What I Think about Tito Ortiz

I doubt that most of my readers know the Huntington Beach Bad Boy, but Tito Ortiz is one of the greatest athletes in modern combat sports. Ever since his debut in UFC 13 back in 1997, Tito has been one of the leading middle and light heavyweight fighters in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. His ground & pound style in the UFC Octagon made him the terror of virtually everyone he fought in both weight classes. For a look at the fight style that made Tito famous, see this great Youtube video.

Many sources claim that Tito came from a rough background. Turning to wrestling, he discovered he was an extremely talented athlete who went on to twice win the the California State wrestling championships. In 1997, he entered UFC 13, fighting his way to the finals where he finally lost to World Kickboxing Champion Guy Metzer. Tito’s career is now in the slumps, but along the way he has fought the very best fighters the UFC has to offer. In fact until 2003, Tito had only lost twice in the Octagon, including his fight against Metzer. But in 2003, Tito was literally whipped into defeat by former All-American wrestling champion Randy Couture and then the following year by the Iceman Chuck Liddell. While Tito has won many times since then, including wins against top fighters like Victor Belfort, he was TKO’d again by the Iceman in 2006.

Since then, he has been repeatedly called a bum. Any of the Internet forums that feature MMA discussions of videos of Tito’s fights are sure to be full of comments that call him a sissy, a weakling, or worse. Sure I know…lots of top fighters loose their sting after a couple of defeats and get called names, but I can’t help feeling that this kicking of Tito when he’s down is different. It’s almost as if a pack of hyenas has been waiting for years for that moment when he would be down and weak enough for them to pounce. But in fact, that’s exactly what has happened and Tito has even invited it.

Combat sports has gone through several transformations. What see today watching the UFC is nothing like the fights of the original Ultimate Fighting Championships. Early fights were billed as martial art style verse style and featured classically trained competitors from various arts in a fight whose purpose was ostensibly to see which was the best. Very quickly, these events were dominated by two names – Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock.

But looking back on all of this, Gracie and Shamrock were not the Titans we thought of them at the time. While Royce Gracie easily dispatched boxer Art Jimmerson or kung fu master Jason DeLucia in the early UFCs, he has had a lot more trouble dealing with the giants of contemporary MMA (Youtube is probably going to delete this video any day now, so check here for a write up of the Royce Gracie/Matt Hughes fight from UFC 60). It might be more accurate to say Gracie and Shamrock were not better athletes but only that they brought a far better technology of fighting to the cage. Times have caught up with them, this technology is widespread, and now that everyone in the cage is fighting in the same tradition, they are no longer even contenders.

But what I’m saying is hardly surprising. This is true in virtually every sport. And while there are fans who harken back to the great old days, the facts are that athletes today, backed by billions of dollars and decades of medical science, are almost super human. The UFC is no different.

But who cares if some old competitors way of living in their glory days is to bad mouth the new business-oriented style of scientific athletes? Who cares? Tito Ortiz cares. Everyone knows that Shamrock is an old man and rather than set up a state-of-the-art camp where he trains with world class fighters, he trains with the same group of guys he has always trained with. But he built the sport and even if he is a little bit unbearable at times, he deserves to be treated with respect as a pioneer. But that’s not how Tito sees it and not what he says in public; you can read the transcript of some of their very public arguments here. But really the Internet as it pertains to MMA is full of their bickering and name calling (see here and here).

It’s been this that’s lead to a whole series of fights between the two men (also see here). Really, they’ve been pretty one sided. Shamrock is 10 years older than Tito and at that level of competition, 10 years is a long time. A friend of mine who was in the audience at Vendetta UFC 40 said that the beating that shamrock took was terrible to watch – and my friend is a professional fighter. Vendetta was the first of three fights the two have had and the only only to last longer than one round. It’s pretty safe to say that Shamrock is not a better fighter, at least anymore.

But that’s not the point, and Tito should know this. Shamrock was a pioneer and deserves respect for that. And if you’re not going to give it to him, you’d better make sure that you’re the better fighter up until the day you die. Since that’s a ridiculous prospect, it’s a life strategy that’s predestined to lead to public humiliation. Sure Tito lead the sport for a long time, but not any longer than Ken Shamrock, whose good looks and personality were just as instrumental in making MMA the sport of million dollar paydays that it is today. And if Tito wants to pretend that the only kind of respect one deserves is the kind that you can beat out of your opponents, then you have to realize that respect only lasts as long as you can win it.

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