We talked to Tito Ortiz about Bellator, fighter unions, and Jon Jones wearing a ‘Dana is my bitch’ shirt

Tito Ortiz is one of those evergreen fighters. Even during his 2-year retirement, he hardly left headlines. Why is that? After speaking with him, you realize at this point in 2014, he may be a better marketer than fighter.

Tito harkens back to the old days, when DIY was the acronym everyone followed as gospel, and Tito devised a roadmap to success that he’s followed for years. While he may be a punchline more often than not with his turns of phrase, or strange antics, you can’t say he’s a man who doesn’t follow his heart… Even when he has absolutely no need to fight as a full-time single father.

Those of you that have read my words over the last half-decade know I love the old days of MMA, so it was a pleasure to have a candid conversation with the legendary Tito Ortiz covering a wide range of subjects, from his humble beginnings to the current state of politics in MMA as a whole. Tito can empathize with Nate Diaz’s removal from the UFC rankings, has no beef with Ken Shamrock, and talks about the haunting of the Dana White boxing match that never came to be. Read it all below.

There’s few eras in MMA I love more than UFC 10-50. So many classic and amazing fighters. Do you have any stories you could share about the old days?Jason
Oh man, well back when I got my career started I fought as an amateur against the pros. I fought at UFC 13 May 1997, that was my first fight ever. I was just a young kid, I wrestled but I was a young kid and impressed by the competition and it looked fun to try. I don’t know if I wanted to take my chances, it wasn’t a sure thing. I was at a wrestling college at the time, and we saw Jerry Bohlander win and we wrestled each other and I dominated him. So I called Tank Abbott and I told him I wanted to fight. He asked if I could handle it? I said, ‘yeah’ then went back to wrestling. I get a call about a week later right before UFC 13. Tank said, “Hey I think I got you a fight.” So I was all like, I’m going to try this. So I competed against Wes Albritton who I wrestled all through college and I beat him in 31-32 seconds. That night I fought once more and I loved it and I loved it. It was a rush. The next thing I know I’m fighting again that night against Guy Mezger for the championship. He caught me with a punch, so I went to take him down and he caught me in a guillotine and I had to tap. I was going out. I didn’t know what it was, it was tight and I couldn’t breathe so I tapped. From there I wanted to know what it was and how to do it. So from that point on it wasn’t just to compete it was to learn. A year-and-a-half later and I’m the champion and I’m dominating for about 3.5 years. It was a hell of an experience.Tito Ortiz
I forgot that you and Tank Abbott were together in the Huntington Beach fight scene. Do you guys still keep in touch?Jason
No not at all. In the time I took off from MMA to go back to college and finish my degree we had a conflict and pretty much just stopped talking to each other completely. Which was tough because I had no camp.

I went to UFC: Brazil and told the matchmaker at the time that I could beat any if the light heavyweights, which back then were called middleweights, and told him I could beat them all. I was cocky, I was brash. I was a young kid who wanted to compete, and so they gave me Jerry Bohlander. I had to rebuild my camp. From there I got Guy Mezger again, a rematch after I beat Bohlander, while he was in the Lion’s Den training with those guys. There was about four of us against the Lion’s Den. That’s when I fought Frank Shamrock for the world title and lost to him. He retired, but then I beat Wanderlei Silva for the title. Then I went on my terror.Tito Ortiz

