Could UFC 121 be the end for Tito Ortiz?
Let's go back to the thirtieth day of December in 2006. The site is Las Vegas, Nevada for UFC 66. It was the last time Tito Ortiz truly had a shot at glory. He was at the top of his game professionally. Having won 5 fights in a row, against Patrick Cote, Vitor Belfort, Forrest Griffin and Ken Shamrock respectively, he would challenge Chuck Liddell for the light heavyweight title, the same title he had lost to Randy Couture a little over 3 years prior. Everyone was ready for what would promise to be an epic rematch. In fact, when all was said and done, UFC 66 became the very first PPV promoted by the UFC to do over 1 million pay per view buys. Up to that point, it was the pinnacle of success for the organization. Unfortunately for Tito Ortiz, it represented the beginning of his downfall.
He was thoroughly dominated in the fight. Outside of landing a few decent shots in the second round and getting a single takedown, that kept Liddell on the ground for all of 4 seconds, he had nothing to offer. His entire game was predicated on taking his opponent down and working from his guard with big elbows and punches. His size had always been an edge that he could use to exploit anyone put in front of him. That was no longer the case. Chuck represented his kryptonite. A well versed kickboxer with outstanding takedown defense. In the third round, Liddell poured it on and the referee mercifully stopped the fight. Ortiz walked to the back and cried once he got to his dressing room. There would be nothing but disappointment in his fighting future as he has yet to win a fight since.
After the jump we'll look at Tito's career since that fateful night.
After losing to Liddell, Tito was still a highly marketable star. He needed a fight that the UFC felt like he could win but also made sense. He got that in the form of a surging Rashad Evans. Undefeated and coming off an incredible head kick knockout win, Evans represented a way for Ortiz to reestablish himself. They built a strong rivalry with plenty of trash talk. It ended up being an extremely competitive fight that would have favored Ortiz had he not been deducted a point for grabbing the fence one too many times in the second round. Instead it ended in a highly anti-climatic draw. Evans was given a main event slot after this fight and eventually won the title. Ortiz career would spiral straight down the pipes.
For years, Ortiz had been embroiled in a feud with company president Dana White. Back in 2003, White had wanted to set up a megafight between Ortiz, who was champion at the time, and White's good friend and rising star Chuck Liddell. Ortiz refused under the premise that they were friends and had an agreement not to fight. Dana had the same attitude then that he does now in regards to friends not wanting to fight each other, so you can imagine how he felt about this. Once Liddell came out and said no such agreement was in place, it cemented the fact that White was no longer an Ortiz fan. He would work with him as long as he was making him money but he didn't like it for a second.
The rivalry got so bad with White that the two were even going to have a legit boxing match. There has been plenty of speculation as to whether or not that whole thing was a work but for the purposes of this article it really doesn't matter. It just helps illustrate the fact that the animosity between these two was very real and very much a problem for Ortiz. The UFC had bought out PRIDE by that time, so the only option for Ortiz, who's contract ran out after his next fight, was to make nice with Dana and co. or go fight for Elite XC. Tito's contract was written up so that after his final fight there would be an exclusive negotiating period with the UFC and then another period in which they could match any offer. White was so pissed at Ortiz by this point that this is what he had to say about it:
"There’s not going to be any bidding war. Gary Shaw (promoter at Elite XC) should offer him $30 a fight, because we’re not going to match it."
So that was that. The decision was made that Tito was to be done in the UFC after his next fight. So who do they match him up with? The thought process by Dana and company was to give him a fighter that would almost surely beat him and hopefully make a star out of him in the process. There was always the risk that Ortiz would score a big knockout or submission and end on a high note but White was confident that wasn't going to happen. They decided to call in a man who wasn't very well known at the time but was already one of the best fighters in the world. He just needed the chance to prove it. Enter Lyoto Machida.
At UFC 84, Machida did the same thing to Ortiz that he had done to every fighter before him. He frustrated him by staying out of range and avoiding any offense from Tito while moving in and out and scoring points. A lot of fans may have considered it boring but it was exactly what the UFC, and more specifically Dana White, wanted. Ortiz was so frustrated throughout the fight that he was throwing up his hands in exasperation at the fact that he couldn't catch Machida. Everytime he came in with punches or shot in for a takedown, Machida was just too fast for him. Not only that, but at the end of the opening round, Machida executed a beautiful trip takedown of his own and had Ortiz in a crucifix in about 3 seconds before raining down elbows. Tito was saved by the bell but it was clear who was going to win. Late in the fight, after having been dominated for 14 minutes, Ortiz slapped on a near miracle triangle/armbar and almost forced a tap. Alas, it was not to be and the Dragon ended up winning and sending Ortiz on his way out of the UFC.
