Not all fighters are created equal. Not in skill, ability, potential and most of all, personality. Not all fighters possess all these components, but there is one fighter who at one point or another has exemplified all those qualities at various points in his career.
It is easy to both root for and criticize a man like Tito Ortiz. His appeal, or lack thereof, can be polarizing for fight fans who have watched his storybook career unfold before their very eyes. Ortiz has grown up inside the Octagon, or maybe not depending on who you ask, but there is no doubt that the words "Ultimate Fighting Championships" and "Tito Ortiz" have walked hand in hand for a very long time.
As Tito made his rise to power, the UFC was undergoing a transformation that would see both the man and the organization reach the summit of a mountain many never believed imaginable. Simply put, Tito and the UFC were made for one another. But while the UFC took flight from the peak, Ortiz slid down the slope of the other side.
From Guy Mezger and Dana White being "his bitch" on custom T-shirts, to Tito's devastating style of fighting that captivated audiences, to assault allegations by the mother of his children, the good, the bad and the ugly have left a one-of-a-kind history for the future of MMA to look back and reflect on.
Love him or hate him, loathe him or respect him, one thing is certain beyond a doubt: Tito Ortiz is one of the pioneering talents who played a vital role in both branding himself and this sport. Before Tito, the idea that a fighter could create his own empire through more than just his talent was unheard of. Many fighters today emulate a formula born with Ortiz, whether they realize it or not.
Without him and his contributions, MMA simply would not be the same. For better or worse, the fans and history will decide, but his influence is undeniable just the same.
With all that being said, this historically significant career that was forged in the UFC light heavyweight division has receded from an unstoppable forest fire to the flare of a match head.
Injuries combined with performances that simply did not reflect the dominance fans and critics alike had grown to expect have drawn Tito from the superstar he was to become a fighter clinging to relevancy. And in his most recent performance, relevance was not the only thing he was fighting for. In actuality, the future of his career was very much on the line.
The fall of Tito Ortiz has been well documented. His last dominant performance was a duo of punishing beat downs over a more-than-aged Ken Shamrock. That was almost five years ago. Since then he has lost four fights and had one draw. The man had found a low to equal the heights he had once ascended to.
When Ortiz was matched up with rising star Ryan Bader, and the hint was given by UFC brass that a loss could signal the end of his run in the sport. The smart money was on Ortiz going the way of Liddell and Couture: another great who has faded from an unstoppable force to a benchmark on the time line of MMA.
As is often the case in this sport, odds are only as good as the luck of the gambler who plays them. At UFC 132, something amazing happened that shocked everyone in the fight community not named Tito Ortiz.
When he and Ryan Bader met in the center of the Octagon, what the odds said would happen just simply didn't happen. Bader, a man who is considered by many to be a long-term force in the division, just did not appear to be himself. On the other hand, Ortiz channeled a fighter most fight fans had not seen for half a decade.
In less than two minutes Ortiz was able to hand Ryan Bader the second loss of his promising young career. The only other man to beat him is current UFC light heavyweight champion, and a man many consider the future of MMA, Jon Jones.
Looking at the two losses on the right side of Bader's career, the two men to beat him display quite a contrast to one another. One represents the past, the other the future. Yet both found their mojo here today against one of the sports top stars in this division.
So who is this Tito Ortiz we are seeing today? Who is this man who beat Ryan Bader so easily? Is this the same man we have known for years, only healthier and perhaps hungrier than ever? Or is he a shell of what he once was, having found that one opening to remain relevant for just one more fight?
That one more fight is coming and it will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt who this Ortiz is. It is coming against another former light heavyweight champion, and an old friend in Rashad Evans. Evans and Ortiz met once before and fought to a draw in a fight that saw Ortiz lose a point for grabbing the fence.
Many people felt Ortiz would lose to Bader; many people feel he will lose to Rashad. But his last fight with Rashad might deserve a closer look when analyzing his place in today's UFC light heavyweight division.
Tito won that fight with Rashad. Tito knows it, Rashad knows it and the fight community knows it. A point deduction is a very real issue and it was not handed out recklessly. But to look past that deduction tells a fight fan Tito beat Rashad when he was making a strong run at the UFC title.
Then, with a more analytical approach to the four losses he has suffered in almost five years, an analyst may take note of a three-round TKO loss to one of the most dangerous fighters ever to roam the division, Chuck Liddell. Then a decision loss to a man who would go on to win the title, Lyoto Machida. A split decision loss to another former champ Forrest Griffin, and a decision loss to Matt Hamill.
Chuck Liddell was the last man to beat the brakes off of Ortiz and since then he has fought through adversity and injury to hold his own with some top names in the sport. He may not have won but nobody walked through him either.
While a loss is a loss, the man has proved he can still hang, even if he can't win, at the highest levels of the sport. And quite recently, he has even proved he can damn sure get the job done against one of the division's most promising stars.
When you look at it like that, without a self-righteous, biased opinion to qualify your own perceptions, it is not surprising at all to see Tito in the position he is in. That position is quite possibly one or two wins removed from competing for that which defined Ortiz's greatness: a UFC light heavyweight strap.
It may not be pretty, it may not be easy, but not everyone will have the charmed rise to the top that Jon Jones has had. If hindsight is 20-20, then it tells us that if Tito is going to make one more run at it, it's going to be grueling, it's going to be nasty and it's going to be ugly. It is hard to imagine him wanting it any other way.
UFC 133 will answer a lot of questions that were raised when Tito dug a grave in the center of the Octagon for Ryan Bader. To hear him tell it, he has more than one answer to silence his critics and Rashad Evans alike.
One way or the other, "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" is back, be it for a glimpse of who he was or for a new chapter in his career, time will tell. Either way, it's time to turn the page and see what the future holds.
This article originally featured at Hurtsbad MMA.
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