Tito Ortiz: 15 Definitive Years Of "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy"
On Saturday, hours before his final Octagon appearance, an emotional Ortiz was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame alongside Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Matt Hughes and Ken Shamrock. The honor would stand as one of the many crowning moments of his 15-year career.
At just 22-year-old, a Golden West College wrestling standout named Jacob "Tito" Ortiz would make his mixed martial arts debut at UFC 13 on May 30 of 1997. Ortiz would compete twice that night in the UFC 13 tournament, scoring a 31-second technical knockout victory over Wes Albritton before suffering a submission defeat at the hands of Guy Mezger just one hour later.
After nearly a year away from the sport, Ortiz made his return under the No Holds Barred banner at NHB 1 — his lone fight outside of the UFC — stopping Jeremy Screeton with strikes in just 16 seconds.
With just over three minutes of competition time under his belt, "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" returned to the Octagon, stopping Jerry Bohlander and avenging his earlier loss to Mezger at UFC 18 and 19 respectively.
Months before his 24th birthday, Ortiz would face Frank Shamrock for the vacant UFC light heavyweight title — then called the middleweight division. Although Ortiz was forced to submit due to elbow strikes from his opponent in the fourth round, the fight would stand as a coming out party for both fighters in arguably one of the best fights in the promotion's history.
Shamrock would later go on to retire and vacate the champion, leaving Ortiz to face fellow legend Wanderlei Silva for the vacant light heavyweight title at UFC 25. In a period often dubbed "the dark ages" (between UFC 23 and UFC 29) where events were no longer released on home video, Ortiz earned a unanimous decision over "The Axe Murderer" to capture his first light heavyweight championship.
Five consecutive title defenses would soon follow, with stoppage victories over Yuki Kondo, Evan Tanner, Elvis Sinosic, Vladimir Matyushenko and Ken Shamrock.
None would be as important, however, as his legendary feud with Shamrock.
The feud would begin at UFC 18 after Ortiz's win over Lion's Den product Jerry Bohlander, where Ortiz motioned a pair of smoking guns with his hands in the direction of Shamrock and his team. The bad blood would boil over at UFC 19 when Ortiz flipped off the camp once again after defeating Guy Mezger, later sported a victory shirt that read "Gay Mezger is my Bitch".
After nearly four years, the pair would finally meet at 2002's UFC 40. Shamrock would make his mixed martial arts return for the first time in years after competing as a professional wrestler under the WWF banner, while a young Ortiz was riding a five-fight win streak and would look to defend his light heavyweight title a fifth consecutive time.
Weighing just 201-pounds coming into the bout, a much smaller Shamrock could find no answer for his younger opponent and his corner would eventually throw in the towel at the completion of the third round. When the smoke had cleared and the dust settled, the three-round encounter would go down as the UFC's first "mega-fight".
In his sixth title defense, Ortiz would go on to face a then-38-year-old Randy Couture at UFC 44 nearly one-year later. His title run would come to an end after being dominated by "The Natural" for three rounds en route to a unanimous decision.
Ortiz's next hurdle would come in the form of former training partner Chuck Liddell who was coming off a technical knockout loss to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson months earlier under the PRIDE Fighting Championships banner. Despite the loss, a rising Liddell brought an impressive 13-3 record to the match, with wins over Jeff Monson, Kevin Randleman, Guy Mezger, Vitor Belfort, Alistair Overeem and Renato Sobral.
A bitter Ortiz would claim that he and Liddell had made a pact to never fight, having been former training partners, with Liddell denying said pact had been made, and that he would fight "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" at any time. The pair would finally get their chance at 2004's UFC 47.
After a feeling out process through much of the first round, Liddell would come back in the second and score a vicious technical knockout over his opponent just 38-seconds into the frame.
Ortiz's return would come at UFC 50 six months later where he earned a unanimous decision nod of Patrick Cote, following the performance with four more victories over Vitor Belfort, Forrest Griffin and Ken Shamrock twice.
His split decision nod over Griffin would spawn the beginning of a memorable trilogy, but it was his back-to-back stoppage wins over Shamrock that would highlight his 2006. With each fight seemingly growing uglier for the aging Shamrock, Ortiz would stop his longtime foe in the first round both times with a barrage of vicious strikes, concluding the feud with a score of 3-0.
A second meeting with Liddell would culminate at 2006's UFC 66, and while the fight would last a bit longer, Liddell would once again walk away with the technical knockout victory, this time in the third round. The fight would arguably signal the beginning of the end for the careers of both fighters, with Liddell going 1-5 in his next six fights and Ortiz posting a 1-7-1 record in the years to come.
A draw with a then-relatively-unknown Rashad Evans would follow at UFC 73, proceeded by three-straight losses to Lyoto Machida, Forrest Griffin and Matt Hamill over the next three years. 2011's UFC 132 would mark a pivotal time in Ortiz's career as UFC President Dana White publicly called for the fighter's retirement in the event of another loss. Having not tasted victory since 2006, Ortiz would upset world-ranked light heavyweight Ryan Bader with a first-round guillotine choke to snap a three-fight losing skid.
Between 2003 and 2007, a longstanding feud with UFC president Dana White would escalate to the point of Ortiz leaving the promotion. Both parties even agreed to compete in a charity boxing event (which never came to fruition), and Ortiz had been rumored to be on the brink of signing with now-defunct promotions Affliction and EliteXC. Despite the war of words between both camps, Ortiz and White would come full circle during the final years of the former champion's career.
“Everyone knows the story of me and Tito and all the things that went on between us," White would state prior to Ortiz's final bout. "A lot of it wasn’t fun at the time, but all that controversy and craziness is now part of the story of the UFC, and there’s no question that in his prime he was a huge star and one of the greats of his era.
Near the end of his 15-year career, a reflective Ortiz told the media members during a UFC 133 conference call that he had competed at UFC 13 for free in order to maintain his college wrestling scholarship. Years later, at 37-years-old, Ortiz is worth an estimated 14-million dollars and would make a disclosed payday of $250,000 in his final fight with Griffin. In addition to his storied career, the UFC Hall of Famer launched a successful apparel line in 1999 called Punishment Athletics which annually grosses a reported three-million dollars a year and has helped sponsor such notable fighters as "Rampage" Jackson and Dan Hardy.
Ortiz left the Octagon for the last time last Saturday with a record 27 Octagon appearances under his belt, five successful UFC light heavyweight title defenses, a UFC Hall of Fame induction and the respect of millions of lifelong fans worldwide. After putting his body on the line for 15 years in the some of the most entertaining matches and feuds and helping carry the sport through the "dark ages", it's time we collectively pay "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" his earned dues: Thank you, Tito.