Former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz may be retiring from active competition, but that doesn't mean he is leaving mixed martial arts for good.
Ortiz told fans and media in attendance at Thursday's UFC 148 press conference that while Saturday's rubber match with Forrest Griffin will definitely signal the end of his professional fighting career, he plans to stay involved in the sport as a commentator moving forward.
“I'll still be working, whether it's with the UFC and Fox or ESPN,” said Ortiz. “I'll be doing something. We still have millions of fans across the world to educate on what the sport really is, and I'm not done yet.”
While Ortiz is clearly looking forward to his embarking on a new career, he still has some unfinished business to address prior to his Octagon exit. In fact, his clash with Griffin at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas is not the only major event taking place Saturday for the Californian. Ortiz will also be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame at the UFC 148 fan expo, joining Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, Mark Coleman, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and Matt Hughes as the eighth fighter to enter the hall.
“I wasn't supposed to be where I am today. I had three choices: [death], prison, or where I am right now,” said Ortiz. “I think I've made some great decisions, and some great things have been given to me. Thanks to Dana [White], Lorenzo and Frank [Fertitta] and the UFC. I wouldn't be the man I am today if it weren't for these things.”
Knowing that 15 years of work in the Octagon will come to a close in 15 minutes or less on Saturday, Ortiz says he will miss walking to the cage amid the cheers of his fans before a fight -- a feeling that the 37-year-old says is like nothing else he has ever experienced.
Predictably, Ortiz does not feel the same way about the grueling years of training he has endured in order to prepare for those moments.
“What I'm going to miss the least is automatic: training. It's hard, man. People don't understand how hard training is,” said Ortiz. “Yeah, the first eight years is cool. Nine years is OK. Ten years, you're like, OK, it's been a decade. Fifteen, you're like, enough is enough. It's a full-time job. People think we get in the cage and fight and then our day is over and we go and have happy family time. Nope. We get paid to train. We fight for free.”
Ortiz says he has used his last training camp as a means to renew his dedication, leaving his family and returning to Big Bear, Calif., to train at elevation ahead of his clash with Griffin.
“I lose a little focus when I'm at home. I've got my kids, my clothing company, my gym, my nutritional line -- all of that business stuff I had to put on the back burner,” said Ortiz. “I had to go up to Big Bear and focus strictly on this fight. Eat, sleep and train is all I did. I rededicated myself to something I love, and that's fighting.”
The final years of Ortiz's career have not resembled his prime as UFC champion, as he has lost six of his last eight fights dating back to 2006. His lone victory in that span came against Ryan Bader one year ago at UFC 132. Entering the Octagon as a heavy underdog, Ortiz shocked the bookmakers by submitting Bader with a first round guillotine choke. The victory not only extended his UFC career for three more fights but also prompted Ortiz to later ditch his world-famous “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” nickname in favor of what he felt was a more positive moniker.
“I think the 'Bad Boy' [persona] was so negative, and negativity will consume you. Before the Bader fight, I just got tired of people talking smack, judging me -- people inside and outside the company who had an image of me that wasn't me. It hurt, because I'm a sensitive cat, and I've gone through a lot,” said Ortiz. “The change to 'The People's Champ,' was in a positive manner. I just want to show what hard work and dedication can achieve. When I got out of that 'Bad Boy' [image], it came about for my children, to show that their father is a true champion and worked hard to help get [the sport] where it is today.”
His career now nearly at a close, Ortiz says that his belief in the sport of mixed martial arts was a key factor in propelling both himself and the UFC to great heights.
“I just tried to do my job as well as I possibly could and bring attention to the sport and be a good man. I think I've done that. This was my calling, I think. This is what I was supposed to do,” said Ortiz. “In 2001, when [Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta] bought this company, they kind of put it on my shoulders. I remember in 2003, I was sitting with Lorenzo and Frank, and they said, 'We're sick of spending money.' And I told them, 'Just hang onto this, man. This sport is going to be huge. Just hold onto it.'”