So that leads into one of my questions with the UFC and your ‘erasing from history.’ Back then, you were called middleweights, so perhaps that’s why some of your wins aren’t called LHW wins? Jason
Technically no. It was light heavyweight. The only reason it was middleweight is because it was the middle weight class. It was the same size as LHW now. In the Guinness Book of World Records it says that at the LHW division I defended 5 consecutive times. They made the light heavyweight division for me! Joe Silva asked me, “Tito, what would be your perfect weight class?” I said 205 pounds. I was the champion at the time, had 1 title defense and they made the weight class 205 because that was the perfect weight for me to make. I was weighing 210, 215 so to make 205 was perfect for me. Before just recently with Jonny Bones leading the weight class, I was always on that list and that I had that many. Right before I retired, it was always acknowledged that I had that many wins. People on Twitter say it’s a middleweight fight… Bullshit! It’s 199.9 weight class. They added five pounds. It’s not like it’s a middleweight, 185 weight class. Tito Ortiz
Fascinating. Looking back on your fight history, what was your favorite win?Jason
Well when I look back on it, it’s hard to pick just one. The wins and the losses made me the man I am today. If I had to pick one it would be beating Wanderlei Silva for the title. That was my dream. I always wanted to be a world champion in something. Wrestling, professional wrestling, MMA. It took me a long time to accomplish it. I think I slept with that title the first year I had it haha. I wouldn’t let it go. My wife at the time got mad, she was sick of it being there. Mentally physically and emotionally was Ryan Bader. That meant the most. I woke up the next morning and had tears in my eyes I was so thankful. I put in the hard work there. With hard work and dedication you can do anything, trust me. I heard so many people asking me if I was going to retire and pretty much giving me no chance to win at all. I was a 6-1 underdog and just asking me what I’m doing next. I said I was going to win. I went through back, neck and knee surgery there. It was a big win against a top 5 guy in the world at the time.Tito Ortiz
I remember that like it was yesterday. On the flipside, what was the most painful loss?Jason
(Without a hesitation) The most painful loss was against Randy Couture for the world title. I’m an emotional guy, I think that’s what makes me real and why the fans love me. After I lost the five-round decision to Randy, I thought the world was over. I remember sitting in the Mandalay Bay shower after the fight just weeping and asking, “why?” I trained so hard for that fight, I did everything right and what I thought was proper but I still lost. I realized it was just a test. It was a test to see what kind of person I was. I overcame it and was still a factor in the light heavyweight division and like I said, it just tested my character. I continued on and maybe I didn’t win the world title but I got world title fights. My name still stayed in UFC, well MMA history and that’s what matters. It never slowed me down, that loss. It made me stronger. At the end of the day this is a business, and what matters is keeping your name reputable and I kept it reputable no matter what. I had a lot of integrity with contract negotiations and such. I wish I would’ve carried myself a little differently, but I really have no regrets. I learned, I stood my ground and I fought for the fighters and where their pay is now. I hope fighters understand, or those that make the million dollar payday now, that it’s because of me standing my ground. I look at that loss to Couture as one that solidified me as a strong-minded man that stood his ground and kept grinding. Kept working, no matter what loss. There was a five-year period of my life where I didn’t have a win through back and neck surgeries… A horrible relationship for 8 years, but I still keep at it and seventeen years later I’m getting more press as a co-main event against another world champion than most of the guys who are the world champions in the competition. Tito Ortiz
What is the one fight that got away from you that you wish you could’ve signed on for?Jason
Man, I’ve fought everyone. Sakuraba. Back in the heyday a match against Sakuraba was supposed to go down and it never did. I’ve fought everyone.Tito Ortiz
What about the Dana White boxing match?Jason
You know, that was something that was going to happen until he realized I was going to have to get cut in on the pay for our match. That was a business move on my part. That’s him being two-faced. We said it was going to be 50-50 until he said, “nope, can’t do that.” What? What do you mean, now that the fight’s here, “nope, can’t do that.” Where’s the money coming from for the fight? He wouldn’t tell me. So I said I’m out. He knew I wasn’t going to fight. So then this was his opportunity to make me look horrible with the media and the fans. He said he already put money into Spike starting to shoot some thing… Look, I said, “do whatever you need to do, just don’t say Tito is a no-show” and that’s exactly what he did. They showed him on his lear jet and how hard he’s training then he says that Tito is a no-show. To my fans, I felt so bad. It was just a tool to crush my name. It’s all a negotiation tactic on his part to smear me. So many people and fans thought he could win. Come on? Seriously? I would crush that guy. It’s crazy what the fans can perceive by what’s shown on TV. Like I said, it’s a business. I would’ve loved to have the match happen but I’m not going to get taken advantage of. I’m not going to let someone make 10-20 million dollars and I make zero. That’s how it stood. That’s all it was. Tito Ortiz
