by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
UFC 59 Preview: Ortiz vs. Griffin

By Damon Martin, MMAWeekly

Many fans never thought the day would come when Tito Ortiz would fight again in the UFC octagon, but that very moment will happen when the Huntington Beach Bad Boy and possibly the most popular fighter in MMA history returns to face Ultimate Fighter season one champion, Forrest Griffin at UFC 59 from Anaheim, California.

For Tito Ortiz, the controversy surrounding his exit from the UFC and eventual return reads much like a soap opera. After his last fight, a split decision victory over Vitor Belfort in February 2005, Ortiz was out of contract from the UFC and after rumors circulated that he was demanding a much higher pay scale from his previous fights, the former light heavyweight champion was not re-signed and the war of words between Ortiz and UFC president Dana White began.

During the time before the first Ultimate Fight Night event, Tito Ortiz was set to sponsor Ivan Salaverry, who was competing in the main event, with his Punishment Athletics product placement as well as corner him during the fight. According to Ortiz and other published sources, UFC president Dana White basically ruled that no fighter in the UFC could be sponsored by Punishment Athletics and no fighter that wanted to compete in the octagon would be cornered or affiliated with Tito Ortiz.

Dana White took another step by removing Tito’s image and any affiliation he had with the company off of the UFC website, and basically refused to acknowledge his existence except for the highlight clips shown routinely of Ortiz being knocked out by Chuck Liddell or slammed by Randy Couture, two fights that Ortiz coincidentally lost.

In an interview with MMAWeekly in August 2005, Ortiz said of Dana White that “he’s a superstar because he’s been on the Ultimate Fighter, and he’s not a president man. He’s a celebrity now, and I think the power has gone to his head.” Ortiz also went on to compare White to a mob boss who holds personal grudges against people that he has issues with.

Tito went onto star in some supporting roles in a few movies, made an appearance in a music video and even flirted with the idea of starting his own MMA organization to get his name back out there. But in the end, good business and popularity ruled out, because Tito Ortiz re-signed with the UFC, even amongst the obvious dislike between he and Dana White, because both knew that the Huntington Beach Bad Boy returning could only be good for potential earnings for both parties.

While Ortiz may never admit that he needed the UFC, the fact is that for as well known as he is, the sport is growing at exponential rates and he wants to be a part of that. And Dana White will absolutely never admit that Tito Ortiz was the life blood of the organization when Zuffa took over the company and they leaned on his popularity at every corner, and probably still is the most well recognized fighter the UFC has ever produced.

Now, Tito Ortiz is firmly in place as a main event star for the UFC because not only is he taking center stage for the company’s first foray into MMA in the state of California but he is also featured as a coach on the flagship show, the Ultimate Fighter, and that can only raise his profile from where it is now.

While the focus for this event seems to be entrenched on Tito Ortiz, standing in the background just waiting for his shot at greatness is Ultimate Fighter season 1 winner and now UFC veteran, Forrest Griffin.

Forrest Griffin has quickly become one of the most popular and well liked fighters in all of the UFC. If one thing has shone true for all the fighters that have appeared on the Ultimate Fighter, its that personality will make or break you with the fans. While top fighters like Diego Sanchez continue to face constant ridicule for their actions on the show, others like Forrest Griffin have flourished from the portrayal that they received on television.

Griffin has had nothing but success since the end of the Ultimate Fighter reality show. He had a fight for the ages with former roommate Stephan Bonnar in the finale that drew millions of home viewers to tune in and see one of the best match-ups in UFC history take place. His first official fight was versus Bill Mahood at UFC 53 and Griffin quickly dispatched of the Canadian by choke in the first round. Griffin also managed to get a TKO win over Elvis Sinosic at UFC 55. The match-up with Ortiz will be by far the biggest and toughest fight of Forrest Griffin’s professional career.

For Tito Ortiz the gameplan should seem pretty easy…take Griffin down to the ground and pound him for three rounds, either picking up a win by decision or a TKO stoppage from damage on the ground. While Ortiz’s wrestling skills were exposed a bit in his fights with Couture and Liddell, many people discount the fact that one is a former Olympic level wrestler himself and the other has possibly the best takedown defense in the entire sport of mixed martial arts. Tito hasn’t had many problems working his takedowns against fighters with less wrestling experience and while we haven’t seen much of Griffin’s takedown defense, it’s a safe bet he won’t be able to avoid Tito’s shot if he goes for it.

On the ground the advantage goes to Ortiz, simply based on his solid wrestling background and while ground and pound is his specialty, Tito Ortiz is also a former competitor in Abu Dhabi submission wrestling and is not likely to be submitted in this fight. While Griffin is no slouch on the ground, it’s not his best bet to win if he allows Ortiz to take him to the mat and try to work him up against the cage to reign down punches and elbows.

Forrest Griffin has shown to have pretty good hands in all of his fights and after his display against Stephan Bonnar, it’s pretty obvious that he can take a ton of punishment and still come back for more. He has a good standing base, solid boxing and isn’t afraid to throw kicks if the shot is open, but he will have to watch his legs in this fight because he may get caught for a takedown if he isn’t quick enough.

On paper, all signs lead to a win for Tito Ortiz but there a lot of questions that still remain. Has Tito Ortiz maintained the type of form and skill that garnered him so many accolades when he was in the UFC previously and will the over 14 month layoff effect his performance? While this fight has a lot of marquis value, it also is a very dangerous fight for their reality show because Tito is currently a coach on the show and a loss could damage the show’s reputation. (None of the previous season’s coaches fought while the show was still in its first run on TV). Forrest Griffin is also a rising star in the company, but honestly has not faced this type of competition yet and this will be the truest test whether he is championship material or will be fighting Sam Hoger in a filler match on the next Ultimate Fight Night card.

Tito Ortiz will make his return to the UFC on Saturday night and we will all find out if the Huntington Beach Bad Boy is truly back when he takes on Forrest Griffin, live from the Pond in Anaheim, California at UFC 59.