Tito Ortiz isn't going to give up on the contract he signed with Bellator MMA over seven months ago.
Originally booked to fight Quinton "Rampage" Jackson on Bellator MMA's inaugural pay-per-view, Ortiz suffered a neck injury in October that forced him from the fight card. As a result, Bellator MMA scrapped the pay-per-view and moved Jackson to a later event on Spike TV.
With Ortiz's injuries piling up, many felt it would be the end of a memorable career in MMA. However, the 39-year-old recently told MMAWeekly.com and Knockout Radio that he is ready to return to fighting.
“Everything is good," Ortiz said. "I’m about my ninth week in training. I’m kind of on hold right now, waiting for Bellator to set me up with a match. I thought I’d be on this pay-per-view that’s coming up, but they wanted to wait.”
Although Ortiz hasn't competed since a July 2012 loss to Forrest Griffin, he's a former UFC champion and could be a draw for Bellator MMA, a promotion looking to become serious competition for the world's top MMA organization.
With only one win in his past nine fights, what keeps Ortiz coming back, though?
“After my last loss to Forrest Griffin," Ortiz explained, "it left a bad taste in my mouth. No one wants to retire off a loss.”
Having had so little success recently, the Huntington Beach Bad Boy might have to take a big step down in competition to pick up that victory he's seeking. While a bout between Ortiz and Jackson is one of the biggest fights Bellator MMA could put together with its current roster, it doesn't look like it will be rebooked any time soon.
Jackson is set to fight Muhammed Lawal in a light heavyweight tournament final on what is now set to be Bellator MMA's first pay-per-view. Should Jackson beat Lawal, he'll be lined up for a title shot against Emanuel Newton. If Rampage goes on to become champion, Ortiz would have to fight his way through a 205-pound tournament to get a shot at him under Bellator MMA's current structure, and that is something his body may not allow him to do.
Even in the event Jackson loses to Lawal in May, though, he no longer appears interested in a bout with Ortiz.
“I’m not interested in fighting Tito anymore,” Jackson told MMAJunkie.com in November. “No interest. There’s a couple reasons why, but I’m not interested. I’m over it.”
That leaves Bellator MMA with few realistic options for Ortiz's next matchup. Matching him up with an unknown opponent would be wasting his ability to draw fans to the promotion, so Bellator MMA will have to bring a new light heavyweight in or pair Ortiz with one of its few notable 205-pounders.
Former Bellator MMA champion Attila Vegh might be the most talented option, but he's not a competitor many non-Bellator MMA fans would recognize without some research. A fight between Lawal and Ortiz would demand attention, but Lawal could spoil that matchup with a win in his upcoming bout with Jackson.
Remaining options include Joey Beltran and Vladimir Matyushenko. Those UFC veterans just happen to be scheduled to meet in April. The winner of that fight would probably be the best choice as an opponent for Ortiz, who can't be thrown to the wolves after such a long hiatus.
It also creates the possibility of a rematch between Ortiz and Matyushenko. The two met in a UFC title fight at UFC 33, where Ortiz walked away with a decision victory. Somebody somewhere might be interested in seeing the veterans go at it again.
That is the Ortiz dilemma. His skills have clearly diminished at this stage, and injuries aren't going to allow him to make a serious run at a Bellator MMA championship. So the promotion will need to grasp at any storyline it can find to keep fans interested in Ortiz, who is one of its biggest stars.