Tito Ortiz (right): Stephen Albanese | Tailstar.com
Tito Ortiz will step into unfamiliar territory on Saturday, as he takes on former “TUF 3” protege Matt Hamill in a light heavyweight showdown at UFC 121. The event, which goes down Oct. 23 from the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif, marks one of the few times this decade that Ortiz isn't at least the co-headliner on the pay-per-view.
Rather than expressing disappointment, however, the former long-time 205-pound champion told members of the media at Wednesday's press conference that the lack of billing has provided him relief.
“It takes lot to headline a pay-per-view. I like to see Brock [Lesnar] and Cain [Velasquez] doing the work,” said Ortiz of the featured heavyweight matchup for Lensar's title. “I'm thankful to Dana White and Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta be on the card.”
Ortiz fielded several questions from the media regarding Lesnar assuming the position “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” held for so long as the face of the company. With the inherent pressure of carrying the event no longer on his back, Ortiz placed the art of promoting a fight into context.
“I'm very thankful to see Brock make the step from the WWE to [the UFC]. I'm a huge fan of Brock. If you talk s--- and back it up, you're allowed to talk s---.” said Ortiz. “Look at Ali, Tyson. There's a reason why is people pay attention to it. You have to talk the fight up. [The people either] hate you or love you, but the worst thing is when stop talking about you.”
The UFC veteran, who made his MMA debut at UFC 13 in 1997, has long battled issues with his back and neck. The 35-year-old is coming off a Mar. 15 neck surgery that has apparently allowed Ortiz to train harder than he has in seven years. Ortiz went into detail on Wednesday regarding how quickly he's returning to action following his operation.
“A month after [the surgery], I could leave the house. A month after that, I was jogging. Three months later, I was doing jiu-jitsu, and I fought out of guillotine,” Ortiz said, confessing that he was hesitant to test his neck's durability in training. “In the middle of July, I saw this card and called Dana.”
The former champion queried whether there was still an opening on the card. When White confirmed that there was a slot available, The Team Punishment founder asked the UFC president to allow him two weeks to truly measure the progress of his recovery.
“About a week and two days into [that two week period], I hit a double-leg and knocked the wind out of my training partner. Then I hit a single and got dropped on my head, and my neck was fine. I finally came to realize that my neck was okay and I had to believe in myself,” he said. “I'm doing things now that I was doing when I was world champion.”
Regarding his matchup with Hamill and career thereafter, Ortiz is taking things one step at a time.
“I just need to work way back on top. The fight game is my life. I'm coming off of two major surgeries, and now I have no more problems,” he said. “Hamill is awesome, but I plan on getting my hand raised. When I prove myself on Saturday night, it'll be in the UFC's hands.”
On the subject of a potential third fight with Chuck Liddell, Ortiz was receptive, but stated that it was ultimately up to White to decide.
“I wanted to fight Chuck no matter what. Dana said he closed door on that, but I want the opportunity to fight Chuck at 100 percent. Only time will tell, but I'm willing. I promised that I'd fight Chuck, and I'm a man of my word.”
White snuffed any further conversation, however, as the press conference came to a close.
“Time won't tell,” he said. “Chuck's not fighting anymore. It's not going to happen.”