The Lake Charles Civic Center is not the first building you think of when pondering world class sporting events. Yes, it is home to the Louisiana Swashbucklers—but who outside the few hardcore Indoor Football League fans know that?
More likely you're going to find a gun show on any given weekend—and not the Alistair Overeem variety. In short, it's not the kind of place you're likely to see a UFC title fight.
But as Tito Ortiz prepares to fight his final bout at the glamorous MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, he can recall a time (1999) when he fought in Lake Charles, Louisiana; when that city, with its few thousand fans, hosted Ortiz and the best fighter in the world, middleweight champion Frank Shamrock; when the UFC was happy to be there.
At least, the thinking was, it wasn't Birmingham, Alabama.
Tito Ortiz is a bridge to the UFC's past—a bridge to the days Semaphore Entertainment Group, and not Zuffa, called the shots; the ugly days when the sport was banned in many states and not allowed on most cable pay-per-view providers.
Ortiz has seen it all in this sport. Soon he will step in the cage for a final time, settling the score with Forrest Griffin. And like most about to move on to new challenges in life, Ortiz is feeling reflective about the past.
"It's emotional man. From the first fight I had at UFC 13 until the last fight I had in Toronto, it's emotional every time I walk out... Fifteen years I've fought and I don't remember one time I walked out of the cage without crying or throwing up. Of course there are emotions," Ortiz told Bleacher Report at the UFC 148 open workouts.
"People don't understand the emotions us as fighters have when they walk out to the cage. There's nothing you can explain. A lot of fans ask me 'what does it feel like to walk into the Octagon with the fans screaming?' It's kind of like you're skydiving at a rock concert."
While he will be remembered for his famous feuds with UFC promoter Dana White and UFC pioneer Ken Shamrock, Ortiz believes his trilogy with Griffin belongs in the same conversation. Their two previous fights were both decided by split decision—close fights that saw Griffin attempt to match his striking and leg kicks against Tito's powerhouse wrestling game.
The two are as evenly matched as they come. That's why when Ortiz had the chance to make the call on his final opponent, he insisted on Griffin. He had to know, for himself and his fans, who was the better man.
"God has blessed me with great things. I think he's blessed me in this fight, this training camp," Ortiz said. "...when you're confident, you're in shape, weights on target—I haven't had no hiccups since I've been here. Everything's been on target, been perfect. I'm excited, because I'm very, very confident in this one."
Win or lose, Ortiz's legacy is assured. He'll be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame just hours before the fight. And while he hopes to go out a winner, he's content if he's been able to help young people realize that no matter where they start in life, they can finish on top.
"I want people to remember me as being an inspiration. Knowing you can get through anything in life and succeed no matter what," Ortiz said. "No matter what God gives you, what God challenges you with, no matter what people try to sidetrack you on, you're able to find the target and continue on. Do what you dreamed of. And I've dreamed of being the best UFC fighter ever to grace the Octagon. And I think I achieved that in my 15-year career."
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