Next month, I'll be in Las Vegas, Nevada, sitting in the MGM Grand Arena, anticipating seeing the last UFC fight for Tito Ortiz. Ortiz's contract is up after his light heavyweight battle with former Pride fighter, Lyoto Machida. It is expected that he will leave the UFC for what he believes to be greener pastures.
Though the UFC will probably never historically feature him in the same manner as they will Chuck Liddell and other UFC greats, Tito Ortiz played just as big of a part of the rise of UFC as both Liddell and Randy Couture. Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell, not Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell, in their second fight, drew the biggest ever UFC PPV buy rate. What buy rate record did that break? None other than Ortiz's grudge match with Ken Shamrock in the summer of 2006.
For every hero, there is a foil. Muhammed Ali had to topple George Foreman in order to continue his legacy. Tito Ortiz was that for Chuck Liddell. Though Liddell handled Ortiz fairly easily twice, it was Ortiz's flair and arrogance that made people want to see Liddell beat him up. And they were going to pay for it out of their wallet too.
Ortiz has made Dana White and the Fertita Brothers a lot of money. But in the game of mixed martial arts, there isn't really a lot of loyalty. Randy Couture has had issues with the UFC more than once and today, isn't shown or mentioned on television broadcasts. I don't expect Ortiz to get a big send off. The reason he's leaving has a lot to do with lack of respect, the disdain he has for Dana White, and the fact that the UFC won't pay him what he thinks he's worth. While I'm sure he was bonused well for his big PPV matches, he probably feels like he helped the UFC get to where they are, and they aren't grateful for what he's done.
Unless there's a hot fight on the horizon that gets media coverage like never before seen for the UFC, Ortiz's PPV records will probably not be broken for a while. His legacy will last long in the memories of hardcore fans, no matter if the UFC will want them to or not. He's probably in the top five of most important fighters in the history of the company.
On May 24, 2008, I'll be booing Tito Ortiz like everyone else, but I'll be doing it more so because he's the ultimate heel and because he's good at his job, rather than because I don't like him. It'll be a respectful booing.