Tito Ortiz and Rashad Evans at UFC 73
UFC 133 main event fighter Tito Ortiz has been booed and depicted as a villain in mixed martial arts for quite some time. But one thing no one can take away from the fighter out of Huntington Beach, Calif., is his pioneer status in the sport.
Since he was a young debuting fighter at UFC 13 way back in 1997, the game has changed and grown past a point that anybody expected it to reach. Segments on ESPN’s Sportscenter and Bud Light commercials are a long way from the days of Cracker Jack box-size venues and sanctioning in a handful of states.
Whether he’s been a villain or a hero, Ortiz has stuck through the growth and still has a marketable name to headline a card. He’ll make his return to fighting in the Tri-State area this Saturday for the first time in 10 years and notices the obvious changes in the sport as he prepares for his opponent, number one contender Rashad Evans.
“It’s a whole different new business completely,” Ortiz said recently. “And I’m still at the top of my game and I just can’t wait to go back to the East Coast and fight for all my fans. And especially in Philly with something that’s a story that I will fulfill it 100 percent and I’m very, very excited. You know, Rashad’s a tough opponent; the number one contender. I’m going to go and I’m going to fight with all my heart and soul and do what I do. And that’s entertain you and get my (hand raised).”
Ortiz’s career hasn’t come without any bumps in the road. Most fighters create rivalries with other fighters, which Ortiz has done, but he’s taken it to a whole other level. His most popular and documented rivalry has been with his boss, UFC president Dana White.
The two have been at each other’s throats for years, now. Ortiz has even made a habit of making shirts dedicated to how he feels about his employer, wearing them at weigh-ins as public jabs at White.
Tito Ortiz at UFC 84
The infamous “Dana is my b*tch” shirt was the hot fashion for the summer season of 2008.
But like the sport has changed, so has Ortiz’s attitude towards his boss. A positive attitude seems to be the best description to illustrate Ortiz, nowadays. The reinforcement he gets from the important sources in his life keep him focused on performing well this weekend and away from dueling with the UFC’s head man.
“I got my surgeries done and I kept my nose to the grindstone,” he said. “I never doubted myself and I just want to show people that with hard work and dedication you can achieve anything. And I’ll continue doing it each and every day in training.
“And between me and Dana, we’re really, really good. It’s been good. I’m very, very happy and they support me in positive reinforcement and it’s just making me that much better in the gym. And I love it. I survive on stuff like this. I would’ve (died) for this when I was a kid, man, and it’s just nice to have a positive reinforcement behind you knowing that you’re going to do well and we go out to perform at my highest performance.”
Regarding Ortiz’s UFC 133 opponent, the “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” has met Rashad Evans once before. The two first tangled at UFC 73: Stacked, fighting to a draw in the end. Had it not been for Ortiz grabbing the fence as much as he did in the second round, the scorecards would have showed him winning the bout on points.
Obviously, Ortiz will aim to keep his fingers off the fence this time, but it’s clear that he’s not facing the same Rashad Evans he fought in 2007. Evans has since won and lost the light heavyweight title and fought the most recent top contenders in the 205-pound division. All of Evans’ attributes have improved and Ortiz is well aware of that fact.
With the odds stacked against him at UFC 133, Ortiz is relying on his positive attitude and heart to pull out the win.
“I know our first fight, that was such a long time ago,” Ortiz recalled. “And I made the mistake by grabbing on the fence, and I’m going to try to correct a lot of mistakes that I did, and making sure that I don’t let Rashad get in on me and just try to defend.
“My advantage will be heart, of course, 100 percent. He’s fast; yes, I’ll give him that. His professional skills are good; yes, I’ll give him that. His boxing skills have gotten better, but I’m prepared. I’m prepared for anything and everything. And I’m going to go in focused, mentally positive, knowing that my (hand is) going to be raised. I’m not going to explain what I think his strengths are, no reason to. I just kind of did in, I guess, Layman’s terms for you so you kind of understood. But when it comes to fight time I’ll show you how much better I am.”
Just as he was in his match-up with Ryan Bader, Ortiz is the underdog. But mixed martial arts is about as predictable as the weather. Not even the best meteorologist can accurately read the forecast 100 percent of the time, but one thing is for sure: Tito Ortiz will storm into the Octagon at UFC 133 on Saturday, Aug. 6, in Philadelphia.
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Erik Fontanez is a staff writer for MMAWeekly.com.
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