By BOB EMANUEL JR. | Scripps Howard News Service
When Tito Ortiz steps into the Octagon for what likely will be his last fight July 7, he will do so with a sense of closure. Before his fight with Forrest Griffin that night at UFC 148, Ortiz is scheduled to become the ninth person inducted into the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s Hall of Fame.
“Being inducted into the Hall of Fame, I’m very grateful to (UFC president) Dana (White) and (UFC owner) Lorenzo Fertitta for presenting this to me,” said Ortiz, 37. “I think it’s just a qualification, just showing the hard work and dedication I put into MMA and the UFC, that I’ve grown and become the person I am today, and I’m thankful for it.”
Ortiz, one of the first breakout stars of the UFC when current owner Zuffa LLC purchased the company more than a decade ago, experienced both the highs and lows as a professional athlete.
Ortiz took part in a public war of words with White, which was scheduled to culminate in a three-round boxing exhibition. The match never materialized, but the sentiment behind the battle over money lingered for many years. The duo reconciled, and Ortiz resumed his place as one of the fan favorites in the promotion.
“Tito’s been a pain in my (butt), but a big star for the UFC,” White said. “He was really, if you look at the Zuffa era, our first big star. If you look at all the stuff between me and Tito throughout our career, it was one of those things where you couldn’t write a better script the way that it all played out and the way it all went down. We had some big battles with each other, but it was all part of the history of the UFC.”
Ortiz, who made his professional debut at UFC 13 in 1997, enjoyed early success in the promotion. He won the UFC light heavyweight championship in 2000 and successfully defended the belt five times before he lost it to Randy Couture in 2003.
A subsequent loss to Chuck Liddell dropped Ortiz from title contention, but he notched five consecutive victories to earn a shot at the title, then held by Liddell, in 2006. Liddell again emerged victorious, and Ortiz’s career became besieged by injuries and disappointments.
Ortiz, who was born in Santa Ana, Calif., and competes out of nearby Huntington Beach, underwent a lower-back fusion in 2008 to repair damage he sustained earlier in his career. Two years later, Ortiz underwent a second procedure to repair damage to his cervical spine.
The injuries coincided with a five-fight winless streak for Ortiz that began with the second loss to Liddell in 2006. He finally rebounded after his neck surgery to defeat Ryan Bader a year ago. Since then, he lost his last two fights — to Rashad Evans and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
On July 7, Ortiz will cap his career with his third bout against Griffin. The two split their previous meetings, with Ortiz winning in 2006 and Griffin in 2009.
“I think it’s just preparation, preparing for the fight of your life,” said Ortiz, whose fight record stands at 16-10-1. “I’ve been waiting 15 years for this, for 15 minutes. Only 15 minutes of my life that I have to give. Over the last eight weeks, I’ve been giving that 15 minutes three hours, four hours, five hours a day, six days a week, preparing for this fight.
“I know who Forrest is. I know how he fights. I know how he likes to fight. I’m trying to absorb as much as I possibly can for the next week that I’ve been doing over the last eight weeks of continuing with this winning mentality.”
Ortiz would like nothing more than to exit the UFC much like he entered — with a victory.
“This fight means the world to me,” Ortiz said. “It’ll show on July 7 how much it means to me. I’m not coming in playing around. I’m not coming in talking no smack. I’m coming in to fight. I know Forrest is ready. I’m ready. So let’s fight.”
UFC HALL OF FAME
Tito Ortiz will become the ninth member of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s Hall of Fame when he is inducted July 7. Below are the inductees, along with the date and event of their induction.
Royce Gracie (Nov. 21, 2003, UFC 45)
Ken Shamrock (Nov. 21, 2003, UFC 45)
Dan Severn (April 16, 2005, UFC 52)
Randy Couture (June 24, 2006, The Ultimate Fighter 3 Finale)
Mark Coleman (March 1, 2008, UFC 82)
Chuck Liddell (July 10, 2009, UFC 100)
Charles Lewis Jr. (July 10, 2009, UFC 100)
Matt Hughes (May 29, 2010, UFC 114)
Tito Ortiz (July 8, 2012, UFC 148)