Mark La Monica Mark La Monica

Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial arts. In a past life, he blogged about "Entourage" and pop culture and co-hosted ExploreTV.

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He can hit hard enough to rattle your soul. He's the doting father of 7-month-old twin boys.

He's over-the-top cocky. His affable demeanor is infectious.

Loathe him or love him, you care about Tito Ortiz. You know it. He knows it. It's OK to admit it. Go ahead and repeat this phrase: "I care about Tito Ortiz."

And for good reason.

The former UFC light heavyweight champion, perhaps the best in the promotion's history, helped build mixed martial arts into the force it is today.

With his colorful and strong personality, Ortiz exudes supreme confidence. So when he says things such as "I'm an alpha male," or "So many people have goose bumps when I fight," the haters roll their eyes in disgust. Others pump their fists in agreement with the Huntington Beach Bad Boy.

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Just ask Dana White. He managed Ortiz before becoming UFC president. The two eventually launched into a very vicious and very public feud. Name-calling was the least of it. White actually challenged Ortiz to a boxing match.

The two, as strong-willed a duo as there exists in sports, squashed their beef in July, and Ortiz returned to the UFC after more than a year in limbo.

"No more bad blood stuff," Ortiz said. "It's about me competing and becoming a world champion again."

That's the nice side of Ortiz.

Then there's this side: "Coleman, Coleman, Coleman; too bad he sissies out!!! Who's next??? I'm kicking someone's -- on Nov 21st!" That's a cleaned up version of Ortiz calling out Mark Coleman on Twitter. Coleman injured his knee and had to pull out of their fight at UFC 106 on Nov. 21 in Las Vegas. Forrest Griffin took Coleman's place on the card that also features heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar.


[UPDATE, Oct. 26, 6:58 p.m.Lesnar pulled out of UFC 106 with an illness, making Ortiz-Griffin the main event.]

UFC 106 is Ortiz's return to the Octagon, his first fight since losing to Lyoto Machida on May 24, 2008. (Machida decisioned Mauricio "Shogun" Rua last night at UFC 104.) For Ortiz, this fight is more than just a return to the good graces of the UFC.

It's his first fight with a healthy back since 2003. In October 2008, Ortiz had his L4, L5 and S1 vertebrae fused together. Back surgery is always risky, especially for an athlete whose sport mixes wrestling, jiu-jitsu and other martial arts disciplines.

"A haaaaaaard way back," Ortiz, 34, said. "It's harder than I ever expected it to be. Maybe I'm just getting old."

If Ortiz is completely healthy now, then the 205-pound division just got more exciting. Already the toughest class in UFC, Ortiz gets to thump with the likes of Rashad Evans, Randy Couture, Wanderlei Silva, Keith Jardine and Thiago Silva. Throw in rising stars Brandon Vera and Jon Jones. And what about Anderson Silva, Dan Henderson, Rich Franklin and Vitor Belfort floating in and out of the division? Not to mention Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Chuck Liddell, both of whom may or may not have retired from fighting, depending on the day and who's talking.

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"I think the fans are going to be really excited to watch me fight again," Ortiz said. "I'm going to bring the fury."

>> VIDEO: Tito Ortiz takes batting practice with Shane Victorino and the Philles.

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