Reaction to Tito Ortiz was rarely lukewarm, a testament to his ability to inspire both love and hate from mixed martial arts fans across the globe.
One of the first true superstars of the early Ultimate Fighting Championship, Ortiz held the light heavyweight title for 1,260 days—it remains the third-longest reign in the history of the weight class—and successfully defended it on five different occasions, turning away Yuki Kondo, Evan Tanner, Elvis Sinosic, Vladimir Matyushenko and Ken Shamrock. Known as much for his hubris-infused behavior as his competitive accomplishments, “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” tested himself against the vast majority of his contemporaries. He soared at times, crashed and burned at others, but he was always willing to poke the proverbial bear.
Ortiz, now 46, last fought under the Combate Americas flag in December, when he submitted former World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Alberto Rodriguez with a second-round rear-naked choke. Whether or not he ever competes again, he carved out a niche all his own. A look at a few of the rivalries that helped him do so:
Longstanding hatred between Ortiz and the men who populated the Lion’s Den camp can be traced to UFC 13, where “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” submitted to a first-round guillotine choke from Mezger on May 30, 1997. Less than a year later, Ortiz confronted Lion’s Den rep Jerry Bohlander at UFC 18, forced a cut stoppage 14:31 into their encounter and proceeded to don a T-shirt that read, “I Just F**cked Your Ass!” Needless to say, it did not go over well with Bohlander or his stablemates, and it set the stage for an emotionally charged rematch with Mezger in the UFC 19 main event on March 5, 1999 at the Hollywood Casino in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Ortiz took down Mezger twice, dodged multiple submission attempts and outlanded him by a 92-9 margin, ultimately stopping him with punches 9:56 into the first round. Afterward, Ortiz upped the ante with a T-shirt that read, “Gay Mezger is my bitch.” His antics pushed Lion’s Den frontman Ken Shamrock past his boiling point and put the final piece in place for one of MMA’s all-time great rivalries. Shamrock was enraged by the disrespect, scaled the Octagon fence and screamed unpleasantries in Ortiz’s direction. With that, a blood feud was born.
Shamrock squared off for Ortiz’s undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight title in the UFC 40 main event on Nov. 22, 2002 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The traffic was of the one-way variety, as Ortiz secured three takedowns, connected on 107 more strikes than Shamrock and forced a corner stoppage between the third and fourth rounds. The aptly named “Vendetta” pay-per-view drew upwards of 150,000 buys, which was considered a windfall for the promotion in 2002. Shamrock and Ortiz later coached opposite one another on Season 3 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series, leading to a rematch at UFC 61. A volley of elbows from Ortiz drew the curtain just 78 seconds into Round 1, despite Shamrock’s vehement protests. Still, the story did not end there. A trilogy bout between the two legends took place at a UFC Fight Night event on Oct. 10, 2006 in Hollywood, Florida, where Ortiz dismissed “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” with ground-and-pound 2:23 into the first round and exited the Octagon with a 3-0 sweep in their head-to-head series.
Once friends and training partners, Liddell and Ortiz were central figures in the light heavyweight division for more than a decade; and according to Ortiz, they made a pact in which they agreed to never fight each other. However, “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” became the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s promotional poster boy at 205 pounds, and soon after, Liddell emerged as the No. 1 contender. Tension invariably grew, and Liddell indicated he never agreed to avoid fight Ortiz, then demanded his opportunity to compete for the championship. A contract dispute and other factors led to Ortiz being removed from the picture and the creation of an interim title, as Liddell fought and lost to Randy Couture. “The Natural” then dominated Ortiz—he literally spanked him in the middle of the cage—to unify the light heavyweight crown. The situation between Ortiz and Liddell finally came to a head at UFC 47, where “The Iceman” authored a sensational second-round knockout with a hellacious burst of power punches on April 2, 2004. Liddell later avenged his loss to Couture, captured the undisputed title at 205 pounds and laid waste to the division, his run of seven consecutive finishes culminating with a third-round technical knockout of Ortiz in their UFC 66 rematch. They renewed acquaintances as shopworn veterans in a pointless trilogy bout under the Golden Boy MMA banner in 2018, as Ortiz punched out the withered Liddell in the first round.
Ortiz had unfinished business with “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 1 winner as they approached the UFC 148 co-main event. He earned a split decision over a less-polished Griffin at UFC 59 six years earlier, only to lose their UFC 106 rematch via split verdict in November 2009. The third encounter between Ortiz and Griffin was a much easier call for the cageside judges. Griffin weathered a pair of knockdowns—one in the first round, another in the third—to defeat “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” by unanimous decision on July 7, 2012 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. All three cageside judges scored it 29-28. Ortiz showed glimpses of his former self, as he delivered takedowns and some patented ground-and-pound in the first and third frames. Still, it became clear midway through the fight that he lacked the energy required to close the deal. Griffin consistently beat him to the punch, landing two, three and sometimes four strikes to his one. Ortiz saw his last best chance at victory come and go in Round 3, where he floored Griffin with a clean left hook. However, he did not have the reserves he needed to pursue the finish. Griffin recovered, picked up where he left off and took the rubber match between the two former champions.
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