Last July, I took a third-row seat at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.
I was at the UFC Fan Expo, now held annually as part of International Fight Week in Las Vegas. It's an opportunity for fans to meet their favorite fighters and for MMA-centric exhibitors to hawk their wares to the more-than-20,000 fans who make the pilgrimage for one of the UFC's biggest weekends of the year. I've been to nearly every Fan Expo, and as such they're all a blur for me. But the highlight of that weekend, as with every other Fan Expo, was the Hall of Fame induction of Tito Ortiz.
Say what you will about the UFC Hall of Fame. It's not a true Hall of Fame, if we're going by the same kind of metrics used to determine placement in the Halls of other sports. It's more like a letter of thanks from the UFC, given out to those fighters who have made important contributions to the company. In any other sport, Stephan Bonnar wouldn't merit consideration for enshrinement in a Hall of Fame; in the UFC, he goes in because he had that one important fight with Forrest Griffin.
Back to Ortiz. I sat in that audience and listened to Ortiz speak that day, and I was happy for him. He was retiring after the Griffin fight, win or lose, and he'd done a lot, both for the sport and for the UFC. Unlike Bonnar, he deserved the spotlight. And as he spoke that day, I couldn't help but feel a surge of respect for the man.
"I put my heart, soul and body into this sport," he said. "I've had ACL surgery, back surgery, neck surgery, a meniscus tear. When people ask me, 'Why you retiring?' I'm retiring because it's time."
That was well over a year ago. If you're an MMA fan, you know that Ortiz lost to Griffin, retired, and then reneged on that retirement to sign with Bellator. For some reason, he nonsensically rekindled a feud with Dana White. He told the fans that White and the UFC didn't care about its fighters, despite White paying for Ortiz's medical bills and making him a very rich man over the years. He accepted a fight against Rampage Jackson, another member of the anti-UFC club.
And then, like a broken record, Ortiz was injured and forced to pull out of the fight, forcing the first-ever Bellator pay-per-view to suddenly became another free televised card.
I am not making light of Ortiz's injury. He's had numerous neck problems over the years, and it can't be easy to put hundreds of hours into training for a fight that ultimately didn't happen. Yes, he lost a significant amount of money by pulling out of the fight. But in the end, nothing is more important than his well-being.
Which is why I'm pleading for Ortiz to stop the talk of a comeback when he's healthy. I'm begging for him to take this injury as a sign that his body—the one that helped turn him into a pioneer in this sport—can no longer withstand the rigors of an extended training camp.
When Ortiz finished his Hall of Fame speech, he received a long standing ovation from the fans. It was emotional, and it was well-deserved. But everything that's happened since that day has only served to blemish his standing in the sport. He doesn't need to come back; Bellator will be just fine without him. He doesn't need to fight Rampage Jackson, a bout that would likely see him fall to 1-8-1 since 2006.
Ortiz needs to stay home. If he wants to manage fighters and stay involved in the business of mixed martial arts, fine. I support that idea. He's been around the block a few dozen times, and if he can figure out how to properly communicate the ideas in his head, he could be an asset.
But he doesn't need to step in the cage again.