Tito Ortiz is a lot of things. He’s brash, cocky, determined, a champion, an icon and now, going into UFC 148, a UFC Hall of Famer. From flipping Shamrock the bird, to Tito is in the house, to Dana is my Bitch, Tito has run the gamut of UFC emotions and realities during his 15 year tenure with the UFC. As that tenure comes to a close, let’s look back at the polarizing moments that made you love Tito Ortiz, and others love to hate him.
May 30th 1997, Tito Ortiz made his UFC debut against Wes Albritton at UFC 13. He was an amateur, still in college. He wasn’t paid for the fight, but still wanted to get in there and mix it up. 31 seconds late, Tito Ortiz was 1-0. He then replaced an injured Enson Inoue in the final against Guy Mezger in a fight that Tito would go on to lose, by submission. However, Tito was hooked, and fighting would be his career.
Tito would defeat Jerry Bohlander at UFC 18 and that set up the rematch with Guy Mezger at UFC 19, and after taking Mezger out by TKO, Tito turned to the Lion’s Den corner and flipped them off, sending Lion’s Den founder Ken Shamrock into a frothy tantrum and fueling the fire for one of the biggest rivalries in MMA.
Tito would lose to Frank Shamrock; Ken’s adopted brother at UFC 22 in one of the fights of the year , but after that fight, Tito would go on a tear. He went 11-2 over his next 13 fights in the Octagon, including winning the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship, and defending that belt, five consecutive times until he was defeated by Randy Couture at UFC 44.
Over his career, Tito was known for many things. He’s post victory grave-digger routing, his post-fight victory T-shirts and his entrance, a testosterone filled combination of music, fire and hype that had many amped before he stepped in the ring. This is of course before the UFC did away with the ramp entrances because they felt it was too close to pro wrestling. What it was, however, was a way for a fighter to identify with his fans, and for fighters to have character and develop a following.
At UFC 33, the first event I attended live, Tito’s entrance was hypnotic. It was less than three weeks removed from the 9/11 attack and people were still very much feeling the patriotic pride and when Tito’s music started, with, “Who’s in the house….Tito is in the house!” Then the fire exploded and Limp Bizkit blared, and Tito showed up waving an American flag. It was an inspiring moment that transcended sports. That’s more or less Tito Ortiz, he’s never just been a UFC fighter, and he’s always been more.
Tito was the UFC’s first poster boy and carried the company on his back in the early 2000s. As his career entered its later stages, he could no longer perform at the top-level, and as such, his record has a few more losses on it than he might like. After his last fight in the trilogy with Ken Shamrock, he was 15-4, and a five time UFC Champion.
Since that time, he’s fought 8 times in the UFC going 1-6-1. During that streak he’s lost to Chuck Liddell, Lyoto Machida, Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, Matt Hamill and Diet Nog. Four of those six have worn the Light Heavyweight championship belt.
His win however was a shocking reminder that anything is possible in MMA, and you can never count out Ortiz. He entered his fight with Ryan Bader as a decided underdog. Bader was considered to be a younger, stronger, up and coming version of Ortiz. What was expected, was that Tito would land a punch and drop Bader, then choke him out in less than two minutes.
Now, Tito is in line for his last fight in the UFC. He’ll meet Forrest Griffin, for the third time. They’ve each won one fight and this will decide who the better fighter is, and possibly how each is remembered. For Ortiz, he’ll be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame prior to his fight at UFC 148. He’ll be inducted at the fan expo and its fitting. There is no fighter who deserves the UFC Hall of Fame more than Ortiz, and no fighter who embraced his fans like Tito Ortiz.
It makes sense that Tito would go out facing Forrest. It’s the two men who are possibly the most responsible for where the UFC is today. Tito for what he did ten years ago, and Forrest for what he did with Bonnar at the finale of The Ultimate Fighter season one. Add to them Couture for being an ambassador and Chuck Liddell for being perhaps the sport’s most popular athlete and you have the cornerstone of American MMA.
Love him, or Love to hate him, Tito Ortiz has been a major player in MMA’s storyline over the course of its existence and he’s deserving of this and as a fan, I’m excited to see it. Tito Ortiz joins, Ken Shamrock, Royce Gracie, Dan Severn, Randy Couture, Mark Coleman, Chuck Liddell, Charles “Mask” Lewis Jr. and Matt Hughes in the UFC Hall of Fame.