Story by Anthony Springer Jr.
One of the saddest sights in all of sports—combat sports, especially—is watching an athlete go out well past his prime. You know the guys who hold on a bit too long and end up being helped out of the ring or cage. Sure, they still get the standing ovation and genuine thanks from the fans, but that final goodbye speech is nearly as painful to watch as the beating that was doled out by their opponent in the moments prior.
After more than a decade of service and injuries that the average athlete wouldn’t come back from, “The People’s Champ” Tito Ortiz will go out on his own terms at UFC 148. Win or lose, Ortiz (16-10-1) will be remembered for a guy that did things his way. He’s picked his final opponent, a trilogy fight with the original Ultimate Fighter winner Forrest Griffin. And just hours before he walks out to the Octagon for the final time, the Team Punishment head will be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.
Going through the motions of his final fight week as a fighter, Ortiz looked at piece. Clad in a three piece gray suit, he took the stage at his final pre-fight press conference and showed he hadn’t lost a step. “The People’s Champ” was his usual self, putting tons of emotion answering every question thrown his way. Ortiz may not be the first rags to riches story in the fight game, but in MMA, he tells his story the best.
His greatest accomplishment, he says, was becoming a world champion. Not because he wasn’t supposed to succeed in MMA, but because he wasn’t supposed to succeed in life.
“[I was a] young, punk kid who was on the street around gangs, parents were drug addicts,” said Ortiz. “I wasn’t supposed to be special in life. I worked hard and became the world champion. I look back on my career and that means more than anything. I was able to accomplish something that I wasn’t supposed to do.”
While pundits and fans have been spent the majority of the week analyzing Ortiz and his contributions to the sport, he’s not entirely ready to reminisce himself. After all, there’s still the matter of the actual fight on Saturday. “I’ve just been training. I want to fight. Go out and do what I usually do. The hall of fame is something I’m thankful for. It just shows that all my hard work does pay off. The most important thing right now is getting in the cage and fighting to the capacity I know I can.”
There are few certainties in the fight game, which is one reason Ortiz will not take a victory lap—even as is concerns his historic career—until after the final bell.
“I have fifteen minutes to go one hundred percent,” he continued. “I’m not worried about the hall of fame. That’s a given. What’s not guaranteed is me getting my hand raised. I’m focused on positive reinforcement, and that’s getting my hand raised.”
Ortiz quickly and emphatically smacked down any idea that he’ll be returning to the cage after this contest. He ran through the gamut of injuries and surgeries he’s had in his career– neck surgery, back surgery, knee surgery—and noted that most fighters would’ve called it a career. He did, however, assure everyone that the former “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” will still be around the sport, saying he’d like to stay on with the UFC, but was also offered a job with ESPN.
And while he’ll miss the bright lights of the walkout, that whole training thing, he won’t miss that at all.
“People don’t understand how tough training is…it’s a full time job. What we get paid for is to train. We fight for free.”
. . . .
Coming up next: UFC® 148: SILVA vs. SONNEN 2 will be available live on Pay-Per-View at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on UFC.TV, iN DEMAND, DirecTV, DISH Network, Avail-TVN, and in Canada on BellTV, Shaw Communications, Sasktel, and Viewer’s Choice Canada for a suggested retail price of $44.99 US/$49.99 CAN for Standard Definition and $54.99 US/$59.99 CAN for High Definition. For more on the UFC or UFC 148 visit www.UFC.com