A Beached Bad Boy

By Jake Rossen May 19, 2008
If the UFC's ancillary video producers are on their game, they'll have a camera fixed on company president Dana White during the Lyoto Machida (Pictures)/Tito Ortiz (Pictures) bout Saturday -- preferably one in high definition, all the better to capture every dripping bead of sweat on White's reflectively smooth head.

After a years-long war of words that would make Vince McMahon glow with pride, White and Ortiz are finally set to go their separate ways, with White to continue chairing the biggest, most self-aggrandizing MMA organization in the world and Ortiz to ply his trade for one of the UFC's many upstart competitors.

The emotional volume of Ortiz's exit will go up considerably should he beat Machida, a 12-0 fighter being groomed as a future contender for the light heavyweight title. Ortiz will certainly see a victory as one final shot at White and his flagrantly insulting disposition, and a Machida win would act as a springboard for White to continue burying Ortiz in the media.

But unless Machida devastates Ortiz -- unlikely, considering his preference for a tactical chess game over a firefight -- there's little opportunity for White to whitewash what is arguably the most substantial exodus of talent from his company since its inception.

Unlike most fighters in the industry, Ortiz's presence can make dramatic differences in business. His name routinely appears in a list of the promotion's top pay-per-view earners; his re-rematch with Ken Shamrock (Pictures), hopelessly unnecessary as it was, accounted for one of the UFC's largest Spike audiences ever.

Ortiz, in short, has put more asses in seats than dysentery.

As a result of that push -- in fairness, due in as much part to Zuffa's marketing muscle as Ortiz's own charisma -- he's one of a handful of athletes that can potentially overcome the UFC's near-insurmountable brand recognition.

The millions who have weaned themselves on Spike's "ultimate fighting" may not know Strikeforce from the IFL, but they certainly know Ortiz, and their infatuation with his persona could very well prove to be the antidote for companies that continue to combat the casual fan's loyalty to the UFC.

You'll obviously never see any indication of this from UFC brass. White would have you believe that Ortiz hasn't defeated anyone good in years, that he's a washout who couldn't hack it in the big leagues. (Giving White a microphone, it seems, is not unlike giving John Wayne Gacy a steak knife.)

But Ortiz -- who has only lost to Chuck Liddell (Pictures) and Randy Couture (Pictures) in the seven years he's been with the company -- is certainly no worse off than Liddell himself, who has racked up losses in two of his last three bouts.

If you routinely fight top competition, you will lose. Finding shame in that is unreasonable at best, delusional at worst.

White has reason to cough up the propaganda. There's clear and ironic indication that a possible bout between Ortiz and broadband sensation Kimbo Slice would actually draw more dollars and eyes away from the UFC than the Randy Couture/Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures) proposal currently occupying the courts. Unlike Emelianenko -- supremely talented but still largely an unknown in the states -- Slice is a media sensation poised for an unprecedented level of exposure over the summer.

It takes two to tango, and the combined public awareness of both Ortiz and Slice might accomplish what's been a pipe dream for rival promoters: making a dent in pay television.

Those backstage machinations have made the fight itself almost an afterthought. Ortiz is likely to plant Machida on his back and ram elbows down his throat. The fight will be decided on whether Ortiz's ring age has caught up to him, and if any nagging injuries will prevent him from keeping Machida grounded. Standing, the Brazilian-Japanese hyphenate is likely to outpoint him.

However it ends, it appears unlikely that White will give him a hero's sendoff. If history is any indication, records of Ortiz's accomplishments might be stricken from the company Web site and cameras will struggle to keep him out of frame should he corner any fighters in the Octagon. White's penchant for mass memory erasure is second only to Alzheimer's.

It's a shame. As much as the UFC did for Ortiz, so Ortiz did for the UFC. Life is too short to dwell on past transgressions.

Watching White agitate in his seat on Saturday, I can't help but think that seeing David Stern rooting against the San Antonio Spurs would be an odd sight indeed.


"The same holds that you can apply on the ground, you can do standing up … this looks like Boys Gone Wild."

BET's "Iron Ring" (Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET), a series that will eventually force me to gouge my eyes out with a melon ball scooper, has now become a test of how insufferable "arbitrator" Rashon Khan can be. His grasp of groundfighting appears to be at near-1993 levels … In his cover story on Dana White for the June/July issue of Men's Fitness -- I can practically hear you stampeding to the newsstand now -- writer Sean Hyson reiterates the same tired shuck and jive about Zuffa standing alone in tweaking rules to make them more palatable to New Jersey and Nevada. Those rules, as fans should well know by now, were largely in place prior to Zuffa's purchase of the UFC, and New Jersey had already hosted events. There are many names responsible for the current rule structure of American MMA -- Paul Smith, Larry Hazzard and Art Davie among them -- but they rarely make copy in mainstream pieces.

For comments, e-mail jrossen@sherdog.com
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