So if Jon Jones wore a t-shirt saying “Dana White is my bitch,” what would happen?Jason
Welcome to the Tito Ortiz section. Which shows that Dana can cut any fighter out of UFC history that he wants. You’ll never see another Tito Ortiz again in MMA. You’ll never see anyone stand their ground. This is America, we should be able to do this. This is what our country is about, we shouldn’t have to deal with this.Tito Ortiz
Jon Jones chose not to fight at UFC 151. He stood his ground there.Jason
That was a different level I think. A completely different level. Tito Ortiz
How do you feel about Ken Shamrock being 50 Cent’s bodyguard?Jason
Everyone’s got to make money. Ken is actually working with a company I’m in business with. That security person who I’ve been working with for a while with here, and he asked me about Ken and I said he’d be great. Ken knows a lot about the business and he’s not a person to be messed with. He knows what’s supposed to be done. I think it’s great for him. It’s a opportunity for him to be recognized.Tito Ortiz
So there’s no bad blood there anymore?Jason
Nah man, it’s all a business man. When it comes to fight time, we don’t like each other, yes. 100%. But I think you get a man in the cage with the wolves and you fight, win or lose at the end of the day you kind of end up being acquaintances. Friends. You share a bond there. No other person in the world would do it. There’s not many people in the world who would do the same thing. To be at the top of our game at that time like we were, there was just the two of us in the world. I respect the guy. I think there is value as human beings between the two of us and what we did together. Tito Ortiz
I didn’t come into this interview thinking I would say this, but you’re a thoughtful guy, Tito.Jason
It comes down to the press that I’ve got because of one person. It shows how much power that one person has to paint a picture that is totally not real. I’m a kind-hearted person who worked hard to get where I am today. I never stepped on anyone to get ahead. I had a bad boy image when I was first coming up, but that was strictly to get into the heads of the guys I was competing against. It’s what Muhammed Ali did to the guys he would fight. He would get their feathers so ruffled that by the time the fight came around, they wouldn’t be concentrating on him and they’d be out of their gameplan. That was my whole goal. I got about 13 wins that way, and I would say the things I did during my career to ruffle the feathers of my opponents. I never said anything about their country or anything, it was just to them. I’m a family man. I have three boys that I have full custody of. I’m a single parent of twin boys and I have an older boy, Jacob, who looks up to me and now UFC is trying to erase me from the record books. I feel bad for my boys and for my fans who look up Tito Ortiz. The fans are who paid the millions of dollars that got the UFC to be a billion dollar company. And so when fans look back and see Ortiz compete and see the records but they can’t… All I care about is my kids and my fans. Tito Ortiz
How do you feel about Nate Diaz being removed from the UFC rankings? Jason
There you go. It shows that he can be erased. It’s crazy. The UFC controls everything. They control the press. I have minimal press for this Bellator fight because the UFC is telling the press, “no.” I tried to train at a UFC Gym yesterday in Mississippi. We’re talking a franchise here. They get a phone call telling them that Tito Ortiz cannot train there. Go figure. That happened yesterday.Tito Ortiz
Why do you feel like you even need to fight in 2014?Jason
It’s fun. I went through a horrible, horrible relationship over the last 8 years, trying to save someone who didn’t want to be saved, and I took horrible press over it. Lots of personal things went down. It’s been almost a year and a month since we’ve been separated. I have full custody of my kids now that she’s gone so now I’m having fun training. It was my passion when we first got together, and then when I retired I had to take care of things at home. I went and got everything straight then realized that my true love is fighting. I have fun in the gym and I love doing it. I get up every morning and take my children to school and then go to the gym and train. It’s great. Even those hard, rigorous days, I just love it. I love to compete. On Saturday I’ll be competing against world champ Alexander Shlemenko. I was supposed to get a warm-up fight, but then hey, want your warm-up fight to be against the world champion? Let’s do it. I’m down for any competitor and I love to compete and want to compete against them. Tito Ortiz
Shlemenko is one of my absolute favorites. But what confuses me, is that at Bellator 88, Shlemenko was wearing Punishment Fight Gear. Your brand. How did this fight come about if you’ve put your clothes on his back? Have you talked to him before this?Jason
No, not at all. His manager, Ken Pavia is a friend of mine that I know through the business, so he asked if I would sponsor his Russian fighters he’s bringing in. I was just trying to help some fellow fighters make some money. Tito Ortiz
Obviously you have the size advantage, and he’s coming up in weight. Do you think that this is going to be classic Tito taking him down or will it go the way of a war?Jason
