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SportsColumnistsMark La Monica

Tito Ortiz leaves behind historic legacy as final fight approaches

Tito Ortiz was the longest reigning light heavyweight

Tito Ortiz was the longest reigning light heavyweight champion in UFC history. He plans to retire after his next fight against Forrest Griffin on July 7, 2012. Photo Credit: Photo by HANDOUT

Mixed martial arts can be viewed on no less than seven television stations, not including the more lucrative pay-per-view broadcasts. Tito Ortiz fought in a time when his sport was banned from cable TV.

Mixed martial arts now has nine different weight classes. Tito Ortiz began his career when there were only two - those who stepped on a scale and weighed more than 200 pounds and those who didn't.

Mixed martial arts has a distinct set of unified rules. Tito Ortiz began his career when there were no rules.

Tito Ortiz will end his 15-year fighting career Saturday with a third fight against Forrest Griffin at UFC 148 in Las Vegas. And he'll do it as a UFC Hall of Famer, his induction scheduled for several hours before the fight.

"I'm not a young kid anymore," Ortiz said. "I'm 37 and I've been through hell and back. I'm sick of having surgeries. I'm sick of getting hurt."

In recent years, Ortiz has had back and neck surgeries to alleviate the pain and correct the bones he spent parts of three decades twisting and damaging in a career aimed at promoting his sport -- and himself.

A great showman who often rubbed people the wrong way, Ortiz deserves his place among the most influential MMA fighters in history. He carried the sport in the late 1990s and early 2000s, helping draw new fans and always preaching that he and his colleagues were world-class athletes and not a bunch of bar-room brawling thugs.

As more Olympic and NCAA champion wrestlers and judokas turn to MMA as a career, they owe a nod to Ortiz. Really, as all mixed martial artists begin their careers, they do so in part because of Ortiz.

"I knew it would get to this point, that's why I stuck around so long," Ortiz said.

Ortiz's lasting legacy on the sport won't be those offensive T-shirts he wore in those fights against Guy Mezger in 1997 and 1999, even if that's what you choose to remember first. It won't be his very public and very vocal feud with UFC president Dana White in the mid to late 2000s.

They will be part of his story, no doubt. Ortiz's legacy should also include being one of the youngest champions in UFC history and reigning as light heavyweight champion for 31/2 years and five successful title defenses. No 205-pounder has yet to match that streak - which ended on Sept. 26, 2003.

Ortiz (17-10-1) wants to be remembered for his emotional impact on people as well.

"Being a fighter who helped put this sport on the map, an inspiration to a lot of people's lives," he said. "I was a kid who had nothing, a kid who came from the streets, who didn't have a family. I was able to push success forward. Being an inspiration is number one."

Harp on the 1-6-1 record in his last eight fights if you wish. Consider him clownish for some of the things he's said and done in the past, should you so choose.

But when he walks out of the cage Saturday night for the final time, know that MMA wouldn't be what it is today without the help of the man they call "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy."

New York Sports