I feel. After I did that, I took a second to step back and kind of have an out of body experience where I thought I could be a better man if I could just shake his hand and be the bigger man of the night. That is just something I did. I look at it now, and a lot of people look at it going you’re actually a pretty cool guy. It was just my heart, man. You know? I’m a very sensitive person when it comes to thinking of other peoples’ feelings. Not just Shamrock himself, but the fans that were watching really respected what I did after the fight.”
Ortiz added, “People have to understand when I step into the Octagon it’s a totally different person that is outside the Octagon. When I step in there I’m in survival mode. The guy is trying to hurt me as bad as I’m trying to hurt him. Whatever I do to get into his head mentally I’m going to say, and I’m going to do, and I’m going to back it up come fight time. When I’m outside the Octagon I’m no different from anybody else. I just have a great job.”
Ortiz’ career has come full circle. He is exactly where he was following UFC 40. He and Liddell are on a collision course for the title. They’ve fought before, but it wasn’t under these circumstances. Ortiz isn’t coming off a loss. This time it’s for the belt, a belt Ortiz still calls his own despite Randy Couture, Vitor Belfort, and Chuck Liddell holding it since Ortiz lost it.
Addressing the rematch with Liddell, Ortiz said, “This will be my fourth fight of the year. I never really got the chance to get out of shape. I’ve been training so much. I did Forrest, and then I did [Ken] Shamrock twice, and now Liddell. I’m in really great shape. For once in almost three years, I have no injuries. My back is 100%. My knees are great. I feel really good. I feel really focused. I’m mentally there and physically there. It’s nice when those two attributes come together. I’m very happy.”
Ortiz has been very active this year and feels it will pay off in the December 30th main event. Questioned if his activity will be a factor, Tito replied, “I really think so. My wrestling timing is on. My boxing has been very good. My kickboxing is really good, Jiu-Jitsu has been good. My cardio is great as always. It’s just one of those things where having no injuries is really a big step for me, and to make sure it does continue. When I fought Forrest being 60%, having the back injury and knee injury, fighting Shamrock with my back kind of messed up still. The third time I fought Shamrock it just seemed like I was 100%. There was nothing the matter with me at all. I had no back problems at all. I was wrestling again. I was doing everything I normally do takedown wise for wrestling practice. My kickboxing was going great. It just seems like everything happens for a reason in this world.”
Tito lost to Chuck in their first outing, but expects a different outcome in the rematch. Asked what will be different this time around, Ortiz responded, “The first thing is my hand is going to be raised at the end. I think I’ve just got to push the tempo on Chuck. He’s a great champion and he’s a great fighter. It is going to be that much more satisfaction in my own heart knowing that I beat one of the best guys in the world for their title.”
Going into their first fight Ortiz said he would stand with Chuck, which proved to be a risky proposition. Tito was questioned about his game plan going into the rematch and whether he would try to stand with Chuck again. Ortiz answered, “Of course I’m going to be able to stand with him. I’m going to stand with him. I’m going to take him down. I’m going to try to do as much as I possibly can. Chuck, being one of the hardest guys to take down, once I’m able to secure a takedown I’ll know I’ve done my job. But standing with him is always an option. I have a lot of other options I look forward to. It’s just one of those things that making sure my hand is raised at the end of the match is the most important thing to me.”
In the past Ortiz has shown the desire to become an actor and entertain other ventures outside of fighting. He seems extremely focused on solely fighting these days. He told MMAWeekly, “I think more than anything my heart is in fighting now. I’m really concentrating on getting my world title back. When I was doing that stuff it seemed like I had nothing to fight for. I wasn’t making the money, and there was nothing to wake me up and get me going; alright, cool, I get to go train today. But now I don’t have to worry about money. I’ve made enough money now where I don’t have to worry about it. Now, it’s just like I want my world title back. And I want all the Tito Ortiz fans to know and be proud of me as a fighter being a world champion. That is one of the biggest things. All the guys that have been on PunishmentAthletics.com, TitoOrtiz.com, on the forums and stuff that have supported me and behind me no matter what decision I’ve ever made in the sport; I think those guys deserve a lot. That is what I fight for is my fans.”
The belt means a lot to Tito, but Ortiz wants to defeat Liddell more than obtaining champion status for the second time. Asked how much the title means to him, Ortiz answered, “I think it means a lot to me. But I think more than anything just beating Chuck Liddell is what really means the most to me. I think getting a victory over him from the first time we fought is the most important thing. I really don’t think it is about the title right now. I think it is just really about beating Chuck Liddell. I think that is what means the most to me. I think the most important thing is for my fans. They love to be called fans of the world champion Tito Ortiz…I remember what it felt like, and I want to feel that same feeling again, and for me to do that is to beat Chuck Liddell.”
The first time they were friends, but this time it’s personal. And that is exactly the way Ortiz prefers it to be. When questioned if it were more personal this time than the last, Tito replied, “I always try to make every one of my fights personal. But at the same time it’s business. It is what we do for a living. We step in there and try to take the guy’s head off that is in front of us. To me, there’s a little bit of personal stuff, but I’m not really going to get into that because it is personal in my own heart where it gets to me personally. When I step in the Octagon I know that I’ll be fighting for that world title, probably be one of the greatest things that will happen to me is when I win it.”
Further commenting, Ortiz said, “It’s going to be exciting. I can’t wait to get back in the Octagon. Like Chuck Liddell says how afraid I am of him, he is going to be completely fooled. I fear no man in this world. And when we step in the Octagon, he bleeds the same as me, he sweats the same as me, and he will lose the same. It’s just one of those things where I can’t wait to get back in the Octagon. A lot of people haven’t even made it out of the first round with Chuck Liddell, when I beat him I’ll just have that much satisfaction knowing that I put my heart into it, and I had so many fans backing me no matter what. It is just a great honor to step into the Octagon against a great champion like Chuck Liddell.”
What can we expect to see December 30th? Tito predicted, “I think you’re going to see a really exciting fight. Every fight I fight is exciting. I don’t really want to get into details, but more than anything I’m going to give my heart in every one of my punches in every one of the rounds and every second of the fight. I’m going to be in there no matter what. I’m going to try to take it to Chuck Liddell as much as possible. I know he is training really heard. I know he’s healthy and I am too, so I expect an exciting fight.”
Tito is focused for this fight, maybe more than he has been in years. He spent Thanksgiving in Big Bear training and will be there through Christmas. He told MMAWeekly, “My Thanksgiving and Christmas will be on December 30th when I win my world title.”