Tito Ortiz file photo: Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
Tito Ortiz ruled the UFC light heavyweight division for roughly three and a half years.
Now, seven years since his reign ended, he’s fighting to become a serious contender again. The 35-year-old faces Matt Hamill on the UFC 121 main card Saturday in Anaheim, Calif.
“I was very proud of it,” Ortiz said of his championship run during an episode of Bruce Buffer’s “It’s Time” radio show. “I’d like to be in those shoes once again, and Saturday night will be the first step to make that happen.”
Ortiz has struggled the last several years with both opponents and injuries. There’s nowhere to hide in the UFC’s 205-pound division -- the promotion has 12 of the top 15-ranked light heavies -- but now Ortiz says he’s finally ready to fight at full strength.
“Camp’s gone perfect,” he said. “No injuries. The first time in seven years that I haven’t had any injuries, and I’m very, very thankful. Someone’s looking over me. It’s time to battle. Time to go to war.”
In particular, Ortiz had suffered from back problems. Not anymore. On Tuesday he said he was weighing a solid 216.5 pounds thanks to unhindered workouts.
“I’ve been able to keep some weight on,” Ortiz said. “I’ve been able to do squats and lunges, do my leg workouts heavier than normal just because my back is not much of a problem anymore. I have no problems at all with it.”
Ortiz also said he’s not dealing with any emotional issues either. His relationship with Jenna Jameson, his girlfriend and the mother of two of his children, has brought turmoil at times. Now it’s steady, positive.
“The family’s doing awesome,” Ortiz said. “I couldn’t be any more happier with how proud I am of Jenna being the mother she is and raising two beautiful boys. I’m in a good place. I’m in a very good place. Physically and emotionally, I’m in a place that I’ve always wanted to be in.”
The only issue then is Hamill. A strong wrestler with heavy hands, he was Ortiz’s first pick on the third season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Ortiz, a coach that season, took Hamill under his wing. It was somewhat surprising that Ortiz took a few shots at Hamill, who is deaf, leading up to this bout.
“About three months ago I was on HDNet and I said some things I probably shouldn’t have said. I [recently] Twittered that I apologize to the deaf community,” Ortiz explained. “When we shot ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ season three, Matt got hit with a shot and the whole season he wasn’t the same. [I was] assuming his head was a little soft and I probably shouldn’t have said the things I said because I was wrong. I was completely wrong by saying that. Since then I’ve kept it strictly business. … But I gotta go in and do my job. I’m known to talk as much smack as possible at the guy who I’m fighting, but Matt to me is a friend. Now it’s strictly business, no more than that.”
Against Hamill, Ortiz will be fighting for his first win in four years. The opposition he’s faced in the intervening stretch includes four UFC light heavyweight champions: Chuck Liddell, Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida and Forrest Griffin. With Ortiz’s name value, though, it’s likely that no easy matchups await. If he’s going to get back in the hunt, the time to start is now.
“I’m not going to hold anything back,” Ortiz said. “I’m not going to leave it in the judges’ hands. I’m going to fight with my heart, my determination, my mind, as hard as I possibly can. I’m going to leave it all out in the cage.”
Listen to the full interview (beginning at 11:55) with Ortiz, who discusses his bet on Quinton Jackson vs. Chuck Liddell and whether he won or lost as well as the Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez title fight.