Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial
Tito Ortiz, the bold and wildly outspoken former UFC champion, has spent the better part of the past few weeks working on his takedown defense. Not necessarily in the cage, though. Not necessarily on the mats, either.
Rather, Ortiz spends his time with the media defending himself from the vitriol. Whether it’s battling the perception that he pulls out of fights frequently, or that he’s done as a mixed martial artist, or his personal life involving Jenna Jameson, the mother of his twin sons. Some of it is by his own doing - who can forget those derogatory Guy Mezger T-shirts he wore? - and some of it just exists because it does.
"Of course I have to defend myself," said Ortiz, whose five successful UFC light heavyweight title defenses are a division record. "If I don't defend myself, then people get caught up in what the naysayers say."
And, boy, those naysayers say so many things. Detractors quickly point to the fact that he hasn't won since 2006 (four losses, one draw).
Ortiz (16-8-1) trumpets the quality of those fighters, a list that includes four former light heavyweight champions and a former student of his.
"Each one of my fights I fought, I fought against a top, top guy," Ortiz said. "I'm not fighting against second-rate chumps. I'm competing against the top guys in the world, and I’m competing against them very very well."
That Ortiz still draws big names is testament to his star power. It hasn't waned. Sure, you may want him to go away, but that's not because you don’t want to see him fight. You'll get your next chance to yell or cheer at your television screen this Saturday at UFC 132. Ortiz fights Ryan Bader, a former "Ultimate Fighter" winner who won his first 12 fights before losing earlier this year to future champion Jon Jones.
The narrative around this fight is that it could be the last for Ortiz in the UFC. Dana White, UFC president, has hinted at that since Ortiz lost his last bout in October. Ortiz said the UFC called him after that bout and suggested that he retire.
"I'm fighting for my life," Ortiz said. "I'm fighting for my career. I'm fighting for everything I stand for."
As loquacious and colorful as ever, Ortiz perceives a huge lack of respect shown him. By the fans and the UFC. To a degree,that's true. Fine, he has no wins since before Barack Obama announced his candidacy for president, but let’s look closer at those five bouts:
1) UFC 66: Dec. 30, 2006
Ortiz lost by TKO with 1:03 left in the third round to light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell, who was in his prime then.
2) UFC 73: July 7, 2007
Ortiz fought to a draw with then-undefeated Rashad Evans, who became champion three fights later. Ortiz had a point deducted in the second round for grabbing the fence on multiple occasions.
3) UFC 84: May 24, 2008
Ortiz nearly submitted then-undefeated Lyoto Machida with a triangle late in the fight but lost a unanimous decision. Machida won the title two fights later.
4) UFC 106: Nov. 21, 2009
Ortiz lost a split decision to former champion Forrest Griffin.
5) UFC 121: Oct. 23, 2010
Ortiz lost a unanimous decision to his former student, Matt Hamill.
So he's become a stepping stone for other fighters? No. The fighters listed above were all considered in the top 10 at light heavyweight then. Three of them are still, and Hamill is on the bubble. Ortiz, a flag bearer for the sport in the UFC's darker days, fought ably in all five bouts, some of which were before back and neck surgeries.
Whether you choose to defend Ortiz or to hiss and sneer at the very sight of his name printed here, understand this: Ortiz forces you to make a decision. Either you root for him, or you do not. But you do root. There's a certain level of admiration in that. In a politically correct world with things dumbed down to appeal to all and offend none, Ortiz is unequivocally something else.
"There's no people in the middle, 'Uhhhh, I don't know,'" Ortiz said about his reputation among fight fans. "I'm thankful for my fans who support me, but I'm more thankful for the people who hate on me. If it wasn't for those people who hate on me, I wouldn’t be who I am now, I guess. It must mean that my name and my recognition has meant so much to somebody's heart that they have to talk bad about me. When people hate you, I guess that's when you know you're famous."