Once he hit the market he was considered a big free agent. But the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Dana White did everything he could to make him look horrible in the press. He convinced a lot of the MMA fanbase that he was no longer relevant, a suspicion many were already having. He was reportedly in talks with a few different promotions but later revealed pretty much everything he was doing was a negotiating ploy to get back into the UFC. He did a disastrous commentary gig at Affliction: Day of Reckoning that actually hurt his image much more than his fighting career possibly could have. I'm not sure there is a day that goes by that he doesn't get made fun of for the way he talks. That commentary gig provided endless amounts of material for satire pieces and heavy duty mocking on YouTube. His career was at an all time low but his fortunes would change before long.
A little over a year after leaving the UFC, Tito and Dana made amends and he was back into the world's premier promotion. After all the beef between the two it came as a bit of a surprise that he would be brought back. Not only that but he hadn't won a fight since beating an old and run down Ken Shamrock in October of 2006. Either way, he was back and signed to a 6 fight deal with the intention to retire in the UFC. They knew the smart thing to do would be to give him a matchup he could win that would still be slightly entertaining so they booked him in a fight with Mark Coleman at UFC 106. Unfortunately, Coleman injured his knee and it wasn't long before the UFC announced Forrest Griffin as his replacement. It was the perfect timing for the rematch of the hotly contested bout at UFC 59. Forrest coming off the embarrassment against Anderson Silva at UFC 101 and Tito returning to the UFC, which theoretically was bringing a lot of hype along with it. Originally meant to be the co-main event to a Brock Lesnar vs Shane Carwin showdown, they were shoved into the top slot after the heavyweight champion got sick. Perfect. Now we could see if Tito retained his drawing power.
During the fight one thing became painfully clear; Tito hadn't grown a bit as a fighter. He was the same guy as the first fight. He's always been that and he always will be. Takedown to ground-n-pound. That's the full arsenal. Forrest on the other hand, was much better, and although he couldn't stop the shot in the initial rounds, he was busy off his back with submission attempts and didn't take nearly as much damage as the first time around. He dominated the third on his way to winning and proving Ortiz to be past his time. The fact that Tito decided to blame his poor performance on preexisting injuries, when he initially promoted the fight by saying he was finally 100 percent, just made fans hate him all the more. And not the I hate you and want to see you get your ass kicked kind of way; I mean the I hate you and I just really want you to go away kind of way. This was proven even further when the buyrate came in at a paltry 375,000 buys. Not the worst number but definitely showed that his drawing power is nowhere near where it once was.
After having signed him to such a long term deal, and thinking they could still find a way to sell him, the UFC decided it would be a good idea to make him a two time veteran coach on The Ultimate Fighter and put him opposite Chuck Liddell. That's how bad it is. Liddell, for his part, is also long past his prime and holds little worth to the promotion as a fighter. Ortiz went on the show and then pulled out towards the end of it to have neck surgery. This of course pissed off the fans even further who were already pissed off that he was even on their TV's in the first place. His stock at this point is at an all time low. It's been over 4 years since he's won a fight and he's done absolutely nothing to make fans care for him in any other way. This is a man that was the top drawing champion for the UFC for quite some time and was involved in the initial rivalry that helped catapult the promotion. Many would consider him a legend. Right now he is an also ran.
Now Tito is scheduled to compete this Saturday night against a man he coached on The Ultimate Fighter Season 3, Matt Hamill. There is a certain amount of intrigue to the matchup because of that but Ortiz has already made some ridiculous comments that have shifted the focus of the fight. Just listen to what he has to say here:
That's got fail written all over it. He later apologized but you get the point. There are very few people who think he stands much of a chance in this fight. What happens if he loses yet again? How much further could he possibly fall? I'm not sure that the UFC would cut Tito if he loses this fight but I think it's at the very least a conversation that needs to happen. Another question worth asking: even if he wins, will that be enough to make him relevant again? He says he is 100% healthy again following neck surgery back in March. It's all but guaranteed he will have a large audience for his fight. He better make the most of it. Another loss just might mean the end of The Huntington Beach Bad Boy.