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MMA: Ortiz and life inside and beyond the octagon

MMA star had legendary career; now he's passing the torch

Posted: October 4, 2012 10:01 p.m.
Updated: October 4, 2012 10:01 p.m.
Forrest Griffin, left, and Tito Ortiz battle it out during their UFC 148 light heavyweight fight on July 7 in Las Vegas. Forrest Griffin, left, and Tito Ortiz battle it out during their UFC 148 light heavyweight fight on July 7 in Las Vegas.
Forrest Griffin, left, and Tito Ortiz battle it out during their UFC 148 light heavyweight fight on July 7 in Las Vegas.

Mixed martial artist Tito Ortiz began his career in 1997 when the Ultimate Fighting Championship was in its infancy.

Over the next 15 years, the Southern California-based fighter claimed the light heavyweight title, was engaged in some of the most legendary rivalries, overcame numerous debilitating injuries, and helped build the sport into the skyrocketing phenomenon it is today.

Now, the recently retired UFC Hall of Famer is looking toward his next challenge – developing young talent.

“(I want to) get guys before they get to the professional level, and show them the way to work the right way as I’ve done through my career,” he says. “The trials and tribulations I’ve gone through, the mistakes I’ve done, I’ve learned from them. So I want to help a lot of young guys not make the same mistakes I’ve done.”

To do that, Ortiz has helped launched the Fight Club MMA “Rising Stars” series, which will be held at the OC Fair and Event Center in Orange County on Oct. 6.

The purpose of the series is to mentor amateur fighters in everything from fight techniques to media training.

At the amateur level, development is contingent on surrounding yourself with top-tier talent, he says.

“Who do they train with? Who do they associate themselves with?” says Ortiz, discussing the development of MMA in the Santa Clarita Valley. “Big John McCarthy (of Valencia-based Big John McCarthy’s Ultimate Training Academy) is an awesome guy, probably one of the best referees in the businesses. You just want to bring yourself around great trainers, and he’s able to bring some of the best guys out of Santa Clarita.”

For Ortiz, Fight Club MMA is one way he can do just that and is one of the many things on his plate during this new chapter outside the octagon.

“It kind of feels like just graduating and going on to something bigger and better,” Ortiz says. “I’ve been fighting 15 years. Now, it’s time to use my intelligence, not my brawn. I’ve been doing it so long in the fight business, now it’s time to see how my business acumen has paid off. It’s been doing great lately.”

That business acumen has led to increased attention on his “Punishment” clothing line, gym, and nutrition line, as well as a new management company and the amateur promotion.

“I’m just kind of planting these seeds, watering them the right way, and watching them flourish,” he adds.

Those seeds have taken the place of a grueling daily training regimen he used to prepare for high-profile fight after high-profile fight.

Those fights included his title-winning bout with Wanderlei Silva at UFC 25, matchups with MMA luminaries Randy Couture, Guy Metzger, Vitor Belfort, and Evan Tanner, and even at times a fractured relationship with UFC President Dana White.

However, his epic fights with Chuck Liddell and a trilogy of meetings with Ken Shamrock were what truly helped get MMA into mainstream consciousness.

“It was true hatred (with Shamrock),” Ortiz says. “I think it was more of a selling point with me and Liddell. I thought he was my friend. He sold out against me. I really see it as lies. All of it was lies. Them trying to push to make money. It wasn’t about friendship, which I thought we had. I think Chuck sold out. But the true rivalry was me against Ken Shamrock.”

Add recent fights with current UFC superstars like Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, and Lyoto Machida, all former light heavyweight champions, and Ortiz’s resume reads like a who’s who in the MMA world.

Unfortunately for Ortiz, seven of his final nine fights ended in defeat, capping a 16-11-1 record.

To his credit, he was also dealing with a multitude of injuries to his back and neck.

Had he met the new crop of fighters, including current UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones, in his prime, it might have been a different story.

“I think I would have dominated,” he says.

Adding credence to the sentiments, Ortiz shocked many of his critics at UFC 132 when he beat up-and-comer and former “The Ultimate Fighter” winner, Ryan Bader.

“To come back after having a two-level fusion in my lower back and to come back after a one-level fusion in my neck, many athletes in general, not even mixed martial artists, many athletes in general don’t even come back and compete again. After I beat Ryan Bader, it really showed what hard work can achieve.”

Ortiz’s career outside of the octagon underscores the point as well.

From a troubled youth to UFC champion to entrepreneur, Ortiz knows he’s made mistakes along the way, but it’s all prepared him for what’s ahead.

And he hopes to pass it all on to the next generation of mixed martial artists.

“I have to take advantage of the time I have in front of me,” Ortiz says. “I want to achieve greatness. I want to make sure that when I’m done on this earth, that I’ve gotten the best I possibly can out of my life.

“The last 15 years kind of taught me to be where I am today,” he continues. “With hard work, the stuff that’s brought me down, the stuff that’s brought me up, everything through my life has just shown to the general public that we can achieve anything. Just don’t stop believing, and don’t stop working.”


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