Heading into UFC 133, Overwhelming Support Grows for Tito Ortiz

Say what you will about Tito Ortiz, but on July 13, the “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” was the good guy. Loyoto Machida, on the other hand, didn’t win himself any fans be backing out of a fight after initially agreeing to the bout.

When word broke out about Phil Davis’ injury and withdrawal from the UFC 133 main event against Rashad Evans, the search began to find Evans a new opponent.

First, it was Ortiz. Coming off a win that nobody expected him to collect at UFC 132 over Ryan Bader, Ortiz was just a few days out from his last fight, still in a state of excitement about his perfomance. The former UFC light heavyweight champion attributed much of his victory to keeping a positive outlook, no matter the size of the obstacle put in front of him.

At the not-so-fragile age of 36, Ortiz was approached by UFC brass and asked to step in for the injured Davis at UFC 133. His initial answer: a very subtle thanks, but no thanks.

Ortiz turned to Twitter to explain his decision.

“I have a life and things to take care of,” Ortiz said on the popular social networking site. “The fight game is about making the right choices of my career. If you knew what I have been going through you all would understand. Peaking for a fight is what makes a fighter unstoppable! Timing is everything in life. This is a rebuild year for me not do or die. The time will come again!”

Okay, so Tito is out. Anyone else want to step up to the plate? How about Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida?

Sure, but he’ll need a little something extra.

The Brazilian light heavyweight reportedly asked for a payday that jokingly echos through the MMA blogosphere. According to UFC president Dana White, Machida asked for “Anderson Silva money.”

White’s response to that was an emphatic “no,” citing that Machida needs to do what the UFC middleweight champion has already done if he wants to be considered to be in the same tax bracket as Silva.

“I opted not to pay him Anderson Silva money and told him when he accomplishes all the things that Anderson Silva has accomplished, then maybe he’ll make Anderson Silva-type money,” White said recently. “Tito Ortiz called me back and asked if we sold the spot for the main event; I said we hadn’t. He said, ‘let me talk to my team tonight. I’ll call you back tomorrow.’ (He) called me yesterday and accepted the fight. And now, we have Tito Ortiz versus Rashad Evans.”

It was at this point that Tito Ortiz’s fan base multiplied, even more so than it did after he submitted Ryan Bader at UFC 132.

It’s amazing to see all the fan support Ortiz has received since he pulled out that win. Stepping into a main event on short notice just added fuel to the fire and put him back into the protagonist circle, halting much of the negative criticism of him.

But that kind of thing happens when you step up to the plate. It doesn’t matter what industry you work in, whether you’re a professional athlete, insurance claims adjuster, or consumer electronics salesperson. If you accept challenges in the 11th hour, those that witness it will recognize your fortitude and show some warranted respect and appreciation.

Machida and his camp had to have played their hand with full knowledge of what they were getting into. Asking for a paycheck similar to Anderson Silva is risky, and the risk was even greater due to the timing of the situation.

But it wasn’t a stupid move.

In addition to knowing the risk, Machida’s camp had to have known about the great need for the UFC to fill the void left by Phil Davis’ injury. This gives the impression that they have some leverage when talking about the reward from taking the fight. And it’s not as though Machida isn’t a highly marketable fighter. So why not ask for Anderson Silva money? The aftermath seems damaging at first, but that won’t last long.

Fans might view Machida in a negative light for now, but all it takes is one fight to turn the tides and Ortiz is the perfect example. If Tito can miraculously gain support in the matter of two weeks, Machida can do it too – probably a lot easier, as well seeing as that he doesn’t have the same uphill battle as Ortiz did with the public’s previous opinion of him.

This is the magnificent habit of sports; outlooks can change within the blink of an eye and athletes can be made into superheroes in an instant. Tito Ortiz has gone from being an over-the-hill has-been, whose presence in MMA was rejected by a large portion of the sport’s fan base to a comeback kid with an overwhelming backing to succeed in a division he once dominated.

The month of July has been extraordinary for the career of Ortiz and the Summer heat seems to have burned away any semblance of him being a villain. What has emerged from the ashes of antagonism is a new, positive figure who has done nothing but continued to carry himself with a chin held high with optimism. Fans have witnessed this and have jumped on the train with Ortiz.

Despite the recent public conflicts with his girlfriend and inappropriate status updates on Twitter, Ortiz is subsequently turning his career around and making the right decisions, which in the long-run makes for more of an impact in sports.

With Aug. 6 less than three weeks away, Ortiz prepares for a shot at proving his win over Ryan Bader wasn’t a fluke and that he truly remains a force to be reckoned with in the UFC. “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” will likely walk into the arena with cheers louder than he’s heard in a long time, which is a motivating ingredient when competing in the Octagon.

The last time Ortiz met Evans, the two fought to a draw at UFC 73: Stacked. If the fight is as competitive as it was last time – and Ortiz keeps his hands off the fence – the aftermath could be very interesting and Ortiz’s popularity astronomical.

Rashad Evans, however, will not make that a simple feat to accomplish. After all, he’s paid his dues and proven to be one of the division’s best, which has deservedly earned him Rashad Evans money.

Got something to say? Weigh in with a thought of your own in the comments section below.

Erik Fontanez is a staff writer for MMAWeekly.com.
@Erik_Fontanez on Twitter or e-mail Erik a question or comment.

Follow MMAWeekly.com on Twitter and Facebook.