This is Rocky 4 all over again, but real. It’s going to be a war.Tito Ortiz
But then aren’t you Dolph Lundgren with your size advantage?Jason
No! I’m American man! He’s the Russian. I don’t care about size, he’s got 50 wins. Look at my record and look at his record. I’m Rocky and I’m making the comeback. In my mind that’s what’s set and that’s my goal. I have the right energy for this, and in my mind I’m Rocky no matter what. Size doesn’t really matter to me. In MMA size doesn’t really matter. What the fans can expect Saturday night is a great fight and I’m really excited. I want to fight. Tito Ortiz
What’s with the guy on Craig’s List selling your gear?Jason
Someone lived at my house before. I moved them out because they stopped paying rent, but he stole some personal stuff out of my garage, which I didn’t even know. Later, I get an email from a guy who says he bought a storage locker that had some boxes in it, and in the boxes was my stuff. Like, personal stuff. Pictures of my kids, my UFC contracts. I could care less about gloves, he can have the gloves, but the personal stuff? My children? My contracts? I had boxes of mail that wasn’t opened. He told me, “I think it’s worth $8,000 so you can buy it from me.” Excuse me? That stuff was stolen from my garage. “Oh, well I have a storage unit that had that stuff in it, so you can buy it from me for 8 grand.” No, you’re going to return that to me. That’s pictures of me and my kids and stuff. I emailed him back, then contact was lost. So my attorney is on it now, and I just want my stuff back. What a shitty move for someone to do. Posters? My kids? I just want my pictures of my kids back please? Haha. Tito Ortiz
So, I want to get down to both sides here. Rampage went out and thanked Bjorn Rebney for fixing his knees and how they’re being taken care of like never before to get your health back on track, but what doesn’t make sense and doesn’t add up to me is the fact that UFC has insurance, they provide great doctors to their stars to my knowledge. Jason
No it’s never a question of them getting great doctors. Out of his pocket he took care of my neck surgery. Lorenzo always took care of me and the UFC always took care of us when it came to doctor stuff. They never did not take care of me from surgeries. Well, there was one, my back surgery I took care of myself. They always went out of their way to help. All this really comes down to for me, Couture, Rampage, is contracts. It’s fighters making 2% of what they’re worth when they’re fighting. It’s all it comes down to – contracts. When someone is taking advantage of another, that’s going to happen. We go in there and fight for ten years, and make them 30-40 million dollars, and we make a million? What are we doing that boxers are doing different? Look at Floyd Mayweather. Sure, he’s a world champion, but his opponents are making 5, 6 million dollars on a PPV. Look at Bones Jones. They probably made 40-50 million dollars on his last PPV locally. And by locally I mean United States. That doesn’t count Canada, Brazil, we’re not talking about Mexico or China or Japan. There are other countries that buy that PPV. They may have made $100 million, and Jonny Bones made $2 million? Maybe? What are we doing different that boxers are doing? There has to be a union. There has to be something where it says – you’re getting paid for being a main event, a co-main and everyone gets cut into the piece of the pie. That’s what it all came down to. It’s not about doctors, it’s about not getting cut into the piece of the pie. This is a business as I continue to say, this is not strictly competition. Yes this is competition but it’s a business and we don’t fight for free. You don’t go out there and fight someone just because you want to be a fighter, you want to be the best competitor out there and make a million dollars and make a big payday. You gotta take care of your kids, you have to take care of your family and most of all you need to take care of yourself because the maximum life of a lot of these fighters is five or six years. For some of the better guys, ten years? The greats go longer. I’m lucky. Seventeen years. I take care of myself. But that window is only so big. What are they going to do when they can’t compete anymore? When the young guys come up and bounce them out? Look at Matt Lindland? How many people know who Matt Lindland is right now? At a time, he was one of the best. But he negotiated too high and was thrown to the wolves and were forgotten about. Tito Ortiz
I’ve spoken to fighters about a hypothetical union and many are against it, because then they are paying for people who aren’t drawing ratings or fans to the stadium. It’s an individual sport, after all.Jason
If a union went down, the most recognizable would get the most money, but it would incentivize those guys to go out and do the PR, and do what it takes to get big. You know how hard it is for fighters to get on the phone with the press to do an interview. I hear guys complain all of the time about the press. My whole goal was to be a household name. I was the first fighter to go to Iraq for the USO shows, and doing mainstream stuff. Cradle 2 the Grave. The Apprentice. I knew how to build my brand. My fans are my customers, and I need to do the stuff that they want to hear and see. I think that’s what it comes down to.Tito Ortiz

Find me @titoortiz on Twitter

Published on May 14, 2014 at 10:17 pm
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