He was a powerhouse of a fighter with a scary takedown game and a ground-and-pound assault that was the best in the 205 division, bar none. When Ortiz got a fighter down, it was highly probable that the end would come soon, usually courtesy of one Ortiz elbow, or a dozen.
Tito was young, at the top of his game and his hunger for glory was riding high, driving him right over his opposition with a near sadistic glee that comes with being utterly unconcerned by what anyone but his “yes” men thought of him.
But the sport waits for no man, and while Ortiz held his belt hostage, citing “entertainment issues” as his reasons for not being able to defend it against Chuck Liddell, something shifted.
That something was the fear; Ortiz suddenly looked afraid, and in his absence, the fans found new faces to watch. When he came back to face Randy Couture, “The Natural” was now the man, Ortiz just a spoiled boy who didn’t want to face Liddell.
From there, things got worse for Ortiz. The game evolved, and as time passed fighters realized that the key to defeating Ortiz was a simple one: stuff the takedown.
Well removed from his Hall of Fame induction and retirement, one wonders if Ortiz had come along later in the game, say about now, would he have done as well and reached the same heights?
We know that if you ask Ortiz, he would give a resounding “Yes!” Ortiz has always been his own biggest inspiration and fan, so that is not so shocking anymore.
When you look at the division, the fighters, the high level of competition… it’s honestly very hard to see Ortiz being champion. But that may be in part to not giving the state of today’s game the due it would impose on any up-and-coming fighter.
If a young and hungry Ortiz entered the sport now, he would not be as limited as the Hall of Famer we know today—the sport would simply not allow it. Being just a takedown fighter with a good top game wouldn’t turn as many heads in a gym as it did back at UFC 13.
A young Ortiz entering the sport now would be heavily taxed in all areas of the game and pushed hard by relentless training partners who weren’t cast in supporting roles of “The Tito Ortiz” show.
And I think Ortiz would have benefited from that—greatly.
Truth be told, I think a younger Ortiz in today’s game would have been much better than the Ortiz of yesteryears, who was big enough and good enough to be champion up until he fought someone with no fear of him.
The new Ortiz would have all the fire we remember but would also possess advantages our Ortiz never had, namely that of an incredibly diverse and passionate support group of trainers and sparring partners.
He would have been forced to be incredibly adaptable, sharp in every area, pushed relentlessly to overcome his hesitancy of being knocked out.
They would have seen this hesitancy and trained the fear out of him, allowing him to strike with much more conviction instead of throwing tentatively and always trying to hold something back in defense.
And they would have taken the natural tools he brought with him at UFC 13—size, raw power, ferocity and very good takedowns—and turned him into a much more efficient and diverse version of the man we saw defend the title five times.
And yet, even as great as this new Ortiz would be, it seems unlikely to me that he would have ever captured UFC gold—not while trying to rise through the ranks against men cut from the same cloth as Shogun, Evans, Machida and Jones—men who are either just naturally more athletic and gritty in their heart or are just too damn mean to be intimidated.
Because there is one thing you cannot teach, as they say in the fight game, and that is heart.
Or in other words, you can teach a fighter how to give a beating but not how to take one. Ortiz was, in his heart of hearts, an incredible hammer…but when the going got really tough, his metal was soft for the nail.