BY DALE SMITH
Tito Ortiz has always been one of the most divisive figures in MMA. The “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” was the UFC’s most prominent champion for a time in the early 2000s and his onesided grudge matches with Ken Shamrock were PPV hits for the company. He was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame and will always be hailed as one of the leading lights who helped to get them through some dark days. His big mouth and often wild claims have not endeared him to every fan but it is hard to suggest that he is not a legend in the sport.
It seemed for a long time that Ortiz was done, in a competitive capacity at least. Following a loss to Forrest Griffin in 2012 and only one win in his last nine fights, he closed the door on his career. It did not take much to woo him back. Ortiz inked a deal with Bellator and was scheduled to return in November of 2013 against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, who was himself a former UFC lightheavyweight champion.
Though injury sidelined that fight, Ortiz was determined to fight again. He was deemed healthy last year and went on to put together an unexpected resurgence. Bellator’s middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko moved up to 205 lbs to face Ortiz in a feature fight and the Californian needed just half a round to dispatch his Russian foe with an arm triangle. He had convinced the doubters that he was not done just yet, and went on to beat Stephan Bonnar by split decision in November to go 20 under the Bellator banner.
This puts him in a position not many expected as a legitimate contender to the title. Ortiz is light years ahead of most Bellator fighters when it comes to being in the mainstream consciousness and they would be stupid not to capitalize on that while he is still capable. Liam McGeary recently took the title with a hardfought win over Emanuel Newton, and now Ortiz is eyeing up that silverware before he retires.
With two more fights on his agenda, the chance to win the Bellator gold and then head out with a successful title defense would be the dream scenario. “Get that world title, defend it and retire as champion,” he asserted. With Ortiz’s pulling power, McGeary’s championship gold and the building tensions, it would be very surprising if the fight was not made imminently to make the most of the ensuing coverage and bring in the audience.
However, despite his immediate plans, again Ortiz is making plans for his life after fighting. “I want to go on to bigger things,” offered the UFC Hall of Famer. Being a world champion does not leave much room for improvement, but he does have some options available to him, many of which he has already started to nurture along the way to form the bedrock of his retirement plan.
Though he officially stepped down as Cris ‘Cyborg’ Santos’ manager last year, under the guise of Primetime 360 Entertainment and Sports Management, Ortiz will likely further his interests there. For someone known to like the limelight, it allows him to stay in the media’s eye, while also utilizing the knowledge and respect he has accrued over his 18year fight career. Whereas, in general, most MMA managers are low key and behind the scenes, Ortiz was front of stage when accompanying “Cyborg”, and he would no doubt blend well into a more vocal role like we see in the boxing world.
On top of that, to keep his hand in the sport of mixed martial arts, Ortiz used the days of PPV points and championship money to fund his brand Punishment Athletics, as well as his gym in Huntington Beach, Punishment Training Center. As much as the detractors have piled in to Ortiz over the years, you cannot deny that he used his brain when needed. A combat career is a short one and the good times do not always last. Using his business sense to fund these projects and help them develop while he was active means he has a more viable future with them when the cage no longer calls.
Another potentially lucrative avenue that Ortiz is exploring is his increasing love for poker, which is also leading to more success. There are many attributes he has honed as an athlete that will help in that one, and it’s not uncommon now for us to see crossover between the two. The poker tables have been encroaching more and more into MMA territory over the past few years and we’re seeing an increased amount of fighters use their focus and commitment to have success on thetables. “It’s just repetition,” said Ortiz. “In fighting it’s the same thing.”
As well as furthering his own interests, it looks like Ortiz is also willing to invest his time into others. Not just through his gym or management, but by giving his time to motivate others in different capacities. After knowing some struggles in his life, Ortiz found sanctuary in wrestling and then MMA. Now you can often see him giving back to the community with speaking roles and mentorship. Despite the brash exterior that has to hype fights, Ortiz recognizes the need to inspire the next generation and that is a noble quest, especially when he has a lot of irons in the fire.
Purely speculatively, after he has strapped on the 4oz gloves for the last time, it would not be a surprise if Ortiz moves into his own promotion. He has always been at loggerheads with Dana White, has been a fierce critic of the UFC and their huge market share, and he knows what fighters want from a fighter’s perspective, not from the perspective of a promoter who is ultimately using them for profit.
Whatever he does and however much he sticks around, MMA has a lot to thank Ortiz for. There is no doubt we will still be seeing that distinctive hair style on the homepages of MMA media sites for years to come a character like Ortiz does not like too long without the focus being on him.