Bellator light heavyweight title contender Tito Ortiz wasn’t necessarily displeased with the UFC when he decided to retire from the sport in 2012.
The former 205-pound champion accepted a rematch with TUF legend Forrest Griffin under the impression that this fight would be his last. Despite not being victorious in what, at the time, was his final bout, Ortiz was scheduled to walk away from the sport that afforded him all of the luxuries life could offer an MMA star of his era.
He’d lost seven times in his previous 10 bouts between 2006-12. By all means, it was time to go.
But, as is true with many of the sport’s biggest stars, walking away at the right time doesn’t come easy.
Two years into sipping iced teas and knocking off items on his bucket list, Ortiz staged a comeback into the world of competitive MMA. But for the first time in 16 years, the leather on his gloves wouldn’t have those iconic three letters printed upon them.
Three years after leaving the UFC and Ortiz is back in line for a chance at a world title. Bellator champion or not, people certainly won’t mistake him as a suitable match-up for Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier or any of the other top light heavyweights in the UFC. Not anymore. Not at 40 years old.
But you can probably bet that the moniker, the idea of being the absolute best 205-pound fighter on the planet doesn’t matter. Because, having notched a 2-0 record since becoming one of the premier draws in Bellator, Ortiz is contracted by a company he respects. A company that, he says, treats him better than the UFC ever did.
“At the end of the day, us fighters, all we have is respect,” Ortiz said at a Bellator press conference Tuesday. “If you’re a cutman, all you have is respect. We’re trying to feed our family. A company is making so much money. Cut us in on pieces of it. That business didn’t like to do that and that’s why I left. I wasn’t being respected. I wasn’t getting my piece of the pie.”
The Huntington Beach Bad Boy knocked off an undersized middleweight, in Alexander Shlemenko, in his first fight with Bellator. He then went on to earn a split-decision victory in what was widely considered a lackluster fight against former UFC veteran Stephan Bonnar. Still, 2-0 is 2-0.
Now he faces a 10-0 Liam McGeary for the Bellator light heavyweight title at the SAP Center in San Jose on Sept. 19 with Dana White and the UFC way back in the rearview.
He said at the press conference:
“It’s just a matter of time. Rome crumbles from inside and that’s what they’re going to do. They’re going to crumble from inside. They’re their worst enemies. I could just sit back and nobody is gonna talk trash about Dana, talk trash about the UFC. I’ll let them do their own damage.”
But, as Ortiz sees it, he wasn’t the only one to feel Zuffa’s wrath once things started to go awry. Headlines will tell you that famed cutman Jacob “Stitch” Duran was the latest of those victims, after he publicly expressed his concerns over the UFC’s controversial partnership with Reebok. Duran was critical of how his finances would dwindle in being forced to do away with his sponsorships.
Stitch was fired, and Ortiz wasn’t happy.
“It’s sad for ‘Stitch’ Duran,” he said. “He’s a guy that’s been in this business since day one and he’s done a lot of great things, not only in mixed martial arts, but in professional boxing. He should be respected. It just shows, you say something against the company that’s trying to monopolize everything, you get thrown to the wolves—as I did, as many other fighters did. And that’s why they left.”
But it’s not just how the promotion treats its fighters, Ortiz said. It’s a matter how the organization runs itself, and how quickly it can run itself into the ground without changing anything in its approach to putting on exciting fights.
“I really think UFC has made it bored for MMA,” Ortiz said. “You just see the same stuff. It’s cookie cutter. The same stuff over and over. Now that Reebok has been a part of their sponsorship, it’s cookie cutter. Bellator has taken a step forward in giving the fans what they want to see and that’s exciting fights, not only in mixed martial arts and now kickboxing.”