To call Tito Ortiz a polarizing figure in the MMA world is beyond an understatement. Fight fans either cannot get enough of the former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion’s edgy demeanor, or find themselves wishing for his annihilation every time he enters the Octagon; there’s no such thing as neutrality when it comes to Tito Ortiz.
In many ways these divergent extremes of opinion mimic Ortiz’s own persona both inside and outside the cage. His career has been one of extremes. He has reached the highest levels of the sport, successfully defending his title for over three years and recording wins against some of MMA’s most well known names, and he has also endured many of the lows so often associated with fame.
But through all the peaks and valleys in Ortiz’s career, he never lost his competitive drive. From back surgeries to domestic violence allegations to contract disputes, a lesser man would have called it quits years ago, but not Tito. As with everything, Ortiz always planned on going out on his terms.
He will have just such an opportunity when he squares off against Forrest Griffin at UFC 148 this Saturday, a fight slated to occur just hours after Ortiz is inducted to the UFC Hall of Fame. There are many who feel this swan song is long overdue. After all, Ortiz enters his final bout with a record of 1-6-1 over his last eight fights, a record that would have any other fighter on the UFC roster seeking employment elsewhere long ago.
When the 37-year-old Ortiz steps into the Octagon one final time this weekend, he may be but a shadow of the Huntington Beach Bad Boy who once terrorized the light heavyweight division, but if there is any aging fighter worthy of one last opportunity to go out a winner it’s Ortiz.
He’s earned that right, if not for his lengthy accomplishments inside the Octagon, then at the very least for his role in promoting and propelling the UFC and mixed martial arts as a whole from cable TV sideshow to mainstream prominence. All the smack talking of Chael Sonnen, the confident swagger of Jon Jones, the ethnic pride of Cain Velasquez, the rivalries, the heated press conferences, the marque main events, it all started with Ortiz.
Whether you hate him or love him (or really, really hate him) Ortiz’s impact on the sport is undeniable. When the final bell rings on Saturday, regardless of outcome, Tito Ortiz will retire a true legend, and one that MMA fans have been lucky to watch sacrifice his body for the sport for the last fifteen years.