With Only 15 Minutes Left, A Look Back At The 15 Year Career Of Tito Ortiz - Part 2For part 1 of the series, detailing the rise of Tito Ortiz, click here:
By the start of 2003, the biggest star in the UFC was Tito Ortiz. He was the light heavyweight champion, and with a record of 10-2, he had already defended his title five times. After his feud and subsequent victory over Ken Shamrock in a then Zuffa-owned UFC PPV record, Ortiz was at the height of his superstardom. However while he was taking out contenders to retain his title, there was another man who was on an equally impressive streak. That man was Chuck Liddell.
Since losing to Jeremy Horn in his sophomore UFC appearance in 1999, Liddell went on a ten fight win streak, including wins over Kevin Randleman, Guy Mezger, Murilo Bustamante, Vitor Belfort, and Renato Sobral. Liddell was clearly the number one contender, and the UFC was looking to book Ortiz vs. Liddell as their next blockbuster fight. Of course, things didn't exactly turn out as planned.
In what has become the stuff of UFC legend, Ortiz refused to fight Liddell, claiming they were training partners and friends. Liddell had conflicting statements, saying that while they had trained in the past, they were not friends. Liddell wanted to fight. Ortiz did not. This controversy resulted in Ortiz spending ten months renegotiating his contract with the UFC, all while not fighting the rightful contender. It was truly a black mark on Ortiz's reputation.
While Ortiz sat on the sidelines, Liddell took an interim title fight against aging former heavyweight champion Randy Couture. In a stunning upset, the older Couture beat the feared striker to the punch, and stopped Liddell with strikes in the third round. All of a sudden Ortiz was ready to fight again, and only three months after his win over Liddell, Couture was back in the octagon to unify the titles with Ortiz.
Despite his win over Liddell, many thought Ortiz would be too big and too strong for the much older Couture. Wrong. In another upset, Couture dominated Ortiz to take the light heavyweight title in a five round unanimous decision. Between the alleged "ducking" of Liddell, and the loss to Couture, Ortiz had lost the allure he had as champion.
Things didn't get better, as the UFC was finally able to get Liddell and Ortiz in the cage together at UFC 47, dubbed, "It's On!". While not as big as it would've been had they fought for the title, fans were still very excited for the showdown between the two icons. A lot was at stake, as Liddell had just lost two of his last three, and Ortiz had just lost to Couture. Neither could afford another setback. However it was Liddell who won the day, knocking out his rival with a vicious flurry in the fourth round. The once dominant champion lay slumped in the corner, and for the first time in his career had lost consecutive fights.
Despite back to back losses, Ortiz was still a put in the main event slot his next time out. He headlined UFC 50 against promotional newcomer Patrick Cote after Guy Mezger dropped out due to injury. Ortiz won a surprisingly competitive decision, but the event did less than half the PPV buys that his fights with Liddell, Couture, and Shamrock did.
In his next fight Ortiz finally took on Vitor Belfort, taking place at UFC 51. Ortiz won a very close split decision that many argue to this day Belfort won. At this time, Ortiz left the UFC for over a year, taking offers from other organizations including Pride Fighting Championships in Japan. During this time, Ortiz rival Chuck Liddell had just won the light heavyweight title, knocking out Randy Couture and starting one of the most dominant title runs in UFC history.
After negotiations elsewhere fell through, Ortiz returned 14 months after his bout with Belfort to take on Ultimate Fighter winner Forrest Griffin. Ortiz dominated early, but Griffin showed heart and fought back in the second and third. For the second straight time, Ortiz had won a closely fought and highly debated decision. More importantly though, Ortiz had won his third straight fight since losing to Liddell, and was starting to regain his star appeal. Despite being the co-main event on the card (Arlovski-Sylvia was the main event), it was clear that Ortiz was the star of the show. The show set a new UFC record for most PPV buys in the promotions history, even beating out Liddell-Couture 3. Ortiz's record setting year was only starting.
