UFC 140's Tito Ortiz: A Champion, Legend and Future Hall of Famer
Little did the fans watching UFC 13 on May 30, 1997 know they were witnessing the beginning of a legendary career.
Ortiz went on to collect three additional victories, which earned him the opportunity for championship gold by facing Wanderlei Silva, who had twice as many fights as Ortiz did at the time.
Five grueling rounds later at UFC 25: Ultimate Japan 3 in April 2000, Ortiz became the UFC light heavyweight champion, and a star was born.
The outspoken and confident Ortiz went on to defeat Yuki Kondo, Evan Tanner, Elvis Sinosic and Vladimir Matyushenko. Three of those bouts ended in the opening round, courtesy of Ortiz' vicious ground-and-pound.
A five-fight win streak led him to UFC 40, where he faced Ken Shamrock in one of Ortiz' most highly-anticipated fights of the year.
Three years prior, Ortiz defeated Shamrock's teammate Guy Mezger at UFC 19 by technical knockout in the first round. Shamrock wasn't pleased with Ortiz' victory or post-fight celebration, and the rivalry was born.
However, on November 22 inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on an card that featured Hall of Famers Matt Hughes and Chuck Liddell, Shamrock had little to offer Ortiz in terms of punishment for the actions the elder Shamrock felt were inappropriate.
For 15 minutes, Ortiz battered his foe with heavy strikes both standing and on the mat. It was Ortiz who dished out the punishment, and after three rounds of being on the receiving end of a one-sided beatdown, Shamrock's corner called a stop to the action.
Ortiz' career was in full swing, and he was the most polarizing athlete in the sport by 2002.
Next came the unexpected with back-to-back losses to Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell, but Ortiz pulled himself together like champions do and won five consecutive fights.
He defeated former champions Vitor Belfort, Forrest Griffin, Patrick Cote and Ken Shamrock two additional times by first-round technical knockout.
Whether they loved him or hated him due to his pre-fight hype, fans loved to see Ortiz compete, and "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" delivered once he stepped inside the Octagon.
After a career full of positives filled with championship fights, Ortiz fell on hard times and didn't collect another victory for five fights.
He lost to bitter rival Chuck Liddell, fought to a draw with Rashad Evans and lost on the judge's scorecards to Forrest Griffin and Lyoto Machida.
With the exception of his loss to Liddell, Ortiz' losses to the three aforementioned men were close contests.
However, it was a loss at UFC 121 to Matt Hamill that saw Ortiz at his worst. Sure, he was still "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy," but he appeared to have lost his swagger and needed a positive team behind him.
A variety of severe injuries and surgeries to his knees, back and neck forced Ortiz to compete at far less than 100 percent for the later stages in his career.
That loss to Hamill was arguably the most important fight of his career as he formed a new team around him that would install the confidence fans and media alike came to know.
He was no longer the outspoken Ortiz who got into the head of his opponents for years, he returned as a confident light heavyweight that wasn't ready to call it quits.
At UFC 132 on July 2 of this year, Ortiz faced heavy favorite Ryan Bader, who oddsmakers considered a shoe-in to defeat Ortiz and send him into retirement.
However, with coaches Jason Parillo, Michael Giovanni Rivera and Ricardo Abreu in his corner, Ortiz had plans of his own.
At the 3:19 mark in Round 1, Ortiz landed a flush right hand that sent Bader crumbling to the canvas, and after a series of strikes from top position, Ortiz quickly transitioned to a guillotine choke and Bader was forced to submit.
Months of hard work with his new coaches and training partners paid off in one minute and 56 seconds with his dominant victory over Bader.
Competing at full health with a great team behind him, Ortiz decided to accept a short-notice fight with Rashad Evans in a rematch at UFC 133 four weeks later.
While he was unsuccessful in defeating Evans, Ortiz proved that he has the heart of a champion, an attribute no fighter can take away from a man.
Four months removed from his fight this past August, Ortiz is slated to face Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 140 live on pay-per-view this Saturday night in Toronto.
Ortiz has continued training under the tutelage of Parillo, Rivera and Abreu in preparation for his return, and there's no doubt he wants to close out the 2011 campaign in the win column.
Win, lose or draw, if it holds true that Ortiz is considering calling it a career on May 30, 2012 as he told Neil Davidson of The Canadian Press at yesterday's UFC 140 open workouts, he'll go down in the record books as a pioneer and legend of the sport.
Only time will tell what the future holds for "The People's Champ," but one thing is certain, Ortiz' place in the UFC Hall of Fame should be unquestioned.
Tune in Saturday night for Ortiz' televised main card bout against Nogueira live on pay-per-view at 9:00 pm EST. For additional information on UFC on Fox II, follow Joshua Carey on Twitter.
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