After the win over Griffin, Ortiz was showcased on season 3 of The Ultimate Fighter, opposite heated rival Ken Shamrock. Ortiz gained a lot of respect from fans and media during the show, as he proved to be a very capable coach who was fully invested in his team, while Shamrock's coaching skills left much to be desired. After months of hype on Spike TV, the two faced off for the second time in July 2006. Once again, Ortiz set a new UFC PPV record. The fight was somewhat controversial, as many thought the bout was halted too early as Ortiz was raining elbows down on Shamrock. Due to the outrage over the stoppage, the UFC booked a rematch on free TV, dubbing the bout, "The Final Chapter". Once again, the bout set UFC records. 5.7 million people tuned into Spike TV for the fight, which at the time was the record for most people watching the UFC at any one time. The bout itself was a carbon copy of the second fight, as Ortiz took Shamrock down and smashed him in less than three minutes. Ken Shamrock "retired" after the fight, and Ortiz was as big a star as ever. The timing was perfect to book Liddell-Ortiz 2 for the light heavyweight title.
The rematch between the bitter rivals was the most highly anticipated UFC bout at that time. Liddell was on a tear, and had already defended his title three times. The bout set yet another UFC record with over one million PPV buys, making it the fourth time in one year (2006) that an Ortiz had broken a UFC television viewing record. Although it was more competitive than the first bout between the two, the outcome was ultimately the same, as Liddell finished Ortiz with strikes in the third round. Not only did the loss end Ortiz's title hopes, it also ended his time as an elite level fighter in mixed martial arts.
From 2007-2010, Tito Ortiz would go on one of the worst slumps by a high profile fighter in UFC history. In his first bout after losing the rematch to Liddell, Ortiz fought rising prospect Rashad Evans to a draw at UFC 73. With only one fight on his current contract remaining, Ortiz spent nearly a year on the sidelines while the UFC tried to negotiate a new deal. It would not come, and Ortiz fought Lyoto Machida in what many thought was his last UFC bout at UFC 84 in May 2008. Ortiz was thoroughly dominated, and despite nearly securing a last second triangle choke, lost a lopsided unanimous decision.
Much like the last time he left the UFC, Ortiz entertained offers from other organizations, but ultimately returned to the octagon after signing a new deal. A year and a half after his loss to Machida, Ortiz returned to face Forrest Griffin in a rematch of their '06 bout. This time, it was Griffin who won a split decision.
After another stint as a coach on TUF, Ortiz pulled out of a third bout with opposite coach Chuck Liddell with an injury. When he returned, he lost to former pupil Matt Hamill at UFC 121 in October 2010. The former longtime champion was now 36, and 0-4-1 in the last five years. With his back against the wall, Ortiz took on Ryan Bader at UFC 132 in July 2011. It was well known that if Ortiz lost, he would be cut from the organization he had spent 14 years with. However in one of the most shocking outcomes in UFC history, Ortiz dropped Bader with a punch and shortly after submitted the top ten fighter with a guillotine choke in the first round. It was one of the most emotional and memorable scenes in UFC history as the former champion had his hand raised for the first time since defeating Ken Shamrock five years earlier.
The win over Ryan Bader would have been the perfect end to a legendary career, but like most great fighters past their prime, Ortiz continued on. In his last two bouts, he has been stopped with strikes by both Rashad Evans and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. On July 7th, he will take on Forrest Griffin in the two's rubber match, and the final bout of his MMA career.
So how will you remember Tito Ortiz? If you are a longtime fan of the sport, you will probably remember his legendary feud with the Lion's Den camp and Ken Shamrock, along with his unmatched reign as champion. If you are newer to the sport, as in within the last five years, you have probably only seen Ortiz in the twilight of his career, losing almost every time out. However his legacy is without question, as the first true superstar in the Zuffa owned UFC, and arguably the biggest draw in MMA history. His record setting PPV and TV numbers against the likes of Ken Shamrock and Chuck Liddell were more influential on the history of the sport than anything he did inside the cage. On the morning of July 7th, Ortiz will be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame just hours before his final MMA bout. Love him or hate him, no one can doubt that Ortiz, along with the likes of Liddell, Shamrock, and Couture, built the sport into the juggernaut that it is today. Regardless of the outcome on Saturday, the UFC, and the sport of mixed martial arts, is in a better state today because of Tito Ortiz.
Published by Jeff Zanatta - Sat, 30 Jun 2012 19:44